In January 2021, Tom Roberts’s Shearing the rams, 1890, tours to Wangaratta Art Gallery in regional Victoria. The tour marks 130 years since the completion of the work, which the artist began painting near Corowa, NSW, just over thirty minutes’ drive from Wangaratta.
Shearing the rams is one of Australia’s most recognisable and celebrated paintings, and an important part of this country’s recent social and cultural history. It captures a moment in time – just more than 100 years after first European contact – when non-Indigenous Australians were still developing a sense of national identity. This was a time when the country was said to be ‘riding on the sheep’s back’, prosperity was measured by the size of the wool clip and hard labour was intrinsically bound up in the notion of an honest day’s work.
It was while Roberts was attending a wedding held at a property near Corowa, in the Riverina region, that he was struck by a need to express ‘feeling the delight and fascination of the great pastoral life and work’. Roberts returned to the property during the shearing season of the following year and began a series of about seventy preparatory sketches. A year later, in the spring of 1889, he set up his easel in the shed and painted the work, adding the final touches in his Collins Street studio in May 1890.
Shearing the rams is on display at the Wangaratta Art Gallery for a month. It is fitting that, 130 years after Roberts laid down his last brushstrokes, the painting is to return to the area where it was originally conceived.
A Wangaratta Art Gallery Exhibition in partnership with NGV.