Important Australian + International Fine Art
26 November 2008

Frederick McCubbin

(1855 - 1917)

oil on canvas board

25.5 x 35.5 cm

signed lower right: F McCubbin

$28,000 - 35,000
Sold for $27,600 (inc. BP) in Auction 6 - 26 November 2008, Melbourne

John Wiseman Buckle Collection
Thence by descent
Private collection, Sydney
Sotheby's Melbourne, 27–28 August 2007, lot 296 (as Battleship in the Harbour)
Private collection, Melbourne

Catalogue text

After his return from England in 1907, Williamstown on Port Phillip Bay became one of Frederick McCubbin's favourite paintings spots. Its appeal lay in the old ships and buildings, combined with the sparkle of sunlight on the waters and the open sky. His enthusiasm is captured in a letter to Tom Roberts, written from his home at Kensington Road, South Yarra. 'I have been down at Williamstown for a few poschards [sic], my dear boy, just like Venice, lovely colour; water and sky, and an old slip. My dear boy, the older I get the wider my interest grows in all life, colour, charm.'1 Frequent visits during 1909 resulted in numerous sketches painted with the greatest of vivacity, and several major oil paintings, the grandest being Williamstown, 1915, (private collection), numbered among his finest paintings. The impact on his work of J. M. W. Turner, whose paintings he had seen first-hand in London, is evident in all these Williamstown paintings - in their opalescent skies, rainbow colours and broad brush strokes richly laden with paint.

From his youth, living in the city near the Yarra River and its wharfs, McCubbin had an abiding interest in ships and shipping, the tall-masted vessels exciting the imagination with the romance of far-off places. One of his earliest paintings, View of the New Dock dates from 1880, and his interest continued in such paintings as The City's Toil, an 1887 view of Smith's Wharf, and the panoramic Melbourne, 1887. Likewise in London, he loved painting the Thames and its shipping. Even Colombo and Naples, visited on the way to England, inspired paintings of exotic boats and ocean-going ships. The sea voyage to London and return excited in McCubbin a passion that found its outlet at Williamstown. Paintings of the old slip, buildings along the shoreline and wooden jetties flowed from his brush, the big vessel in Ships, Williamstown featuring in several other oil sketches. Each is painted with palette knife and broad brush, and the layered colours are swiftly brushed in to capture the impression of the moment. These studies, along with others of South Yarra and scenes of the city of Melbourne are among the small gems of Australian Impressionist painting.

1. Letters to Tom Roberts, Vol.II, No.18, 27 January 1909, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney. 'Pochade' is the French word for a quick oil sketch