Cover image of the review
Frederick McCubbin, The Pioneer, 1904, oil on canvas, 223 x 86; 224 x 122; 223 x 85 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Felton Bequest, 1906.

Spray Painting The Pioneer

3 Mar 2023
National Gallery of Victoria | The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia 1 Jan - 31 Dec 2023

It has always looked strange to me, hovering up there like some kind of shimmering mirage, but I could never say exactly why.

It’s the last panel of Frederick McCubbin’s The Pioneer, with disputed dates but let us say 1903 to 1905, one of the undeniably great paintings in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria.

How did it end up in the NGV? Now there’s a story.

We all know McCubbin. He’s one of the Heidelberg School Big Four (Big Five if we count Jane Sutherland). He met Tom Roberts when they were both studying at the National Gallery of Victoria School of Design in 1874 and they remained lifelong friends. He started the famous painting school at Box Hill along with Roberts and Louis Abrahams in 1885. Although he wasn’t one of the artists who actually put on the famous 9 x 5 Exhibition at Buxton’s showrooms in 1889, he did have five paintings in the show. He’s the one sitting on the ground with his trademark handlebar moustache drinking tea from a billy while Abrahams cooks steak on a fire while they were up at Box Hill painting one weekend in Roberts’s The Artists’ Camp of 1886.

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