Frederick MCCUBBIN | Ships, Williamstown

Frederick MCCUBBIN
Australia 1855 – 1917

Ships, Williamstown [Battleship in the Harbour] c.1909
oil on canvas board
signed 'F McCubbin' lower right
24.0 (h) x 34.0 (w) cm
Philip Bacon collection, Brisbane


Williamstown (on Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay), which had served as the city’s first port, was one of McCubbin’s favourite painting spots. It was named Williamstown, after King William IV, at that time the English monarch. It attracted him for its sparkle of sunlight on water and open sky. Added to this, he was fascinated by the ships, the old slip, the buildings and wooden jetties along the shoreline.

McCubbin’s Williamstown panels show a new freedom and daring in his work. They were painted on the spot, with broad strokes of the brush and the palette knife, using high-key colours. In this painting he depicted Williamstown Harbour looking south east, capturing the texture of the foreground soil and a hazy sky, as well as the ships in harbour. On 27 January 1909, McCubbin wrote to Tom Roberts:

I have been down at Williamstown for a few poschards my dear boy, just like Venice lovely colour—water and sky and an old slip … the older I get, the wider my interest grows in all life colour—charm—My dear Tom, in our past work we have been too timid (Tom Roberts letters, ML).

When McCubbin exhibited some Williamstown sketches in 1912, a critic remarked on their ‘stimulating breadth and frankness of style, conception of colour and power of visual compression’ (Argus, 14 August 1912, p10).

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