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McCubbin, Louis Frederick (1890–1952)

by Anne Gray

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Louis Frederick McCubbin (1890-1952), by Julian Smith, c1931

Louis Frederick McCubbin (1890-1952), by Julian Smith, c1931

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6862

Louis Frederick McCubbin (1890-1952), artist and gallery director, was born on 18 March 1890 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, eldest of seven children of Frederick McCubbin and his wife Annie Lucy, née Moriarty. He was educated privately and at the National Gallery School, Melbourne, under Lindsay Bernard Hall and his father in 1906-11. In May 1916 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force, 14th Battalion, and served in France from November 1917 as a stretcher-bearer with the 10th Field Ambulance. Appointed an official war artist under the Australian Records Section scheme to the 3rd Division, he visited scenes of battles with Wallace Anderson and Charles Web Gilbert after the war to collect data for proposed dioramas.

In 1920 McCubbin returned to Australia and joined the staff of the Australian War Museum, then located in the Exhibition Building, Melbourne, to paint backgrounds for dioramas and murals until 1930. He was awarded the Crouch prize for landscape in 1928 and in 1931 was commissioned by the Australian National Travel Association to paint a series of pictures of the Barrier Reef. He was president of the Victorian Artists' Society in 1933-35. During 1935 he was senior instructor in drawing and painting at Swinburne Technical College, Melbourne, and in 1935-36 he undertook further work on the dioramas for the War Memorial. On 27 April 1936 he married the widowed Stella Elsie Mary Jackson (d.1939), née Abraham, at Christ Church, South Yarra.

McCubbin was director of the Art Gallery of South Australia in 1936-50, and revitalized it through his many innovations. He renovated the displays, rewrote the catalogue to the collection, initiated weekly lectures for schoolchildren, introduced the quarterly Bulletin containing articles on outstanding works of art in the collection, and organized touring exhibitions to country districts. He also made significant acquisitions, placing particular emphasis on Australian art, including Charles Conder's 'How We Lost Poor Flossie' and 'Feeding the Chickens', (Sir) Arthur Streeton's 'Road to Templestowe' and (Sir) Russell Drysdale's 'Woman in a Landscape'. Moreover, he was prominent with other directors of State galleries in endeavouring to bring important exhibitions to Australia.

During World War II McCubbin was deputy director of camouflage, South Australia (1941-43), and was a member of the art committee of the Australian War Memorial. Among those artists he supported were Ivor Hele, Donald Friend, Stella Bowen and Murray Griffin. He was a member of the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board in 1945-52. In 1947 he was appointed O.B.E. He retired through ill health in 1950 and returned to Melbourne. In 1946 he had refused the offer of directorship of the National Art Gallery of New South Wales because of inadequate salary.

Louis McCubbin worked under the influence and the shadow of his father, who depicted him as a child in his paintings; and before World War I they occasionally exhibited together. Louis continued to paint works of some charm; however, gallery administration increasingly absorbed his time. He always maintained an open mind to the work of other artists, especially encouraging the young, and his taste 'at once so fine and so catholic' was respected. Tall and rather heavily built, McCubbin, though equable in manner and friendly and modest, was yet responsible and forceful. Intensely human, with a joyous outlook on life, he had a delightful sense of humour and a generous nature.

McCubbin died, childless, on 6 December 1952 at the Royal Melbourne Hospital of cerebral haemorrhage and was cremated. His work is represented in several Australian public collections.

Select Bibliography

  • Bulletin of the National Gallery of South Australia, 11, no 4, Apr 1950, 14, no 3, Jan 1953
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 8 Dec 1952
  • C. E. W. Bean papers (Australian War Memorial)
  • Louis McCubbin papers (State Library of Victoria).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Anne Gray, 'McCubbin, Louis Frederick (1890–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mccubbin-louis-frederick-7329/text12717, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 22 July 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

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