Lyndon Dadswell (1908–1986) was 21 years old when he was commissioned to do the frieze for the interior of Melbourne’s Shrine of Remembrance. He had just finished his training at East Sydney Technical College (1926 – 1929) and the Julian Ashton Art School (1923 – 1925). He considered himself far too young to be working on a national monument.
Dadswell had been given the job at such a young age because the committee wanted an Anglo-Australian working on the Shrine. Dadswell was to replace Pietro Porcelli (1872 – 1943) an Italian born sculptor based in Perth. Porcelli was disliked by both the Shrine’s chief sculptor, Paul Montford and by the architect Philip Hudson. Hudson was openly racist about his dislike for Porcelli, and along with others, wanted “British” labour only on the Shrine.
Pietro Porcelli did not have a good time in Melbourne. On 16 July 1926 The West Australian reported Pietro Porcelli was “knocked down by a motor car while crossing an intersection in the city yesterday. He was admitted to the Melbourne Hospital suffering from concussion, a broken front bone, broken leg and abrasions. His condition is serious” According to the article Porcelli came to Melbourne to work on the Town Hall; I don’t known if that was completed.
Porcelli was out and young Lyndon Dadswell was in. Porcelli returned to Perth where he died, allegedly a virtual recluse on 28 June 1943. There is a memorial sculpture to Porcelli by Greg James 1993, in Kings Square, outside St John’s Church, Fremantle, Western Australia. Dadswell went on to have a glorious career. He was commissioned created the twelve freestone panels to adorn the inner Shrine and after Montford’s death Dadswell became the chief sculptor for the Shrine. He was the first sculptor to be appointed an official war artist of the Second World War.
This is not the only example of racism in Melbourne’s public sculpture. Italian sculptors had previously been a controversy when the Scottish born James White (1861-1918) who immigrated to Australia 1884 employed Italians to work on the Queen Victoria Memorial (1907). White was in a bind as he depended on the skill of the Italian stone carvers to work the Carrara marble for the multiple figures on the large monument. After this James White received no other major state commissions.
Australian racism was enshrined in the White Australia policy and exhibited in all kinds of petty ways. And while Melbourne’s public sculpture from this period does not overtly exhibit this racism (aside from muscular nationalism); their history records its and the ghostly presence of racism haunts the sculptures.
I started looking for more about Dadswell after trying to attribute the frieze at 118 Russell Street (it was suggested to me that it might be the work of Dadswell). There is also the frieze on the top of the Freemason Hospital in East Melbourne that I have not been able to attribute. Dadswell did do friezes for commercial buildings his sculpture “Progress” at Rundel Mall in Adelaide. They could also be the work of one of Dadswell’s many students, like the South Australian sculptor, Rosemary Madigan.
These possible attributions are based on style; both have a similar style, with art deco archaic figures that have been influenced by archaeology of archaic Greece and Crete. And Dadswell admired the formality of archaic art as can be seen in his Birth of Venus (1944) at the Art Gallery of NSW. Before getting the commission for the Shrine Dadswell was studying with British sculptor Rayner Hoff at East Sydney Technical College. Hoff’s art deco sculptures were consciously trying to modernize the classical tradition. Dadswell cites his own influences as Carl Milles, the Swedish sculptor, Epstein, and Henry Moore (James Gleeson Interviews: Lyndon Dadswell, 8 June 1979).
If anyone has any information about the attribution of these two sculptures please leave a comment.