Tag Archives: Paul Montford

Paul Montford in Melbourne

Book review of Catherine Moriarty, Making Melbourne’s Monuments – The Sculptures of Paul Montford (Australian Scholarly, 2013, North Melbourne)

With his middle name, Paul Raphael Montford was destined to being an artist. He first trained at Lambeth School of Arts and then at London’s Royal Academy of Arts where he was awarded 5 prizes and a travelling scholarship. He had a distinguished career with many commissions in England and Scotland for architectural sculpture. He moved to Melbourne in 1923 and his sculptures adorn the Shrine of Remembrance. Montford came to my attention because he has more public sculptures in Melbourne than any other artist until the 1990s.

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Paul Montford, Adam Lindsay Gordon, 1931

Montford’s sculptures were not the first neo-classical sculptures to adorn Melbourne. Nor was Montford was not the first British sculptor to move to Melbourne, others had come before him but Montford does have more public sculptures in Melbourne than any other artist until the 1990s. Montford represents the high water mark of neo-classicalism in Melbourne before the tide of art history turned away from the classical tradition. For years that Paul Montford has been ignored by Australian and British art history and Moriarty’s book restores him to art history.

The high point of Montford’s career was the sculptures on Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. This gives Moriarty the opportunity to do a scholarly examination of Australia’s nascent nationalism. There are plenty of details about the arts and culture in Melbourne, including the various artist’s clubs that Montford and his wife joined.

The first half of the book is a short history of Montford, in England and Australia.  Moriarty makes the detail of history an engaging read and I reached the end of each chapter wanting more. There is a chapter on his domestic arrangements and his wife was a notable miniature artist. There is also a strange diversion on Montford osteopathy and medicine but it is justified given the interest in osteopathy in Montford’s letters and that in 1938 Montford died of leukaemia as a result of a bizarre medical treatment where he was given large dose of radium for tonsillitis.

Montford's signature on base of Judge Higgenbothen Memorial

Montford’s signature on base of Judge Higgenbothen Memorial

The second half are the annotated letters from Montford to his wife, his brother and other family members. There are also a few letters to Montford including one from the sculptor, and Montford’s professional rival, Bertram Mackennal.

It is this archive of material that gives weight to Moriarty’s examination of Montford.

And along with a detailed catalogue of Montford’s work this book is the complete reference for Paul Montford

Montford’s art is deeply conservative. Robert Menzies assumed that being a conservative artist he would be politically conservative too, appointed Montford to the Australia Academy of Arts. Pacifist, socialist and opposed to the White Australia policy Montford challenges the assumption that progressive artists are both progressive artistically and politically.

With the up-coming federal elections it is amusing to read Montford’s analysis of Australian politics and compulsory voting because the situation has hardly changed since 1925:

“We shall have to vote next July or be fined and what a choice. Nationalist or Labour, both Protection and ultra Australian. Labour being keen on making more money and doing less work. Nationalists keen on making more interest with less trouble. The Socialist ideals simply don’t exist. Labour has none, Communists is that of a Proletariat  – by force leading to a working man’s heaven – very undefined. Yet we must vote – penalty £2 if you don’t.” (p.112)

Moriarty has managed to make a long overdue academic examination of Paul Montford into something more than that; it is an engaging look at life in Melbourne in the 1920s.

Montford, The Court Favourite, 1906

Montford, The Court Favourite, 1906


Dadswell & Porcelli & Australian Racism

Lyndon Dadswell (1908–1986) was 21 years old when he was commissioned to do the frieze for the interior of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. He had just finished his training at East Sydney Technical College (1926 – 1929) and the Julian Ashton Art School (1923 – 1925). He considered himself far too young to be working on a national monument.

Dadswell had been given the job at such a young age because the committee wanted an Anglo-Australian working on the Shrine. Dadswell was to replace Pietro Porcelli (1872 – 1943) an Italian born sculptor based in Perth. Porcelli was disliked by both the Shrine’s chief sculptor, Paul Montford and by the architect Philip Hudson. Hudson was openly racist about his dislike for Porcelli, and along with others, wanted “British” labour only on the Shrine.

Pietro Porcelli did not have a good time in Melbourne. On 16 July 1926 The West Australian reported Pietro Porcelli was “knocked down by a motor car while crossing an intersection in the city yesterday. He was admitted to the Melbourne Hospital suffering from concussion, a broken front bone, broken leg and abrasions. His condition is serious” According to the article Porcelli came to Melbourne to work on the Town Hall; I don’t known if that was completed.

Porcelli was out and young Lyndon Dadswell was in. Porcelli returned to Perth where he died, allegedly a virtual recluse on 28 June 1943. There is a memorial sculpture to Procelli by Greg James 1993, in Kings Square, outside St John’s Church, Fremantle, Western Australia. Dadswell went on to have a glorious career. He was commissioned created the twelve freestone panels to adorn the inner Shrine and after Montford’s death Dadswell became the chief sculptor for the Shrine. He was the first sculptor to be appointed an official war artist of the Second World War.

This is not the only example of racism in Melbourne’s public sculpture. Italian sculptors had previously been a controversy when the Scottish born James White (1861-1918) who immigrated to Australia 1884 employed Italians to work on the Queen Victoria Memorial (1907). White was in a bind as he depended on the skill of the Italian stone carvers to work the Carrara marble for the multiple figures on the large monument. After this James White received no other major state commissions.

Australian racism was enshrined in the White Australia policy and exhibited in all kinds of petty ways. And while Melbourne’s public sculpture from this period does not overtly exhibit this racism (aside from muscular nationalism); their history records its and the ghostly presence of racism haunts the sculptures.

unknown orphan sculpture, 118 Russell Street

unknown orphan sculpture, 118 Russell Street

I started looking for more about Dadswell after trying to attribute the frieze at 118 Russell Street (it was suggested to me that it might be the work of Dadswell). There is also the frieze on the top of the Freemason Hospital in East Melbourne that I have not been able to attribute. Dadswell did do friezes for commercial buildings his sculpture “Progress” at Rundel Mall in Adelaide. They could also be the work of one of Dadswell’s many students, like the South Australian sculptor, Rosemary Madigan.

Frieze on the Freemason Hospital, Sth Melbourne

Frieze on the Freemason Hospital, Sth Melbourne

These possible attributions are based on style; both have a similar style, with art deco archaic figures that have been influenced by archaeology of archaic Greece and Crete. And Dadswell admired the formality of archaic art as can be seen in his Birth of Venus (1944) at the Art Gallery of NSW. Before getting the commission for the Shrine Dadswell was studying with British sculptor Rayner Hoff at East Sydney Technical College. Hoff’s art deco sculptures were consciously trying to modernize the classical tradition. Dadswell cites his own influences as Carl Milles, the Swedish sculptor, Epstein, and Henry Moore (James Gleeson Interviews: Lyndon Dadswell, 8 June 1979).

If anyone has any information about the attribution of these two sculptures please leave a comment.


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