McCUBBIN, Frederick (1855-1917)

McCUBBIN, Frederick (1855-1917)
was born at West Melbourne, on 25 February 1855. His father, Alexander McCubbin, was a master baker. The son was educated at Mr Wilmot's school, West Melbourne and St Paul's school, Swanston-street, Melbourne. On leaving school he became an office boy in a solicitor's office, but after a few months gave this up to assist his father in his business. He was then apprenticed to a coach painter, but not long after the completion of his indentures in 1875, his father died and he had to take charge of his business. Some years before he had begun to work in the evening at a school of design, where he became acquainted with C. Douglas Richardson (q.v.). They quickly exhausted the possibilities of this school, and the two of them passed on to the newly established drawing school of the national gallery. McCubbin afterwards joined the painting class but made little progress until the advent of G. F. Folingsby (q.v.) as director in 1882. He soon began to improve, and a little later won the first prize of £30 in a students' competition for a composition called "Home Again". In 1886 he was appointed acting-master of the school of design at the national gallery and afterwards was appointed master. He remained in this position to the end of his life. If it restricted the time available for painting, his salary at least provided the element of safety. On the death of Folingsby in January 1891, McCubbin was appointed acting-director and held the position until the arrival of Bernard Hall (q.v.) in March 1892. In 1894 one of his pictures, "Feeding Time", was bought for the national gallery at Melbourne. Six years later this was exchanged for another of his pictures, "A Winter Evening". In 1897 he exhibited at the Paris Salon and at the Grafton gallery, London. He was elected president of the Victorian Artists' Society in 1902, and again held the position in a later year. In 1906 his large triptych, "The Pioneer", was acquired under the terms of the Felton (q.v.) bequest for the national gallery of Victoria.
In 1907 McCubbin obtained leave of absence, visited Europe, and made his first acquaintance with the great masters of painting, hitherto seen only in reproductions. He enjoyed it very much, but his visit was too short to have much influence on his work though for a time afterwards he seemed to feel a difficulty in settling down, and occasionally his tendency to neglect drawing and think only of colour became accentuated. The visit had been a great event for him and left him many happy memories. Towards the end of 1911 there was a quarrel in the artists' camp, and McCubbin left the Victorian Artists' Society and joined Walter Withers (q.v.), Max Meldrum, Edward Officer (q.v.) and others in forming the Australian Art Association. In 1915 he fell into bad health, he had two sons at the war and his natural anxiety may have contributed to this. In 1916 he was granted six months' leave of absence from the national gallery school, and he died on 20 December 1917. He had married in 1890, Annie Moriarty, who with two daughters and four sons, survived him. One of his sons, Louis McCubbin, born 18 March 1891, became an artist of ability and was president of the Victorian Artists' Society, 1933-5. He was appointed director of the national gallery at Adelaide in 1936.
Frederick McCubbin's enthusiasm and kindliness had a great influence for good on his students, though strictly speaking he may not have been a great teacher. His portraits were unequal, but in his landscape painting he showed great sincerity, good colour, sound cornposition and much poetical feeling. Examples of his work may be found in the Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Geelong and Castlemaine galleries.
A. Colquhoun, Frederick McCubbin; The Art of Frederick McCubbin, but neither of these books is always accurate; W. Moore, The Story of Australian Art; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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