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Shearing the Rams

Tom Roberts - Shearing the rams - Google Art Project

“Shearing the Rams” is a painting by Australian artist Tom Roberts. Painted in 1890 it depicts the shearing of the sheep in a timber shearing shed.

Tom Roberts made over 70 sketches during his first shearing season at a sheep station woolshed near Corowa. During the next shearing season, Roberts worked on the canvas, and finally completed the painting in his studio in Collins Street, Melbourne.

Tom Roberts sketch for Shearing the RamsFirst sketch for Shearing the rams, made in 1888, with gouache and pencil on brown paper on cardboard, 22.0 × 29.9 cm.

Roberts wanted to express the hard demanding and fast working shearing process and the physical masculinity is portrayed with a familiar arched bending of the shearers spread all the way down into the depths of the shed. However this was also a scene of excitement and he bathed the composition in the warm Australian sunlight. The joy of the occasion is captured by the two young boys. One on the left in bare feet and the second in the centre of the composition looking directly at the viewer in a white-toothed smile.

Shearing the Rams detail

The “Shearing the Rams” is one of the best-known and most-loved paintings in Australia. It is a masterpiece of Australian impressionism and an iconic representation of Australia’s historic wool industry.

Tom Roberts was born in England, and immigrated to Melbourne in 1869 with his widowed mother and two younger siblings. Art training began when he was 15 years old and when he was 25 years old travelled to England and Europe for overseas study. He financed his overseas studies by selling paintings to the National Gallery. During his European study, he had been influenced by French impressionists and soon returned four year later in 1885, to continue painting in Australia.

Tom Roberts, Australian artist, ca. 1895 photographer Talma Studio (4668257926)

Tom Roberts in 1895 – Age 39

In Australia he found a growing nationalist spirit that preceded Federation, Roberts joined others Australian artists at Heidelberg near Melbourne and they became known as the Heidelberg school. Leading painters included McCubbin and Streeton and their endeavours led to the foundation of a national school for landscape painting.

At 40 years of age, he married Elizabeth Williams in 1896 and settled in Balmain where they had a son. In 1903 Tom with his family returned to England in 1903 and stayed there for the next 16 years. He briefly returned to Australia in 1919 and then in 1923 decided to move back permanently to England. His first wife died in 1927 and he re-married in 1928 to a long-time friend, Jean Boyes. Three years later and at 75 years of age, he died in 1931 of the effects of cancer.


Essential Facts:

  • Title:                Shearing the Rams
  • Artist:              Tom Roberts
  • Year:                1890
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas on composition board
  • Dimensions: 122.4 cm × 183.3 cm (48.2 in × 72.2 in)
  • Museum:        Location National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne


Essential Facts about the Artist:

  • Name:                        Thomas William “Tom” Roberts
  • Born:                           8 March 1856 – Dorchester, Dorset, England
  • Died:                           14 September 1931 (aged 75) – Kallista, Victoria, Australia
  • Major Paintings:
    • The Artists Camp (1885)
    • Wood splitters (1886)
    • Bourke Street (1886)
    • Coming South (1886)
    • The Sunny South (1887)
    • Slumbering Sea, Mentone (1887)
    • Shearing the Rams (1890)
    • A break away! (1891)
    • The Golden Fleece (1894)
    • Shearing Shed, Newstead (1894)
    • In a corner on the Macintyre (1894)
    • Bailed Up (1895)
    • The Big Picture (1903)
    • Country Road Makers (1923)
    • Washing Day, Kallista (1923)
    • Sherbrooke Forest (1924)


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



Photo Credits: 1) Tom Roberts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 2) Tom Roberts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) Tom Roberts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 3) By State Library of New South Wales from Australia [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons