If this man seems familiar it might be that you have spent too long in the pub. For decades he lived on a shelf above the bar of the Birdcage tavern, in Auckland. I acquired him in the sale of contents after that establishment closed.
That diversion aside, I’d like to know who he might be, as he has now wandered into the corner of the Studio, and should he prove worthy enough (i.e. literary or scholarly), he will eventually take up a position on a suitable pedistal in the library.
What do we know? He was carved in Rome in 1883 by Orazio Andreaoni, an Italian sculptor who specialised in producing busts from photographs – particularly popular in the colonies. Indeed in 1883 – a New Zealander writing under the name of ‘Old Colonist’ in the Southland Times described a visit to Andreoni’s studio in Rome –
‘On another occasion I visited the studio of Andreoni, a sculptor, who, if I am not mistaken in my judgment, will achieve for himself a position of eminence. His skill in producing life-like busts astonished me. And what is more remarkable, he succeeds without the presence of the living subject. Give him a faithful photograph and he manipulates a model in clay so like the person that unless you saw him at work you would scarcely believe that he had not the living individual before him.’
There is a sneaking suspicion Old Colonist may our subject. He writes
I had the opportunity of watching his method with a living subject, from the commencement of the process. A gentleman who had commissioned Andreoni to sculpture his bust, was seated in an armchair upon a platform, a few feet above the floor in the centre, of the studio. An assistant brought in a pedestal stand on which was a shapeless lump of clay. Signor Andreoni placed this in front of the platform at some little distance from the gentleman in the chair, whose likeness he was about to attempt. The artist’s first aim seemed to be to familiarise his eye with the general appearance of his subject He walked from side to side, occasionally standing a few moments in silent, and earnest contemplation of the gentleman’s features, and the normal expression of his face.
Could this simply be false modesty? Was Old Colonist there to sit for a bust?
The other thing we know is that on the pedistal underneath is written ‘Auckland & Dunedin Centenery.’ Of course the wooden pedistal may have been borrowed from another source but it is worth considering who might have been included in both those events – a politican, a Premier or Prime Minister?
Thus far we’ve eliminated the most common guess, Dick Seddon – (too young in 1883)
and a few others mostly on the grounds of their beardlessness – John Balance seems only to have had a goatee. The problem is that 1883 is crowded with Prime Ministers past, current and future all whom were ripe for busts and all of whom sported beards. Here’s a number of possibilites – left to right Vogel, Stout, Atkinson and Hall.
Atkinson seems close however in that case, as with the others, the match doesn’t seem right for a sculptor renowned for an excellent likeness. Then there’s been other suggestions. William Larnach (egotistical enough), Joseph Godfrey Holdsworth (too obscure?) or William Sefton Moorhouse (Christchurch rather than Auckland or Dunedin) have all been suggested. Generally we’ve discounted the possibility of the clergy, soldiers (as they’d be in uniform) and Governors (as they are sure to be wearing their decorations).
At the moment he’s just the (very heavy) guy in the corner but we’d love to identify him, if only so we can greet him properly over breakfast. Any thoughts?