This work was painted en plein air. Its realism is underpinned by a sophisticated composition of interlocking and overlaid triangles in the foreground and middleground, and by the well-considered central motif – a woman and boy and an eager dog meeting a boat as it draws in to the shore. The seated figure on the left is a classic device for closing a composition on the side and directing attention into the centre of the picture.

The painting shows Roberts’s skill as a colourist. His palette is rich in earth colours, ranging from umbers through ochres to chalky whites. These colours are relieved by the delicate blues of the sky and sea, and by the vivid whites of the women’s and boy’s clothing, the boat and mooring posts, and the distant sail. Roberts draws the eye across the picture by his sparing use of black, for the sashes of the women’s dresses, the dog and the rim of the boat. Tiny accents of red, for the boy’s cap and on the woman’s bonnet, show another of the lessons he had learnt from the Old Masters.

Text © National Gallery of Victoria, Australia


  • Title: Slumbering sea, Mentone
  • Creator: Tom Roberts
  • Creator Lifespan: 09 March 1856 - 14 September 1931
  • Creator Nationality: English
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Kallista, Victoria
  • Creator Birth Place: Dorchester, Dorset, England
  • Date Created: 1887
  • Location Created: "Mentone, Victoria"
  • Physical Dimensions: 51.3 x 76.5 cm (Unframed)
  • Type: Paintings
  • Rights: National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the Government of Victoria, 1979, =A9 National Gallery of Victoria
  • External Link: National Gallery of Victoria
  • Medium: oil on canvas
  • Provenance: Probably collection of Barnett Sniders (d. 1909), Reseda, St Kilda, until 1904 (acquired from the artist); Reseda sale, The L White Agency, Melbourne, 12 September 1904; collection of Mr Frank Wyndham Thompson (d. 1946), Barenya, Kew, and Malvern, from late 1920s –until 1946; by descent to his son, Henry. D. L. Thompson, until 1970; from whom acquired by Mr Jack Manton, Melbourne, 1970–80; from whom purchased for the National Gallery of Victoria, 1980.
  • Additional information: In the summer of 1886–87 artists Tom Roberts, Frederick McCubbin and Louis Abrahams rented a cottage near Mentone, a township on Port Phillip Bay, twenty-two kilometres from Melbourne. The two major works Roberts painted at Mentone and nearby Ricketts Point, Slumbering sea, Mentone and The Sunny South (also held by the National Gallery of Victoria) show him working in a quite different mode from his shipboard painting, Coming South, the landscapes painted at Box Hill the previous summer, and the cityscape, Allegro con brio, Bourke St. W., all of 1885–86. What characterises the two seascapes is the freshness of his palette and the almost photo-realist sharpness of his vision, sustained from foreground to background. Colour and technique enabled him to achieve his goal of capturing the brilliance of Australian sunshine. Slumbering sea, Mentone draws attention to Roberts’s goal of representing specific climatic conditions – a hot, windless midsummer day, where the mirror-like surface of the sea is ruffled only in patches by stray breezes. The sun is almost directly overhead, casting minimal shadows.

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