Midsummers Eve 1902-1912 Also known as A Midsummer Eve and A Midsummer's Eve signed and dated 'F McCubbin / 1912' lower left oil on canvas 138.0 x 70.3cm (54 5/16 x 27 11/16in).
PROVENANCE Herbert Wertheim Esq., Melbourne before 1916 Mildred Mocatta, Adelaide James B Nicholson, Sydney Thence by descent Private collection Private collection, Sydney
EXHIBITED Private Exhibition of Pictures, F. McCubbin's Studio, South Yarra, 17 November 1905, no. 68, as 'Midsummers Eve' Annual Exhibition, Victorian Artists' Society, Melbourne, 13 July 1906, no. 32 (illus.), as 'Midsummer Eve' Exhibition of Pictures by F. McCubbin, Guild Hall, Melbourne, 17-31 May 1907, no. 5 (illus.) Mr McCubbin, Guild Hall, Melbourne, May 1908, no. 10, as 'Mid Summer Eve' Catalogue of Pictures by Fred and Louis McCubbin, Athenaeum Art Gallery, Melbourne, 14 August 1 September, 1912, no. 19, 'Mid Summer'
LITERATURE 'Victorian Art. A Joint Exhibition', Herald, Melbourne, 17 November 1905, p.5 'Exhibition of Arts and Crafts', Age, Melbourne, 20 November 1905, p.5 'Victorian Artists. Annual Exhibition', Argus, 13 July 1906, p.6 'Victorian Society of Artists. Annual Exhibition of Pictures', Age, 13 July 1906, p.8 'Some Exhibits at the Annual Exhibition of the Victorian Artists' Society', Weekly Times, Melbourne, 21 July 1906, p.11, (illus.) 6 'Mr. M'Cubbin's Exhibition of Pictures', Age, 17 May 1907, p.6 J. S. MacDonald, The Art of Frederick McCubbin, Lothian, Melbourne, 1916, pp.16, 96, plate ix, as 'Midsummer's Eve', dated 1902. Anne Gray, McCubbin: Last Impressions, 1907-17, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2009, pp.45 (illus.), 57, as 'A midsummer's eve'
Frederick McCubbin is the master of the poetic landscape, of shimmering light filtering through shaded bush glades and the gentle moments of twilight. He bathed his paintings, especially those of Mount Macedon, in an atmosphere of subaqueous beauty and embraced tranquillity in a way unrivalled by any Australian artist. Midsummers Eve 1902-12 is a classic example, acknowledged by his contemporaries. In November 1905, when it was shown in a group exhibition of works by twenty leading Victorian artists at McCubbin's studio in South Yarra, The Herald art critic singled it out for special mention. 'Mr Fred McCubbin shows a fine landscape called "Summer's Eve." It is the sublimation of a dreamy vista of the bush, in which the poetic instincts of the painter have found full expression.' 2 The writer for The Age was equally enthusiastic.
Midsummer Eve shows the landscape from the heights of Macedon in the golden haze of the declining sunlight. A stream runs through the green hollow in the foreground; on the hillside is a stately group of trees, and the nude figure of a boy on the tree trunk that crosses the stream adds to the unity of sentiment in a composition in which all nature seems to feel the influence of the hour. 3
The significance of such singular praise becomes more apparent when it is realized that McCubbin also showed another of his early masterpieces, Childhood Fancies 1905 in the same exhibition. 4 (In 2007 Childhood Fancies sold for $1,920,000.) 5 The critical acclaim for Midsummer Eve was even greater when McCubbin included it in the 1906 annual exhibition of the Victorian Artists' Society. Reproduced in the Society's catalogue, The Argus described it as 'a poetical landscape, ably noted and executed,' hailing it as 'the best thing he has yet done'. 6 The writer for The Age was likewise moved by its poetry, adding, 'the sentiment of [the painting] seems to belong to the classic times of Greece, although the elements of the scene are Australian in character... .' 7 It was also one of a selection of works chosen from the exhibition for illustration in Melbourne's Weekly Times. 8
Shortly before McCubbin left for his first and only trip to England and the Continent, he held a major exhibition at the Guild Hall, Melbourne, Midsummers Eve being among the sixty-one works on show. While the reviewer for The Age described McCubbin as 'one of our few thoroughly Australian painters', he made special comment on his interest in and handling of twilight scenes.
Evening effects, with their golden lights and cool, mysterious shadows, show their fascination for this painter in more than one example, especially in one of the large pictures, the sun shedding its last rays between the trunks of a group of old forest giants upon the bent figure of a typical bush boy. The same model figures, in another large work, enjoying golden hours of play beside a rapid stream in the shade of a spreading tree, living in fact the day dream of countless city-pent urchins. 9
The two paintings referred to are Lost 1907, in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, and Midsummers Eve. Both were illustrated in the exhibition catalogue.
In 1912 McCubbin held a joint exhibition with his son Louis at Melbourne's Athenaeum Gallery. He included our painting, now titled 'Mid Summer', which he had, in part, reworked. The foreground in particular was repainted, the single figure of the boy on the log replaced by two figures of men, all broadly handled. 10 It is interesting to note that in 1906 Argus the art critic, while lauding Midsummers Eve as McCubbin's best work to date, commented less favourably about the figure in the painting. 'The nude figure is slightly obtrusive, but that can be easily remedied.'11 Perhaps McCubbin took particular note. The more important changes, however, are in style and technique. Now more broadly and colourfully handled, they show the exciting influence of J. M. W.Turner. This is not the first time McCubbin made such changes to major works, the most notable being to his widely acknowledged masterpiece The Pioneer 1904, acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1906 through the Felton Bequest. Dated and exhibited in 1904, when McCubbin showed it again in 1905 it was noted that the distant city in the right hand panel had been reworked more broadly, in the style of Turner full of atmosphere, light and colour. When McCubbin visited England in 1907, he was able to see Turner's works at first hand. Writing to his wife Annie, he enthused over Turner's late works at the Tate Gallery 'mostly in his latest style when he had realized the quality of light they are mostly unfinished but they are devine such dreams of colour ... .'12 The effect on his painting was enriching, far exceeding what he had previously known only through art reproductions. It introduced his final and best phase, asThe Age reviewer of his 1911 exhibition observed - '...he has arrived at the fulness [sic] of his powers, completely expressing, as it does, the largeness of his sympathy with nature in her varying moods.' 13 The bravura application of palette knife and brush created works of Impressionist splendour, gems of Australian art that sparkle with light and colour. Autumn Morning, South Yarra 1908, in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, is a fine example, of sparkling sunlight and vibrant paint surface. The reworking of Midsummers Eve was carried out in this manner, giving that extra glow to a work which had seen its genesis during an earlier period in McCubbin's art when devotion to a tighter realism was greater than the freedom of atmospheric effects. When Midsummers Eve was shown in 1912 in McCubbin's joint exhibition with his son Louis, the art critic for The Argus perceptively observed, 'The first impression of the display is one of brilliancy and force, Mr. F. M'Cubbin still remaining faithful to the great truth that the manner of rendering or expressing an idea is of far greater moment than the idea itself.'14 By such gifted means McCubbin raised Midsummers Eve to the company of some of his best works in his finest manner - as Moonrise 1909 in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne; Afterglow (Summer Evening) 1912 in the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra; and Golden Sunlight 1914 in the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum.
1. A variety of titles and dates has been given to this painting. The title used here follows the curatorial practice of adopting that given by the artist when first exhibited. In 1905 it was catalogued as 'Midsummers Eve'. The various other titles are listed in the catalogue references above. The 1916 book on McCubbin, in which the artist had considerable input, gives the date of the painting as 1902. The date on the painting is 1912. 2. Herald, 1905, op. cit. 3. '', Age, 1905, op. cit. 4. See David Thomas, 'Frederick McCubbin 1855-1917, Childhood Fancies 1905, Australian + International Fine Art, Deutscher-Menzies, Sydney, catalogue supplement, 10 March 2004, lot 36 5. Deutscher-Menzies, Australian + International Art, Sydney, 12 September, lot 37 6. Argus, 1906, op. cit. 7. Age, 1906, op. cit. 8. Weekly Times, 1906, op. cit. 9. Age, 1907, pop. cit. 9. Argus, 13 July 1906, op. cit. 10. Reference has been made by other writers to nymphs and fairies being in the earlier version of this painting. The 1906 catalogue illustration shows a single figure of a nude youth sitting on a large tree trunk. 11. Argus, 1906, op. cit. 12. Letter to Annie McCubbin, London, 19 July 1907, McCubbin Papers, La Trobe Library, State Library of Victoria 13. 'Art Notes. Mr. Fred. M'Cubbin's Exhibition of Pictures', Age, 8 April 1911, p.14 14. 'Exhibition of Paintings', Argus, 14 August 1912, p.10.