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“A Break Away!” by Tom Roberts

"A Break Away!" by Tom Roberts

“A Break Away!” by Tom Roberts

“A Break Away!” by Tom Roberts depicts a mob of thirsty sheep stampeding towards a dam for water. A drover on horseback is attempting to turn the mob before they crush and drown each other in their natural need to drink.

This painting, an icon of Australian art, is part of a series of works by Tom Roberts that captured the emerging spirit of national identity in Australia during the 1890s.

Roberts painted this work at Corowa, a town on the border between New South Wales and Victoria, Australia. The painting presents a time of drought, with little grass, and the soil is just dust. T

he work itself is a reflection on the pioneering days of the pastoral industry, which were coming to an end by the early 1900s.

Tom Roberts

Thomas William “Tom” Roberts (1856 – 1931) was an Australian artist and a vital member of the Australian Impressionism School.

After attending art schools in Melbourne, he traveled to Europe in 1881 to further his training before returning home in 1885.

He promoted outdoor painting techniques and encouraged other artists to capture the national life of Australia. He is best known for his “national narratives,” which include Shearing the Rams, A Break Away!, and Bailed Up.

Australian Impressionism

Australian Impressionism is called the Heidelberg School, which was an Australian art movement of the late 19th century.

The name was derived from an accessible location used by artists who wanted to paint “en Plein Air” in Heidelberg on Melbourne’s city’s outskirts.

The term then evolved to cover painters who worked together at “artists’ camps” around Melbourne and Sydney in the 1880s and 1890s.

Successful Australian Impressionist artists include Arthur Streeton, Jane Sutherland, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder, and Frederick McCubbin.

During the 1870s and 1880s, European artists immigrated to Australia and brought their experience of Plein–air movement to Australia.

Through their work and teaching, they made significant contributions to the development of Impressionism in Australia. 

Drawing on naturalist and impressionist ideas, they sought to capture Australian life, the bush, and the sunlight of the country.

In French Impressionism, colors were painted with more explosive energy and with more pure primary and secondary tones for complementary contrasts.

Australian Impressionists tended to show Australian tones of dry soil, eucalypt woods, and sand, with the dabbling of warm and cold colors.

Australian Impressionism is notable for its compositions of Australia’s cultural heritage.

The period leading up to Australia’s Federation in 1901 saw an upsurge in Australian nationalism, and Australian Impressionists of the  Heidelberg School provided works have become icons of an Australia before Federation.

A Break Away!

  • Title:               A breakaway!
  • Artist:             Tom Roberts
  • Year:               1891
  • Medium:        Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:  137.3 cm × 167.8 cm (54.1 in × 66.1 in)
  • Museum:       Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Tom Roberts

Tom Roberts

A Tour of the Art Gallery of South Australia

Tom Roberts: A collection of works

Tom Roberts


” Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.”
– Australian Proverb


Photo Credits: 1) Tom Roberts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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