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.
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.
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.