Painter of neoclassical figure paintings and landscapes, Robertshaw knew lean times as a commercial artist, exhibited with the Society of Artists, the Royal Art Society and the Australian Watercolour Institute, and retired to live in the Blue Mountains.
painter, was born in Sydney on 16 November 1916 and lived at Rose Bay and Burwood. Her parents came from Clayton near Bradford, Yorkshire, migrating to Australia during World War I. She attended Rose Bay, Darlinghurst and Paddington primary schools and Burwood High but left school at sixteen, without her Leaving Certificate, and enrolled in Commercial Art at East Sydney Technical College where she studied drawing, life drawing, oil painting, watercolour and lettering with Frank Medworth , Douglas Dundas , Herbert Badham , William Dobell , Arthur Murch , Charles Meere and others. Notable fellow students included Lorna Nimmo , Rosaleen Norton and James Gleeson . Norton modelled for one of Robertshaw’s paintings as well as many of Meere’s. In 1937 she completed her art course and, with the encouragement of Meere, decided to compete for the 1938 Travelling Art Scholarship. Meere offered to train her in figure painting and she became his apprentice. Working in his two-roomed commercial art studio at 24 Bond Street, Robertshaw executed the first of her eight major neoclassical figure paintings (e.g. Picnic 1938, see Sotheby’s catalogue Nov 1998, lot 11). Meere’s best-known work, Australian Beach Pattern (1940, AGNSW), was her training ground and – in the tradition of the student following the master – she meticulously painted a feminised version. Robertshaw learnt her craft so well that her paintings of this period have frequently been mistaken for Meere’s.
She entered the scholarship four times (1938-44) until ineligible due to age restrictions. By 1944 her traditional, conservative approach had been eclipsed by 'the revolution in modern art’ and the judges awarded the prize to the more 'contemporary’ work of Anne Wienholt . Freed from the constraints of the scholarship and feeling oppressed by Meere and his painting style, Robertshaw decided to leave the studio and wean herself from his influence. She started up her own commercial art studio in a room in the same building, but it was a difficult and lonely time. Clients were hard to find. She decided to work freelance for the industrial advertiser L.B. Rennie. In 1944, aged thirty, with a secure income and the encouragement of her friend Fred Esch, a journalist, she moved away from home and rented a room in the Esch home in Mosman, where she remained for three years before returning home to Burwood. She continued industrial drawing at Rennie’s for the rest of her working life.
The self portrait, Standing Nude (1944), was her last figure painting and symbolised a final break from Meere. Returning to her original passion for watercolour landscapes and flower paintings, she exhibited these with the Society of Artists, the Royal Art Society and the Australian Watercolour Institute. On her retirement, Robertshaw purchased a small house in the Blue Mountains where she continued to live until her death on 10 May 1997. The importance of her neoclassical figure painting was not recognised until 1988, but now these rare examples in her oeuvre are keenly sought by museums and private collectors.