Works included in this catalogue
* Mackennal Triumph of Truth 1891 {1891} Loc? [SC]
Mackennal Louis Buvelot {1902} NGV [SC]
Mackennal Madame Melba 1899 {1900} NGV [SC]

After training with his father John (1832-1901), a Melbourne sculptor, Mackennal travelled to England in 1882, with an offer of work made by Marshall Wood, when the latter was in Melbourne. Unfortunately, though, Wood died shortly before Mackennal arrived.

After studying and scraping together a living with Tom Roberts and other expatriates in Paris and London, he returned to Melbourne in 1888 to install two reliefs for the façade of Parliament House (a commission he had won the year before), but struggled to find further significant opportunities.

His entry for the Public Library’s 1891 competition to produce a suitable companion piece for Boehm St George 1887 {1888} SLV [SC] won second prize, but no first prize  was awarded. This decision outraged visiting celebrity Sarah Bernhardt, who proclaimed Mackennal’s model a masterpiece: see now * Mackennal Triumph of Truth 1891 {1891} Loc? [SC].

Apparently taking Bernhardt’s advice to seek his fortune outside Australia, the sculptor returned to Europe, and shortly afterwards completed Circe, first shown in its plaster form at the Paris Salon in 1893, and recommended strongly for purchase for Melbourne in the same year by Bernard Hall. But purchase was not approved by the Trustees, perhaps reflecting similar concerns to those which led to the faintly racy figures on the base of the work (representing Circe’s bewitched victims) being shrouded when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1894. Eventually, in 1910, the full-scale bronze cast of Circe did enter the Melbourne collection, through the Felton Bequest.

For the remainder of his career, spent largely in England, Mackennal achieved a substantial reputation, while working in an increasingly conservative manner, often for royalty. His profile of George V was adopted for British and Commonwealth coins and postage stamps in 1910, he was knighted by the monarch in 1921, and elected to the Royal Academy in 1922.

He continued to produce various major works in and for Australia, notably the Queen Victoria monument in Ballarat (c.1897-1900), and the statues for the extraordinary Springthorpe Memorial in the Boroondara Cemetery in Kew (1897-1901), designed by architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear.

A major retrospective of Mackennal’s work was mounted by the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 2007.


See in particular Deborah Edwards (ed.), Bertram Mackennal (The Fifth Balnaves Foundation Sculpture Project), Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales, 2007 (including catalogue raisonné). Significant earlier accounts appear in Radford Early Australian Sculpture (1976) (unpaginated); Sturgeon, Australian Sculpture (1978), pp.59-70; and (by Noel Hutchinson; ADB vol.10, 1986); these references also mention Mackennal’s father. See also AKL 86 (2015), p.194 (entry by G.Bissell) and Bénézit 8, pp.1436-37

For Circe, see; and for Bernard’s Hall’s vigorous recommendation of the work for purchase in 1893, see Cox, NGV (1970), p.50