Montford in Australia

By Donald Richardson

A buttress group from the Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

Paul Raphael Montford’s sculpture is ubiquitous in inner-city Melbourne, but it is rarely noticed because it seems to have always been there. He is best known, of course, for designing the sculptures on the First World War memorial, the Shrine of Remembrance, and for the statue of Adam Lindsay Gordon in Collins Street, but he achieved much in the fourteen years he spent in the city before his death from leukaemia in 1938.

Montford was born in London in 1868, the son of a successful sculptor and Curator of the RA schools, Horace Montford, with whom he studied initially [1]. He distinguished himself as a student in the RA schools from 1887, winning seven prizes and, in 1891, a scholarship to study in Italy, France and Spain. Thence he showed in the RA almost every year, even after he migrated to Australia in 1923.

In England, he followed his father in a significant career making bronze portrait busts and figures and carved architectural sculpture. He was one of the sculptors of the portraits of artists in the niches of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and he made the Croydon War Memorial (1921) and four magnificent sculptural groups on the Kelvin Way Bridge, Glasgow (1914-20), and worked on the Cardiff City Hall and Law Courts, Battersea Town Hall and Polytechnic and other projects. A laudatory article on him appeared in The Architects’ Journal, 1 December, 1922 - about the time he would have embarked for Australia.

He was too old to serve in the First World War, but he would not have volunteered anyway as he was conscientious objector. Both of these factors influenced his move to Australia. He said that, in England, the war memorial commissions of the 1920s were being given to younger - and returned - men [2], like Sargent Jagger [3]. But it may also have been that his style was seen as too retro for the new world that had emerged during the War.

He arrived in Australia in March, 1923, bringing with him some of the bronze figures which later found their homes around Melbourne [4]. Understandably, it took him some time to establish himself and, in the interim, he taught sculpture at the Gordon Institute of Technology, in Geelong [5]. He had an exhibition, probably of the works he had brought out with him, in the Geelong Art Gallery in mid-1924 [6]. Apart from that period, he seems to have occupied his studio at 32 Bruce Street, Toorak, for all the years he was in Australia [7]. He is said to have been very theatrical and opinionated and to have led a 'bohemian' life.

He was very energetic and professional and soon began to make an impression in Melbourne through entering in competitions and into the intellectual and artistic life of the city. He came, of course, with excellent credentials 8]. His opinions were sought by journalists [9] and he often wrote letters to the editors of the newspapers expressing his views on aspects of art, design and architecture and the training of sculptors [10]. However, his style was not what is ‘usually called original’, it lacking ‘the electrifying touch that makes one catch one’s breath’, according to a published critique of his Geelong exhibition [11].

He entered in the Port Said (Desert Mounted Corps) War Memorial competition soon after he arrived in Melbourne [12] - without success, although his entry was reviewed favourably in The Journal and the Proceedings of the RIBA-RIVA, July, 1923 [13]. Closing date for entries was 31 March, 1923, so he must have worked on it as soon as he arrived in Australia, although he may have heard about it while still in England and either entered from there or worked on it en route. Ironically, Web Gilbert, who won the competition, was able to do little work on it before he died in 1925 and - although Montford had won the Shrine of Remembrance commission by then - because the government took four years to provide the finance for it, he accepted a commission to scale up Gilbert’s maquette. This situation grated exceedingly, although it only lasted for a few weeks - in 1926.

In 1924, the Melbourne City Council paid £500 for the bronze Water Nymph and placed it in the lily-pool in Queen Victoria Gardens. Also, he came second to Brook Hitch in the competition for the Sir Ross Smith memorial, in Adelaide, and he was unsuccessful in the Hume and Hovell Centenary sculpture competition.[14]

On 19 December, 1923, the winner of the Shrine of Remembrance competition was named – the architectural firm of Philip Hudson and James Wardrop, with Montford the sculptor. Montford was always - and always recognised as - a full member of this team, and much was made in the press of his contribution, although his role in the execution of he sculpture was that of ‘director’. He sub-contracted the young Lyndon Dadswell to make the plaster maquettes for the inner frieze and the carving of these and the granite ‘buttress groups’ (from Montford’s ½-size plaster maquettes) was contracted out to a team of stone-masons.

An indication of Montford’s energy and professionalism is the amount of work he started or completed while he was working on, and supervising others carving, the sculptures for the Shrine (1927-32):

Other sculptures Montford completed before his death were full-size bronzes of John Wesley (1935 - outside Wesley Church, Melbourne) and Justice Higginbotham (1936 – Macarthur Place, Carlton), the George V Memorial, Ararat (n.d.; must be post-1936) and busts of Sir Robert Gibson and Sir Charles Nathan, a prominent member of the Returned Soldiers, Sailors and Airmens Imperial League of Australia and Warden of the Shrine of Remembrance (both made from death-masks).

In 1939, the widowed Marian Montford returned to England where she was granted a civil list pension for her husband’s service to sculpture. She took Montford’s ashes with her and scattered them in the woods at Leatherhead, Surrey.

Donald Richardson (August, 2004)

References:

1. Horace Montford - about whom little seems to have been recorded - won a gold medal in the RA in 1869.

2. ‘Paul Raphael Montford, RBA, RSBS, the Well-Known Sculptor’, Table Talk, 25 September, 1930, p.13.

3. Whose two figures, in replica, from his Artillery Memorial, in Hyde Park, London, were removed from the former State Library to the precincts of the Shrine of Remembrance in 2004. It is ironic that, in Australia, Montford missed out on the Adelaide National War Memorial commission, it having been given to Rayner Hoff, a returned soldier migrant from the UK.

4. In fact, most of the bronzes that are in Australia seem to have been brought out with him. This probably includes the bronze Atalanta Defeated (c.1900) (copies in the National Gallery of Australia and the Art Gallery of South Australia).

5. Now Deakin University.

6. It was reviewed favourably by J S Macdonald in the Melbourne Herald, 29 July, 1924. Otherwise there is no record of this exhibition.

7. His widow, Marian (nee Dibdin) – herself a portrait painter - wrote to the Australian War Memorial from that address shortly after his death.

8. He was a member of the Royal British Artists (RBA) and the Royal Society of British Sculptors (RSBS) (Table Talk, 25 September, 1930).

9. See The Herald, op.cit., Table Talk, 25 September, 1930, p.13, and The Age, 1 August, 1931, p.7.

10. Three examples:

11.op.cit.

12. Unlike most war memorial competitions, this one was not restricted to veterans of the war. It was won by Web Gilbert, who - like Montford - had been too old to serve.

13. The maquette of his entry may be that illustrated in Art in Australia, 3, 19; March, 1927, p.59, and that offered for sale to the Australian War Memorial by his widow on 11 February, 1938 - a month after his death.

14. Photograph in the Geelong Advertiser, 5 September, 1924.

15. Described as ‘a good study of a very thin youth playing with a panther’ in The Sydney Morning Herald. It was presented to the MCC by Baron Marks in 1930 (The Argus, 6 February, 1930, p.7) and it seems that he had purchased it in 1926 or 1927 for £400.

16. For which, it is recorded, he was paid £250.

17. The Argus, 5 May, 1931, p.5.

18. Copies in the National Portrait Gallery, the Australian War Memorial (acquired from Marian Montford, 1939, and mentioned in her letter of 1 February, 1938) and the La Trobe Valley Arts Centre, Morwell.

19. Photograph in The Argus, 4 August, 1928, p.4.

20. Photograph in The Argus, 29 March, 1928, p.13. Robert Prenzel (1866-1941) was a Prussian wood-carver and cabinet-maker who came to Melbourne in 1888. He carved the ceiling and walls of St Patrick’s Cathedral. Presumably he made his carving from Montford’s plaster.

21. Commissioned by the Adam Lindsay Gordon Memorial Committee and supported by both the Victorian Government and the Melbourne City Council. The original conception was a standing figure (photograph in The Argus, 12 November, 1928, p.5). See also The Argus, 8 October, 1930; 21 April, 1931, p.5; 8 July, 1931, p.5; 5 July, 1932, and 31 October, 1932, p.6. The sculpture was cast in London and won the Royal Society of British Sculptors’ gold medal in 1934 (presumably this was the plaster, which must have remained in London, because the bronze was unveiled in Spring Street Gardens, Melbourne, in October, 1932 (The Argus, 31 October, 1932, p.6).

22. Illustrated on the cover of The Argus Camera Supplement, 11 October, 1930.

23. Carlo Giorgio Catani (1852-1918) was an engineer who carried out improvements to the Yarra banks and St Kilda foreshore.

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