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“Child in The Bush” by Frederick McCubbin

“Child in The Bush” by Frederick McCubbin by Joy of Museums

“Child in The Bush” by Frederick McCubbin

“Child in The Bush” by Frederick McCubbin is a painting that revisited a central theme in McCubbin’s work which focused on narratives of vulnerable children stranded in the Australian Bush. This painting depicts a girl wandering through the bush carrying a basket, collecting wildflowers or berries. Her white dress stands out in her surrounds. The landscape in this painting was close to McCubbin’s residence at Mount Macedon in Victoria, Australia and the child in the image was the artist’s youngest daughter.

McCubbin made skilful use of a palette knife to apply flecks of green, blue and tan, pink and violet colours. McCubbin was an Australian painter and prominent member of the Heidelberg School art movement, also known as Australian Impressionism.

Lost Child in The Bush

Anxieties about lost children go back to the oldest fairy stories, such as Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, Snow White. The theme of the lost child has been an obsession in Australian art since the beginning of white settlement. Many of Australia’s writers in the 19th century had attempted a “lost child story”. Henry Lawson’s a favourite Australian writer and bush poet is just one example of an Australian author who wrote a number of pieces about of children’s misadventures in the Australian Bush. A true story from 1891 inspired the following poem.

Speak their names in tones that linger, just as though you held them dear;
There are eyes to which the mention of those names will bring a tear.
Little Kate and Bridget, straying in an autumn afternoon,
Were attracted by the lilies in the water of Walloon.

All is dark to us. The angels sing perhaps in Paradise
Of the younger sister’s danger, and the elder’s sacrifice;
But the facts were hidden from us, when the soft light from the moon
Glistened on the water-lilies o’er the Babies at Walloon.

“The Babies of Walloon” by Henry Lawson, 1891

Like the majority of Australians, Lawson lived in a city but he had had experience in outback life, in fact, many of his stories reflected his experiences in real life. This poem from Lawson also come back to the theme of “The Babies in the Bush” from 1899.

The mother waits ‘neath the noon-tide glare,
And under the midnight skies,
Till the wild fixed look of a life’s despair
Comes into her hopeless eyes.
But the strong man kneels by her side and turns
Her face from the clearing bare,
To the stars above, with a husband’s love —
And “Our bush-lost babes are there!”

And she sings in her heart of a fairy bright,
Of a spirit the bell-birds know,
To guide the feet of the lost aright
And lead them on to a land of light
Where the bush-lost babies go.

The Babies in the Bush by Henry Lawson, 1899

Frederick McCubbin

Frederick McCubbin (1855 – 1917) was an Australian artist and prominent member of the Heidelberg School art movement, also known as Australian Impressionism. McCubbin was born in Melbourne, Australia and worked for a time as solicitor’s clerk, a coach painter and in his family’s bakery business while studying art at the National Gallery of Victoria’s School of Design, where he met Tom Roberts and studied under Eugene von Guerard. He also studied at the Victorian Academy of the Arts and sold his first painting in 1880 at the age of twenty-five.

McCubbin’s work began to attract attention, and he won a number of prizes from the National Gallery. By the mid-1880s he concentrated more on painting the Australian bush, the works for which he became notable. In 1901 McCubbin and his family moved to Mount Macedon, it was at Macedon with its surrounding bush, that inspired him to experiment with the light and its effects on colour in nature. It was in this setting that he painted Child in the Bush, among many other bush works.

Australian Impressionism

During the 1870s and 1880s, European artists immigrated to Australia and brought their experience of plein–air movement, to Australia. Through their work and teaching, they made significant contributions to the development of Impressionism in Australia. Drawing on naturalist and impressionist ideas, they sought to capture Australian life, the bush, and the sunlight of the country.

In French Impressionism, colours were painted with more explosive energy and with more pure primary and secondary tones for complementary contrasts. Australian Impressionists tended to show Australian tones of dry soil, eucalypt woods and sand, with the dabbling of warm and cold colours.

Australian Impressionism is notable for its compositions of Australia’s cultural heritage. During the period after Australia’s Federation in 1901, Australian nationalism and Australian Impressionists provided works that have become icons of a passing Australia.

Explore Masterpieces in the National Gallery of Australia


  • In the 20th century, has the threat of lost children in the bush been replaced by concerns about the urban lost child, who become victims of human predators and drugs?
  • Are the ancient fears about lost children still with us?

Child in the Bush

  • Title:               Child in The Bush
  • Artist:             Frederick McCubbin
  • Year:               1913
  • Medium:         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:   50.8 (h) x 76.2 (w) cm
  • Museum:        National Gallery of Australia

Frederick McCubbin

  • Artist:           Frederick McCubbin
  • Born:             1855 – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • Died               1917 (aged 62) – Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
  • Major Paintings:


” Some mistakes are too much fun to only make once.”
– Australian Proverb


Photo Credits: 1)JOM