In the 1880s, Frederick McCubbin painted a number of interior and exterior scenes of his home, the old bakery in inner Melbourne where he was born and lived until he was in his 30s. Here, a girl sits quietly at the side of the bakery kitchen behind her house, while a bird (perhaps a magpie) pecks for insects in the rotting wooden fence.
The Munich-trained head of the National Gallery School, G.F. Folingsby, had a marked influence on McCubbin’s development, as can be seen in Girl with bird at the King Street bakery. Observations of everyday life were considered worthy of serious art, realised with smooth brushwork and reduced colour. As Ann Galbally has noted, he ‘has paid particular attention to the textures of the buildings, contrasting their tonal blend of warm browns and greys with the white areas of the girl’s pinafore’.1
The late 1880s were crucial years for McCubbin; he had finally graduated from student to teacher after more than eight years at the Gallery School, allowing him to become a professional painter and give up the family baking business he had shouldered after the deaths of his father and elder brother. Girl with bird at the King Street bakery was perhaps the last work he produced before he came under the influence of Tom Roberts and turned from painting urban settings to bushland scenes.
1Ann Galbally, Frederick McCubbin, Richmond, Victoria: Hutchison of Australia, 1981, p.56.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002