MACKENNAL, Sir Edgar Bertram (1863-1931), the first name was dropped at an early age

MACKENNAL, Sir Edgar Bertram (1863-1931), the first name was dropped at an early age
son of John Simpson Mackennal, was born at Melbourne on 12 June 1863. His father was also a sculptor and both parents were of Scotch descent. He received his early training from his father, and at the school of design at the Melbourne national gallery which he attended from 1878 to 1882. Marshall Wood, the English sculptor, who visited Australia in 1880, strongly advised the boy to go abroad. He left for London in 1882 to study at the national gallery schools, and for a time shared a studio with C. Douglas Richardson (q.v.) and Tom Roberts (q.v.). In 1884 he visited Paris for further study and married a fellow student, Agnes Spooner. On returning to England he obtained a position at the Coalport china factory as a designer and modeller. In 1886 he won a competition for the sculptured reliefs on the front of parliament house, Melbourne, and returned to Australia in 1887 to carry these out. While in Australia he obtained other commissions, including the figure over the doorway of Mercantile Chambers, Collins-street, Melbourne. He also met Sara Bernhardt, who was on a professional visit to Australia, and strongly advised the young man to return to Paris, which he did in 1891. In 1893 he had his first success, when his full length figure "Circe", now at the national gallery at Melbourne, obtained a "mention" at the 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. Commissions began to flow in, among them being the figures "Oceana" and "Grief' for the Union Club, Sydney. Two Melbourne commissions brought him to Australia again in 1901, the memorial to Sir W. J. Clarke at the treasury gardens, Melbourne, and the figure for the mausoleum of Mrs Springthorpe at Kew. He returned to London, and among his works of this period were the fine pediment for the local government board office at Westminster, a Boer War memorial for Islington, and statues of Queen Victoria for Ballarat, Lahore, and Blackburn. In 1907 his marble group "The Earth and the Elements" was purchased for the national gallery of British art under the Chantry bequest, and in 1908 his "Diana Wounded" was also bought for the nation. This dual success brought Mackennal into great prominence, and he was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1909. In the following year he designed the Coronation medal for King George V and also the new coinage which gave general satisfaction. His next important piece of work was the memorial to Gainsborough at Sudbury, which was followed by the memorial tomb of King Edward VII at St George's Chapel, Windsor. He also did statues of King Edward for London, Melbourne, Calcutta and Adelaide. He was created a Knight Commander of the Victorian Order in 1921, and was elected R.A. in 1922. Among his later works were the nude male figure for the Eton war memorial, the war memorial to the members of both houses of parliament at London, the figures of the soldier and the sailor for the cenotaph in Martin Place, Sydney, the bronze statue of King George V at parliament house Canberra, and the head of "Victory", presented to the Commonwealth by the artist, also at Canberra. He completed the Anzac memorial at the Suez Canal from the designs of Web Gilbert (q.v.) a little while before his death. He died suddenly at his house, Watcombe Hall, near Torquay, on 10 October 1931, and was survived by Lady Mackennal and a daughter.
Mackennal, though a good business man, never lost his ideals or enthusiasm. He considered that the fraternity of artists were to be envied as men who had chosen their own careers, and were ever striving to express their individuality. He had many friends and often showed his sympathy with young and promising artists. He was well read and his sense of humour made him a good companion. His work showed much variety, he has been described as a "classical realist, with a strong decorative bent". His figures are graceful and dignified, his decorative detail often charming. He ranks as the most distinguished Australian sculptor of his time. Reference has already been made to many of his works; other examples will be found at the national galleries at Melbourne and Sydney.
Records of Drawing School, National Gallery, Melbourne; The Bulletin, 13 April 1901; The Times, 12 October 1931; The Argus, Melbourne, 13 October 1931.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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