Paul Montford’s sculpture, The Court Favourite (also known as: The Prince) captures the action of a lithe young man playing with a boisterous pet leopard cub. In his right hand the youth, Montford described him as a “Young Indian”, clasps a decorated baton with a carved elephant head handle is. The cub crouches low and tugs fiercely at the youth’s cloak.
The leopard was modelled on a leopard at London Zoo, this would not be the last time that Montford used zoo animals as models using a goat and lion from Melbourne Zoo as models for his architectural decorations on the Shrine of Remembrance.
The Court Favourite was first exhibited in 1906 at the Royal Academy in London but not in a bronze edition that would have to wait until Montford and his family had immigrated to Australia in 1923. The sculpture was not cast locally as there were no specialist sculpture foundry in Australia at the time and the model was sent back to Europe to be cast. (He is a well travelled lad with a touch of Orientalism.) Montford believed that the heavy casting of the sculpture made it less likely to be vandalised, still he imagined that young men might want to break parts off especially the baton. It was cast by Foundry A.B. Burton, cast 1929, a foundry notable for casting large sculptures for notable 19th century sculptures. Montford in a letter (June, 1929) to his brother, Louis Montford notes that he sent Burton £90 for the casting and complaining that he couldn’t get an advance from Baron Marks.
In 1930 Councillor Baron Marks presented Montford’s The Court Favourite to the Melbourne City Council in memory of his brother, Jacob Marks. (Was this Alderman Jacob Marks, President of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation from 1897 to 1901 and 1907 to 1908?) Baron Marks was a keen amateur sportsman and the President of the St. Kilda Sports Club. He had purchased the sculpture a few years earlier for £400; £100 less than the price paid by the Melbourne City Council for Montford’s The Water Nymph.
Wednesday 5th Feb 1930 Montford, in another letter to his brother Louis, records the unveiling. “Today is a hot day… I had no waistcoat on which same is not done in best circles. They didn’t know it, but they were lucky I didn’t show up in pyjamas – Oh! the occasion was the unveiling of the The Court Favourite in Flagstaff gardens just the other side of the city. Marian & I went over by car and enjoyed it all very much. Everybody patted everybody’s back, including mine, and in return I patted my own. When all was over we retired to the Mayors Room at the Town Hall where we did it all again, only more so. Now I hope I shall get paid – I haven’t had a penny yet.”
“Which is the favourite, the slave-boy or panther?” asked the Herald (Thursday 6 Feb 1930) and then narrates: “Spoiled, pampered and flattered, the panther rules the Court, symbol of the human master as fierce, as ruthless, as cruel as itself. The slave dare not use his whip, his smile is as sycophantic as that of the rest, as the patter has his will, today in play, tomorrow – in what sort?”
I want to describe this sculpture as ‘high camp’ but the Edwardian minds for which it was created for now seem utterly alien in their attitudes. Montford’s The Court Favourite still stands in the shade of mature elm trees in Melbourne’s oldest public gardens, Flagstaff Gardens established in 1862. There are many sculpture by Montford around Melbourne for more see my post Montford in Melbourne or Catherine Moriarty Making Melbourne’s Monuments – the sculpture of Paul Mondford (Australian Scholarly, 2013) where I have sourced all the quotes in this post.