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In Cumberland Streetc 1902

by Alice Muskett

Sydney-based artist Alice Muskett’s view of Cumberland Street was one of 145 paintings of The Rocks and Millers Point area exhibited in the rooms of the Society of Artists in March 1902.

In stark contrast to photographs of slums and derelict houses taken of the area by the Public Works Department during the 1900 bubonic plague outbreak, Muskett’s painting presents an idyllic impression of domestic life in The Rocks. A mother watches over her children playing in the street, women stroll and a horse-drawn cart moves through the clean, wide, sun-drenched street. Paintings such as Cumberland Street presented an alternative view of everyday life in an area known as a notorious slum.

In the following years many houses in the area were demolished, large areas were cleared and streets disappeared. Cumberland Street still exists today, running below the Cahill Expressway between Grosvenor Street almost to George Street, but is barely recognisable from its depiction here.

This painting was purchased by the NSW Government in 1902 and officially transferred from the Art Gallery of NSW to the State Library in 1920.