Box Hill Railway Station

Frederick McCubbin
Oil on canvas laid on board
20.5cm x 30.5cm
Copyright Whitehorse City Council
Gift of Louis McCubbin (c. 1950) 

With the completion of a railway line between Hawthorn and Lilydale in 1882, Box Hill was linked to the bustling metropolis of Melbourne. An early image of the diminutive sheds that served as the railway station at Box Hill is Frederick McCubbin’s Box Hill Railway Station of 1890. This painting forms part of the substantial City of Whitehorse Art Collection. It was donated to the former City of Box Hill by Louis McCubbin (son of the artist) who was an artist, teacher and gallery director (1890-1952).  

Frederick McCubbin studied art at the Artisans School of Design, Carlton, 1867-70, and the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) School, 1872-1886. Among his teachers were the esteemed Viennese born artist Eugène von Guérard (1812-1901) and Irish born artist George Folingsby (1828-1891). Both these artists created large iconographic paintings that today grace the walls of a number of major public art galleries in Australia. The influences of such significant outdoor paintings, with historic or heroic themes, are seen in paintings such as McCubbin’s famous triptych The Pioneers and Bush Burial. The small, unassuming Box Hill Railway Station represents McCubbin’s interest in the smaller, more subtle en plein air (in the open) paintings of European Impressionism. This was drawn from his appreciation of the ‘new’ painting style of his well-travelled friend Tom Roberts. McCubbin wasn’t to travel to Europe until 1907, where he witnessed European Impressionism first-hand. 

Tom Roberts, along with Lois Abrahams and Frederick McCubbin established the Box Hill Artists’ Camp in 1885. These three artists, along with contemporaries Arthur Streeton, Charles Condor, David Davies and others, painted outdoors at the camp at Box Hill and at a property in Eaglemont near Heidelberg in the late 1880s and early 1890s. Today the group are known nationally as the Heidelberg School of artists or, more recently, the Australian Impressionists. 

The sun-bleached cluster of grey and yellow buildings in McCubbin's Box Hill Railway Station was the scene that met the famous Box Hill camp of artists every weekend as they alighted their steam train from Melbourne – each weekend for the four years of the camp's existence. Remembering the halcyon days of the Artists’ Camp, Arthur Streeton recalled the haste with which the artists made their way back to the humble Box Hill Railway Station after painting throughout the weekend – back to civilisation and their weekday jobs: "I close my eyes and see again the black wattles and ti-trees ... the run for the trains on Sunday night and the Prof [McCubbin's nickname] far up ahead, mopping his brow - the flush over the Dandenongs and the quiet grey valley beyond White Horse road towards Macedon." 

McCubbin was a ‘much-loved’ teacher at the Gallery School, from 1886 until his death in South Yarra in 1917. He lived in a number of suburbs in Melbourne, including Blackburn. 

Further Reading

Clark, J. and Whitelaw, B. Golden Summers: Heidelberg and Beyond, International Cultural Corporation of Australia Limited: Melbourne, 1985

Finlay, E. & Morgan, M. Prelude to Heidelberg: The Artists Camp at Box Hill, Burwood, Victoria College Press, 1991

Galbally, A. Frederick McCubbin, Hutchinson, Melbourne, 1981

Whitelaw, B. The Art of Frederick McCubbin, NGV, 1991