Tom Roberts
(1908-1998)

The grandson of Toronto gallerist Samuel Roberts, Tom Roberts grew up immersed in art. While attending the Ontario College of Art he studied under Yvonne McKague Housser and Frederick Haines. He joined the Royal Canadian Engineers and worked as a sapper during World War II; during his time in the military he portrayed army life in pencil and watercolour sketches. Though he painted many landscapes and acknowledged the influence of the Group of Seven, Roberts is best remembered for his urban scenes of mid-century Canadian daily life in the countryside and towns of Ontario, Quebec and the Maritimes. During his lifetime, Roberts showed widely in Canada including at important institutions such as the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the Art Gallery of Hamilton. A prolific artist, in the 1980s he held over 30 solo exhibitions at galleries in Toronto in addition to shows across the country. His pieces can be found in the permanent collections of museums, universities and corporations across Canada. He was a member of the Ontario Society of Artists and the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts and spent much of his life in Port Credit, Ontario, where he passed away at the age of 89.

Tom Roberts often sought to express the universality of the Canadian experience and in “Main Street” (1953), one of four images he contributed to the Sampson-Matthews silkscreen art program, he offers a scene that could have existed in any town in the country during the middle years of the twentieth century. On a blue-sky day in the early spring, a mother clad in a brilliant red coat and her bundled daughter walk down a narrow, wheel-pitted street covered in slushy melting snow and reflective puddles. Apparently on an errand, they approach a strip of urban retail as other villagers pass by, enjoying a mild day, perhaps the first warm afternoon after a hard winter.