Frederick MCCUBBIN | Harmony in blue, Williamstown

Frederick MCCUBBIN
Australia 1855 – 1917

Harmony in blue, Williamstown [Ships, Williamstown] c.1909
oil on canvas-textured board
signed 'F McCubbin' lower left
25.0 (h) x 35.0 (w) cm
Private collection, courtesy Lauraine Diggins Fine Art, Melbourne


In this atmospheric work McCubbin depicted the scene under heavy cloud, illuminated by the diffused twilight. The cloudy sky with last traces of sunset reflected on the water conveys a distinctive atmosphere. The water with its shimmering reflections occupies two thirds of the image. The boats, shown in silhouette against the sky along the horizon, point to this being a working harbour.

McCubbin applied his paint deftly, using small dabs of thin paint in some areas to convey the airy atmosphere and then dragging it down to give the impression of rain falling from out of the clouds. He used paint more thickly elsewhere to convey the texture of the water. He used soft pinks to enliven the overall pastel blues, purples, greys and gold tones of the sky and water.

Both Turner’s sunsets and Whistler’s ‘Nocturnes’ appear to have been in McCubbin’s mind when he painted this work. Indeed, it is likely that this was the painting exhibited as ‘Harmony in Blue, Williamstown 1910 (influence of JMW Turner)’ in 1955, where a painting of these dimensions was exhibited under this title. The subtitle indicates the influence of Turner; and the musical title ‘Harmony in blue’ points to the influence from Whistler. But more than this, the motif of the setting sun and its reflections was a theme of both Turner and Whistler. And as with Whistler’s work, the title’s allusion to music directs the viewer away from literal associations toward a more poetic conceptualisation of the scene.

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