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    Sale 7482

    Modern and Contemporary Australian Art Including Works by New Zealand and South African Artists

    12 December 2007, London, King Street

  • Lot 25

    Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917)

    Sawing Timber

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917)
    Sawing Timber
    signed and dated 'F McCubbin 1907' (lower left)
    oil on canvas
    25 x 33in. (63.5 x 83.8cm.)


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    Painted just outside Melbourne at Macedon, where McCubbin and his family had bought a cottage in 1901, and where they lived for most of the year until McCubbin's portrait commissions drew them back to town in late 1906, the present work (the original frame bears a plaque with the title 'Woodcutter') is one of two pictures (along with The Wood Sawyer, Shepparton Art Gallery) painted by McCubbin in 1907 showing the artist's eldest son Louis 'Chunk' McCubbin sawing timber in the bush on Mount Macedon. Two further pictures of similar subjects by McCubbin followed in 1908 (Woodcutters) and 1910 (Bush Sawyers). While clearly influenced by Millet's The Wood Sawyers, which McCubbin knew from a postcard, these bush subjects from the early 1900s have been seen as instigating a current of nationalism in Australian painting, further appropriating a subject to the canon of Australian art which we had already seen essayed in Tom Robert's Woodsplitters (1886) and in Streeton's The Selector's Hut and Conder's Under a southern sun, the two companion pictures painted at Heidelberg in 1890. The highest keyed of these four woodcutting pictures by McCubbin, the present lot embodies Robert Hughes's later observations of the artist's work from this Macedon period, latterly seen as one of the highpoints of the artist's career: 'McCubbin's presentation is more overtly sentimental than Roberts's, and a good deal more obviously nationalistic. ... But he was a Janus; his sentimentality and early fondness for irrelevant detail faced back to the English academies, but his rendition of light and atmosphere came, in a limited way, closer to real impressionism than either Streeton's or Roberts's. He dissolved form in a tapestry of all-over light effects. Significantly, he did not use the square brush, which defined planes. His surfaces are crusts of juxtaposed dabs and dots, overlapping, overpainted, and generally close-toned ... in his Macedon landscapes of the early 1900s, he heightened his colour; the pinks and blues and lime-greens, touched by the autumn sunlight, were often very sweet.' (The Art of Australia, 1966).

    Probably bought off the walls of McCubbin's selling exhibition in Melbourne in 1907 by Golda Abrahams, the widow of McCubbin's great friend Louis Abrahams (for whom McCubbin named his first son, who is portrayed here), the picture has descended to the Abrahams' great-grandchildren and has, since its original purchase, only been more widely known from the colour plate in the 1916 monograph.

    Special Notice

    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    Provenance

    Golda Abrahams (1858-1945), widow of Louis Abrahams (1852-1903), and thence by descent to the present owners, Golda and Louis Abraham's great-grandchildren.


    Pre-Lot Text

    McCUBBIN AT MACEDON, 1901-1907


    In 1901 McCubbin bought a cottage on the far side of Mount Macedon, just above the mill township of Hesket. He called the cottage 'Fontainebleau' in homage to the haunt of the Barbizon School, and setted here with his family until late 1906. If 'The Proff' had always been one of the most hospitable of the artists who had first worked together at Box Hill, his family home always attracting friends and visitors, there was a quiet sensitivity in the man and his work which now demanded isolation: 'Only away from his critical and convivial friends could he, he felt, come to grips with the essence of the bush. Only alone could he capture its spririt. ... Living for the first time in relatively isolated country with little distraction from visiting confrères, McCubbin's attitude to the bush began, gradually and subtly, to change.

    'Technically, already in the last years at Brighton, he had begun moving away from a carefully worked, closely finished style of painting ... and turned his interest to the more abstract problems of colour and painterly texture. ... McCubbin certainly was not immune to the changes of emphasis painting was undergoing during this period. He was able to develop his technique in accord with a contemporary developing interest in light and colour as subjects in their own right. This was a delayed spin-off from the Impressionist revolution which had taken place in France in the 1870s and which reached Australia only gradually and in filtered waves, the return of Fox and Tucker being one of these.

    'He was sensitive, too, to contemporary attitudes to his native land, particularly towards the bush as subject matter.' (A. Galbally, Frederick McCubbin, Richmond, 1981, pp.101-06)

    The new lyricism of McCubbin's Macedon pictures reflects to some extent the changing attitudes to the bush in the early years of post-Federation Australia. If once seen as a hostile world to be conquered, the bush now becomes a benign environment where man is at home, an harmonious world (discovered by McCubbin in the quiet at Macedon) whose particular beauty is celebrated for itself, and which can enchant -- McCubbin's fairy pictures all date to this Macedon period.

    The present picture was, not suprisingly, given its sweetly-keyed expression of a youthful 'Australia Felix', featured in Pals, the official organ of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Boy Scouts' Association, published in the 1920s. Sawing Timber was selected by James MacDonald as one of the five best works to represent his Macedon period illustrated in The Art of Frederick McCubbin, the first monograph on the artist's work published in 1916.


    THE PROPERTY OF A FAMILY


    Literature

    The Art of Frederick McCubbin, Melbourne and Sydney, 1916, pp.16, 79, 96 and illustrated in colour pl. XX, opp. p.54.
    Pals, 12 March 1921, illustrated in colour opp. p.390.
    A. Mackenzie, Frederick McCubbin 1855-1917 'The Proff' and his art, Lilydale, 1990, illustrated in colour [from the plate in The Art of Frederick McCubbin, 1916] p.132.


    Exhibited

    Melbourne, Guild Hall, Swanston Street, Exhibition of Pictures by F. McCubbin, 1907.