Horses & Generals

Even though classical art had survived centuries and represented eternal values eventually the classical image could no longer be sustained amidst all of the changes the modern world. The archaic robes of a judge or a city councilor would have to be updated to modern fashion. A general could no longer be represented on horseback, like the Roman Emporor, Marcus Aurelius, because generals no longer rode horses. You can see the end of classical art in Melbourne in two statues, both of generals, and both located, not far from each other in the Kings Domain Park.

Bertram Mackennal, George VII Memorial, 1920

The sculptors of these memorials are closely connected. There is a tradition of master and studio assistant that runs through the lives of William Leslie Bowles (1885-1954) and Raymond “Ray” Boultwood Ewers (1917-1998). Bowles trained in England attending night classes at South London School of Sculpture and at the Royal Academy. During the day he worked there with several sculptors, including Bertram Mackennal. In Mackennal’s studio Bowles assisted with the large public monuments, including the equestrian statues of King Edward VII for Melbourne.

When in 1937 William Bowles won the competition to create a memorial to Sir John Monash Commander in Chief of the Australian Forces, World War I. Bowles proposed the classical form for a military man, a bronze equestrian statue on a granite pedestal. The bronze statue of Monash was cast in Italy prior to the outbreak of WWII but only finally completed and installed in 1950.

William Leslie Bowles, Sir John Monash Memorial

William Leslie Bowles, Sir John Monash Memorial, 1950

There are many similar equestrian statues like the, nearby equestrian statue of the Marquis of Linlithgow by William Birnie Rhind that was unveiled in 1911. But the Monash Memorial is even more like the equestrian statues of King Edward VII that he had worked on with Bertram Mackennal further along St. Kilda Road.

 

A decade later, Ray Ewers depicted Sir John Monash’s contemporary, Sir Thomas Blamey not on horseback but in a jeep. Although Blamey’s wife wanted an equestrian statute, this was now too obviously archaic for both the sculptor and the committee commissioning the sculpture.

Ray Ewers, Sir Thomas Blamey, 1960

Ray Ewers was trained in sculpture at the Working Men’s College in Melbourne from 1936 to 1940. Bowles had selected Ewers as an assistant and Ewers had assisted him with the Sir John Monash Memorial. And when poor health stopped Bowles work for the War Memorial, he asked that his former assistant, Ray Ewers complete it. Ewers also made the “Australian Serviceman” at the Australian War Memorial sculpture garden in Melbourne.

Without the classical form to work from the Blamey Memorial, 1960 is simply big and ugly. The memorial is a bronze grossly oversized figure standing in part of an army jeep instead the tradition of an equestrian statue. The part of the jeep is shown exploded, as in a 3D technical drawing, rather than anything dramatic. The figure’s pose is stiff, military and not in the least classical. The granite plinth emphasizes the rectangular shape of the statue.

The statue could be described as ‘realist’, not the revolutionary 19th Century realism of Manet and Courbet, more like the 20th Century National Socialist Realism of Nazi Germany or the Socialist Realism of Stalinist Soviet Union. The realism and classicalism promoted by Nazi Germany cast a long shadow across sculpture in this styles in Europe but evidently had little impact in Australia.

About Mark Holsworth

Arts administrator, artist, musician, philosopher and writer. Writes Black Mark - Melbourne Art and Culture Critic. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

One response to “Horses & Generals

  • Bill Halliwell

    Dear Black Mark,
    Mr Ewers and the Committee should have listened to Lady Blamey. But not because of the obvious ugliness of the extant statue (What were they thinking) because Tom Blamey could ride and did ride horses from about the time he learned to walk. Tom Blamey was the son of a drover/butcher in outback NSW. Born in Lake Albert, outside Wagga Wagga in 1884, Tom and all his siblings could ride and ride well. In the Army all during WW1 Tom would ride regularly on duty and just for the pleasure and exercise of it. At the start of WW2 Tom insisted his ADC, Norman Carlyon learn to ride a horse and they regularly went out riding after a day’s work. On his General’s inspection tours Tom would take a mount and address his assembled troops from his mount, sometimes with an aid holding up a microphone to him sitting in the saddle.
    In Palestine he rode regularly and took part in mounted manouvers with artillary troops. In 1940 Tom led the ANZAC Day parade in Wagga Wagga, mounted on one of the five horses he kept in his stables and that travelled with him where ever and when ever possible. In New Guinea he often complained that he didn’t like any place that didn’t have horses to ride.
    In Ewers’ silly concept for a scrap of Jeep we have the classic disconnect between art and reality, or more valid, between the ignorance of the artist of his subject and the simple facts of the subject’s life.
    I have hundreds of photographs of Tom Blamey. Only two are of him in a Jeep; over 40 depict him on a horse.
    The concept of the statue is a disgrace to art and an insult to one of Australia’s better horsemen and yet another belittlement of Australia’s greatest soldier. When I can I shall commission an equine statue to replace this atrocity.
    Bill Halliwell
    Commander-In-Chief Productions
    http://www.OurTom.id.au
    Hobart, Australia
    halliwellmedia@bigpond.com

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