Tag Archives: Kew

Mimovich’s sculptures in Kew

Last year on Christmas morning, the ninety-nine-year old artist Leopoldine (Poldi) Mimovich died aged 99. This year Australia Post’s Christmas 2020 stamp features a painting by Mimovich. A madonna and child surrounded by Australian fauna and flora, illustrating Mimovich’s desire to adapt Christian images to Australia. Mimovich is best known for her Catholic liturgical sculptures which is why I hadn’t heard of her before I walked through Alexandra Gardens in Kew.

According to the bronze plaque in the garden, Mimovich gave the city ten sculptures in 1990. Her house and studio, at 33 Miller Road, was only a fourteen-minute walk away.

The sculptures are scattered around the garden: groups of children, a girl with a rabbit, a woman, a seated man with a long beard that flows over his foot. I could only find seven and one of them was concealed in the foliage so I wouldn’t be surprised if the other three were also hidden in the undergrowth.

Can you see the sculpture?

Unlike most of Mimovich’s sculptures, the ones in the public gardens have a secular theme. Like all of Mimovich’s sculptures, the figures have simplified forms, typical of mid-twentieth-century modernism. They work well with the garden setting, contributing to the scene a quiet, reflective mood.

During her very long life, she made many religious sculptures, and when she was no longer able to sculpt, she painted icons. In 1985 she received an Order of Australia Medal for services to sculpture. And in 1996 her experience as a post-war migrant coming to Australia was told in an episode of SBS’s series: Tales from a Suitcase.

Museums Victoria has a short biography of her: Leopoldine Mimovich, Austrian Migrant & Artist, 1949 by Stevenson, M. and McFadzean, M. (2010) This biography does miss one dramatic moment in her life. In 2014 her house caught fire in the afternoon as she dozed in her reclining armchair. She was rescued, unharmed, by three neighbours, but many of her sculptures were smoke damaged.


The Big Walking Stick

Big things are probably not the right place to start when looking at public art, but they are hard not to notice. However, there is something different about the giant (7 m tall) walking stick in Kew. It rarely gets a mention compared to the Big Pineapple, the Big Marino and the proposals for the Big Bong for the northern New South Wales town of Woodenbong.

Peter Schipperheyn, Grip of Time, 1978

The fibreglass and wood big walking stick at Kew Library is an odd figurative work; somewhere between kitsch and post-modernism, between Claes Oldenburg’s big things and a piece by Maurizio Cattelan. It is one of Melbourne’s stranger public sculptures and was a weird mystery until I learnt something of its history.

It was an early work by a sculptor young sculptor, Peter Schipperheyn. Schipperheyn is still based-in Melbourne and sculpting, often large, always representational and figurative sculptures, now carved in marble (see my post on his more recent work ).

In 1978 Schipperheyn was still studying fine art at the Caulfield Institute of Technology when he won the Abercrombie Sculpture Prize for a monumental sculpture design. The Abercombie Sculpture Prize was an open competition from Abercrombie gallery. Back in the 70s, there were fewer sculptors in Melbourne, and open art prizes were sometimes won by art students; it never happens now.

Schipperheyn’s youth explains both the pop realist style and the tasteless undergrad humour of the title of the work that was, at the time, Senility. The fibreglass part of the sculpture was probably made on campus. Did he also submit it for assessment that year? 

It was initially installed on the exterior wall of the Abercrombie Gallery in Johnston Street, Collingwood. But when Laurel Abercrombie closed her gallery, she gave the sculpture to the city of Kew.

It was relocated to the outer wall of the Kew Library where it works well with the bare brick external wall. It was renamed Grip of Time; as Senility was no longer an appropriate title for a public sculpture.

Unlike most public art, there is no intended meaning to his big walking stick. Is it poking fun at or supporting the elderly and frail? The different names for the sculpture suggest that the no-one, not even Schipperheyn, is sure. And it is this ambiguity that has saved the work.

In 1997 there was restoration work done on the sculpture by the artist and a new pole was donated by Citipower. Currently, the big walkings stick is a bit overgrown and some unsympathetic planted trees need to be pruned.


Hidden Gem in Cemetery

The Springthorpe Memorial, completed in 1901, is one of Melbourne’s hidden gems, not rhinestones but an over-the-top extravagant diamond from the late-Victorian era. In 1933 the Argus praised it as “the most beautiful work of its kind in Australia”.

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When in 1897 Annie Springthorpe died giving birth to her fourth child, her husband  Melbourne prominent doctor and art collector, John Sprinthorpe was grief stricken. They had only married for ten years; privately he poured his heart out in his diary. Publicly to commemorate her he commissioned the most impressive memorial in Melbourne at the Boroondara General Cemetery in Kew.

No expense was spared. Dr Springthorpe assembled the all star team of his time: architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear, sculptor Bertram Mackennal and landscape gardener William Guilfoyle. Harold Desbrowe-Annear (1865-1933) was an admirer of Ruskin and his most well known work in Melbourne is the Church Street bridge, Richmond (1924). William Guilfoyle (1840-1912) was a landscape gardener and botanist who, in 1873 became the first curator of Melbourne’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Sir Bertram Mackennal was Australia’s international superstar sculptor of his time. Although Mackennal was born in Fitzroy he was equally at home in England where he sculpted portraits of British royalty. Melbourne residents many know his friezes on Parliament house, his statue of Circe, 1893 in the NGV or his memorial to Edward VII in Queen Victoria Gardens.

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A gate with a shield creates an entrance way to the small landscaped area around the Springthorpe Memorial in the very crowded space of the cemetery. There is a small areas around the memorial with a few seats and some trees.

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The stain glass roof of the memorial gave the white marble statuary an unreal red glow. The large dome of red glass in a scale pattern reminded me that the snake as an ancient symbol of eternal life because the snake sheds its skin. The snake motif is repeated in the water spouts on the roof.

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There are so many loving words all over the memorial. On the tiled floor and bronze words in Ancient Greek around the inside of the entablature and English on around outside.

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Mackennal’s complex three figure group consists of a full length portrait of Annie Springthorpe laid out on a Roman style sarcophagus and surrounded by angles. The angel hovers over the tomb floating on a marble nimbus; the idea of carving a nimbus out of marble strikes me as absurd, trying to carving rock to look like vapour.

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There are a few other mausoleum worthy of architectural note at the Boroondara Cemetery including a gothic-revival chapel and an Egyptian-revival temple with fantastic detailing. And there are a few other tombstone carving worthy seeing including a tomb with a bonze dog on top reminiscent of the famous tomb in Highgate cemetery tomb of bare knuckle Tom Sayers, guarded by a carving of his faithful dog. But the Springthorpe memorial is over the top in its grief, opulence and luxury, it is a five handkerchief experience.

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