SILENCE, c.1894

Important Australian + International Fine Art
1 September 2010

Bertram Mackennal

(1863 - 1931)
SILENCE, c.1894

bronze relief

33.0 x 27.0 cm

signed lower right: Bertram Mackennal

$25,000 - 35,000

Mrs Elizabeth Finley
Joseph Brown Collection, Melbourne
Christe's, Melbourne, 17 May 2005, lot 5
Company collection, Melbourne


Spring Exhibition, Joseph Brown Gallery, 25 September – 9 October 1975, cat. 35
The Joseph Brown Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 31 October – 7 December 1980, cat. 67
Bertram Mackennal: The Fifth Balnaves Sculpture Project, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 17 August – 4 November 2007 (another example)


Spring Exhibition, Joseph Brown Gallery, 25 September – 9 October 1975, cat. 35
Thomas, D., Outlines of Australian Art – The Joseph Brown Collection, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1989, third edition, p. 62, pl. 101 (illus.)
Edwards, D., Bertram Mackennal: The Fifth Balnaves Foundation Sculpture Project, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2007, p. 82 (illus., another example), and catalogue raissoné in accompanying CD-ROM in accompanying CD-ROM

Catalogue text

Bertram Mackennal's relief sculpture Silence c1894 is delicately poised between appearance and disappearance, giving it a distinctly ethereal look. This fugitive, insubstantial, what might be termed otherworldly quality is achieved largely through the play of light across the very low modelling giving it that mysterious quality so beloved by the Symbolists. Such are the range of feelings it arouses that the work has also been called 'Annunciation', 'Psyche', 'The Goddess', and 'Tête de sainte'. The light celestial touch accounts for the religious association, of Christian and of ancient Greek mythology. Its elemental stillness gains power through its frontality and symmetry, expressing muteness visible. The eyes look inward and the closed lips speak of the eloquence of silence. The figure, so much in keeping with the theories of the time, is merely a transient metaphor of something of greater depth and indefinable, for silence represents both the absence of sound and avoidance of mention.

Silence belongs to an important group of Mackennal's low relief sculptures of the early nineties, especially the bronze reliefs La tête d'une sainte 1892, sometimes called Femme symboliste, and Sarah Bernhardt 1892-93 in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney. Each, in its different way, is a variation on the theme of the power and mystery of women. The use of the bas-relief shows the influence of Italian quattrocento sculpture on Mackennal's work at this time, especially in its surface subtleties. Another example of this evocative image of silence, a bronzed plaster relief of Silence is in the collection of the McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park, Melbourne.