Frederick McCubbin: the brush-wielding bard of Australian bush life

In yesterday's post I showed you a print Rowdy Wylie had framed of The Pioneer by early Australian artist Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917) who was one of the key founders of the Heidelberg School of Australian Impressionism.

Today I will show you some more of the wonderful paintings by this artist ... Frederick McCubbin... as shown below in a self portrait painted in 1886 following McCubbin being appointed drawing master at the National Gallery School, a post that he retained until his death.1

As the notes from the Art Gallery of New South Wales explains: His pleasure at receiving this appointment is reflected in a three-quarter length Self-portrait 1886, in which he prominently proffers his artist’s palette to the viewer.1.

Self-portrait, 1886 by Frederick McCubbin (Source: Public Domain/

Frederick McCubbin was one of the key founders of the Heidelberg school of Australian Impressionism. Like Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton, McCubbin subsequently became inspired during the 1890s to create large-scale pioneering history subjects, which contributed to the formation of a mythic national iconography in the years leading up to Federation.1

The son of a baker, McCubbin began sketching in the inner suburbs of Melbourne in the late 1860s, where he met Louis Buvelot, a Swiss-born artist whose naturalistic landscapes of the domesticated Australian countryside had a great impact on his later work.1

McCubbin humanised the landscape by including figures which reflected in a somewhat romantic presentation, the early European settlers engaged in their daily lives which often look too romantic until you look more closely and you will see as in The Pioneer painted in 1904 that this husband and wife with a small child are grieving the death of another child.

The Pioneer by Frederick McCubbin (Source: Public Domain/

Bush Idyll, 1893 (below) in contrast depict the delightfully romantic relationship between two young lovers which does indicate that Fred McCubbin did have a bit of a glint in his eye occasionally.

Bush Idyll, 1893 by Frederick McCubbin (Source: Public Domain/

In thinking about Bush Idyll as shown above and how McCubbin delighted in capturing these special whimiscal moments, I decided to have a bit of fun with a description of this wonderful artist within the context of being Australian. And here it is with thanks to ChatGPT which wrote it under my directions. I hope it would give Fred a bit of a chuckle and you as well.

Ah, Frederick McCubbin, the brush-wielding bard of Australian bush life! Picture this: it's the late 1800s, down under in the land of kangaroos and Vegemite sandwiches. Along comes Frederick, armed with a paintbrush, ready to immortalize the Aussie landscape like a true-blue Michelangelo, minus the marble and with a side of eucalyptus.2

Now, let's talk about McCubbin's infamous love affair with painting. Legend has it that he'd sneak away into the wilderness, leaving behind his city life faster than you can say "Crikey!" His studio wasn't just a place to paint; it was his personal time machine, transporting him to a simpler era where men wore bush hats and "Instagram" was just a weird noise a kangaroo made.2

But here's the kicker: while McCubbin was busy dabbing paint on canvas, the wildlife was watching. Ever wonder why kangaroos look so contemplative in his paintings? It's because they were his toughest critics! You can just imagine a group of 'roos gathered around, nodding solemnly as McCubbin pondered his next brushstroke. "Needs more gum trees, mate," they'd probably say, with a flick of their tails.2

And let's not forget McCubbin's knack for capturing those quintessentially Australian moments. Forget about knights in shining armor or Greek gods; this bloke painted shearers, swagmen, and sunburnt landscapes that practically shouted, "Throw another shrimp on the barbie!"2

So here's to you, Frederick McCubbin, the man who turned Australian art into a bush tucker feast for the eyes. May your legacy live on, inspiring generations to come to pick up a brush and paint their own slice of Aussie paradise—preferably without the judgmental kangaroos.2

I failed to find any kangaroos in Frederick's paintings but I did find a painting of his wife Annie feeding the chooks!

Feeding Time, 1897 by Frederick McCubbin (Source:

And he also painted a landscape on a gumleaf...

Gum Leaf (South Yarra Landscape) 1915 by Frederick McCubbin (Source:

From 1867 to 1870 McCubbin attended evening classes at the Artisans School of Design at Carlton where he befriended fellow artists Louis Abrahams and Charles Douglas Richardson. He then enrolled at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School and studied under the romantic landscape painter Eugene von Guérard and later with George Folingsby, an artist whose primary interest lay in academic figure and narrative painting and who had a substantial influence on McCubbin’s development.1

Down on his luck by Frederick McCubbin (Source: Public Domain/

In 1880 McCubbin, along with a group of students, signed a petition to the trustees of the National Gallery of Victoria requesting higher instruction at the Gallery School, and founded with Abrahams a ‘life club’ in 1882 so they could draw the nude figure. Awarded a number of prizes, McCubbin’s student work from this period is exemplified in Home again 1884 (National Gallery of Victoria), a sentimental Victorian narrative tableau filled with meticulously rendered domestic detail. During this time McCubbin also produced sketches for magazines and newspapers, an activity that informed much of his early painting.1

Nude Study by Frederick McCubbin (Source:

Louis Abrahams, as mentioned above, is one of my personal heroes of this period in Australian art, and I will do a post on him very soon. But back to Fred and what he was getting up to...

Moving from city scenes and nostalgic views of his bakery, McCubbin began to work en plein air in the bushland near Melbourne. With Abrahams and Tom Roberts, who had just returned from a four-year trip to Europe, he established the Box Hill artists’ camp in the suburban bush near Melbourne in 1885, painting Gathering Mistletoe 1886 (private collection) and Lost 1886 (National Gallery of Victoria) the following year, which combine a narrative format with an emerging sense of localised light and colour.1

The Pool - Heidelberg - View of the Yarra River towards Richmond from below McCubbin’s house, Kensington Road 1910 by Frederick McCubbin (Source:

To read more about Frederick McCubbin's life and paintings please click here and if you would like to know more about the materials and techniques used by McCubbin please follow the bookmark link below.

The art of Frederick McCubbin: a view of his materials and technique | NGV

2. As written by ChatGPT with instructions from Anne Newman