An image of Daphne

Bertram Mackennal

(Australia, England, France 12 Jun 1863 – 10 Oct 1931)

Daphne

Location
19th c Australian art
Further information

Bertram Mackennal was among the first generation of artists born and trained in Australia to travel to Europe in the 1880s to further their studies. He arrived in London in 1882 and during the subsequent decade of his studentship, was broadly divided between Paris and London. Mackennal's practice was informed by his immersion in both the traditions and contemporary developments of sculpture in these centres, at a time when the influence of the Symbolist movement was keenly felt in current day practices. Mackennal also responded to the phenomena which became known in England as New Sculpture, a movement which incorporated a broad range of tendencies to revitalise the lifeless neoclassical model that had dominated sculpture practice throughout the century. While the lessons learnt by Mackennal from his association with the New Sculptors was varied, it was the Symbolist-inspired tendency to infuse the physical with suggestions of the spiritual that he sought as ideal in his early sculpture practice with which he established his international career.

Produced and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1897, the statuette 'Daphne' is Mackennal's finest example of Art Nouveau sculpture. With its use of arabesque line and rhythmical emphasis driving the formation of its subjects, Art Nouveau had become a stylistic strategy of the European Symbolists to convey a sense of the spirit. Such elements were also adopted by New Sculptors as a means of suggesting animating forces beneath the flesh.

In his statuette Mackennal sought to depict the moment sourced from Classical mythology of Daphne's transformation into tree in order to escape Apollo's amorous pursuit. Yet Mackennal suggests a metamorphosis from the physical to the psychological realm. He composes the figure with Art Nouveau line, using this arabesque form to infer inner sensation and to fuse the figure with the metaphysical rhythms of nature. The artist constructs the metamorphosis of 'Daphne' as a liberation; an introspective embrace conveyed through the inward rhythms and the trance-like depiction of the subject. It was through the influence of Symbolism that Mackennal translated the figure of mythological narrative into an emblem of psychological drama.

The New Sculpture movement sought to foster new ways of experiencing modern sculpture seeing the rise in popularity of the statuette as a domestically and commercially scaled sculptural form in late 19th century practices. The New Sculptors displaced the traditional small scale antique copy with modern figures of imaginative contemplation. This program became the impetus for Mackennal's most evocative Academy sculptures, particularly 'Daphne', which is one of the artist's most unconventional compositions and compelling female figures. Mackennal had here followed British sculptor Alfred Gilbert's model in combining richly textured Art-Nouveau influenced organic forms with neo-Florentine statuette traditions in order to create a figure of self-involved intensity and covert eroticism that is one of the artist's most successful of this period.

Year
1897
Media
Sculpture
Medium
bronze
Dimensions
50.5 x 15.5 x 15.5 cm
Signature & date

Signed l.l. top of base, incised "B. MACKENNAL". Not dated.

Credit
Barbara Tribe Bequest Fund 2014
Accession number
98.2014