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  • Frederick McCubbin
    Feb 25, 1855 - Dec 20,1917
  • Bush Sawyers - Frederick McCubbin was an Australian painter who was prominent in the Heidelberg School, one of the more important periods in Australia's visual arts history. His style of painting combined naturalism with the loose brushwork and light-focused approach of European Impressionism, as one of the founders of the Heidelberg school, was a major figure in the development of the Australian school of landscape and subject painting that emerged at the close of the nineteenth century.
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Bush Sawyers
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  • Bush Sawyers

  • Frederick McCubbin
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  • 1910
    Oil on canvas
    95.5 cm (37.6 in.) x 152.5 cm (60.04 in.)
    Private collection.

    Bush sawyers is the most accomplished and dynamic of McCubbin’s depictions of men sawing timber. The two foresters are shown working a two-man saw, totally absorbed in their work. By presenting them bent over, facing in different directions, McCubbin captured the rhythm of their labour. The giant trees provide a strong vertical counterpoint to the horizontal force of the sawing. The texture of the paint contributes to a shimmering effect in the web of undergrowth viewed under a gently fading light. As with his earlier images of wood cutters, the location of Bush sawyers was a heavily timbered area in the vicinity of McCubbin’s cottage, ‘Fontainebleau’, at Mount Macedon. The models for the two men were the brothers James and Patrick (Paddy) Watson (Mackenzie 1990, p 142).

    Reviewers have pointed to the similarities between this work one by the nineteenth-century French painter Jean-Fran?ois Millet, The wood sawyers c 1850–52 (V&A), which McCubbin could have seen in London in 1907. (Millet had painted the work soon after moving to the village of Barbizon near the forest of Fontainebleau in France, and it was bequeathed to the Museum in 1901). The men in McCubbin’s work are presented in similar poses to the two foreground figures in Millet’s painting, and are wearing clothes of a similar colour. Moreover, as in Millet’s painting, the men’s faces are not shown, thus emphasising the body movements. Millet’s figures, however, seem more sculptural and set apart from their surroundings, while McCubbin’s sawyers appear more natural, and blended into their environment.

    McCubbin first depicted the subject around 1907, in a large painting, The wood sawyer (Shepparton), in which he portrayed his eldest son Louis sawing a log. Other works, Sawing timber c 1907 and Woodcutters c 1908, were reproduced in MacDonald 1916 (plates xx and xxv respectively, present whereabouts unknown). These images lack both the energy of Bush sawyers and the sense of enclosure within the bush. To this extent, McCubbin’s acquaintance with Millet’s painting enhanced his imagery, while not impeding his own unique vision.

    The Australian colonial painter ST Gill also depicted the subject of sawyers in Woodcutters c 1850 (NLA). Both Streeton and Conder depicted woodcutters at Heidelberg in The selector’s hut 1890 (NGA) and Under the southern sun 1890 (NGA). But unlike these artists (and in his own earlier paintings), McCubbin was not interested in telling a story, he was simply concerned with depicting masculine labour in a natural setting.

    Bush sawyers was commissioned by the publishers of Australia Today, the journal of the Commercial Travellers Association of Victoria. A reproduction of it was also included as an unstapled supplement centrepiece in the 1955 McCubbin centenary exhibition catalogue.

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Other paintings by Frederick McCubbin:

An Interior
An Interior
Down on His Luck
Down on His Luck
The Rabbit Burrow
The Rabbit Burrow
A Bush Burial
A Bush Burial
Frederick McCubbinFrederick McCubbin (25 February 1855 – 20 December 1917) was an Australian painter who was prominent in the Heidelberg School, one of the more important periods in Australia's visual arts history.

McCubbin was born in Melbourne, the third of eight children of baker Alexander McCubbin (from Ayrshire, Scotland) and his English wife Anne, née McWilliams. McCubbin was educated at William Willmett's West Melbourne Common School and St Paul's School, Swanston Street. He later worked for a time as solicitor's clerk, a coach painter and in his family's bakery business while studying art at the National Gallery of Victoria's School of Design, where he met Tom Roberts and studied under Eugene von Guerard. He also studied at the Victorian Academy of the Arts and also exhibited there in 1876 and again from 1879 to 1882, selling his first painting in 1880. In this period, after the death of his father, he became responsible for running the family business.

By the early 1880s, McCubbin's work began to attract considerable attention and won a number of prizes from the National Gallery, including a first prize in 1883 in their annual student exhibition. By the mid-1880s he began to concentrate more on painting the Australian bush, the works for which he became notable.

In 1883, McCubbin received first prize in the first annual Gallery students' exhibition, for best studies in colour and drawing. In 1888, he became instructor and master of the School of Design at the National Gallery. In this position he taught a number of students who themselves became prominent Australian artists, including Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton.

McCubbin married Annie Moriarty in March 1889. They had seven children, of whom their son Louis also became an artist. A grandson, Charles, also became an artist.

McCubbin continued to paint through the first two decades of the 20th century, though by the beginning of World War I his health began to fail. He travelled to England in 1907 and visited Tasmania, but aside from these relatively short excursions lived most of his life in Melbourne.

In 1901 McCubbin and his family moved to Mount Macedon, transporting a prefabricated English style home up onto the northern slopes of the mountain which they named Fontainebleau. It was in this beautiful setting that he painted The pioneer which was painted in 1904 amongst many other works and this is the only place that McCubbin ever painted fairies. The house survived the Ash Wednesday fires and stands today as a testament to the artist. It was at Macedon that he was inspired by the surrounding bush to experiment with the light and its effects on colour in nature.

In 1912 he became the founding member of the Australian Art Association.

McCubbin died in 1917 from a heart attack.