The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in Art & History

The Pioneer

Frederick McCubbin - The pioneer - Google Art Project

“The Pioneer” by Frederick McCubbin was painted in 1904 as a triptych depicting the story of a settler family making a life in the Australian bush.

The left panel shows the settler and his wife settling on their “selection”. “Selection” referred to “free selection before survey” of crown land in some Australian colonies as part of legislation introduced in the 1860s. In the middle of the bush is the wagon with the man starting a campfire and in the foreground the woman is deep in thought.

In the centre panel, the passage of time is indicated by the young child in the woman’s arms. The family home can be seen in the centre through a clearing in the trees. The clearing shows where the trees have been cleared to create pasture and tillable land.

The right panel show time has moved on with a city is visible in the background. There is a young man kneeling and clearing a grave. Is the young man kneeling down the young boy from the centre panel, clearing the grave site?

This triptych is a masterpieces of Australian art. It was produced three years after Federation and from one perspective was a display of nationalistic pride in the Australian pioneer legacy and the future prosperity of the city in the background. The narrative however is ambiguous if the focus is on the woman’s despondent expression and body language. This is a theme that can also be seen in another Frederick McCubbin painting called “On the wallaby track” as seen below.

Frederick McCubbin - On the wallaby track - Google Art Project

It is interesting to note that initially there were no buyers for “The Pioneer” until a friend suggested that the town in the final panel be made to look like the city of Melbourne. McCubbin painted in the view of Melbourne and the painting soon sold.

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Essential Facts:

  • Title:              The Pioneer
  • Artist:            Frederick McCubbin
  • Date                1904
  • Medium         Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions:225 x 295.7 cm
  • Museum:       National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

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Essential Facts about the Artist:

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

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“All our best heroes are losers.” Richard Glover

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Photo Credit: Frederick McCubbin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons  2) Frederick McCubbin [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons