Collection Online

Shearing the rams
1890

Artist/s name
Medium
oil on canvas on composition board
Measurements
122.4 x 183.3 cm
Place/s of Execution
Corowa, New South Wales; Melbourne, Victoria
Accession Number
4654-3
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1932
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of The Vizard Foundation
Gallery location
Gallery 6
Level 2, NGV Australia
About the work

For Indigenous Australians, the bush has long held sacred associations that are central to their identity. In stark contrast, Australia's early colonists regarded the bush as an unfamiliar and at times threatening place, to be cleared or transfigured in keeping with European sensibilities.

As the colonies grew into established cities and towns, attitudes changed. By 1891, two-thirds of the population was living in cities, yet it was the bush and bush life that colonial settlers regarded as uniquely Australian and integral to the nation's identity.

Bush characters - the pioneer settlers, shearers, swagmen and mountain horsemen - came to represent an emerging national character. They were seen as resilient and stoic, despite or because of the hardships offered up by their environment.

Frame

Tom ROBERTS
Shearing the rams 1890
Framemaker
John Thallon
Melbourne
Date
1890
Materials

The frame is made from four sections of red pine. Two wide flat planks are laminated to form the base of the frame. The back frame uses a form of square mortise and tenon joint while the upper layer of the flat, which is attached to the back frame with screws and glue, is mitred across the corners. The outer edge carries a two-inch half-round wooden profile and the inner edge a small (⅜ ins) half-round on a stepped flat. The remains of the original construction suggest the bevel at the sight edge was formed by the addition of another strip of timber. The outer half-round is attached with screws from the reverse. Though the evidence is lost, the rebate would have been formed by the addition of timber strips. The surface of the frame is oil gilded gold leaf applied direct to the wood and finished with ormolu size. The upper member of the frame originally carried a pair of shears, carved in low relief, either side of a central ornament, now lost but appearing to have been a ram’s head modelled in low relief.1 A plaque, centre bottom, identified the subject and artist.

Condition

The frame has been cut down in width from 10 ins. to 4 ins on all sides, but retains the two rounded strips, now close together, formerly wide apart. The surface is extensively worn and abraded but appears to be original.

Dimensions
190.5 (reduced to 140.5) x 251.2 (reduced to 201.2) x 6.5 cm; sight 119.8 x 180.5 cm
Tom ROBERTS
Shearing the rams 1890 Tom ROBERTS
Shearing the rams 1890 (detail)
About

The framing is noted in an article in The Argus when the painting was first on display in 1890, though no mention is made of the decorative elements.2 The painting appears in the complete frame in photographs from the Memorial Exhibition held at the Fine Arts Society, June 19323, and in newspapers from 19354 and 1937.5 It is likely that the alteration of the frame was an intervention by the former Director of the NGV, J. S. MacDonald. We note elsewhere that a number of broad frames were removed from Australian paintings in the late 1930s and sold at auction in 1941.6 The truncation of the Roberts frame would fit the general style adopted by MacDonald and his successor Daryl Lindsay, for re-framing in a Whistlerian model, however it seems to be a singular example of reducing the scale of, rather than replacing, the earlier, broad framing.7

The attribution to Thallon is based on an association between the two artists. Both Roberts and Thallon had studio space in 95 Collins Street East, Melbourne in 1886.8 From 1888 Roberts studio was near by in Grosvenor Chambers, a centre for artistic activity, at 9 Collins St. However, the frame does not appear in Thallon’s ledger (1888–1903). There are very few entries for Roberts, though a number of frames on paintings by Roberts carry Thallon’s label. A reproduction of the frame was made in 2002, by Mathew Adams and Louise Poon, from western red cedar and gilded with 23.5k gold leaf. Insufficient evidence was available to reproduce the decorative elements. The cut-down original frame has been archived. The frame illustrated in this publication is the reproduction.

Notes

1 These observations were made after disassembling the remains of the original frame. The frame, in complete form, appears in a photograph from the Fine Arts Society’s Melbourne exhibition of 1932; this image was brought to my attention by Terence Lane.

2 The Argus, 24 June 1890: ‘when framed at length in heavy gold, and backed by dark maroon hangings, its truthful beauty was all displayed on the studio wall’, cited in Jane Clark & Bridget Whitelaw, Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond, ICCA, 1985.

3 These photographs also show The Golden Fleece, 1894, AGNSW, in a broad frame with only a band of sanded surface to decorate the border.

4 Star, 26 October 1935.

5 Herald, 22 May 1937.

6 See also the entries for David Davies’ Moonrise (p.402.5-1); Frederick McCubbin’s Winter evening (61-2); John Longstaff’s Gippsland Sunday night, February 20th,1898 (48-2) and Tom Roberts‘ The Sunny south (1078-4).

7 The frame is reproduced in the cut-down form in the Melbourne Herald, 19 November 1956.

8 Claire Newhouse, ‘John Thallon 1848–1918’, in vol. 1, Frames Melbourne Journal of Technical Studies in Art, University of Melbourne Conservation Service, 1999, p. 83.