Australia 1855 – 1917
oil on canvas
signed and dated 'F McCubbin 1912' lower left
75.8 (h) x 50.2 (w) cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne purchased with the assistance of a special grant from the Government of Victoria, 1979
McCubbin painted the members of his family many times, sometimes using them as models in his large figure compositions, at other times painting their portraits or including them in domestic interiors. Shelling peas is one of the most intimate of such family portraits. It shows his wife Annie in the pantry of their Mount Macedon home, ‘Fontainebleau’. Illuminated by the light coming in from the window, Annie sits quietly absorbed in her task. Her arms make a circle in front of her. It is an image of contentment, of a mother and wife preparing food for her family.
The kitchen, the symbolic centre of the home and family, had much appeal to McCubbin. It featured as early as 1884, in the art school set piece Home again (NGV) and in Kitchen at the old King Street bakery (AGSA). He painted several other works closely related to Shelling peas, including The recipe (cat 64). Shelling peas was a family favourite, and marked ‘not for sale’ when exhibited in 1924 after McCubbin’s death. After Annie McCubbin’s death it passed to their daughter Sheila, and subsequently to her sister Kathleen.
Recently cleaned, Shelling peas reveals the purity of the colour of the light coming in from the window onto Annie’s face. Apparently, after finishing the work McCubbin made several changes to the composition, painting out the back of Annie’s chair and extending her dress to cover the chair’s front legs.