Australia 1855 – 1917
Vale of Conway
oil on canvas
signed and dated 'F McCubbin/ 1908' lower right
50.0 (h) x 75.0 (w) cm
In painting this image McCubbin was more interested in creating atmosphere than in portraying specific topography. He depicted the broad sweep of the valley, the slopes of the hills and mountains as a wild, untamed natural place. He created a distinctly ‘Turnerian’ sky, with dramatic clouds, enlivened by shafts of light. And he used broad and bold brushwork to capture the scene.
The town Conway (nowadays called by its Welsh name of Conwy), on the North Wales coast, was a popular tourist site and holiday destination, easily accessible by rail. McCubbin would have travelled there from Liverpool, where he was staying with his brother James in the summer of 1907. The Conwy Valley is located at the edge of today’s Snowdonia National Park. It consists of a river winding through a valley flanked by rolling hills and dramatic mountains.
In visiting Wales, McCubbin was following in Turner’s footsteps. He would have known that Turner visited this specific area, and had painted Conway Castle. McCubbin painted two small North Wales subjects on the spot—Lambeda, Vale of Conway and Landscape in Wales (present whereabouts unknown). But Vale of Conway, like his other large images of European subjects, was painted back home in his Melbourne studio.
On 19 January 1910 McCubbin wrote to Tom Roberts, comparing the air around his Macedon home with that of Wales: ‘The Mountain air—is divine—it’s warm and dusty in town today with a north wind but we scarcely feel it, it’s just like an east wind in summer in Wales’ (Tom Roberts letters, ML).
When McCubbin exhibited this work in 1908, one critic commented: ‘the Vale of Conway is the subject of one of the larger landscapes. The foreground is brilliantly painted.’ (Herald, Melbourne, 14 May 1908, p 4).