Australia 1855 – 1917
oil on canvas
91.5 (h) x 55.9 (w) cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Landscape, Macedon is unusual for McCubbin in its vertical format. It is an image of colour and light and shade, painted with considerable freedom and dexterity. The valley landscape is framed by trees on both sides, looking across the Hesket plains towards Hanging Rock. The bush camp in the foreground serves to emphasise the height of the tall gums.
McCubbin commented in 1916: ‘The feeling of closing day, approaching night and rest, the billy fire, and the smoke ascending from the burning gum branches typify so much of life along Victorian roads. It is thoroughly Australian’ (‘Some remarks’, MacDonald 1916, p 86). Although writing about Australian art in general, he could very well have been describing Landscape, Macedon.
In composition and subject, the work recalls John Constable’s last and greatest painting of the Stour Valley, The Vale of Dedham 1827–28 (National Galleries Scotland), which itself was a homage to the French seventeenth-century artist Claude Lorrain. Like Constable, McCubbin placed taller trees on the right of the picture and smaller on the left, and depicted flickering leaves to give a sense of wind in the trees. Like Constable, he used paint brush and palette knife to give variety to his application of paint. In place of Constable’s gypsy beside a fire, McCubbin included the motif of a camp fire. This might be thought to be a reversion to McCubbin’s earlier interest in picturesque narrative, however it could well represent an actual scene in this location, as during the summer months McCubbin’s students would frequently visit Macedon and set up camp nearby his house.
McCubbin’s daughter Kathleen wrote of this time:
my family used to spend the summer months at ‘Fontainebleau’, sometimes remaining up there until well after Easter. We would arrive just before Christmas and by Christmas Day the house would be full of family and guests, with art students dropping in at various times through the day from the camp nearby in the Old Garden (Mangan 1988, p 23).