Frederick MCCUBBIN | Summer evening

Frederick MCCUBBIN
Australia 1855 – 1917

Summer evening c.1908
oil on canvas board
signed 'F McCubbin' lower right
30.5 (h) x 22.7 (w) cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the Government of Victoria, 1979

This painting is amongst the most daring of all late McCubbins … The falls and rifts of paint make the sky into a great drama of opposing forces and rhythms ... Like Constable, whom this study recalls more than Turner or even the impressionists, McCubbin shows the landscape beneath as being acted upon, charged and transformed by the great aery drama of the sky (McCaughey 1979, p 70).

A small, on the spot sketch, Summer evening is notable for McCubbin’s spontaneous and bold painting technique. The scene is described broadly, with little detail, and colour and form blend into each other. McCubbin painted the work in one sitting, using both a brush and palette knife to apply the paint. In the lower-right corner he has used the handle of the brush to score into the paint. His subject is the sky, and more than three-quarters of the composition is taken up by it. Full of colour, light and restless movement, the sky is grand and exhilarating. In contrast, man’s presence in the landscape below, signified by the low buildings in the foreground and on the distant horizon, appears insignificant, diminished by the great forces of nature.

McCubbin’s concern here is to capture nature ‘alive’. On 27 January 1909 he wrote to Roberts: ‘So many [modern landscapes] seemed to arrest nature, Still Life. And the great gems of the past Rubens, Tintoretto, Turner, Constable, caught it Alive’ (Tom Roberts letters, ML).

Elena Taylor

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