Thomas Roberts (1748-1777), ‘A Landstorm’

Thomas Roberts 'A Landstorm'

Thomas Roberts (1748-1777)
A landstorm, a mountainous landscape with travellers at a bridge
Oil on canvas; 96 x 132cm

This must be one of the stars of Fota’s important collection of eighteenth-century Irish landscape paintings. There is plenty of energy within the painting – the viewer can almost feel the gust of wind which has caused the travellers in the foreground to huddle into their coats and hang on to their hats with their animals plodding up the rear. The imaginary landscape has it all – the steeply rising, bare peak in the background to the right; water gushing over rocks and rushing under a small stone bridge to the left and trees of varying sizes having their branches twisted and pushed in the wind. There are no houses in the landscape; just one lonely and deserted church with its scattered graveyard sits in the distance. We do not know who the travellers are – it is not important as this was intended as a landscape painting, not a portrait. Perhaps the artist has painted himself into the work for the fun of it…?

This painting may well have been painted for sale – not commissioned, but painted as in modern times, for exhibit and purchase by a member of the public. We know that Roberts was one of the artists (along with contemporaries Jonathan Fisher and William Ashford) to exhibit with the newly-formed Society of Artists in Ireland which held its first exhibition in George’s Lane Dublin, in 1765 – these were exhibitions of works for sale to the general public as well as exhibiting works which had already been paid for by patrons. Roberts was born in Waterford, son of a well-reputed architect “Honest John” who designed the two major cathedrals in the town.
This painting has been three times exhibited in the National Gallery of Ireland, and included in many publications, such as Crookshank & Glin’s Painters of Ireland, 1978. The painting formed part of Cork businessman Richard Wood’s collection until purchased and donated to the Trust by the McCarthy family, Cork city in 2008.