Frederick McCubbin (1855 – 1917) was an Australian artist, art teacher and prominent member of the Heidelberg School art movement, also known as Australian impressionism. Born and raised in Melbourne, Victoria, McCubbin studied at the National Gallery of Victoria Art School under a number of artists, notably Eugene von Guerard and later GeorgeFolingsby. One of his former classmates, Tom Roberts, returned from art training in Europe in 1885, and that summer they established the Box Hill artists’ camp, where they were joined by Arthur Streeton and Charles Conder. These artists formed the nucleus of what became known as the Heidelberg School, a plein air art movement named after Heidelberg, the site of another one of their camps. During this time, he taught at the National Gallery school, and later served as president of both the Victorian Artists‘ Society and the Australian Art Association.
Concerned with capturing the national life of Australia, McCubbin produced a number of large landscapes that reflect the melancholic themes then popular in literary accounts of European settlers’ interactions with the bush. Several of these works have become icons of Australian art, including Down on His Luck (1889), On the Wallaby Track (1896) and The Pioneer (1904). During his first and only trip to Europe in 1907, McCubbin gained first-hand exposure to works by J. M. W. Turner and the French impressionists, inspiring a shift in his art towards freer, more abstracted brushwork and lighter colours. Works from this late period, although not as well known as his earlier national narratives, are considered by many critics to be his strongest artistically. “When he died”, wrote Barry Pearce, “McCubbin was one of the very few Australian painters who found an exalted resolution of vision that progressed with age, so that some of his greatest paintings were made in the last ten years of his life.”