Important Fine Art + Indigenous Art
18 April 2018


(1855 – 1917)

oil on canvas board

25.0 x 35.0 cm

signed lower right: F McCubbin
bears inscription on old label verso: “Williamstown”/ by Fred McCubbin / Painted about 1910-1911 / (final period)
bears inscription on Sedon Galleries label verso: Fred McCubbin / “Fishermans Bend”

$45,000 – 65,000
Sold for $51,240 (inc. BP) in Auction 53 - 18 April 2018, Sydney

Sedon Galleries, Melbourne (label attached verso)
Private collection
Sotheby’s, Melbourne, 2 May 2000, lot 16
Private collection, Sydney


Possibly Exhibition of Paintings by the Late Fred McCubbin, The Sedon Galleries, Melbourne, 2 – 12 August 1949, cat. 19 (as ‘Williamstown, c.1908 – 09’)
Possibly, in McCubbin's joint exhibitions with his son Louis at the Athenaeum Art Gallery,
Melbourne, 14 August – 1 September 1912, and 27 June – 11 July 1916

Catalogue text

When Frederick McCubbin’s painting Williamstown was shown in a collection of his works at the Sedon Galleries, Melbourne, in August 1949, his son Louis described it as ‘A brilliant colour note’.1 While it is not possible to identify, with certainty, this painting with the one on offer, the description applies equally. During the period of 1909 – 10, McCubbin sketched and painted over twenty oils of Williamstown subjects. When included in his solo exhibitions from 1911 onwards, he gave them the briefest of titles – often simply Williamstown or At Williamstown. Some sketches grew into major paintings, two important examples being Williamstown Landscape, 1909, formerly in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, and the rather grand, later dated The Old Slip, Williamstown, 1915 in a private collection. Louis McCubbin described Williamstown as ‘One of the artist’s favourite sketching grounds’.2 McCubbin’s enthusiasm for the place bubbled over in a letter he wrote from his home in South Yarra to Tom Roberts in England in the summer of 1909: ‘I have been down at Williamstown for a few pochades, my dear boy just like Venice, lovely colour. Water and sky and an old ship … the older I get the wider my interest grows in all life, colour, charm. My dear Tom in our past work we have been too timid’.3 This new boldness is seen best in his numerous oil sketches, complete pictures in their own right.

When working outdoors directly from the motif, McCubbin frequently used ‘oil sketching tablets’ prepared by Winsor and Newton, London. Easy to handle, they gave him the opportunity to capture, with palette knife and broad brush, the vibrancy of the scenes in passionate responses of light and colour. Williamstown gave McCubbin the ideal opportunity of blending his old romance, of the sea and ships, with his new passion for light and colour, ignited by the late work of J. M. W. Turner (especially views of Venice) seen during his visit to England in 1907.

When Harmony in Blue, Williamstown, c.1909 was at the Joshua McClelland’s Rooms, Melbourne in 1955, the catalogue entry had the added note ‘Influence of J. M. W. Turner’.4 The musical allusion of the title and poetic mood also indicate the allied influence of J. M. Whistler. The painting had once been in the historic collection of George Page Cooper of Melbourne. Others from prestigious private collections include Ships, Williamstown, c.1909, from the Philip Bacon Collection, Brisbane, and Boats at Williamstown, Melbourne, c.1909 from the Holmes à Court Collection, Perth. Williamstown, c.1909 was most likely painted in the summer of 1909 and may have been one of those ‘pochades’ or sketches McCubbin referred to in his letter to Roberts. Viewed closely, the paint and colour can be enjoyed for themselves, while remaining inviting parts of the pictorial whole. Its sunny, atmospheric appeal is enhanced by the veritable dance of paint across the picture’s richly textured surface, the sense of freedom and delight with which it is applied providing the painting with another dimension of pleasure.

1. Note to catalogue 19, ‘Williamstown’, Exhibition of Paintings by the Late Fred McCubbin, The Sedon Galleries, Melbourne, 2 – 12 August 1949
2. ibid.
3. McCubbin, F., letter of 27 January 1909 to Tom Roberts (Letters to Tom Roberts, vol. II, no.18, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Sydney)
4. Exhibition and Sale of a small collection of Paintings by Frederick McCubbin (1855-1952) & Louis McCubbin (1889-1952), Joshua McClelland’s Rooms, Melbourne, 26 July – 5 August 1955, cat. 11