• Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
  • Truth - Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal, Bowman Sculpture Ltd
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Truth

Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal

(Australian, 1863-1931)

Inscribed Mackennal London
Dated June 12 1894 London and stamped with the foundry mark E. Gruet Fondeur 44 Avenue de Chatillon Paris (Edmond Gruet, 1863-1904)
Inscribed TRUTH
Bronze, with rich dark brown patination
Height: 24" (61 cm)

Conceived 1894 and cast prior to 1904

Provenance: Sotheby's London, April 16th, 2002, lot 89; Kemp Potter Collection, UK


Born in Melbourne in 1863, Sir Bertram Mackennal played a pivotal role in the development of the English New School of sculpture. Taught by his father, a Scottish sculptor who settled in Australia. Mackennal came to England in 1883 where he studied at the British Museum before gaining a place at the Royal Academy. Trapped by academic teaching methods that he could not adapt to, he decided to abandon his studies and set up a studio for himself. He was then only nineteen, and obtained his varied tuition by visiting the studios of the several leading sculptors.

Mackennal gained his first major commission in 1889, winning the competition to decorate the Government House of Victoria in his native Australia. He spent the next two years completing the project before returning to Europe and exhibiting La Tete d’une Sainte and Le Baiser d’une Mere at the Paris Salon of 1892. In Paris, Mackennal executed the model of Circe, the goddess and sorcerer, exhibited to acclaim at the Salon in 1893 and at the Royal Academy where it was greatly received with an honourable mention.

Truth (1894) represents the epitome of Mackennal's first success in the 1890’s making him one of the most renowned sculptors of his generation. In the catalogue of the 2007 exhibition, Deborah Edwards explains how Mackennal helped to establish the vogue for the femme fatale in British sculpture of the later 1890s, and setting the parameters for later explorations of the female nude for the rest of the decade in Europe:

‘Like Circe, her gesture extends to the imagined viewer. Truth holds up a burnished disc which reflects a reality incapable of compromise [...] Mackennal thematises "truth" as a psychological act, the figure's nakedness a metaphor for "unclothed" truth, the tautness of her body carrying resonances of Circe's force and sternness, her face "frank, fearless and earnest", and her wings indicative of a being with the moral authority of a higher realm.’

Edwards 2007, p. 36

The success of Mackennal’s allegorical figures in the 1890s was the result of his masterful ability to synthesise the major artistic tendencies both in England and France, revealing the distinctive influence on his work by masters such as Auguste Rodin and Alfred Gilbert. In this perspective, Mackennal was able to express in the multiple metaphors of Symbolism of the British New Sculpture, and the sensuality of the French nude mediated by the flaming curved lines of Art Nouveau and a dynamic naturalism then characterised as 'Neo-Florentine'. As Marion H. Spielmann rightfully concluded 'he picked up a good deal of foreign feeling.' 

Spielmann 1901, p. 132

As the Art Gallery of New South Wales's triumphant 2007 exhibition showed, Bertram Mackennal is arguably the most successful Australian artist of the early twentieth-century: the first Australian to be elected to membership of the Royal Academy, the first to have work purchased by the Tate Gallery and the first to be knighted.  

Literature:

Marion H. Spielmann, British Sculpture and Sculptors of Today, Cassell & Company Limited, London, 1901, pp.132-137

Beattie, Susan. The New Sculpture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983, pp. 245-7

Deborah Edwards, Australian sculpture 1890-1919, 'Australian sculpture 1890-1919', Sydney, 1987

Deborah Edwards, Bertram MacKennal, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, p. 37 (illustrated)

Works by Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal

Download Exhibition Catalogue for Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal

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