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Frederick McCubbin was born on February 25th, 1855 in the capital of Victoria, Melbourne. The Australian artist came from a large family, with seven siblings. His father was a Scottish baker while his mother was English, and they both provided a good education for young McCubbin who would eventually become a respected painter and one of the leading artists of the Australian art movement, The Heidelberg School.
Before he was able to work full time as a painter, McCubbin fulfilled many roles, like working as a clerk, helping in his family’s bakery, and even painting coaches. During this period, he was already studying at the School of Design of the National Gallery of Victoria under Eugene von Guerard. McCubbin continued in search of formal art education and enrolled in the Victorian Academy of the Arts, where he began exhibiting his paintings in 1876.
It was in 1880 that the Australian painter sold his first artwork. During this period, he took on many responsibilities by inheriting the family business after his father’s death. At the same time, his popularity only grew and he was generating positive feedback from the critics. In 1883, McCubbin won first prize in the National Gallery’s student exhibition, where he won several other prizes throughout the decade.
In 1888, Frederick McCubbin became a professor of the School of Design, in which he had previously studied. Among his pupils are worth mentioning Arthur Streeton and Charles Condon, both of whom were strongly associated with the Heidelberg School. The movement, also known as the Australian Impressionism, began during the late XIX century along with a growing feeling of nationalism in the country. These artists would often paint outdoors, or as the French Impressionists would say painting en plein air, capturing the Australian landscapes and lifestyle.
About a year after McCubbin was appointed professor, he married Annie Moriarty, and they had seven children together. In 1901, the artist moved to the small town of Mount Macedon with his family, where he produced some of his most inspired paintings. He concluded the masterpiece The Pioneers in 1904 while living in the north-western region of Melbourne, where he spent most of his life.
McCubbin traveled on rare occasions, like in 1907 when he visited England. In Melbourne, he became a professor at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School, where he lectured notable names like Hilda Rix Nicholas and photographer Ruth Miriam Hollick. McCubbin’s work aimed to reflect Australian rural life and nature.
By the end of the 1880s and beginning of the 1900s, he concluded a series of melancholic paintings, which is very popular. The artist began with Down on His Luck in 1889, then On the Wallaby Track, 1896, and the triptych The Pioneers, concluded in 1904, arguably the most famous of the series.
By the beginning of the First World War, McCubbin’s health began to show signs of weakness. He passed away in December 1917 from a heart attack, five years after becoming one of the Australian Art Association’s founding members.