The pioneer


Frederick McCubbin
born Australia, 1855

The Pioneer 1904
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1906

The pioneer is the most ambitious and well-known of McCubbin’s paintings set within the bush surrounding the family’s cottage Fontainebleau, purchased in 1901. McCubbin engaged his wife Annie and local labourer Patrick Watson as the models for the pioneering couple. The game-keeper’s cottage in the central panel was located on an adjacent estate owned by William MacGregor who named it ‘Ard Choille’ (or High Wood). MacGregor’s property was also the setting for McCubbin’s Afterglow (Summer evening) 1912. 

A pioneering narrative unfolds across the triptych: from the arrival of the settlers in the virgin bushland; the clearing of the land and building of a family home; to the final scene in which a descendant visits the pioneer’s grave, an established city in the distance represents the passing of time.

As noted in The Age, 16 August 1905, ‘In this the familiar materials of our Australian bush are made to yield a most moving poetical effect … This picture of Mr. McCubbin’s is to be hailed as an irrefutable demonstration that Australia can produce a strong and beautiful national art of her own.’