Thomas Roberts: Ideal Landscape ; ca. 1770; National Gallery of Ireland.
There has not been an in-depth presentation of Roberts's work since the National Gallery's exhibition in 1978 when just 16 works by the artist were on display. Since then, important paintings by Roberts have come to light and now have an opportunity to be admired in full splendor.
Out of the 64 autograph works assembled for the book, 47 were included in the exhibition, all of which belong to a career that lasted just a decade. Roberts died in Lisbon, tragically young at the age of 28, in 1777, and not in 1778 as previously thought.
The exhibition focused on key areas of the artist's oeuvre: topographical views of picturesque locations in Dublin, Wicklow and Meath, as well as wonderful views of the north-west of Ireland, featuring subjects painted in and around Lough Erne, Belturbet, Belleek and Ballyshanon.
Thomas Roberts` ‘Landscape with Slane Castle’—Oil on canvas Exhibited at the Pyms Gallery, London (Public Domain)
There were examples of his storm scenes and ideal landscapes and the wonderful demesne views of Dawson Grove, Co. Monaghan, Slane, Co. Meath, and the Casino at Marino.
Unique to the exhibition was Roberts's series of views of some of Ireland's finest demesnes such as the Lucan series, and the complete set of views at Carton, Co. Kildare.
Also included was a rare portrait of the artist by Hugh Douglas Hamilton (recently acquired by the National Gallery of Ireland), as well as paintings by Roberts's teachers; George Mullins and John Butts, and his contemporaries George Barret, Robert Carver and William Ashford.
Thomas Roberts was born in Waterford, in 1748, the son of architect, 'Honest John' Roberts (1714-1796), who is synonymous with the two Cathedrals in Waterford.
In 1762, Roberts enrolled in the Dublin Society Drawing Schools where he trained under George Mullins (fl.1756-1775/6), a distinguished landscape painter in his own right, and the Cork born artist, John Butts (c.1728-65). Roberts developed a distinctive approach to landscape painting. His close attention to detail of the Irish landscape, together with an instinctive ability in capturing the effects of nature, earned him critical acclaim during his short career.
As a consequence, he invited great interest and subsequent patronage from some of the highest ranking figures in Ireland, among them Sir Ralph Gore, Earl of Ross, and Viscount Belleisle (Belle Isle at Lough Erne); Thomas Dawson, Baron Dartrey (Dawson Grove, Co. Monaghan), Lord Charlemont (Marino), the Veseys of Lucan Demesne and the FitzGeralds of Carton House and Demesne. Roberts was also commissioned by the Leesons of Russborough House.
The exhibition included many previously unknown works, the majority of which have been assembled from private collections as well as from the National Gallery of Ireland, and other museums in Ireland and abroad.
It highlighted the artist's outstanding achievements during his short career spanning the 1760s and 1770s. This together with the thorough study on Roberts by William Laffan and Brendan Rooney, aimed to make his work more widely known which up until now has been little appreciated outside specialist circles. Roberts was an enigmatic figure whose life and work are celebrated in this much anticipated retrospective exhibition and aims to place him in the annals of European landscape painting.