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His art brought depth to colonial life

Updated: Jan 10

The headstone for Frederick McCubbin and his wife Annie, is a small, simple block with the word 'Artist' chiselled under his name in Brighton cemetery. It belies the amazing ability of one of Australia's greatest landscape and colonial artists.


The simple headstones of Frederick and Annie McCubbin. Courtesy Findagrave


Born in 1855 in Melbourne to Scottish baker, Alexander McCubbin and his wife Anne, nee McWilliams, Frederick was employed in a solicitor's office when he was 14, before joining the family business driving a baker's cart. His first painting job was when he was apprenticed to a coach painter.


He obviously loved the artistic world and wanted to explore it more by enrolling in the Artisan's School of Design in Carlton in 1869. He finished his apprenticeship in 1875 but had to take over his father's business after his death.


Frederick did continue his studies, however, studying under the well known Austrian landscape artist Johann Joseph Eugen von Guerard. He started winning prizes and exhibiting his works at the Victorian Academy of Art. He sold his first painting in 1880, entitled 'View Near Fisherman's Bend'.


Feeding Time, by Frederick McCubbin.


Frederick would go on painting trips with is fellow painter and student Tom Roberts, joined by other artists, Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder to name a few. This clique of artistic talent would soon come to be known as the Heidelberg school, as that was the area in which they would camp in. The term was coined by Melbourne art critic, Sidney Dickinson when he was reviewing works by Arthur Streeton and Walter Withers.


Frederick came to be known as 'The Prof' due to his philosophical view on the world. He drew inspiration in his art from the earlier traditions of colonial painting and the growing sense of nationalism of the time.


The Pioneer tryptych by Frederick McCubbin


His most famous works include 'Feeding Time', showing his wife Annie feeding her chickens; The Pioneer, in the form of a tryptych, each panel showing a different stage in the pioneer's life and A Bush Burial or The last of the pioneers, painted in 1890.


He died in 1917 of heart disease, leaving behind his wife, Annie Lucy (nee Moriarty), four sons and two daughters.



References

  • 'Mr Frederick McCubbin', Observer, Saturday 29 December, 1917, Page 12

  • David Thomas, 'McCubbin, Frederick (Fred) (1855–1917)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mccubbin-frederick-fred-7328/text12715, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 November 2023.

  • Marjorie J. Tipping, 'Guerard, Johann Joseph Eugen von (1812–1901)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/guerard-johann-joseph-eugen-von-3677/text5745, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 28 November 2023.

  • 'Heidelberg School' Wikipedia, accessed 28th November, 2023, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidelberg_School

  • 'Feeding Time', artistsfootsteps.com, accessed 28th November, 2023, https://www.artistsfootsteps.com/html/McCubbin_feedingtime.htm#:~:text=This%20work%20depicts%20a%20domesticated,)%2C%20Wolseley%20Crescent%2C%20Blackburn.

  • 'Frederick McCubbin The Pioneer 1904', National Gallery of Victoria, accessed 28th November, 2023, https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/frederick-mccubbin-the-pioneer-1904/



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