Full Record

Mr. Tom Roberts's painting Opening of the Australian Parliament The picture on view
Record no:
16 March 1906
Kept:Press clippings book 2, p. 119



Any memento or historical record of the birth of Australia as a nation
will always secure the interest of Australian people, and it is as such

that Mr. Tom Roberts’s famous painting of the opening of the Federal
Parliament in 1901 will command the attention of Perth citizens while it
remains on view in this city. Whatever be its merits or demerits as a work
of art, it will have a certain attraction, firstly by reason of the great
historical occasion it relates to, and secondly because it was painted to
the order of the King and is exhibited through Australia at His Majesty’s

The immense canvas was opened to the public view at noon yesterday, and
throughout the day it was the magnetic point to which hundreds of curious
and critical visitors were attracted. The work has so often been described
in detail that there is no necessity to go into a detailed analysis of it
now. But, in commending it to the inspection of all who can possibly make
it convenient to visit the Public Library during the next fortnight, it
may be said in passing that the very nature of the commission prevented
the painter creating a picture. He has achieved what was desired, and all
that was possible in the terms of his commission, viz., a group of
portraits set in the relationships which the characters held on the
occasion depicted. It was essential, in order that the painting might be a
correct record, that the leading statesmen and public men of the day
should be included in the work. Then came the difficulty of drawing the
line. There were so many of the participants in that great ceremonial who
wanted to figure in the painting that considerations of grouping and
artistic ensemble had apparently to be partly set aside. Thus handicapped,
Mr. Roberts has not made a picture. He has collected together some
hundreds of portraits, and placed them according to their importance in
the function. Of course, a painter undertaking a commission of this sort
cannot expect to carry out any artistic scheme of coloring, and one sees
in the picture how effect is spoilt by the clashing of brilliantly-colored
uniforms and decorations, which could not be arranged as the artist might
wish. Then the desire to give the portraits an equality of value has led
to a monotony in the grouping. For instance, one notices in the group of
Federal legislators standing before the dais while the Duke of York reads
his commission that all the white collars are painted as if in diagonal
lines, giving a very stiff and inartistic effect. However, these and other
features of a similar kind were, perhaps, inevitable in what purported to
be an historical record. It is noted that the portraiture as a whole is of
a very high standard, the majority of the likenesses being perfect and the
coloring truthful. The one chance given the artist of getting away from
the rigidity of portraiture and close-grouping is in the perspective of
the organ gallery, and this has been skilfully handled. There the hundreds
of white-robed chorus singers are excellently suggested, the background of
white costumes and the glint of sunlight over the aisle giving the
coloring a welcome relief. The technique of the picture is in many
respects admirable, but there are a number of faults which come somewhat
as a surprise from the same brush which created the neighboring
excellences. Still the work is what it purports to be—a faithful record in
oils of the greatest epoch in the history of this Commonwealth, and
perfection is not to be looked for in a work of such massive proportions
and immensity of detail. It is well worth seeing, and as this is last
Australian State in which it will be on view before being returned to the
Royal possession, the opportunity of seeing the famous work during the
next fortnight should not be missed.
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