GILBERT, Charles Web (1867-1925)

GILBERT, Charles Web (1867-1925)
was born near Maryborough, Victoria, on 18 March 1867. His father died when he was two months old and his mother was left with three young children. Gilbert received a state school education but began to earn his living before he was 10 years old. Coming to Melbourne he obtained a position at Parer's hotel where he eventually became a chef. It has been stated that the modelling of ornaments for weddingcakes first turned his thoughts in the direction of sculpture. He entered the national gallery drawing school in 1888 and attended for two and a half years, but never went on to the painting school. In the late eighteen-nineties he began to exhibit at the Yarra Sculptors' Society and the Victorian Artists' Society. Until 1905 his work was all in marble and when he began experimenting in casting in bronze he met with many difficulties and could find no one in Melbourne to help him. He persevered, became an excellent caster, and among others did portrait heads in bronze of J. Mather (q.v.), A. McClintock, John Shirlow (q.v.), Hugh McCrae and Bernard O'Dowd. The last was acquired for the national gallery of Victoria in 1913 under the Felton bequest.
In May 1914, encouraged and helped by an American resident of Melbourne, Hugo Meyer, Gilbert went to London and in spite of the war persevered with his work as he was well over military age . He exhibited at the Royal Academy where the sincerity of his work met with early appreciation, and in 1917 his marble head "The Critic" was purchased for the Tate gallery through the Chantrey bequest. He was nominated also for an associateship of the Royal Academy. He was then employed as a war artist by the Commonwealth government and made many models for the war museum of country over which the Australians fought. He returned to Australia in 1920 and completed the 2nd Division monument which was afterwards unveiled at Mont St Quentin in the presence of Marshal Foch. His other war memorials include those for the Melbourne university medical school and the Victorian Chamber of Manufactures. Another important work was the group of three figures for the Flinder's memorial which stands outside St Paul's cathedral, Melbourne. His next important piece of work was the Australian memorial for Port Said. Gilbert had always been accustomed to doing everything for himself, and wore himself out carrying clay for the huge full size model and died suddenly on 3 October 1925. His first marriage was unfortunate and was dissolved. He married again while in London and left a widow with two sons and a daughter.
Gilbert was a man of simple, kindly nature beloved by his fellow artists and friends. He could do generous even quixotic things, but never anything unworthy. He carved and cast most of his work himself and in his modelling had a remarkable feeling for both the planes and the lines of his compositions. His work resolved itself into beautiful profiles from every angle. He was practically self-taught, for there was no instruction in modelling at the national gallery schools, and his work, in no way derivative, was always sensitive to beauty. He is well represented in the national gallery at Melbourne and also in the Sydney gallery.
The Herald, Melbourne, 3 and 6 January, 1920, 5 October 1925; The Argus, Melbourne, 5 October 1925; W. Moore, The Story of Australian Art; personal knowledge.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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