In the same year that Tom Roberts painted this countryside scene of Darebin Creek on the outskirts of Melbourne,he had returned to Australia from studies and travel in Europe and England. Roberts had absorbed the plein-airapproach to painting, a technique of sketching in paint directly from nature. He wanted to connect with the natural world, to capture in paint the sensation of momentary light and colour. He considered this sketch to be a finished work, a picture of the moment for the moment. While Roberts continued to work on other paintings in his studio, his plein-air approach in this and subsequent paintings was a significant departure from the conventional technique of making drawings and sketches outside and returning to the studio to paint the ‘finished’ scene.
In the small and exquisitely painted A quiet day on Darebin Creek Roberts displayed his skills in working in the open air. His deft and measured application of paint captures the reflection of light in the waters of the creek. Roberts has depicted an artist painting outdoors, placing him low down in the scene which has a high horizon. His use of subtle tonal colours unifies the composition and contributes to a painting that feels complete.