Circe and the Dawn of a New Age

circe-bertram-mckellarAustralian sculptor Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal was born on 12th June 1863 in Fitzroy, an inner city suburb of Melbourne. Mackennal studied at the National Gallery from 1878 -1882. He then left to study in London, where he shared a studio with Charles Douglas Richardson and Tom Roberts.

In 1884, Mackennal visited Paris for further study and married a fellow student, Agnes Spooner. On returning to England, Mackennal was appointed head of modelling and design at the Coalport Potteries, Shropshire in early 1886.

  • In the same year he won a competition for the sculptured reliefs on the front of Parliament House, Melbourne.
  • While in Australia, Mackennal obtained commissions, including the figure over the doorway of the Mercantile Chambers, Collins Street, Melbourne.

In 1893, Mackennal had his first success when his full-length figure “Circe“, now at the National Gallery of Victoria, (pictured above) obtained a “mention” at the Old Salon and created a good deal of interest. It was exhibited later at the Royal Academy where it also aroused great interest, partly because of the prudery of the hanging committee which insisted that the base should be covered. Because of this, commissions began flowing in, among them being the figures “Oceana” and “Grief” for the Union Club, Sydney.

bertram mackennal - dawn of a new ageAbove is: “Dawn of a New Age” (1924) Bronze; – Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney.  (Gift  of Mrs. D.V. Ritchie, 1951) Diploma work accepted 1924, by the Royal Academy –  who accepted Mackennal’s Diploma work. He was already a successful and highly sought-after sculptor in Britain and Australia at this time.

Other accolades include:

  • The British 1½d stamp of 1912 which was based on the Mackennal portrait of King George V.
  • Being the 1st Australian artist to be knighted, McKennal was created a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order in 1921, and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1922.

Sir Bertram Mackennal died suddenly from the rupture of an abdominal aneurysm at his house, Watcombe Hall near Torquay, Devon on 10 October 1931.

He is survived by Lady Mackennal and their daughter.

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One Response to Circe and the Dawn of a New Age

  1. Excellent write-up. I absolutely love this site. Continue the good work!

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