Home' Scoop : Scoop 50 Summer 2009 Contents The fascinating thing about
Frederick McCubbin -- as any
gushing gallery curator will tell
you -- is that his work grew lighter,
more playful and superior in quality
towards the end of his career.
An integral member of the Heidelberg School of
artists who painted bush scenes around Melbourne
in the late 19th Century, McCubbin helped bring the
Australian landscape into the nation's cultural con-
sciousness. Some of his famous romantic works like
Down on His Luck -- of a forlorn bushman pondering
by a campfire -- capture the sort of rugged, pioneer-
ing spirit that became synonymous with an emerging
Australian identity around the time of Federation.
But while his contemporaries Tom Roberts,
Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder went on to
pursue careers in Europe, McCubbin worked in
Melbourne, where he was settled with a wife and
children. It wasn't until 1907 when he was 52, that
he finally travelled to Europe to experience first
hand the paintings he had only ever seen in books.
The luminous, late impressionist style of artists
like Turner and Monet had a tremendous impact on
McCubbin, and when he returned to Australia his
work tended in the same direction. These paintings,
produced in the period up to his death in 1917, are
now the subject of an exhibition coming to the Art
Gallery of WA.
Curator Dr Anne Gray says they are McCubbin's
best works. "They're full of colour, full of light, full
of energy," she enthuses. "His earlier works tended
to be more grey/green and the handling of paint
isn't nearly as exciting."
His iconic paintings of Australian landscapes made Frederick
McCubbin one of the nation's best-loved artists. Now a new
exhibition is unearthing some of his finest and least-known works.
Along with exposure to European artists, Anne
attributes the liveliness of these paintings to the
foreign landscape McCubbin encountered when
travelling. "He looked up and saw the sky and the
countryside all around him, and he realised there
was more vibrancy in Australia than in Britain. That
caused him to paint more colour and light in the
landscape when he returned," she says.
In contrast to the staid, realistic execution of his
early works, McCubbin also began using progressive
techniques to create radiant images.
Despite the critical acclaim of such works, most
Australians are largely unfamiliar with them. This
is the first time many of the paintings have been
shown in WA. AGWA's curator of historical art
Melissa Harpley predicts the exhibition will cement
McCubbin's already hugely popular status among
art lovers. "There are some very beautiful paintings
in the show, so I think people will find it visually
enjoyable as well as there being that historical and
December 11- March 29. AGWA, Perth Cultural
Centre, (08) 9492 6622, artgallery.wa.gov.au.
PRIZE PICKINGS Curator Dr Anne Gray's favourites.
Old Slip, Williamstown, (1915): "The purples and
blues in the water are just so much like Monet's
water lilies and the reflected light on the water
shows his love of Turner." Arrival of the Duke and
Duchess of York, Melbourne 1901, (1908) "It's
filled with fabulous light coming through from
behind the bridge." Violet and Gold, (1911) "It's
quite a magical work, and if you look at the detail
in it you'll notice the paint is very abstract."
text jessica matthews
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