He was one of the first independent and professional British artists to experience the Orient at first hand. His drawings show his ability to create visually effective compositions from a variety of subjects. His experience as a scene-painter helped him to convey the vast proportions of the Egyptian temples and the vistas of towns, deserts and mountains. He also depicted more detailed interiors of buildings and scenes of local life.
He achieved his effects through an ingenious choice of viewpoint (which sometimes disregarded topographical accuracy), a balance of light and dark, and the use of strong and vibrant colour. He was elected ARA in 1838 and RA in 1841.
Roberts's prime concern in his oil and watercolour paintings was the depiction not of fleeting atmospheric effects but of the ‘constant aspect of any place'. Another eminent acquaintance, William Thackeray, summarised his achievement: ‘he has sketched the spires of Antwerp, the peaks of Lebanon, the rocks of Calton Hill, the towers and castles that rise by the Rhine; the airy Cairo minarets, the solemn Pyramids and vast Theban columns, and the huts under the date-trees along the banks of the Nile.'
The contents of Roberts's studio were auctioned at Christie's, London, on 13 and 15–19 May 1865.
Edinburgh, N. Lib. [E. journal, 1838–9]
New Haven, CT, Yale Cent. Brit. A. [rec. bk, 1821–64]
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