Frederick MCCUBBIN | The recipe

Frederick MCCUBBIN
Australia 1855 – 1917

The recipe c.1914
oil on canvas
66.2 (h) x 41.0 (w) cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane purchased in 1951 through the Maria Therese Treweeke Bequest


In painting The recipe, McCubbin reprised a subject that had engaged him as a young man, in Kitchen at the old King Street bakery 1884 (AGSA). While The recipe has none of the academic precision of this earlier work, it is nevertheless ambitious. Not concerned to document detail or labour over realism, McCubbin achieved a unity in the later painting that reflected a lifetime of learning.

In 1916 McCubbin wrote: ‘pictures of things familiar to us, of homely subjects … more often … rise to true greatness’ (‘Some remarks’, MacDonald 1916, p 84). This assertion illuminates a group of pictures that he made at Mount Macedon 1912–14, including Shelling peas (cat 48) and The recipe.

The recipe shows the artist’s 16-year-old daughter, Sheila, reading a recipe card in the scullery of ‘Fontainebleau’. Cool, breezy and adjoining the kitchen, the scullery was the ideal place to store and prepare food. McCubbin’s paintings of the tea-time rituals performed there feature either Sheila or his wife, Annie, both accomplished cooks. The recipe, however, is distinctive. Though Sheila’s eyes are downcast, she faces us—as if a knowing collaborator, despite appearing unaware of scrutiny. McCubbin began the painting during the Christmas vacation of 1914, after Sheila’s first year at the National Gallery’s school. As an informed viewer, she would have delighted in the painting’s art-historical allusions to the Dutch masters and Renoir, among others.

The painting is not a portrait of Sheila, but a portrayal of the domestic interior she inhabits, her own private universe. The theme was the mainspring of Edwardian painting, which McCubbin knew from London. It is McCubbin’s choice of subject that reveals the influence of his 1907 trip there, as well as his brushwork, feathery in parts, burnished in others.

Samantha Littley

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