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image icon 'Winter sunlight', 1908

'Winter sunlight', 1908
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Description

This is an oil painting, measuring 50.8 cm x 76.2 cm, by Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917), dated 1908. It shows an old-fashioned backyard with an old fence that leans in all directions and a gate that appears as if it is about to fall off its hinges. A wooden barrel has been set down by the fence, possibly for a larger animal such as a cow or horse. Some chickens are scratching away in the foreground - others are dotted across the yard, almost lost in the thick winter's grass. The fence, which runs from the right corner of the image, leads the eye towards a fuzzy mass of buildings half-seen through a thicket of tree trunks and branches. Beyond these buildings and to the left are a few scrapes of paint that are sufficiently recognisable as to suggest that this seemingly rural backyard is in a built-up area, perhaps a city. The colours are those of winter - cool greens and blues - but the sparkling whites and reds of the chickens, the warm tones of the distant buildings and patch of blue sky create an overwhelmingly cheerful mood.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a 'plein air' painting - 'plein air' is a French term meaning 'open air'; this style of painting involved artists working out of doors to develop a close familiarity with nature so they could understand and represent the behaviour of light, and celebrate rural life and its traditions
  • is a work by Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917) - McCubbin is closely associated with the Heidelberg School of artists, so named after only one of the many areas around Melbourne and Sydney where Australian Impressionist artists including Tom Roberts (1856-1931), Arthur Streeton (1867-1943) and Charles Conder (1868-1909) worked; other areas around Melbourne included Box Hill, Templestowe (near Heidelberg) and Mentone; McCubbin, with Roberts and another artist Louis Abrahams (1852-1903), established the first Box Hill artists’ camp in 1886
  • expresses a new spirit of experiment and optimism in McCubbin's work - while he was closely associated with the Heidelberg group, McCubbin's own artistic development was shaped partly by his commitments as a family man, his professional career as a drawing master at the Gallery School in Melbourne, and his determination to pay tribute to the pioneering era, as expressed in large iconic and essentially narrative paintings such as 'The pioneer', (1903-05); his first and only journey to Europe in 1907, at the age of 52, opened his eyes to the atmospheric and colour-saturated landscapes of Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851); this experience inspired McCubbin to embark on a new colour-based approach to the rendering of form and light
  • is regarded as one of the artist's finest and most daring landscapes - it was one of the first important paintings made by McCubbin following his trip to Europe
  • expresses the artist's feelings about nature and the season of winter - he once wrote to Tom Roberts 'I love our winter' and later referred to 'the dreamy soft atmosphere of winter' and 'that season of broken sunlight'
  • is a very domestic image - the yard shown in 'Winter sunlight' is a section of the rambling garden that was located behind McCubbin's own house on Kensington Road, South Yarra, Melbourne
  • demonstrates an experimental use of Impressionist techniques to capture a sense of mild winter sunlight - the paint has been applied fairly ‘dry’ (or ‘short’), meaning that it has not been extended and made thinner by the addition of oil or a solvent such as turpentine; much of the paint has been scraped and spread onto and across the surface using a palette knife (as seen in the buttery application of paint to describe the chickens in the foreground); thin brush marks of dry paint were applied late in the painting to create a sense of tangled tree branches.