From the 1880s, when his first mature work was painted, until just before his death in 1917, Frederick McCubbin painted some of Australia’s most loved landscapes and narrative paintings. Because of his family circumstances he had less freedom than many of his fellow artists, and his subject matter remains distinctly Victorian, and strongly affected by the narrative style of his early teacher, George Folingsby.
Frederick McCubbin was born at 165 King Street, Melbourne, the third son of a Scottish baker, and his English wife. His mother encouraged him to draw, as did the pastor from the local church. On leaving school he was first employed by a local solicitor, but lost that job after he was caught constructing model theatres during office hours. He returned to helping in the family bakery, including driving the baker’s cart. From 1867 to 1870 he was an evening student at the Artisans School of Design at Carlton. Here he befriended fellow artists Louis Abrahams and Charles Douglas Richardson. He then enrolled as an evening student at the National Gallery School, where he continued as a student until 1885. From 1871 to 1875 he was apprenticed as a coach painter, but after completing his apprenticeship he had to concentrate on helping the family business.
One of the most important influences on McCubbin’s development as an artist came from the Irishman George Folingsby, who succeeded Eugene von GuĂ©rard as head of the National Gallery School in 1882. Earlier he had been influenced Julian Rossi Ashton who was based in Melbourne for some years before moving to Sydney.
McCubbin first exhibited at the Victorian Academy of Arts in 1876. In 1880 he was one of the group of students who signed a petition to the trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria, requesting bq). higher instructionbq). at the Gallery School. In 1882 he founded, with Louis Abrahams and four others, a Life-Club so that they could draw nude figures. In 1882 he was awarded a silver medal from the Victorian Academy of the Arts and in 1883 was awarded First Prize from the National Gallery School for studies in colour and drawing. His Folingsby inspired painting, Home Again, won a student prize in 1884. His student nickname became bq). The Profbq). for his passion for reading widely and deeply on all manner of subjects, and then telling his fellows what he had learnt.
In 1885, after Tom Roberts returned from his European travels, McCubbin joined him and others on painting excursions and established the first artist’s camp at Box Hill. The following year he was both elected to the committee of the Australian Artists Association and appointed Drawing Master at the National Gallery School, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. In March 1889 he married a former student, Anne Moriarty. The same, in August, he joined Tom Roberts, Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder, Charles Douglas Richardson, R. E. Falls, Louis Abrahams and Herbert Daly in the polemical 9 × 5 Impression Exhibition. His first son, born the following year, was called Louis after Abrahams.
While many of his colleagues travelled to Sydney and Europe, McCubbin’s professional and family commitments kept him in Melbourne, although he did send work to Sydney exhibitions. In 1900 he visited Tasmania, and later moved the family to Mount Macedon, which became the subject of many of his later works. He made his first and only journey to Europe, where is was profoundly impressed by Turner’s paintings. This influence permeated the art of his last years.
He died of congestive heart failure at his home in South Yarra on 20 December 1917.


Joanna Mendelssohn
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