Opening of the first Parliament of the Australian Commonwealth, 9th May 1901

Tom Roberts and Goupil & Cie (engraver)1903

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery
Canberra, Australia

Tom Roberts’s painting of the opening of the first Australian Federal Parliament at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne in 1901 contains 269 individual portraits. Roberts was paid nearly 2000 guineas to complete the work – a feat which took two and a half years and required numerous individual sittings with subjects in Melbourne, Sydney, London and elsewhere. Completed on three separate panels to facilitate transport, the painting was sent from England to France for photo-engraving. This is one of the resulting prints, which were sold to recover some of the cost involved in creating the work. For Roberts, the Big Picture was onerous, and he was grieved when it failed to boost his career. After it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1904, it was presented by the Commonwealth to King Edward VII. The painting, three metres high and five metres wide, returned to Australia on permanent loan in 1958 and is usually displayed in Parliament House in a space specifically designed to accommodate it.


  • Title: Opening of the first Parliament of the Australian Commonwealth, 9th May 1901
  • Creator: Tom Roberts and Goupil & Cie (engraver)
  • Date Created: 1903
  • Physical Dimensions: sheet: 53.7 x 88.0 cm
  • Provenance: Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra Gift of Penny Amberg and Andrew Bond 2001 Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program
  • Rights: https://www.portrait.gov.au/form-image-request.php
  • External Link: https://www.portrait.gov.au/portraits/2003.161
  • Medium: Photogravure on paper

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