Frederick MCCUBBIN | Boats at Williamstown, Melbourne

Frederick MCCUBBIN
Australia 1855 – 1917

Boats at Williamstown, Melbourne c.1909
oil on canvas board
24.1 (h) x 34.2 (w) cm
The Holmes à Court Collection, Perth purchased 1981


A close examination of the surface of Boats at Williamstown, Melbourne, shows how McCubbin experimented with paint application, using a variety of means to capture the light effects he observed on the scene: the timber of the boats,
the rocky and sandy seashore, and those elements which (in the manner of Turner) had the most expressive possibilities—the sea and the sky. The brush has been used to lay on an impasto of paint for the choppy water of the distant channel and the foreground rocks, and to smoothly render the sandy shore. This has been combined with the palette knife, to apply paint in a series of parallel lines capturing the movement of the small waves coming into shore in the lower right-hand foreground, and to depict the ribs of the boat in the centre of the image, carving out its shape solidly from the surrounding space.

Colour is also an active element in this work, with boats and rocky shore being drawn from the same colour range, so that the manmade elements become part of the landscape, while the sky and water are rendered in a greater complexity of mauves, blues and lavenders—helping McCubbin approach his goal of capturing nature ‘alive’ (Tom Roberts letters, ML).  In writing this to Tom Roberts on 27 January 1909, McCubbin made a contrast with many of his contemporaries, who he felt ‘arrested’ nature in their paintings through being too scientific or analytical in their approach.

Melissa Harpley

Tickets available online now | open 14 August – 1 November 2009