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Frederick McCubbin, arguably one of Australia’s most important painters, was born in Melbourne on 25th of February 1855 and died on 20th of December 1917. As a founding member of the Heidelberg School, McCubbin was at the forefront of one of the most influential movements in Australian art history.
He enrolled at the Artisans' School of Design, Carlton in 1869 and later studied drawing under Thomas Clark at the School of Design, National Gallery of Victoria. He met fellow student Tom Roberts and also studied under Eugene von Guerard. McCubbin also studied at the Victorian Academy of the Arts where he exhibited in 1876 and again from 1879 to 1882. McCubbin sold his first painting, 'View Near Fisherman's Bend' in 1880. By the early 1880s, his work began to attract considerable attention, winning several prizes from the National Gallery, including a silver medal for figure drawing in 1882 and first prize in 1883 in their annual student exhibition.
By the mid-1880s McCubbin turned his focus to the Australian bush; crafting the evocative works for which he is most well known. When Tom Roberts returned from overseas in 1885, he and McCubbin went on painting trips, camping at Housten's farm at Box Hill, at Mentone on Port Phillip Bay and later in the Heidelberg area. Here they were joined by Arthur Streeton, Charles Conder and others.
As one of the founders of the Heidelberg school, McCubbin was a major figure in the development of the Australian school of landscape and subject painting that emerged at the close of the nineteenth century. His early interest in the portrayal of national life is evident in his large subject pictures of recent history which celebrated the virtues and quiet heroism of the pioneers.
In 1886 McCubbin was appointed drawing Master of the School of Design at the National Gallery, a position he held for the rest of his life. In 1912 McCubbin joined seven other artists in forming the Australian Art Association. McCubbin became the Associations’ first president.
In March 1889 McCubbin married Annie Moriarty. They had seven children, with their son Louis following his father into the art world. The family initially lived in the Melbourne suburbs of Auburn, Blackburn, Brighton and Carlton. In 1901 they moved to Mount Macedon, transporting a prefabricated English style home up onto the northern slopes of the mountain which they named Fontainebleau. The bush surrounding the artist’s Macedon home became his inspiration to experiment with the light and its effects on colour in nature. It was here that he painted "The Pioneer" along with many other works. It is also the only place where McCubbin painted fairies. Fontainebleau was spared the devastation of the Ash Wednesday fires and today stands as a testament to the artist.
McCubbin exhibited alongside Roberts, Streeton, Conder, D. Douglas Richardson, R. E. Falls and Herbert Daly at Buxton's Galleries. He also exhibited at the Society of Artists' exhibitions of the late 1890s in Sydney, was represented in the 1898 Exhibition of Australian Art, Grafton Galleries, London, and held one-man shows in Melbourne from about 1904. In 1891 McCubbin was acting director of the National Gallery until the appointment of Bernard Hall in 1892, and took on the role again in 1903 and 1905. Frederick McCubbin was admired as a warm and nurturing personality, given to easy conversation and an encouraging, intuitive teacher.
McCubbin's first work to be acquired for a public gallery was 'Feeding Time', purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1894 and exchanged for 'A Winter Evening' in 1900; 'The Pioneers' was also acquired in 1906. The Western Australian and New South Wales galleries made purchases in 1896 and 1897; 'A Bush Burial' was bought by public subscription for the Geelong Art Gallery in 1900; and the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased paintings in 1900 and 1912. In 1912 he became the founding member of the Australian Arts Society. In 1955, a retrospective exhibition to mark the centenary of McCubbin’s birth was held at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Frederick McCubbin finally succumbed to heart disease on 20th December 1917 at his home, Carlsburg, South Yarra, and was buried in Brighton cemetery.