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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders both past and present.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that this website contains images of deceased persons.

The Gallery’s Acknowledgement of Country, and information on culturally sensitive and restricted content and the use of historic language in the collection can be found here.

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

1903
Tom Roberts and Goupil & Cie (engraver)

photogravure on paper (image: 53.7 cm x 88.0 cm, frame: 85.8 cm x 119.7 cm depth 2.5 cm)

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 2 000 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 now displayed in Parliament House in a space specifically designed to accommodate it.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of Penny Amberg and Andrew Bond 2001
Donated through the Australian Government's Cultural Gifts Program

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. Works of art from the collection are reproduced as per the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). The use of images of works from the collection may be restricted under the Act. Requests for a reproduction of a work of art can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

Artist and subject

Tom Roberts (age 47 in 1903)

Goupil & Cie (age 74 in 1903)

Various

Subject professions

Visual arts and crafts

Donated by

Penny Amberg (1 portrait)

Related information

The Companion

Permanent collection catalogue

Café and shop

On one level The Companion talks about the most famous and frontline Australians, but on another it tells us about ourselves: who we read, who we watch, who we listen to, who we cheer for, who we aspire to be, and who we'll never forget. The Companion is available to buy online and in the Portrait Gallery Store.

The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904
The sisters, 1904

Beguiling impressions

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2012

Sarah Engledow is seduced by the portraits and the connections between the artists and their subjects in the exhibition Impressions: Painting light and life.

Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong)
Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong)
Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong)
Practising the Minuet (Miss Hilda Spong)

An actress and her fans

Magazine article by Dr Sarah Engledow, 2008

Dr. Sarah Engledow discovers the amazing life of Ms. Hilda Spong, little remembered star of the stage, who was captured in a portrait by Tom Roberts.

© National Portrait Gallery 2021
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Canberra, ACT 2600, Australia

Phone +61 2 6102 7000
Fax +61 2 6102 7001
ABN: 54 74 277 1196

The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

This website comprises and contains copyrighted materials and works. Copyright in all materials and/or works comprising or contained within this website remains with the National Portrait Gallery and other copyright owners as specified.

The National Portrait Gallery respects the artistic and intellectual property rights of others. The use of images of works of art reproduced on this website and all other content may be restricted under the Australian Copyright Act 1968 (Cth). Requests for a reproduction of a work of art or other content can be made through a Reproduction request. For further information please contact NPG Copyright.

The National Portrait Gallery is an Australian Government Agency