Down on his luck

Frederick McCUBBIN: artist

Not On Display

About the work

For late-nineteenth century viewers this painting of a failed gold prospector, in spite of its melancholy air, evoked nostalgia for a passing way of life, and promoted an ideal of the freedom of the itinerant bush worker. McCubbin was indebted to European realism, in particular large-scale figures of rural workers posed within the landscape. In his paintings on the theme of the pioneer McCubbin was deliberately trying to establish a form of modern history painting in Australia, combining uniquely Australian subject matter with the equally unique Australian light and landscape.(August 2018)

When it was first exhibited in 1889, a reviewer noted Down on his luck as 'Thoroughly Australian in spirit, and yet so poetic that it is a veritable bush idyll ...' (Table Talk, 26 April 1889). In the 1890s, the painting symbolised a passing way of life: that of itinerant bush workers 'on the wallaby track'. It evoked nostalgia for a time when it was possible for independent gold prospectors or bushmen to make a simple living and choose to move on when they wished. The landscape elements for Down on his luck were probably painted outdoors at Box Hill, close to Melbourne. However, the figure, modelled by McCubbin's friend and fellow artist Louis Abrahams, was completed in the studio. Although strongly tied to the social and political climate of the late nineteenth century, Down on his luck has continued to appeal to viewers since its purchase by the Gallery in 1896. Its melancholy portrayal of an individual deep in thought and surrounded by landscape finds sympathetic responses from contemporary audiences.
Down on his luck
Artist/Maker and role
Frederick McCUBBIN: artist
oil on canvas
114.5 x 152.5 cm;
145 x 183.5 x 14 cm (framed)
Credit line
Purchased 1896
The State Art Collection, The Art Gallery of Western Australia
Accession number

This is one of the paintings in our collection.