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Kensignton Road South Yarra

Kensignton Road South Yarra
signed 'F McCubbin' (lower right)
oil on canvas
49.5 x 79.4 cm
The artist and thence by descent to the present owner
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Lot Essay

Frederick McCubbin moved to 42 Kensington Road South Yarra with his family in 1907. This three-acre property was bounded by the banks of the Yarra River, and afforded views of Richmond and the Burnley Quarries to the north. The garden provided McCubbin with a rich source of inspiration, and was the focus for many of his paintings from the time of the move until the artist's death ten years later. These works include Rain and Sunshine, 1910 (private collection) and Autumn Morning, South Yarra, 1916 (collection of the National Gallery of Victoria).

The artist himself wrote: "it is precisely the pictures of things familiar to us of homely subjects which most appeal to us and more often therefore arise to true greatness." (A. Galbally, op. Cit., p.17). In Kensington Road, South Yarra the subject is indeed familiar to McCubbin: the angled boundary fence, a tangle of bushes and unkempt grass and, in a subtle use of perspective, a view through the trees to a hint of suburban Melbourne, its buildings indicated by small touches of brick-red and white. These components of the scene, beloved by McCubbin, are characteristics of the artist's major paintings of this period, seen also in, for example, The Artist's Garden, South Yarra (private collection) and Winter Sunlight, 1908 (collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia).

Nevertheless, it is the garden that is the artist's focus, and McCubbin paints his subject with a profusion of bravura brushwork and exquisitely soft colouring. Subtle gradations in the impasto soft blue of the sky recall the day's warm stillness as white clouds scud by. Working quickly to convey the impression of the day, as shadows begin to lengthen under the thicket of trees, the artist used a variety of means to represent the different textures and colours of his subject. Working with a brush and palette knife, the grass is rendered with quick, rounded daubs of peppermint green, with highlights of pink and lilac. The upper branches of the trees are painted in fine detail, their delicate leaves touched with white to reflect the surrounding light.

The speed with which the artist worked did not prevent him from working with great care to convey his desired impressions: colours are layered and graduated, highlighted and modulated to generate the luminous image of his sunlit garden. The artist's mastery of his medium is here displayed in gloriously colourful, atmospheric detail, yet it is never allowed to overwhelm his joy in the scene before him. McCubbin drew on the philosophy of the Impressionists, stating that "As Monet says, 'Light is the chief sitter everywhere'. Yet it seems that in no other country does the natural background present such a responsive medium as in Australia pitched as our landscape is, in a somewhat minor key" (B. Whitelaw, The Art of Frederick McCubbin, Exh. Cat., National Gallery of Victoria, 1991, p.19).

In this part of his career, McCubbin's enduring legacy was his talent in capturing the light and translating it onto canvas: a poetic and sincere tribute to his beloved home. In this, his joy in his own garden and the inspiration it provided for many of his later paintings is analogous to that of Monet in Giverny.


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