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Australian art

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Aboriginal head - Charlie Turner



Tom Roberts

England, Australia

08 Mar 1856 - 14 Sep 1931


Tom Roberts made portraits of Aboriginal people as part of his broader project to record for posterity subjects that he regarded as being characteristic of Australian life. His focus here on the subject's eyes was unusual among 19th-century depictions of Indigenous people for its poignant evocation of an inner life - at the time there was a widespread belief that Australia's Indigenous people were a dying race.

This portrait may have been painted from studies Roberts made of Aboriginal people during his stay at Corowa in the Riverina in 1890-91. However, it is also possible that Roberts produced it during his 1892 visit to Cooktown, North Queensland, where he also sketched various local Indigenous people.


Other Titles

Aboriginal head (Charlie Turner)

Head of an Aboriginal

Aboriginal Head



Media category


Materials used

oil on canvas on paperboard


39.4 x 29.8 cm board; 53.9 x 44.4 x 6.5 cm frame

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l., brown oil "Tom Roberts./ 1892".


Purchased 1892


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Tom Roberts

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 9 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 35 publications


Rex Butler (Editor), Radical revisionism: an anthology of writings on Australian art, 'Tom Roberts: "Where the sun never set"', pg. 163-174, Brisbane, 2005, 164.

Wally Caruana and Jane Clark, The Cambridge companion to Australian Art, 'Buying and selling Australian art: a brief historical survey', pg. 290-306, Port Melbourne, 2011, 295, 366. 21.4 (colour illus.), between pg. 268 and 269.

Jane Clark, Golden summers: Heidelberg and beyond, 'Sydney Harbour', pg. 150-152, Melbourne, 1985, 153 (colour illus.).

Robert Croll, Tom Roberts: father of Australian landscape painting, Melbourne, 1935, 208.

Eva Czernis-Ryl, Australian gold & silver 1851-1900, Haymarket, 1995.

Geoffrey Dutton, White on black: the Australian Aborigine portrayed in art, Melbourne, 1974, 59.

Grafton Galleries, Exhibition of Australian art in London, London, 1898, 13. titled 'Aboriginal Head'; 41

Anne Grey, Tom Roberts, ‘Tom Roberts: La vita con brio’, pg. 11-30, Canberra, 2015, 17, 27, 46, 194 (colour illus.), 195, 349. 61

Jeanette Hoorn, Reframing Darwin: evolution and the arts in Australia, 'Tom Roberts' portrait of Charlie Turner and Darwin's expression of the emotions in man and animals', pg. 118-135, Carlton, 2009, 118 (colour illus.), 120 (colour illus.).

Inverell Art Gallery, Tom Roberts Art Exhibition. Tom Roberts Festival 2001, Inverell, 2001, 2. 2

John M. Mackenzie, Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, 'Art and the Empire', pg. 296-317, England, 1996, 308 (illus.).

Alan McCulloch, The golden age of Australian painting - Impressionism and the Heidelberg school, Melbourne, 1969, 60 (colour illus.), 158.

John McDonald, Art of Australia. Vol 1: Exploration to Federation, ‘Individual and national feeling’, pg. 545-610, Sydney, 2008, 576 (colour illus.), 579.

Humphrey McQueen, Heads of the people: a portrait of Colonial Australia, 'An association of natives', pg. 97-115, Parkes, 2000, 96 (illus.), 111 (illus.), 149.

National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Tom Roberts exhibition, National Art Gallery of NSW: souvenir catalogue, Sydney, 1947, 11. titled 'Head of an Aboriginal'; 16

National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Catalogue of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1891, Sydney, 1891, Supplement. titled 'Aboriginal Head'

National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Catalogue of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1893, Sydney, 1893, 107. titled 'Aboriginal head'; 373

National Art Gallery of New South Wales, Catalogue of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1899, Sydney, 1899, 51. titled 'Aboriginal Head'; 287

Royal Art Society of New South Wales, Art Society of New South Wales Spring Exhibition Catalogue, Sydney, 1892, 21. titled 'Aboriginal Head (Charlie Turner)'; 78

Dr Christina Slade and Glen Lewis, Critical communication, 'Theories and models of communication', pg. 1-25, Frenchs Forest, 2000, 2 (illus.).

Bernard William Smith, A catalogue of Australian oil paintings in the National Art Gallery of New South Wales 1875-1952, Sydney, 1953, 175. titled 'Head of an Aboriginal'

Virginia Spate, Tom Roberts, Melbourne, 1978, 12, 104, 105 (illus.), 148. 32

Virginia Spate, Tom Roberts, 'Where The Sun Never Set. Tom Roberts and the British Empire', pg. 62, Adelaide, 1996, 64, 65 (colour illus.) 204 (illus.).

Jill Sykes (Editor), Look, Sydney, Oct 2009, 52 (colour illus.). What's on section of the Society magazine.

Daniel Thomas, Art Gallery of New South Wales Quarterly, 'Tom Roberts', pg. 466-487, Sydney, Jul 1969, 470 (illus.), 471.

Nicholas Thomas, Possessions: indigenous art / colonial culture, 'Landscapes', pg. 50-93, London, 1999, 91 (illus.), 122, 294. 45

Helen Topliss, Tom Roberts 1856-1931: a catalogue raisonné. Volume 1 - Text, Melbourne, 1985, 123. 183

Helen Topliss, Tom Roberts 1856-1931: a catalogue raisonné. Volume 2 - Plates, Melbourne, 1985, (illus.). plate no. 85

Helen Topliss, Seeing the first Australians, 'Tom Roberts' Aboriginal portraits', pg. 110-136, Sydney, 1985, 114, 115 (illus.), 116-117. plate no. 8.5

Helen Topliss, Tom Roberts 1856-1931: a catalogue raisonné. Volume 2 - Plates, Melbourne, 1985, (illus.). plate no. 85

Angus Trumble, Australian Impressionism, 'Colony and Capital in Australian Impressionist Portraiture', pg. 181-187, Melbourne, 2007, 187, 336, 192 (colour illus.). 10.10

Natalie Wilson, Selling a nation: Australian artists at International Exhibitions [M.A., University of Sydney], 'Organisation of the New South Wales display in Chicago', pg. 18-45, Sydney, 2001, between 24-25 (colour illus.), 25, 36-38, 52. 9

Editor Unknown (Editor), The Sydney Morning Herald, Sydney, 02 Sep 1892, 2.

World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893: Catalogue of the exhibits in the New South Wales Courts, ‘Department K.- Fine Arts, Painting, Sculpture, &c.; Group CXL.- Paintings in Oil.’, pg. 432-436, Sydney, 1893, 435, 442. titled 'Aboriginal Head'; 11

Editor Unknown (Editor), Australasian art review, Sydney, 01 Aug 1899, 23.