[Statuary in the Public Library’s “Marble Hall,” c.1888: Photo by Charles Rudd (1849-1901) (SLV H39357/116)]

Sculpture - Introduction

As Ann Galbally and others have shown in detail, Redmond Barrys initial concept of the Public Library’s Museum of Art involved acquiring an “improving” collection of plaster casts after antique and other famous statues of the past, and busts of famous men. These casts remained in the collection throughout the pre-Felton era (and further examples were added in the period). But by the early 20th century they had evidently come to be regarded essentially as a teaching resource for the Art School, and were later deleted from the collection: for further comments, see Reproductions, casts and copies.

In any case, the original plan was soon overtaken by the decision to acquire original sculptures, mostly by contemporary practitioners. By 1904, the Melbourne collection boasted a significant group of statues, busts and statuettes – including major examples by noted sculptors of the day including BoehmCarrier-Belleuse, MêneCharles Summers, Marshall Wood and Woolner. These were displayed in several areas of the Library as the collection evolved and grew during its first five decades.

In the 1860s-70s, the busts and statues in the collection were dispersed through the various galleries of the library building. From the 1880s, however, the growing sculpture collection began to be consolidated into specific exhibition spaces.

The presentation of Charles Summers’ four large statues of Queen Victoria and other members of the royal family in 1878 – see * Summers (Charles) Queen Victoria {1878} Melb.Showgrounds [SC] etc. – led to the construction of an octagonal “marble hall” (also known as the “rotunda”): see photo reproduced above; the date of 1888 is suggested by the prominent presence of * Boehm Young Bull {1888} Melb.Showgrounds [SC], purchased in that year, and then relocated to the La Trobe Gallery by 1894. In 1894, the Rotunda contained just over 50 sculptures (listed in NGV 1894, section VI).

By 1904, following further acquisitions, and rearrangements to the display spaces, most of the sculpture collection (as listed below) was located in three areas: the “vestibule” leading to the Stawell Gallery (NGV 1905, section IV); the Verdon Gallery, opened in 1886 (NGV 1905, section VI, nos.15-28); and the entrance hall (ibid., nos.1-14). The latter area, initially used to display plaster casts (subsequently housed in separate galleries), later contained various prestigious sculptures, notably Summers’ royal statues: for a general view published in NGV 1905, see 1905 Public Library Foyer.

Statuary in front of the library by 1904 comprised * Unknown (Italian 19C?) Lions (2) {1862} Lost [SC], Gilbert & Ball Redmond Barry 1887 {1887} SLV [SC], and Boehm St George 1887 {1888} SLV [SC], joined in 1907 by Frémiet’s Joan of Arc. See now 1907 Public Library forecourt, for an overview.

 

Later de-accessioning

Throughout this catalogue, asterisks preceding entries indicate works later de-acquisitioned from the Melbourne collection. In most categories, the proportion of such examples is relatively small. But in the case of sculpture, a glance at the list below shows that asterisked works clearly outnumber the remainder.

During the 20th century, the pre-Felton sculpture collection was decimated by what must be described as careless and unnecessarily aggressive de-accessioning. In fact, “decimated” (which literally means deleting every 10th) understates the case significantly. Of over 100 individual sculptures in the collection in 1904 (the exact totals are complicated, especially when taking into account multiples such as Summers (Charles) Aborigines of Victoria 1866 {1867} SLV [SC]), only about a dozen now remain in the NGV, with approximately 20 still in the SLV (including several transferred from the NGV in the 1940s), and a further 20 or so extant in other collections. Over 40 simply seem to have disappeared.

This purge of the early sculpture collection was carried out largely at the orders of Daryl Lindsay during the early stages of his NGV directorship (1941-55). Some works were auctioned off cheaply (see 1943 auction of NGV sculpture), while others were transferred to regional collections. Demonstrating this dubious achievement, the 1943 NGV catalogue listed only a handful of sculptures remaining on display.

Nor were these losses trivial. In the case of Charles Summers, a significant figure in the early history of the collection, less than half of his original statues in the pre-Felton collection survive in the SLV (and none in the NGV): for details, see individual entries. Also deleted were significant works by other noted sculptors of the period (including Boehm, Carrier-Belleuse, Gott, Mackennal, Mercié and Marshall Wood). While some of these sculptures have survived in other collections, others appear to have vanished, including several of particular interest, e.g. * Halse Advance Australia 1865 {1891} Loc? [SC] and * Saupé Marcus Clarke {1893} Loc? [SC].

It’s easy to be wise after the event, of course, and these decisions to cull the 19th-century sculpture collection clearly reflected the developing modernist taste of the 1940s-50s, and simultaneous distaste for Victoriana (which also led to other de-acquisitions of pre-Felton material, in decorative arts, watercolours etc.). But they should still be regretted.

Even in strictly monetary terms (leaving aside wider questions of historical and aesthetic value), the decision to dispense with some of these works in the 1940s, often for negligible prices, now seems simply wrong-headed. For example, marble busts and statues by Charles Summers and his son now regularly sell for substantial amounts at auction. For other recent comparative prices, see e.g.* Benzoni Four Seasons {1864} Loc? [SC], and * Carrier-Belleuse Melody {1904} Loc? [SC].

 

Individual entries

Ball Dean Macartney 1888 {1889} SLV [SC]
* Ball James Moorhouse {1890} Loc? [SC]
* Ball J.Cosmo Newbery {1896} Museums Victoria [SC]
* Benzoni Four Seasons {1864} Loc? [SC]
* Benzoni Euterpe {1885} Loc? [SC]
* Boehm [after] Henry Cole 1875 {1876} Loc? [SC]
* Boehm [after] John Ruskin {1876} Geelong [SC]
* Boehm Young Bull {1888} Melb.Showgrounds [SC]
Boehm St George 1887 {1888} SLV [SC]
* Bonham Carter Florence Nightingale {1880} Loc? [SC]
* Brütt Female figure 1888 {1888} Bendigo [SC]
* Canova [after] Head of Christ {1870} Loc? [SC]
* Canova [attrib.] Eve {1885} Loc? [SC]
* Carrier-Belleuse The Esquire and The Knight {by 1894} Loc? [SC]
* Carrier-Belleuse Melody {1904} Loc? [SC]
* Cranari Perseus {1885} Ballarat [SC]
Delaplanche [after] Securité {1891} NGV [SC]
* Donatello [after] Boy’s Head {by 1894} Loc? [SC]
* Flaminio La Puberta 1866 {1867} Priv.coll. [SC]
Francis Lord Melbourne 1837 {1901} SLV [SC]
* Giambologna [after] Rape of the Sabines {1878} Loc? [SC]
Gilbert & Ball Redmond Barry 1887 {1887} SLV [SC]
* Gott Flora {1885} Loc? [SC]
* Halse Advance Australia 1865 {1891} Loc? [SC]
* Lombardi (G.B.) First Whisper of Love {1884} Warrnambool [SC]
* Lombardi (Giovita) Fowls – Cocks Fighting {1884} Loc? [SC]
* Lombardi (Giovita) Goat and Kid {1884} Loc? [SC]
* Lombardi (Giovita) Hen and Chickens {1884} Loc? [SC]
* MacDowell Eve {1877} Bendigo [SC]
* Mackennal Triumph of Truth {1891} Loc? [SC]
Mackennal Louis Buvelot {1902} NGV [SC]
Mackennal Madame Melba 1899 {1900} NGV [SC]
* Marshall [after?] Miranda {by 1865} Loc? [SC]
* Mêne The Hawker {1881} Loc? [SC]
* Mêne Mare and Foal {1881} Geelong [SC]
* Mercié Triumph of Art {1891} Loc? [SC]
* Saupé Marcus Clarke {1893} Loc? [SC]
* Scurry Charles Summers {1884} Loc? [SC]
* Sheldon George Watson {1894} Loc? [SC]
* Simonetti Commodore James Goodenough {by 1880} Loc? [SC]
Summers (Charles) John Pascoe Fawkner 1856 {1871} SLV [SC]
Summers (Charles) Sir Redmond Barry {1860} SLV [SC]
Summers (Charles) Sir Henry Barkly 1864 {1865} SLV [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Sir Henry Barkly [medallion] {by 1880} Loc? [SC] 
Summers (Charles) John Pascoe Fawkner 1864 {1871} SLV [SC]    
Summers (Charles) Aborigines of Victoria 1866 {1867} SLV [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Intercolonial Exhibition Medal 1866 {by 1880} Loc? [SC]
Summers (Charles) Gustavus Vaughan Brooke {1868} SLV [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Gustavus Vaughan Brooke [medallion] {by 1880} Loc? [SC]
Summers (Charles) Sir Charles Sladen 1870 {after 1894?} SLV [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Captain W.H.Hovell {1871} Loc? [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Maternal Affection {1884} Loc? [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Sir George Macleay {1872} Loc? [SC]
Summers (Charles) Captain Charles Sturt {1872} SLV [SC]
* Summers (Charles) HRH The Duke of Edinburgh {1873} Loc? [SC]
Summers (Charles) Rev.Charles Perry {1876} SLV [SC]
Summers (Charles) Sir John Manners-Sutton 1876 {1877} SLV [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Sir Charles Gavan Duffy {1877} Loc? [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Queen Victoria {1878} Melb.Showgrounds [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Albert, Prince Consort {1878} Melb.Showgrounds [SC]
* Summers (Charles) The Prince of Wales {1878} Loc? [SC]
* Summers (Charles) The Princess of Wales {1878} Alexandra [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Lynceus and Hypermnestra {1876} Loc? [SC]
* Summers (Charles) Roman Peasant (Female) {1880} Loc? [SC]
Summers (Charles) Sir James McCulloch {1904} SLV [SC]
* Summers (C.F.) Roman Peasant (Male) {1880} Loc? [SC]
* Summers (C.F.) & Lombardi (G.B.) Shunammite Woman {1884} Bendigo [SC]
Thomas Sir Redmond Barry 1856 {1881} SLV [SC]
* Thomas Charles Horsley {by 1880} Loc? [SC]
Todt Gold Diggers 1854 {1884} NGV [SC]
* Todt Richard Heales {by 1880} Loc? [SC]
Uphues Archer 1884/89 {1890} NGV [SC]
* Wood Daphne 1871 {1877} Bendigo [SC]
Wood Sir John O’Shanassy 1881 {1888} SLV [SC]
Woolner James Clow 1853 {1891} SLV [SC]
Woolner La Trobe [plaster medallion] 1853 {by 1880?} SLV [SC] 
Woolner La Trobe [larger bronze medallion] 1853 {1888} SLV [SC]
Woolner La Trobe [smaller bronze medallion] (1853) [1889] NGV [SC]
Woolner Edward Wilson {1868} SLV [SC]
Woolner Sir Redmond Barry 1878 {1881} NGV [SC]
* Wyon Melbourne Exhibition Medal 1854 {by 1880} Loc? [SC]
* Unknown St George & the Dragon {by 1872?} Loc? [SC]
* Unknown (Australian, 19C) James Hemming Webb {1886} Loc? [SC]
* Unknown (British 19C) Queen Victoria {c.1860} Loc? [SC]
* Unknown (British 19C) Innocence {c.1860} Loc? [SC]
Unknown (German 19C) Two Passion reliefs {1862} NGV [SC]
Unknown (Italian 19C) “Berenice” {1892} NGV [SC]
Unknown (Italian 19C) Dancing Faun {1892} NGV [SC]
Unknown (Italian 19C) Head of Dante {1892} NGV [SC]
* Unknown (Italian 19C?) Diane de Gabies {1881} Loc? [SC]
Unknown (Italian 19C?) Head of Dionysus {1892} NGV [SC]
* Unknown (Italian 19C?) Lions (2) {1862} Lost [SC]
Unknown (Italian 19C?) Rebecca at the Well {1876} SLV [SC]
* Unknown (Italian 19C?) Venus de’Medici {1878} Loc? [SC]