Younger than Jesus: Thomas Roberts

In lieu of attending the press opening of the New Museum’s “Younger than Jesus” exhibition today, which features fifty artists under 33-years-old, I’m posting about an Irish painter who died in 1777 at 28. Whenever I see work in major museums by people under thirty, I always wonder whether their work is strong enough to survive if the artist were to drop dead tomorrow. Of course I also wonder if they’re in it for the long haul. Will they continue making art regardless of the inevitable fluctuations of their fame and fortune, or will they move on to something more financially rewarding and less insecure?

Thomas Roberts (1748-1777), who died of consumption, was a remarkably productive artist and regarded by many as the finest Irish landscape painter of the 18th century. William Laffan and Brendan Rooney, who have curated the current exhibition of his work at the National Gallery of Ireland, have recently written a book about the artist, whose work was valued and much sought after during his lifetime, even though his reputation didn’t survive his demise. Rehabilitation commenced only in the 1970s, when the late, unfailingly perceptive Michael Wynne focused his attention on Roberts and organized an exhibition, comprising 16 works, in the National Gallery. He was a capable, intelligent painter and was responsive, for example, to the restless, shifting nature of Irish light falling across the landscape. More than one observer praised his virtuosity at conveying the vaporous spray of rushing water. He is not generally thought of as a painter of people or animals, but the show includes examples � one previously attributed to his brother, Thomas Sautelle � that suggest he was more than capable in that regard. (via Irish Times)

Thomas Roberts; Landscape and Patronage in Eighteenth-century Ireland by William Laffan and Brendan Rooney, published by Churchill House Press for the National Gallery of Ireland.

Thomas Roberts, 1748-1777,” National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin. Through June 28.

One Comment

  1. Visual art prodigy. An odd concept for a field in which life experience, vision, wisdom, and of course technical expertise are so important. What does become apparent early for an artist is the DESIRE to communicate visually, and probably an unusual ability to paint or draw.

    Watch for those kids who seem to draw as easily as they write. Then see whether they are still at it 20, 30, or 40 years later. That is how you identify and artist.

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