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The pioneer is the culmination of McCubbin’s paintings on the theme of the early pioneers of Australia. First conceived in 1901 at the time of Australia’s Federation, it is McCubbin’s greatest statement on the origins and aspirations of the new country. Considered a national icon, The pioneer also tells a universal human story of the journey through life.
The frame is one of three original framings of works by the artist in the collection. It was returned to the painting in 1985 after being located in storage.2 It represents a style of framing which draws on the Arts and Crafts movement, originally presenting a wide, flat surface of gilded oak. The proportion and angle of the bevel can be compared to the frame on John Longstaff’s Gippsland, Sunday night, February 20th, 1898 (48-2), though the construction of the latter is simpler, using oak veneer and leaving the surface stained dark. The attribution of the frame on The pioneer to Thallon is based on the association between the frame maker and the artist, the style of the frame, the method of construction and the idea that the company was one of the few able to take on a project of this scale at the time. Thallon’s ledger of 1888–1903 has numerous thumbnail sketches for frames using this profile. A very similar profile is in the ledger for a Miss Moore, 1897– Dec. 21, 1 frame 19x13R. This one is annotated ‘oak gilt’, which corresponds with the finish on The Pioneer frame. A precedent for this frame appears in the ledger for 10 August (1893) – McCubbin: 1 frame 6ft 3ft. R, 3-15 – with a nearly identical profile sketch.
1 The painting is shown in this frame in The Illustrated Catalogue of the National Gallery of Victoria, 1908 and is reproduced in full in Australia to-day, 1/12/1909, p77.
2 The frame was identified in storage by Jennifer Phipps in 1984.
The painting was on display in only the slip frames in the McCubbin retrospective at the NGV in 1955, and later in a thin, decorative border. (see above).
The frame is made up from two planks of oak butted together to form a wide, bevelled face and a long, straight working edge. The rebate is formed by the addition of pine strips. The basic profile formed by this construction is held together with screws and re-enforced with a series of stacked blocks. The corners are mitred and use two large dowel pins and a tie bolt through the corner into a recessed nut to secure the structure. The two vertical braces which divide the outer frame to form the triptych are made from an oak face, with pine used to extend the rebate. They are let into the rebate of the outer frame, top and bottom, and secured with screws. The surface of the frame was originally gilded, most likely directly to the oak. It appears as such in an early photograph of the framed painting.1 The working edge is stained or painted dark brown.
The frame has been re-surfaced in the past with false gold and given a surface coating (probably shellac). The original slips have been lost and replicas, which follow the form of those in the early photograph, were made in 1985. These were gilded in 2002. The early photograph shows very distinct junctions between the leaves used in the gilding. The current surface presents a much more solid face.