Caroline Holmes: Concern for McCubbin’s home, Fontainebleau

In her book “Impressionists in their Gardens”, Caroline Holmes researched links between European, American and Australian Impressionists. Their gardens – a common theme – influenced and energised their work.

We were interested to hear that during her recent Australian visit, she had visited  Fontainebleau, home of Australian Impressionist painter, Frederick McCubbin (1855-1917) at Mt Macedon, Victoria.  Seeking healthy mountain air for his wife, Annie’s health, the family moved from the Melbourne suburb Carlton, to the rural idyll, which these days is just an hour from the metropolis. Fontainebleau was the only home owned by the McCubbins and they resided there full time for six years from 1901, and thereafter, spent as much time there as possible. The property was sold in 1931. 

Caroline describes Fontainebleau in her book as “a miraculous survivor of early twentieth-century Edwardian Australian architecture as Mt Macedon was razed by bush fires that destroyed many properties.”

McCubbin painted in his studio  at Fontainebleu and set some of his finest work around Mt Macedon.   It was on land adjoining Fontainebleau, that McCubbin painted The Pioneer in which Annie featured in two of the panels. The National Gallery of Victoria bought this painting in 1906.

Caroline reports that the house and garden are in a very poor state.  The site has been listed with the Victorian Heritage Register but that doesn’t mean the future of the house or garden is assured. The house needs to be waterproofed and cleaned, and while the garden still has some bones of original construction such as stone edging to paths, it is alas overgrown, and also in a sorry state.

Annie and Frederick entertained often with “the great and the good ” tracking a path to their home. According to Caroline, Annie was known for her salads, made fresh from the garden at Fontainebleau.

It would take energy and committment to bring the house and garden back to a much- loved home and garden, so important as a link to Frederick McCubbin’s logolife and his iconic work.

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