In Memory of “The Proff”

Wednesday 20 December, 2017 marks the centenary of the death of one of Australia’s Great Landscape Painters, Frederick McCubbin.

Frederick McCubbin or “The Proff” as he was affectionately known to his friends and his students was born on Sunday 25 February 1855 at 165 King Street, Melbourne, the third son of Alexander McCubbin, baker and his wife, Annie.

His early years included helping his father with the running of the bakery by driving one of the bakers’ carts and around 1870 he began attending evening classes at the Artisans School of Design, situated in Lygon Street, Carlton. The following year he started a five year apprenticeship as a coach painter for Stevenson and Elliott and in 1872 he also began studies under Thomas Clark and later, Oswald Rose Campbell at the School of Design, National Gallery of Victoria.

Completing these School of Design studies, in 1877 he joined the School of Painting, National Gallery of Victoria, under the instruction of Eugene von Guerard. During this time he was a member of the Victorian Academy of Arts and exhibited his works in their 1876 and 1879-1882 annual exhibitions.

In 1886 he broke away from the Victorian Academy of Arts and with his friend Tom Roberts and several other artists formed the Australian Artists’ Association. Also in this year he was appointed Acting Master and Instructor of the School of Design, National Gallery of Victoria.

Two years later, in 1886 he was appointed Instructor and Master of the School of Design, National Gallery of Victoria and this position he held for the rest of his life.

Recently while searching through documents belonging to his close friend, Walter Withers, I came across an envelope containing a photograph that Frederick McCubbin had sent to Withers around the time of his 1886 appointment.

In 1888, the Australian Artists’ Association amalgamated with the Victorian Academy of Arts and formed the Victorian Artists’ Society. From its inception, Frederick McCubbin acted as a Councillor of the Victorian Artists’ Society and was also President in 1903 and 1904 and again in 1909. His son Louis was to follow in his footsteps and was President in 1933 and 1934.

Frederick McCubbin was known for his large “Nationalistic” oils which captured what was a fast disappearing way of life, thanks to the rapid growth of population and the development of townships, especially in country areas.

McCubbin regularly contributed to the exhibitions organized by the Victorian Artists’ Society, with major works such as “Down on his Luck”, 1889 (Art Gallery of Western Australia) exhibited in the VAS Winter Exhibition, Grosvenor Gallery, National Gallery of Victoria, May 1889 and “A Bush Burial”, 1890 (Geelong Art Gallery) exhibited in the VAS Winter Exhibition, March 1890.

Both of these works along with “Lost”, 1886 (National Gallery of Victoria) were also exhibited in the VAS Exhibition of Australian Art Past and Present, held at the National Gallery of Victoria in August 1893.

A number of VAS exhibitions were held at the National Gallery of Victoria and in October 1910, McCubbin also exhibited six works with the VAS Exhibition held at the Athenaeum Gallery.

It would seem that raising funds for the VAS building is nothing new and McCubbin’s work, “Bush Idyll”, 1893 was first exhibited with the VAS as part of the Art Union held in June 1894 to raise funds for the new VAS building.

Other major works by Frederick McCubbin that were exhibited with the Victorian Artists’ Society, include “The Pioneer”, 1904 (National Gallery of Victoria) exhibited in the VAS Winter Exhibition, 1905; “A Winter Evening”, 1897 (National Gallery of Victoria) exhibited in the VAS exhibition held at the National Gallery of Victoria, 1898 and “Moyes Bay, Beaumaris”, 1887 (Art Gallery of Western Australia) exhibited along with 62 other Frederick McCubbin works in the VAS McCubbin Memorial Exhibition held in the VAS Galleries between 27 September and 8 October 1921.

Many of the major works of the Heidelberg School that we now view in Galleries throughout Australia were purchased through these exhibitions held by the Victorian Artists’ Society and it was through McCubbin taking Julian Ashton to view the VAS Winter Exhibition in 1890, that Ashton recommended that the Art Gallery of New South Wales purchase Arthur Streeton’s “Still Glide the Stream and Shall Forever Glide”, 1890.

During his lifetime Frederick McCubbin produced many other landscape works including, “Lost”, 1907 (National Gallery of Victoria); “A Ti-Tree Glade”, 1897 (Art Gallery of South Australia and the ever popular “On the Wallaby Track”, 1896 (Art Gallery of New South Wales).

In many of his works Frederick McCubbin included his wife and children as models and he also produced numerous portraits, including portraits of his wife such as “Portrait of Mrs F. McCubbin (a study in grey)”, 1900 (National Gallery of Victoria).

In 1912 Frederick McCubbin became a founding member of the Australian Art Association however he will always be remembered by the Victorian Artists’ Society for his considerable contribution to the Society and as one of their major Historic members. In 1989, I brought his contribution to the Society to the notice of the President and Council of the VAS and encouraged the Society to name the centre upstairs Gallery the “McCubbin Gallery”, which was officially opened by Kathleen Mangan on the 22 June 1989.

In 1916 Frederick McCubbin took leave of absence from his National Gallery position as he was suffering from severe attacks of asthma and it is considered that his asthma and a bout of pneumonia late in the following year, weakened his heart and he died, aged 62, from a heart attack on Thursday 20 December 1917 at his home at 42 Kensington Road, South Yarra.

He was buried privately at the Brighton Cemetery the following day, Friday 21 December 1917 and friends were invited to join the procession at the Cemetery Gates at 4.30pm that afternoon. His time of burial was recorded as 4.15pm.

Frederick McCubbin will always be remembered as a Master and one of the Great Landscape Painters of Australia. His works have inspired writers, poets and musicians and have brought enjoyment to people of all ages. His works continue to delight those who visit the major Galleries throughout Australia and on this occasion of the centenary of his death why not visit the Ian Potter Centre, NGV Australia, take time to enjoy his works and congratulate “The Proff” on his achievements.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Andrew Mackenzie OAM

December 2017

facebook comments:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *