The Pioneer – Frederick McCubbin

Frederick McCubbin is one of the most noted Australian artists, and his work The Pioneer is among the top 10 paintings in Australia contributing immensely to arts and culture in Australia. The Pioneer is a masterpiece that depicts the story of a free selector making a life in the Australian bush with his family. Created in 1904, the painting is a triptych meaning it is divided into three sections. Every part is placed side by side, and the painting can be folded if attached with hinges.

It is an oil on canvas creation measuring 225.0 cm × 295.7 cm. It is part of the Australian art collection of the National Gallery of Victoria and is showcased in the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square in Melbourne.


The Pioneer is a precious work of art, and it was exhibited for the first time in a one-man show at the Melbourne Athenaeum in 1904. At the time, it did not find a buyer. It was then that Frederick McCubbin’s friend suggested he show the painting on the right panel, which the artist did. The following year, the National Gallery of Victoria purchased the painting for 367 pounds and 10 shillings. These funds were taken from the Felton Bequest.


The story of Frederick McCubbin’s painting is ambiguous, but it is about a free selector who is a farmer. The artist left the work unexplained, like many others. However, it is easy to make out that the farmer is with his family, and they have selected a land to clear and farm.

  • The Left panel: It shows the man and his wife settling on the selected land. The wife is deeply thoughtful.
  • The Middle Panel: It shows the wife holding a baby, indicating a time lapse. Also, you can see the family home and cottage through a clean tree line.
  • The Right Panel: It shows a significant time lapse, as a man crouches over a grave with the city in the backdrop. It’s not clear whose grave it is, or the Pioneer is the baby from the central panel.

McCubbin used a second coat of white lead paint to create luminosity and texture on the ground in the second panel. He also used a palette knife, and it can be determined with raking light. The painting is displayed in its original frame, but it was resurfaced for better preservation.

After examination with a torchlight, the National Gallery of Victoria’s head of conservation Michael Varcoe-Cocks noticed odd shape shadow on the central panel surface. After comparing x-rays and a black/white photograph, it was determined that McCubbin had painted over his 1892 work entitled “Found”. It showed a bushman holding a small kid.


The Pioneer is a masterpiece and among the best paintings in Australia. You can view it at the Ian Potter Centre in Federation Square in Melbourne. If you want to more know about such artwork, explore the Art Direction site to find beautiful creations and details about their artist, composition, history and much more!