“A Break Away!” by Tom Roberts

A Break Away! by Tom Roberts “A Break Away!” by Tom Roberts depicts a mob of thirsty sheep stampeding towards a dam for water. A drover on horseback i...

Tom Roberts - A break away

A Break Away! by Tom Roberts

“A Break Away!” by Tom Roberts depicts a mob of thirsty sheep stampeding towards a dam for water. A drover on horseback is attempting to turn the mob before they crush and drown each other in their natural need to drink.

This painting, an icon of Australian art, is part of a series of works by Tom Roberts that captured the emerging spirit of national identity in Australia during the 1890s. Roberts painted this work at Corowa, a town on the border between New South Wales and Victoria, Australia. The painting presents a time of drought, with little grass and the soil is just dust. The work itself is a reflection on the pioneering days of the pastoral industry, which were coming to an end by the early 1900s.

Tom Roberts

Thomas William “Tom” Roberts (1856 – 1931) was an Australian artist and a key member of the Australian Impressionism School. After attending art schools in Melbourne, he travelled to Europe in 1881 to further his training before returning home in 1885. He promoted outdoor painting techniques and encouraged other artists to capture the national life of Australia. He is best known for his “national narratives” which include Shearing the Rams, A Break Away!, and Bailed Up.

Australian Impressionism

Australian Impressionism is called the Heidelberg School which was an Australian art movement of the late 19th century. The name was derived from an accessible location used by artists, who wanted to paint en plein air, in Heidelberg at Melbourne’s city’s outskirts. The term then evolved to cover painters who worked together at “artists’ camps” around Melbourne and Sydney in the 1880s and 1890s. Successful Australian Impressionist artists include Arthur Streeton, Jane Sutherland, Tom Roberts, Charles Conder and Frederick McCubbin.

During the 1870s and 1880s, European artists immigrated to Australia and brought their experience of plein–air movement, to Australia. Through their work and teaching, they made significant contributions to the development of Impressionism in Australia. Drawing on naturalist and impressionist ideas, they sought to capture Australian life, the bush, and the sunlight of the country.

In French Impressionism, colours were painted with more explosive energy and with more pure primary and secondary tones for complementary contrasts. Australian Impressionists tended to show Australian tones of dry soil, eucalypt woods and sand, with the dabbling of warm and cold colours.

Australian Impressionism is notable for its compositions of Australia’s cultural heritage. The period leading up to Australia’s Federation in 1901 saw an upsurge in Australian nationalism and Australian Impressionists of the Heidelberg School provided works have become icons of an Australia before Federation.

Explore Australian Art

  • The Spirit of the Drought
  • From McMahon’s Point – Fare One Penny
  • The Purple Noon’s Transparent Might
  • The Pioneer
  • Child in The Bush
  • Down on his Luck
  • Shearing the Rams
  • A Break Away!
  • Bailed Up


  • How does Australian Impressionism compare to other famous impressionist art of the 19th century?
  • Is Plein-air painting one of the most important movements in western art in the nineteenth century?
  • Is this your impression of the Australian outback in a drought?

A Break Away!

  • Title: A breakaway!
  • Artist: Tom Roberts
  • Year: 1891
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions: 137.3 cm × 167.8 cm (54.1 in × 66.1 in)
  • Museum: Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide

Tom Roberts

  • Name: Thomas William “Tom” Roberts
  • Born: 1856 – Dorchester, Dorset, England
  • Died: 1931 (aged 75) – Kallista, Victoria, Australia
  • Major Paintings:
    • Shearing the Rams
    • A Break Away!
    • Miss Minna Simpson
    • Bailed Up


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


Photo Credits: 1) Tom Roberts [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


3 November 2023, 15:54 | Views: 8981

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