Exhibition to Exhume the grave

Frederick McCubbin’s The Pioneer. (National Gallery of Victoria)

An exhibition re-examining one of Australia’s best-known artists has reopened at Geelong Gallery following the easing of lockdown locally.

Prior to his death in December 1917, Frederick McCubbin was one of the most widely known and successful artists of his time.

He was celebrated and critically acclaimed for his large-scale ‘national narrative’ paintings including Down on his luck (1889), A bush burial (1890), On the wallaby track (1896) and The pioneer (1904).

The acquisition of these paintings by major public collecting institutions has also undoubtedly played a significant role in the now-iconic status of these works.

These institutions include the National Gallery of Victoria, which acquired The pioneer in 1906 and Geelong Gallery, which purchased A bush burial at the turn of the century.

These works have impressed themselves powerfully on the public consciousness over time, according to curator Lisa Sullivan.

“Their significant public profile has also led to these paintings being the subject of re-evaluation and reinterpretation by contemporary Australian artists, through the lens of gender, cultural diversity and inclusion,” Ms Sullivan said.

“More than a century after McCubbin painted these works, our ideas of nationhood have evolved.

“We understand the negative impacts of colonialism, and we have a greater understanding of the wide social diversity of immigrant experience, of the capabilities and integral contributions of women – beyond the prescribed gender roles depicted in historical narratives – and of the significant environmental impacts caused by clearing the land.”

Drawing largely from Geelong Gallery’s permanent collection, the exhibition brings together works that re-interpret key paintings by McCubbin through the lens of cultural diversity and feminism.

These include paintings and other works by Juan Davila, Robert Hague, Jill Orr, Polixeni Papapetrou, Christian Thompson and Anne Zahalka.