Tom Roberts
A break away!

Gallery 3

About this work of art


Audio description of the work of art

A breakaway! by English-born Australian artist Tom Roberts is an oil on canvas painting. Created in 1891, it is 137.3cm high and 167.8cm wide.

The painting depicts a mob of thirsty sheep stampeding towards a dam. A drover on horseback is attempting to turn the mob before they drown or crush each other in their desire to drink.

In Australia, a mob is a large flock of sheep, and a drover is a person who moves sheep, cattle and horses over long distances, usually on horseback.

In the upper left of the painting, three tall eucalyptus trees stand in front of a grove of smaller trees and vegetation. The tree trunks are painted in vertical strokes of pale greys and browns, the branches and leaves and the vegetation behind are olive green and rusty brown.

More than a hundred sheep stampede from between these trees, rushing across the lower half of the painting towards a dam of water located in the bottom right.

With wool on their heads, necks and backs, their faces and legs are bare. Their tails have been cut off, and some sheep have short curved horns.

Stirred up by their hooves, white clouds of dust billow around and above them, obscuring details for some are depicted as only heads emerging from the dust. The artist has depicted a frozen second of the action, sheep pant or bleat open-mouthed and others are in mid-jump. In the bottom right of the painting, sheep have entered the dam to drink, with others crowding in and on top of them from behind.

In the lower centre of the painting is a man, a drover, saddled astride a brown horse. He is galloping away from the viewer and into the mob of sheep. He has short dark hair, grey boots, dark trousers, and a white shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows. His torso leans to the right with his right arm stretched out grasping a white wide-brimmed hat. His right leg hugs the side of his horse. His left leg is stretched out straight, taut in the stirrup.

The horse turns its head to the left, the reigns stretched taut from its open mouth. Small white highlights of paint depict the sweat on its rump and back legs.

Between the trees and surrounded by dust, is another man on horseback at a fast gallop herding the sheep from behind.

Two brown dogs also herd the sheep. One runs in front of the flock in the mid-left of the painting. In the lower centre of the painting the other dog has fallen over, legs in the air it tumbles on its back in the dust.

Behind the moving mob and in the centre right of the painting trunks of trees lay horizontally forming a fence. In front of the fence is the decomposing corpse of a bullock. Above the fence two birds fly, wings out stretched.

Behind the fence, stretching up to meet the distant horizon-line that stretches across the top of the painting, is a dry yellow-grassed landscape, dotted with spindly eucalyptus trees and tree stumps.

Above the horizon-line, the blue sky is criss-crossed with two lines of pale grey paint, possibly dust whirlwinds, and a small patch of white clouds appear in the upper right of the painting.

The painting is signed at the lower left, ‘Tom Roberts’.