Australia 1855 – 1917
The stone crusher
oil on canvas on board
25.5 (h) x 35.5 (w) cm
Castlemaine Art Gallery & Historical Museum, Victoria Hilda Munckton Bequest, 1996
McCubbin knew this subject well, and he painted it often. He could view the scene from the bank above the Yarra River at the bottom of his home at South Yarra. In this sketch the tall chimney of the stone crusher in the centre of the composition is a conspicuous feature, perhaps suggesting that industry had become a significant focus of modern society. But here McCubbin not only gave industry a central place, he transformed and ennobled the building, so the chimney appears like the spire of a cathedral. The expressive sky with its billowing clouds takes up more than half the picture. But most significantly McCubbin depicted the scene looking directly into the light, showing it sparkling through the clouds, and onto the ground and buildings.
Working outdoors, he applied the paint in small dabs to achieve a kind of mosaic effect, and the impression of a multiplicity of surfaces. The delicious juxtapositions of lavender and acid green, of blue and pink, highlight the poetic approach he took to this view of city industry.
In this ‘impressionistic’ oil sketch, with its careful observation of light, McCubbin would appear to have been inspired by Monet and Constable rather than Turner. For such a small work, painted in a moment, it conveys an extraordinary and uplifting delight in the scene.