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Natolis' Tom Roberts painting could fetch up to $1m

The Tom Roberts painting Rejected could be worth a small fortune after being bought for $15,000 in 2013.
The Tom Roberts painting Rejected could be worth a small fortune after being bought for $15,000 in 2013.

SUNSHINE Coast glamour couple Joe and Rosanna Natoli are hoping a punt on a Tom Roberts painting might put them back in their own home.

The former Maroochy mayor and Seven Local News presenter bought a small work from one of Australia's greatest artists from an English auction site in 2013 for around $15,000.

A few years later, the couple had to sell their family home and other art to keep their fruit business afloat, before it collapsed in February last year.

The couple hung onto the small painting, even though a leading expert on the artist's work told them it was not a genuine Tom Roberts piece.

But Mr Natoli, a long-time art lover, was convinced the piece was the real deal.

A friend, who had been helping him in his battle against depression, asked BBC show Fake or Fortune to investigate.

The Fake or Fortune team embarked on their 'further-flung investigation' to see if the 1883 painting was real.

"Even minor pictures sell for hundreds of thousands of pounds and the painting, a dramatic image of an anguished artist titled Rejected, had all the hallmarks of a lost early work,'' Memorable TV said in a preview of the episode.

"As an early work by Tom Roberts, the picture could be worth over £200,000. If the team can prove that Joe was right all along, it might give the family a chance to secure a home of their own."

The Fake or Fortune team travelled to Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne - where they uncovered several alarming Tom Roberts' fakes.

The Rejected painting tells a story of an artist in a studio being consoled by his wife because his painting has been turned down for an exhibition.

It's a story that Joe could probably relate to after losing the mayoral race to then Sunshine Coast mayor Bob Abbot.

The Natolis believe the artwork is a significant piece in that it is one of the first from Roberts to show any signs of emotion.

Scientific tests proved it was a late 19th century painting, a time when Roberts was the first Australian to be admitted to the Royal Academy of Arts in the UK where he studied from 1881 to 1884.

Infrared technology showed an inscription and an address on the back of the painting.

The records at the Royal Academy confirmed this had been Roberts' address when he had submitted paintings for exhibition.

Lisa Roberts, an artist and academic, and great-granddaughter of Tom, recognised it as his first self-portrait.

"It screams Tom Roberts," she said. "The subject, the story, the feelings. The wide brushstrokes. This is clearly his body. He had big ears, I have seen those hands in photographs. He had long legs."

Former Mayor Joe Natoli and his brother Anthony Natoli at the opening of their new store
Former Mayor Joe Natoli and his brother Anthony Natoli at the opening of their new store "The Two Bros" Big Top Shopping Centre, Maroochydore. Photo Patrick Woods / Sunshine Coast Daily Patrick Woods

Mary Eagle of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, a leading authority on Tom Roberts, initially found some of the painting "exquisite" and other parts "not well painted".

She didn't think Roberts was "so self-indulgent" to create " a confessional painting" but finally she concluded it was genuine.

" A pivotal early work by a man who went on to become the father of Australian impressionism was deemed to be worth upwards of £200,000 (A$325,000),'' the Fake or Fortune episode preview reported.

Art dealer Philip Bacon put as reserve of $500,000 on the painting, but it could go for up to $1m.

Tom Roberts' last work sold for $700,000. His more famous pieces include Shearing the Rams in the National Gallery and The Big Picture on federation in Parliament House.

WHO IS TOM ROBERTS?

Thomas William "Tom" Roberts (8 March 1856 - 14 September 1931) was a British-born Australian artist and a key member of the Heidelberg School, also known as Australian Impressionism.

 He did much to promote en plein air painting and encouraged other artists to capture the national life of Australia. While he is best known for his "national narratives", among them Shearing the Rams (1890), A break away! (1891) and Bailed Up (1895), he also achieved renown as a portraitist.

Roberts migrated with his family to Australia in 1869 to live with relatives.

He returned to England for three years of full-time art study at the Royal Academy Schools from 1881 to 1884.

In 1896 he married 36-year-old Elizabeth (Lillie) Williamson and they had a son, Caleb. Many of his most famous paintings come from this period. 

 

 

'We are trying to pinch ourselves that this could be actually true.''

Rosanna Natoli told Seven's Sunrise program they still could not believe their change of fortune.

"We still can't believe it. We are trying to pinch ourselves that this could be actually true.''

"It's an amazing feeling to think we have finally found a gem out there,'' Joe Natoli said.

"Nobody really knew much about this painting,'' he said.

"It was unloved. It was scuffed up.''

"The owner had no idea who the artist was.''

Rosanna Natoli provides a little comfort for husband Joe after a disappointing eletion result. Photo: Chris McCormack
Rosanna Natoli provides a little comfort for husband Joe after a disappointing eletion result. Photo: Chris McCormack

Originally, Mr Natoli hoped to secure the painting for as little as 60 to 80 pounds, based on the auction listing.

"We were hoping to get a real bargain but there were a few other people out there who obviously thought it had something special about it as well.''

Rosanna said she hoped the painting might be bought by a public institution so it could be seen by everyone.

TWO BROTHERS: Joe and Anthony Natoli
TWO BROTHERS: Joe and Anthony Natoli

The family have been living with relatives for the past two years since the collapse of the family's  Big Top Shopping Centre fresh fruit business, Two Bros in February last year.

"It will get a new home and we might get a new home,'' Rosanna said.

Topics:  editors picks joe natoli

News Corp Australia


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