Late Victorian and Edwardian marble and bronze sculptures, statues and busts are quaint relics of the central Victoria gold rush in the centre of City of Greater Bendigo. The highlights of this collection are works by some of the leading sculptors in Australia: James White and Charles Douglas Richardson. There are also works by some less well known sculptors, R.G. Summers and John Walker that tell us as much about the history of that time as the works of more famous sculptors.
On the Corner of Bridge St and Pall Mall is Charles Douglas Richardson’s The Discovery of Gold, 1901-06, with three bronze base relief panels around the base showing the history of mining in Bendigo.
The twice life sized marble memorial to Queen Victoria, a bronze memorial to George Lansell, The Quartz King and the bust Memorial to Ernst Mueller are all by James White. White’s The Quartz King was installed in 1908 and The Bendigo Advertiser has a detailed story about this memorial to George Lansell. James White received several commissions for memorials to Queen Victoria, including the memorial in Melbourne’s Victoria Gardens. Bendigo’s memorial to Queen Victoria unveiled in Rosalind Park on Tuesday 14th April, 1903.
Ola Cohn wrote: “I recall the erection of a monument in Bendigo to the great monarch Queen Victoria some time after her death in 1901, but I was unmoved by it. Her statue stood on a green plot in the middle of the town looking most austere and unapproachable, and as cold as the stone in which she was carved. I studied it in my young days, but never got a spark of interest in its sculptural quality, nor did I appreciate it as a work of art.” A Way With The Fairies – The Lost Story of Sculptor Ola Cohn edited by Barbara Lemon (R W Stugnell, 2014, Melbourne p.28)
Ola Cohn also recalled in her autobiography meeting John Walker as a sculpture student at the Bendigo School of Mines and that he had later received the commission for the Boer War Memorial although she neglects to mention its location. (Stugnell, p.24)
John Walker worked as a sculptor in both Bendigo and West Brunswick before turning to chicken farming in the Bendigo suburb of White Hills. John Walker born in Bendigo and first studied sculpture at the Bendigo School of Art. Walker then went to England to study at the Royal College of Art London, and in Paris at the Collarossi and Julian Academies. [Memorial to Sir John Quick. (1934, June 12). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 6. Retrieved December 7, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article10945852 ]
John Walker’s bronze bust Memorial to Sir John Quick, 1934 in Rosalind Park was cast by E. J. Gregory of Whitby Street, West Brunswick. Walker’s bronze statue of Captain Cook on the grounds of St. Paul’s Church.
“A statue of Captain Cook was unveiled by the mayor (Councillor J Semmens) in St Paul’s Church grounds on Wednesday. Under the will of the late Mr John Emery, the statue was bequeathed to St Paul’s vestry. It was executed by Mr. John Walker, the Bendigo sculptor, at a cost of £530.” [(1906, November 29) The Argus (Melbourne, Vic.), p. 8. Retrieved December 21, 2014, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article9671945 ]
A couple of neo-classical statues stand in a small garden with a conservatory on the corner of Bull Street and Pall Mall, the McIvor Highway (the A300), that runs through the middle of Bendigo. There is a hunting scene, a poorly assembled bronze copy from the Uffizi Gallery, the various parts can be seen cracking white paint and a marble figure by the little known Australian sculptor, R. George Summers (no relation to the more famous Melbourne sculptor, Charles Summers).
This neo-classical white marble female nude, referred to as ‘Canova’s Venus’, as it is a copy of Antonio Canova’s sculpture. It is actually the figure of Pandora, notice the box at her feet, the one that Zeus put all the evils in the world in. It is the work of R. G. Summers and was installed November 1901. R. George Summers of Carlton was also the sculptor responsible for the figure of the soldier Brunswick’s Boer War Memorial. He is also known to have inspected pink marble in Benambra, north of Omeo in East Gippsland, for its commercial potential.
These sculptures, this civic bling from another era have now become historic relics.