ART - AUSTRALIAN - KARL DULDIG IN AUSTRALIA
Duldig and his immediate family were lucky to be deported to Australia
from Singapore in September 1940. Had they applied for entry, their
chances of admission would have been slim. Had they still been in
Singapore when the British surrendered in February 1942, their prospects
would have been uncertain. Any harm that befell the 500 or so Jews who
remained was random for the conquerors did not mimic their Axis partners
by targeting Jews as Jews.[i]
The Duldigs were also fortunate that the British had not sent them to
China to which the Duldigs had applied for entry in 1939.[ii]
a comfortable passage on the Queen
Mary, 267 Singapore refugees, escorted by 42 troops, arrived at
Sydney on 25 September 1940. Two days later, following a train trip,
trucks deposited them 1000km to the south-west at an internment camp
near Tatura, in central Victoria.
interned came as a shock. The group had been on parole in Singapore and
expected to remain so in Australia. Within forty-eight hours of arriving
at Tatura, they were petitioning a government which had no intention of
breaching its restrictive immigration policy. Many Australians opposed
immigration even from the British Isles, fearing the newcomers as
competitors for the jobs that were still scarce after more than a decade
Hence, although the Singapore arrivals were detained because they were
enemy aliens, suspicions would dog them because they were foreign.
Duldigs were again lucky to be sent to Tatura rather than to Hay where
refugees from Britain were dumped on the barren stretch that Australians
colloquially associate with hell. By contrast, the orchards around
Tatura were blossoming in the Australian spring.[iv]
If the corrugated-iron huts offered little protection against cold or
heat, at least they had been divided into cabins, each with its own
entrance. A photograph shows the Duldigs in front of their accommodation
with a deck chair and line of his sculptures.
determination to keep fit led him into chopping wood for the kitchens.
That work, in turn, drew him on to his first sculptures in Australia.
Using an axe to carve one of the eucalyptus logs intended for the ovens,
he produced a large mother and child from a fallen limb, which he
erected inside his compound, and then sketched children playing
ring-a-ring-a-roses around it. A subsequent intake chopped it up for
firewood. He also carved an off-cut as a woman’s head (44cm.). The
skull and neck were not entirely cut away from the log out of which they
had been formed, while the base was rounded to suggest a shawl.
Duldig’s response to the flow of his material initiated a sequence of
wood carvings which would include several of the most significant
achievements of his Australian decades. His earliest ceramic sculpture
in Australia was a life-size woman’s head, possibly using Singapore
clay and drawing on memories or sketches of an Asian face, as suggested
by its almond eyes. Its white glaze could have been added when he worked
at a porcelain factory in 1943. These works point to Duldig’s
ingenuity in making-do which had begun in Singapore.
the entry of Japan into the war created a manpower shortage, many male
detainees were released to the army in April 1942, Duldig being drafted
into the Eighth Australian Employment Company.[v]
A photograph shows him in one of the uniforms that the Minister for
Information described as looking as if they had been “cut with a knife
readier access to materials, Duldig made bronzes of three officers,
which were included in a 1943 Melbourne show of Art
by Australians in the Services. This trio exemplified Duldig’s
precision as a portraitist, with exact delineations conveying the
liveliness of individual temperament. He also produced several masks and
heads in terracotta, some of which emphasised the slouch hat emblematic
of the “digger”, as Australians call our soldiers. He also carved
pumpkins and large potatoes which he cast in plaster. Almost two years
to the day after Duldig’s arrival in Sydney, he received a medical
discharge on 27 September 1942. He then worked for an outer Melbourne
firm making porcelain insulators, and later with a lithographer.
Karl had joined the army, his wife and fellow artist Slawa, with their
four-year old daughter Eva, was released from Tatura, moving to the
bayside suburb of St Kilda, one of the few parts of the Melbourne to
have blocks of apartments and a sizeable Jewish community. The family
first rented a room in a boarding house with shared facilities before
finding a flat in Acland Street. Ten minutes stroll away was Luna Park,
Melbourne’s Prater. St Kilda was also an artists’ place with the leaders of a new
generation of painters, the communist Noel Counihan, the mythopoeic
Sidney Nolan and the expressionist Albert Tucker who did his wartime
“Images of Modern Evil” in its streets under GI occupation.
Until the mid-1930s, the St Kilda Jews had been
wealthy, Anglicised, Orthodox, resistant to political Zionism and
fearful that the newcomers would embarrass them .
The latter were also mostly from Germany or Austria, but they were
Liberal and Zionist.[vii] Pre-war refugees found the scarcity of fine coffee,
rich cakes and other delicacies almost as strange as the prohibition on
the sale of alcohol after six o’clock.[viii] Yet, compared with the shortages in Europe,
Melbourne remained a cornucopia.
the 1920s, the Commonwealth government had used the Immigration
Restriction Act to bar entry to immoral women and political leftists.
Literary censorship was as severe on moral as on political grounds.
Although newspapers padded out cable reports to convey world events,[xi]
the root problem in Australian life was not ignorance of what was
happening elsewhere so much as determination by the powers-that-be not
to let the majority find out.
the Duldigs had arrived in Australia, the prime minister was R. G.
Menzies, a liberal of sorts and an Empire loyalist of the deepest dye.
Less typically for a politician, he busied himself in the visual arts
through his promotion of a Royal Australian Academy of Art in order to
“set certain standards … of public taste by directing attention to
good work”. Opening the 1937 Victorian Artists’ Society exhibition,
he had declared: “Great art speaks a language which every intelligent
person can understand, the people who call themselves modernists today
talk a different language”.[xii]
The metaphor that Menzies chose to protest about the incomprehensible
visual coincided with the complaint by Anglophone Australians that the
“Refujews” jabbered away to each other in their own tongues,
plotting sabotage for all one could tell.
response to Menzies, the modernists formed a Contemporary Art Society in
Melbourne in July 1938.[xiii]
In 1939, a Melbourne newspaper sponsored an Exhibition of Modern Art,
from van Gogh and Gauguin to Dali and Picasso. The show included only a
dozen sculptures among its 215 items.
If those tame three-dimensional pieces did not challenge the
Melbourne sculptors, the controversy about Surrealism energised debate
about all the arts.
than a few Australians had welcomed the outbreak of war as an excuse to
abandon the unequal struggle for culture. The Contemporary Art Society
curtailed its activities while the decade-old Sculptors’ Society
closed down. Another casualty was Art
in Australia, a Sydney journal, which had begun in 1916. Not until
1963 would Australian artists again have a nation-wide publication
through which to communicate with each other, or to promote their
efforts to an interested public.
Academy limped along till 1945 by which time Menzies was rebuilding his
political fortunes by appealing to the middle-class as “The Forgotten
People”, that section of the population, who “provides more than
perhaps any other the intellectual life which marks us off from the
This beast was no mere figure of speech. It was the Bolshevik and the
Jew, the savage, the neurotic and the decadent who wanted to smash
tradition and decorum in every field. The leading Australian etcher, Sir
Lionel Lindsay, wrote to the newspapers in 1940 that ...
the Australian Public is perhaps yet unaware that modernism was
organized in Paris by Jew dealers, whose first care was to corrupt
criticism, originate propaganda … and undermine accepted standards so
that there should be ample merchandise to handle.[xv]
the Duldigs had arrived in the middle of an art war.
The major exhibition for 1942 in Melbourne was of anti-fascist art, encouraged by the illegal Communist Party. Almost as a result of this effort at a common front, the artists found sufficient strength to split between Social Realists and Expressionists, the German kind being known in Melbourne through refugees and a Penguin special.
fitted into none of these trends. He was anti-fascist but not concerned
with politics, least of all in its artistic dimensions. His modernism
came from Central Europe, not the Schools of Paris.
European émigrés thought of
their refuge as philistine, amusing each other with horror stories such
as the one about the radio announcer who introduced a waltz by “Johann
Certainly, Melbourne lacked the network of cultural institutions in
European cities a quarter of its size. In 1946, the city’s only
university appointed a professor of Fine Arts to teach history and
theory. Victoria’s Gallery had begun to assemble a significant
provincial collection under one of the country’s rare examples of
private patronage. No major sculpture arrived until the 1959 purchase of
Henry Moore’s “Draped Seated Women”, which provoked outrage for
this restricted life of the mind, Australian Philistinism needs to be
defined with precision. Yes, the bulk of the populace were far more
committed to sport than to the arts. No less a problem was that
Australians were not indifferent to the arts. Their philistinism was as
much in what they valued as in neglect.
late in the war onwards, the Duldigs’ kitchenette was occupied by
“hundreds of coffee sets, ramekins, ashtrays and decorative ware”
waiting to be “turned, finished, decorated and glazed”. Karl’s
treatment of Aboriginal designs was distinguished by his pursuit of
originals in the Melbourne Museum, and his sgraffito
retained their detailing within an eccentric symmetry which recalled
classical Greek pots. Their search for materials was wide-ranging. Helen
Bond reports that Karl dug his own clay at Wye River, a village on the
Great Ocean Road, west of Melbourne, where his family holidayed from
1945 to 1952. They bought some prepared clays, but soon discovered an
appropriate source for earthenware, at Camperfield. In the 1960s, for
his terracotta sculptures, he turned to darker clays, and occasionally
from local drainage works.[xix]
This quest for suitable material brought him close to his new land, as
he dug beneath its surface.
Duldig family searched for a detached house with garden in which to
expand their pottery business. Twice, local councils refused permission
to install the kiln in a suburban block. One reason was the zoning of
industry away from residential districts. The local authorities were
also determined to stamp out back-yard factories, often sweatshops, and
squeeze manufacturing out to the working-class, northern side of the
Yarra. By 1951, the Duldigs won approval for a studio with the kiln in a
shopping center where they worked until 1961. They owned a weatherboard
house in Glen Iris before buying the brick home at Burke Road, East
Malvern, that is now The Duldig Studio, a museum and gallery. Forty
years before, that suburb’s residents had convinced themselves of the
“Athenian elegance” of their villas. Their successors remained proud
of its park lands and of its predominance of brick over weatherboard
did the Duldigs feel the need to supplement their joint salaries from
pottery after the early 1950s? The purchase of a family home with
sufficient space to work was essential but had they given up the
commercial ceramics before 1961, they each might have made more art when
they were in their prime. In a longitudinal study of displaced persons
in 1950s Victoria, the sociologist Jean Martin recognised that their
pursuit of “money, status and security” was a conflicted drive.
Income compensated for a loss of prestige yet supplied the possessions
needed to attain the kind of status that native-born Australians
disturbance among displaced persons was common. The pressure to conform
caused the sculptor Julius Kuhn to change his name to the English Kane
and contributed to his suicide in 1962, aged 40. The depth of attachment
to religion by émigré artists, such as Hans Knorr, was another way of
coping with estrangement. By contrast, Karl Duldig drew sustenance from
an adoring wife and adored daughter. He also protected himself by
enjoying the company of his fellow exiles, From the opening of the
Scheherazade Restaurant in Acland Street in 1958, Karl Duldig became an aficionado.
The sketches he made of other regulars were shown there in 1988.[xxii]
His spirit and physical energy further protected him from the depression
often associated with the upheavals that he had been through. Yet those
upsets made security a more attractive goal than it might have been had
he been able to continue his career in Europe after 1938.
headmaster of Mentone Grammar School, Jeffrey Thorold, appointed Karl
Duldig as its art master, starting from first term in 1945. Wartime
exigencies had pushed up Mentone’s enrollments but drawn away male
staff, which improved employment prospects for a foreign-born Jew with
thickly accented English.
Grammar had opened in 1920 as a distant relative of Melbourne Grammar,
serving as a local preparatory school before its charges transferred to
father’s alma mater. Not
until 1948 did Mentone obtain the registration that would allow its
students to take up government scholarships. A Mentone Old School Tie
counted for little in the club land that dominated Melbourne business
schools were evaluated on their sporting victories as much as by their
examination results. On this bias, Duldig was fortunate to be a tennis
player. His other achievement, soccer, was not much played but his
facility as a skier added to his appeal among the boys.
was also lucky to be an artist rather than a doctor, engineer or any
calling for which certification was needed in order to practise. The
professional associations in Australia required many immigrants with
non-British qualifications to start their studies all over again.
Because few Australians viewed art as practical, no formal qualification
Much the same applied to secondary teaching. Anglican schools such as
Mentone Grammar sought masters with university degrees, preferably from
Oxbridge, but did not insist on formal teacher training. In fact,
Duldig’s years at the art institutions in Vienna were as many as those
demanded for most professions in Australia.
art had any place in Mentone’s curriculum was an achievement.[xxiv]
Its youthful headmaster believed education outside the classroom to be
as vital as formal instruction, sending his pupils to concerts, art
galleries, libraries and films. The art-making facilities were no more
rudimentary than those for other subjects. The Art Room was a portable
hut, subject to secondment for any class in need of a roof over its
head. Often as not, Duldig conducted his lessons en
plein air. He fired his students’ pottery in his own kiln. In the
words of the authorised school history:
who sketched, painted or modeled with increased confidence have not
forgotten their pleasure or his powerful example. He encouraged them to
make the School landscape and its features their own … For some, he
opened up worlds they have never ceased to explore. [xxv]
1955, Duldig introduced sculpture as a practical subject for the three
senior-form examinations, which the school by then had gained the
authority to access internally. As Duldig’s own teacher had
encouraged, he set the lads to work without models, carving directly
into the materials. A newspaper photograph shows their subjects as
recognisably figurative, not at all like the accompanying cartoon which
joked about their being influenced by the bio-morphism of Henry Moore.[xxvi]
The tone of the article, no less than the cartoon, indicated how any
deviation from the norm was treated.
else might Duldig have taught? Victoria had no equivalent to Hochschulen
devoted to the arts. Art departments in the Technical Colleges were
oriented towards commercial design. The School attached to the National
Gallery remained in every sense impoverished.[xxvii]
a secular Jew, Duldig had participated in Melbourne’s Catholic
Centenary Art Exhibition in 1948. A Jew and a Jesuit combined with
Anglo-Catholics in 1951 to sponsor the Blake Prize for Religious Art.
Their aim was “to replace the cheap prints and the sentimental shams
of mass-produced ‘sacred art’ that was frequently disfiguring”
places of worship. The Blake gave no space to sculpture until 1961,
years after the establishment of a prize for religious sculpture in
Religious bodies proved a major source of commissions. At 1.86m.,
Duldig’s Brickyard Madonna (1964)
in the tower of a Roman Catholic Church at Altona, in Melbourne’s
west, was probably “the largest terracotta statue made in one piece in
which had gone to the local brick works for firing.
is not alone in making it harder for sculptors than for artists working
in only two dimensions. The first Australian-born artist to gain
membership of the Royal Academy and a knighthood, Sir Bertram McKennal
(1863–1931), is all but forgotten. In 1989, when the Australian postal
authorities commemorated the centenary of the most famous exhibition in
the history of Australian art, four “impressionist” painters were
honoured with reproductions of one of their works. Their sculptor
colleague, who had shown more works than two of those painters, got no
a sculptor in Australia, Duldig proved representative of the waves of
refugees and displaced persons who came between the late 1930s and
around 1960. In asking why Karl Duldig did this or that, an answer will
be found in the responses of émigré artists as a group as often as in
his personality or contingencies. By setting down patterns of émigré
behaviour we can the better specify Duldig’s achievements.
Jomantis, Inge King, Hans Knorr and Andor Meszaros were four other
sculptors who escaped from the insanity of civilisation over there to
become active among the tiny world of professional sculptors in
Australia. Each artist is peculiar, but each career overlapped in some
way with Duldig’s: Knorr’s attachment to working in wood;
Meszaros’s commemorative medallions were the financial equivalent to
Duldig’s domestic pottery, as was King’s jewelry; Jomantis taught at
the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology while Duldig stayed at
Mentone. Tina Wentcher had also arrived at Tatura in 1940 via Malaya and
for some years made domestic-scale images of Asians.
“Migrant Artists in Australia” in 1955, Melbourne’s enduring
newspaper critic, Alan McCulloch, began by noting that the émigrés had
transformed the plastic arts in Australia. Whereas sculpture here before
1940 had been confined to the erection of effigies, it was now moving
– slowly – towards a universal language. McCulloch puzzled over why
Melbourne had become the gathering point of the immigrant sculptors
- was it because Melbourne had been “formerly notoriously
lacking in public sculptures of quality”?[xxx]
minority of the Sculptors’ Society pushed for a professional
organisation to impress on architects and civic authorities the
desirability of making sculpture into a public art. That faction
succeeded in getting exhibitions for themselves, the major
accomplishment being the “Six Sculptors” show at the National
Gallery in 1959. That Duldig was never part of this cohort reveals the
distance between his practice and the ambitions of the breakaways.
categorised Duldig as “an Austrian academician – but an academician
of taste and discernment”.[xxxi]
It is hard to know whether he intended the substantive or its
qualification to be the more damning. McCulloch’s place as the
taste-maker about town arose by virtue of his long tenure and broad
sympathies. Yet he was opinionated.
more sympathetically, a review of Duldig’s 1975 retrospective found
him “most impressive when the figures have barely emerged from the
stone or when it conforms, Maillol-fashion, to a generalised
simplification of volume”.[xxxii]
In his path-breaking account of The
Development of Australian Sculpture, Graeme Sturgeon summed up
Duldig’s influence as operating “through the example of his
professionalism and his respect for his craft”.[xxxiii]
niggardly tone of these comments was compounded by the paucity of press
commentaries. The longest and warmest account of Duldig’s contribution
was a review of the book on his sculpture that Slawa organised in 1966
when the academic art historian and newspaper critic Bernard Smith
pointed to the traditional and Classical bent of his European works,
adding that “Melbourne freed his style but brought a new
uncertainty” in regard to media: “Sandstone suggested a sculpture of broad surfaces, gently unfolding …
or a cubic treatment”.[xxxiv]
Abstraction took a little longer to challenge the humanist, organic assumptions of three-dimensional work. In 1963, when sculptor Lenton Parr surveyed Australian sculpture since the war, he echoed the direction that their art had taken overseas by emphasising “formal invention”. Addicts of the allegorical had sought to keep up with the machine age, Parr alleged, through stylised gear wheels and radio waves before going nuclear in figures whose arms reached for the sun: “No matter how capably done, this is writing in a dead language”.[xxxvi] The next year, Robert Klippel returned to acclaim for balancing bits of junk. Welding took over from casting, before metal surfaces disappeared under coloured enamels.[xxxvii]
new Victorian National Gallery opened in Melbourne in 1968 with a survey
of the vogue for hard-edged acrylic painting and for sculptures in
alloys and plastic. “The Field” show paid more than usual attention
to sculptures – twenty-one out of the seventy-two exhibits – just at
the time when the boundaries between the two- and three-dimensional were
Duldig had to exhibit his innovations commercially a year later.
Victorian government had accepted a scheme to extend public galleries
across the State with the proviso that each newcomer focus on one art
form or medium. Opening in 1956, Mildura was allocated sculpture. The
sculptors, in turn, accepted Mildura as another opportunity to promote
their medium. The fifty-one entrants were thirty-one more than Duldig
had said there were professionals in the country in 1955. He sent four
pieces - “Composition I” and “Composition II”, both in stone at
26.4cm. and 24cm., respectively; a 36cm. terracotta “Prophet”, and
“Magna Mater”, a 2.35m. red gum, priced at £525. The timber for
“Magna Mater” came from a tree felled in the grounds of Mentone
Grammar. Duldig missed out on the
public prize but Mrs Douglas Carnegie acquired “Magna Mater” for the
collection that she kept on her family’s sheep station outside
Holbrook (NSW). She also sent Duldig a load of logs, one of which became
“Carving in Eucalypt” (1962), entering another of Victoria’s new
regional galleries, the McCelland at Langwarrin.[xli]
exhibited at Mildura again in 1964 with four works including a bronze,
“Eve”, and two terracottas, “Mother and Child” and “Pick a
Back”. “The Knight”, at 50 cms, was grained oregon, with a
knot-hole or two, yet planed smooth. Whereas most entries were priced
under £400, Inge King asked £1050. Duldig’s highest price was £175.
At the third Triennial in 1967, Duldig sent only one piece, “Draped
figure” in eucalyptus at 240cm., for which he asked $2000 (in the new
decimal currency), which might be read as “Not For Sale”, or an
assertion of his value rather than a price tag.[xlii]
fourth Triennial in 1970 was by invitation. With Christo wrapping Sydney
Heads, there was no longer a place for Duldig. Indeed, from around the
time the Mildura event had started, sculptors were shifting away from
figuration. Duldig had also moved in that direction but the new
taste-makers could not see past his reputation for figurative works and
his fascination with terracotta, which to them seemed like craft. To
Duldig, his medium was another homage to the Etruscan.
media as new
the 122 entries at the 1961 Mildura prize, only eleven had been cast in
metal. This ratio indicated the expense and difficulty of moving to that
state, and of finding foundries equipped to do the casting. Duldig was
fortunate to work with Joe Lemmon and later with Peter Morley. Yet, some
clay and plaster models were not cast until after his death, for
instance, “Nefertiti” in 2002.
“Let the material talk to you”, Hanak had impressed on his Viennese students. From Singapore, Duldig began to feel the possibilities of clay; in Tatura, he encountered the demands of hardwood. Bernard Smith hoped that Duldig would concentrate on wood for he felt that Duldig’s most remarkable pieces were the ones
cut with an axe and tomahawk from red gum … [“Fragment” and “Magna Mater”] … Here Duldig seems to have stumbled upon one of the paths by which Australian sculpture might yet gain a certain independence and come into its kingdom.[xliii]
also favoured new materials for new ends, and encouraged sculptors to
take local raw materials as a point of inspiration.[xliv]
Hans Knorr wanted to elevate “blackwood to the status of the oak in
Britain”. The use of local timbers, he believed, “would make the
sculptures more readily identifiable with our country”.[xlv]
Duldig worked mostly in eucalyptus, considering driftwood, blackwood and
oregon as difficult to carve though they too allowed great beauty.
gum-tree school of Australian painting had once been its glory but that
subject had settled into conventions too tiresome to recount. From the
1940s, an exchange of grotesqueries began. Surrealist trees looked
metallic on canvasses by Russel Drysdale and Albert Tucker. Reflecting
on these, and later on indigenous images, theologians argued that the
artists’ struggle was no longer to represent what a gum tree looked
like, but to explore what a gum tree meant, including what it could be
made to convey. For a sculptor, those concerns were integral to the
properties of the timber – what did its knots and curves allow a
sculptor to express?
Duldig’s attraction to rough surfaces in ceramics extended to wood so
that its grains repeated the fabric of his terracotta madonnas .
Going in the opposite direction, from the 1970s, his ceramics often
appear to be latticed with petals or small leaves.
Australian-born founder of the science of Pre-History, V. Gordon Childe,
pointed out how the malleability of pottery-making had affected –
perhaps effected - human creativity:
constructive character of the potter’s craft reacted on human thought.
Building up a pot was a supreme instance of creation by man. The lump of
clay was perfectly plastic: man could mould it as he would. In making a
tool or stone or bone he was always limited by the shape and size of the
original material: he could only take bits away from it. No such
limitations restrict the activity of the potter. She can form her lump
as she wishes; she can go on adding to it without any doubts as to the
solidity of the joins. In thinking of “creation”, the free activity
of the potter in “making form where there was no form”, constantly
recurs in man’s mind; the similes in the Bible taken from the
potter’s craft illustrate the point.[xlvii]
effect of this flexibility on Duldig’s sculpture is obvious in his
large outdoor ceramic pieces, but it percolated to his use of other
materials where surfaces seemed to retain the impress of his thumbs long
after he had turned his last pots.
Prophet” (1953) is a 38cm terracotta where the skeletonised head is an
exercise in spatial relationships. From the crown of the head flow the
ringlets of an orthodox Jew, which also serve as side supports for the
face. This re-exploration of the antique and the theatrical, that had
been apparent in the 1921 marble mask, was only one of the scores of
masks that Duldig made from the 1950s onwards. These small open skulls
were at once memento mori and conjectures with space.
mask as doppelganger haunted
Australian art of the 1940s and 1950s as one more expression of
estrangement. Sidney Nolan established his reputation from the mid-1940s
with a series on the metal mask of Australia’s most notorious
outlaw-cum-social rebel, Ned Kelly. Albert Tucker envisaged the national
type as the antipodean head where metal, rock or hardwood took the place
of flesh. Ruskin had lauded such blurring of animal, vegetable and
mineral as the noble grotesque, which is how Duldig treated human arms
and his branch-like abstractions. The juxtaposition of elements recurred
in the contrast between his forms and their bases, which were often of a
different material or colour, or askew.[xlviii]
the demands that school teaching and the pottery had made on Duldig’s
time and energy, the surprise is that he produced any large-scale works
before the 1960s. Yet the twenty members of the Victorian Sculptors’
Society recognised his achievements in 1956 when they voted him
“Victorian Sculptor of the Year” for his terracotta “Moses”,
later purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria, the first of his
efforts to be selected for an Australian public collection. “Moses”
stands 96 cms, with the tablets of the law above an elongated face from
which a beard thrusts into his collar-bones. The figure rises upwards
from squat legs through a tapering torso. The eyes are deep set,
haunted. Again, the head is the most arresting element. Melbourne art
scholar, Christopher Heathcote, later valued this “schematic figure,
with its symmetrical pose, roughened surface and thick blocky legs”
for its “forceful monumentality”.[xlix]
biblical moment are we seeing? Is Moses about to destroy the tablets, or
is he holding them up so the people can learn? Duldig sought to convey
the former. Despite the forward thrust of the right leg, his Moses
betrays little of the “anger waxed hot” of the biblical incident
where the profligacy of his people drove him to smash the Ten
Commandments that Jehovah has just entrusted to him on Mt Sinai. [Exodus
32 (19)] Duldig’s figure is remote from the moment of restraint that
Freud discerned in the seated version by Michelangelo who
power of Duldig’s “Moses” rests in the precarious balance between
its upper and lower sections, as if it might crash onto the viewer.
continuities ran from “The Dream” (1933) to “The Four Muses”
(1957), to “Brickyard Madonna” (1964) and most especially to
“Echo” (1972), yet they are also in “Kore” (1976). The elements
most often repeated were the tapering female figure, the hands raised
above the shoulders, and the fall of the drapery. More important is the
persistence of a demeanour of feminine grace.
As Duldig approached his eightieth year, he revived favourite themes, such as caritas, and reworked both formal and narrative aspects of archaism. Age might not have wearied him but the plasticity of clay allowed him to work speedily in a medium which he had made his own specialty. Always fecund in moulding marquets, he now developed more small scale pieces through to a final state. Duldig had long developed a delight in children’s portrait busts. He entertained his young sitters by getting them to work in clay, thereby letting them express their innocent charms, a talent revealed in “Antony” (1970). The effort once demanded by working in hardwood, stone and marble, or required to achieve larger than life statements, was now lavished on his detailing of surfaces.
1960, Duldig applied his mind and body to the largest of his
polychromatic ceramic murals, “The Progress of Man”, on the front of
505 St Kilda Road, one of the blocks in glass and concrete thrust up in
Melbourne from the late 1950s. The architect of 505, Melbourne’s Lord
Mayor, Bernard Evans, was “very proud of the redevelopment of St Kilda
Road as a way for extending office space”. That his plan demolished
nineteenth-century residences along Melbourne’s principal boulevard
disturbed him not at all because, as a poet put it, ‘Nothing shall be taller than Lord Mayor Evans, but
The construction of 505 was managed by one of the many facets of Stanley
Korman who was soon afterwards bankrupt and imprisoned for financial
building at 505 was in two sections. The ground and first floors formed
a platform on which another eleven storeys rested behind a a curtain of
vertical louvres in gold aluminium to block out the western sun.[lv]
The ground-floor face was a mix of glass and coloured sheeting. Set well
back from the road, 505 was approached along a cement path beside
ornamental fountains in a rectangular pond, behind which rested the main
section of the Duldig mural, to the right of the entrance way.
opposition to the principles of functionalist architecture, the
Australian public, according to Robin Boyd, feared a bare wall. In 1960,
he lambasted the besetting sin in the “Australian Ugliness” as
“Featurism”, which he defined as “the subordination of the
essential whole and the accentuation of selected separate features”.
The result was “a nervous architectural chattering”.[lvi]
Boyd would have chastised the tripartite look of 505 as “Featurist”.
art work was in two sections, both 6m. high, but with one 3.6m. wide,
the other only 90cm. across. Both pieces consisted of irregularly shaped
terracotta tiles. Firing a batch of tiles at a time, Duldig did not see
the relief as a whole until they had been erected. Despite this
fragmented method of making, his concept was universalising. In 1957, he
had produced two bas-reliefs,
“The Family” and “Adam and Eve”. He now developed a statement
about human inventiveness. Moving from the lower right to the center top
of “The Progress of Man”, he sought
illustrate man’s creation and development: woman, the inspiration;
man, the builder of the pyramids, the creator of the Gothic cathedrals
and the engineer of the modern skyscraper. Overall the family symbolises
unity, peace and progress.[lvii]
brief statement reaffirmed Duldig’s usual depiction of gender in which
his male figures were dominant and his Madonnas conveyed a nurturing
form. By linking Egyptian, Mediaeval and corporate builders, he
expressed a meta-religious outlook. The family brought the conception
back to earth.
Progress of Man” gave Duldig his first opportunity to show Melbourne
what he could do. This mural had the most claim he ever had on public
attention for it was attached to “one of Melbourne’s landmarks”,[lviii]
made the more prominent at night by floodlighting each louvre from
behind to give a subdued glow.[lix]
call to allocate a percentage of construction costs to art works should
have guaranteed Duldig’s mural its share of enthusiasm, yet it
received next-to-no discussion in the architectural periodicals. Early
in 1961, the monthly newsletter of the Melbourne University Architecture
criticised the rush to blend sculpture with architecture during the
previous three years, asserting that “Sculpture applied externally to
buildings becomes meaningful only if it
these three points in turn lets us reflect on why Duldig’s work was
had no link to 505 as a block of multi-purpose offices. Had it been the
headquarters of architects or builders its theme would have met this
The position of the larger section drew the eye down to the
doorway. However, Cross-Section
complained that 505’s “vertical anodised aluminum louvres on the
west wall seem to be constantly struggling for recognition against a
colourful ‘mural’ on the ground floor. The last is indeed an unhappy
sculpture or relief might fail on the first two criteria, but still
succeed as a free-standing work of art.
to put all his ideas into a single work, Duldig loaded its imagery.
narrative element of white figures were intended to be visible from the
center of the boulevard, but drew attention away from the textured
colours. The detailing of that background offered a more subtle
statement about creativity, as became apparent from the smaller,
figureless section. Boyd could have labeled the mural itself as “Featurist”.
plastering over of “Progress” in 1991 by 505’s new owner provoked
protests which led to an organisation to protect public art.[lxii]
This outcry expressed a reversal in Australian attitudes towards
conservation of the built environment. In 1960, the aim had been to send
in Whelan the Wrecker. Only thirty years later, a 1960 mural could be
regarded as heritage. “The Progress of Man” got more attention from
its destruction than its creation because the definition of progress as
growth for its own sake had been shaken by the environmentalist
found another outlet in institutional commissions. For instance, in
1962, he became the foundation president of Ben Uri Society for the Arts
(renamed the Bezalel Fellowship of Arts), established to foster interest
in the arts among Melbourne Jewry. In that year, he completed a bronze
relief for the Memorial in Carlton for the victims of Nazism. An inner
suburb on Melbourne’s north, Carlton in the 1930s had been the hotbed
of Zionism, hostile to the “Rolls Royce Congregation” south of the
Yarra. By the early sixties, the area was being taken over by Italian
with many in the Diaspora, Duldig had his concern for Israel refocused
by the 1967 war. In 1968, he finalised his sculpture “Monument to
Sportsmen and Women 1940-45” (“Dawn”), commissioned by Brith
Hakoah 1909 (Vienna) and erected in Tel Aviv for the Maccabi World
Union. McCulloch rated the memorial to be
but rather dull. It embodies the kind of sentimentalised symbolism found
in Paul Manship’s bronze figures at the Rockefeller Centre, New York.
The proportions are good, but as in the Manship figures, the lines and
articulation are too flaccid.[lxiii]
fifty years after Duldig had gone to Palestine to play soccer in 1922,
he and Slawa went to Israel for the installation of “Dawn” during a
world tour which took them to the USA and Mexico. Duldig’s
participation in Melbourne’s Jewish life continued. In 1972, he
provided a ceramic relief and stained glass windows for the Kadimah
Cultural Centre, Elsternwick.
he left his run too late?
the late 1950s, Karl Duldig encountered his younger self when, after
twenty years, the works that he had dispatched to Paris in 1938 were
returned to him in Melbourne. The mature artist thought that his own
face had come to resemble the 1921 mask that had attracted so much
praise when a nineteen-year old student had carved it from Salzburg
marble. Had its maker’s creative powers changed as much? Was the
promise of those early pieces being fulfilled? This haunting was an
experience not many artists would welcome, or from which few could
[i] Eze Nathan, The history of Jews in Singapore, 1830-1945, Herbilu, Singapore, 1986, chapters 12-14; David Kranzler, Japanese, Nazis & Jews: the Jewish refugee community of Shanghai, 1938-45, Yeshiva University Press, New York, 1976.
[ii] National Archives Australia (NAA) A435 1947/2231 contains his 1938 German passport and visas to Palestine, the Straits Settlements, Bolivia and China; NAA A367/1 C56800 includes applications for release from internment.
[iii] Hilary L. Rubenstein, The Jews in Australia: a thematic history 1788-1945, volume one, William Heinemann Australia, Port Melbourne, 1991, chapter 7; Paul R. Bartrop, “’Good Jews’ and ‘bad Jews’: Australian perceptions of Jewish migrants and refugees, 1919-1939”, W. D. Rubenstein (ed.), Jews in the sixth continent, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1987, pp. 169-84; Suzanne D. Rutland, “Australian responses to Jewish refugee migration before and after World War II”, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 31 (1), 1985, pp. 29-38.
[iv] Margaret Bevege, Behind barbed wire: internment in Australia during World War Two, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, 1993, p. 109; Joyce Hammond, Walls of wire: Tatura, Rushworth, Murchison, J. Hammond, Rushworth, 1990, p. 109; Hilde Knorr, Journey with a stranger, Collins Dove, Blackburn, 1986, pp. 48-51.
[v] Klaus Loewald, “The Eighth Australian Employment Company”, Australian Journal of Politics and History, 31 (1), 1985, pp. 78-89; Salt, 6 (4), April 1943, pp. 36-39.
[vi] Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates, H. of R., v. 170, 29 April 1942, p. 637.
[vii] Hilary Rubenstein, The Jews in Victoria, 1835-1985, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1986, pp. 177-78; Anne Longmire, St Kilda: the show goes on: the history of St. Kilda, Volume III, 1930-1983, Hudson Publishing, Hawthorn, 1989, pp. 94-149.
[viii] James Jupp, Arrivals and Departures, Cheshire-Lansdowne, Melbourne, 1966, p. 140.
[ix] John F. Williams, The Quarantined Culture, Australian Reactions to Modernism 1913-1939, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, 1995.
[x] Humphrey McQueen, The Black Swan of Trespass, The emergence of Modernist painting in Australia to 1944, APCOL, Sydney, 1979, chapter one.
[xi] W. Macmahon Ball (ed.), Press, radio and world affairs: Australia’s outlook, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1938.
[xii] Argus (Melb.), 28 April 1937, p. 9.
[xiii] Mary Eagle and Jan Minchin, The George Bell School, Deutscher Art, Melbourne, 1981.
[xiv] R. G. Menzies, The Forgotten People, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1943, p. 6.
[xv] Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October 1940, p. 7; Lionel Lindsay, Addled Art, Hollis and Carter, London, 1946 edition, chapter 2.
[xvi] Loewald, op. cit., p. 84.
[xvii] Paul R Bartrop, “Enemy Aliens or Stateless Persons? The Legal Status of Refugees from Germany in Wartime Australia“, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, X (4), 1988, pp. 270-80.
[xviii] Paul R. Bartrop, “Incompatible with security: Enemy Alien Internees from Singapore in Australia 1940-45”, Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal, 12 (1), November 1993, pp. 149-69; NAA A367/1 C56800.
[xix] Helen Bond, “The Duldig Ceramics”, The Duldig Ceramics, A Retrospective, Caulfield Arts Complex, Caulfield, p. 9. A contemporary ceramicist, Carl Cooper, found the “nice cream body” of Campbellfield clay “most sympathetic”, Clay Products Journal, February 1949, p. 7.
researches might have brought him into contact with another Tatura
internee, Dr Leonhard Adam, a world authority then cataloguing the
museum’s collection; in 1949, Penguin Books in Melbourne published
an enlarged edition of Adam’s
Primitive Art (1940),
which had inspired Cooper to confine “his decorative work entirely
to aboriginal subjects”.
[xx] Lynne Strahan, Private and public memory: a history of the City of Malvern, Hargreen, North Melbourne, 1989, chapter 3.
[xxi] Jean I. Martin, Refugee Settlers, ANU Press, Canberra, 1965, pp. 17-25.
[xxii] Eva de Jong, Scheherazade Restaurant, A. & M. Zeleznikow, St Kilda, 1992; Arnold Zable, Café Scherherazade, Text, Melbourne, 2001.
[xxiii] Egon Kunz, The Intruders: refugee doctors in Australia, ANU Press, Canberra, 1975.
[xxiv] Don Garden, The Melbourne Teacher Training Colleges, Heinemann Education Australia, Melbourne, 1982, pp. 167-74; Melbourne Grammar did not add pottery to its craft teaching until 1952,Clay Products Journal of Australia, January 1952, p. 13; C. E. Moorhouse, Challenge and response: Brian Hone and Melbourne Grammar School, 1951-1970, Melbourne Grammar School, South Yarra, 1989, p. 24.
[xxv] James Rundle, Against all odds: a history of Mentone Grammar School, 1920-1988, The School, Mentone, 1991, p. 198.
[xxvi] Herald (Melb.), 2 November 1955, p. 12, and 5 November 1955, p. 4.
[xxvii] Leonard B. Cox, The National Gallery of Victoria 1861-1968, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1970, pp. 224-5 & 304ff.
[xxviii] Rosemary Crumlin, The Blake Prize for religious art: the first 25 years, a survey, Monash University Gallery, Clayton, 1975.
[xxix] Australian National Clay, 8 (3), January 1967, p. 23.
[xxx] Alan McCulloch, “Migrant Artists in Australia”, Meanjin, 14 (4), Summer 1955, pp. 511 & 514.
[xxxi] McCulloch, Meanjin, p. 514; Herald, 10 November 1953, p. 14.
[xxxii] Age, 24 April 1975, p. 2.
[xxxiii] Graeme Sturgeon, The Development of Australian Sculpture, 1788-1975, Thames & Hudson, London, 1978, p. 126; Ken Scarlett, Australian Sculptors, Nelson, West Melbourne, 1980.
[xxxiv] Age, 25 June 1966, p. 23.
[xxxv] Bernard Smith, “The Antipodean Manifesto”, The Antipodean Manifesto, OUP, Melbourne, 1976, pp. 165-67; Bernard Smith, “The Truth about the Antipodeans “, Praxis, 8, Autumn 1985, pp. 4-8.
[xxxvi] Lenton Parr, “Australian Sculpture since 1945”, Art and Australia, 1 (1), May 1963, pp. 20-25.
[xxxvii] Robert Hughes, “Robert Klippel”, Art and Australia, 2 (1 ), May1964, pp. 18-29; Graeme Sturgeon, Sculpture at Mildura: The Story of the Mildura Sculpture Triennial, 1961-1982, Mildura City Council, Mildura, 1985, p. 26; Gary Catalano, The Years of Hope, Australian Art and Criticism 1959-1968, OUP, Melbourne, 19781, chapter 12.
[xxxviii] The Field, NGV, Melbourne 1968; Humphrey McQueen, Suburbs of the Sacred, Penguin, Ringwood, 1988, pp. 184-196.
[xxxix] The Prize began as the Mildara Prize, named after the Mildara Winery. The title changed to Mildura in 1964. By 1967, the sponsor was the BP oil company. To reduce confusion, the event will be referred to in the text as the Mildura Prize.
[xl] Mildura: Australia’s beautiful desert city, Mildura and District Tourist Development Association, 1973; Alice M. Lapthorne, Mildura calling, Mildura Gallery Society, .Mildura, 1965.
[xli] Mildara Sculpture Prize, Mildura Art Gallery, Mildura, 1961, p. 10.
[xlii] Mildura Catalogues, 1961, p. 29; 1964, p. 16; 1967, p. 14-15.
[xliii] Age, 25 June 1966, p. 23.
[xliv] Mildara Sculpture Prize, 1961, p. 17.
[xlv] Sculpture of Hans Knorr, Spectrum, Melbourne, 1976, unpaginated.
[xlvi] Quoted Karl Duldig, Survey Sculpture & Graphic Works, 1922-1982, Melbourne, Eva de Jong-Duldig, 1982, p. 15.
[xlvii] V. Gordon Childe, Man Makes Himself, Thinker’s Library, London, 1941, p. 93.
[xlviii] John Ruskin, The Stones of Venice, George Allen, London, 1904, p. 187; McQueen, op. cit., p. 187.
[xlix] Christopher Heathcote, “The European Intervention: Sculpture in Melbourne 1940-1960”, Roger Butler (ed.), The Europeans: émigré artists in Australia, 1930-1960, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 1997, p. 141.
[l] Sigmund Freud, Art and Literature, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1985, p. 277.
[li] Robin Boyd, Australia’s Home, Penguin, Ringwood, 1968 edition, p. 8.
[lii] Australia Home Beautiful, March 1964, pp. 47-48.
[liii] Foundations, 1 (7), 1960, p. 30; 1 (10), 1960, pp. 33-34; with apologies to Randolph Stow, ”The Utopia of Lord Mayor Howard”, Bill Scott (ed.), The Penguin Book of Australian Humorous Verse, Penguin, Ringwood, 1984, p. 12; Judith R. Buckrich, Melbourne’s grand boulevard: the story of St Kilda Road, State Library of Victoria, Mebourne, 1996, pp. 128-37.
[liv] Trevor Sykes, Two centuries of panic: a history of corporate collapses in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1988, pp. 325-58.
[lv] Property, March/May 1960, pp. 45-47; Architecture and Arts, April 1960, p. 38, shows the building before Duldig’s mural had been affixed.
[lvi] Robin Boyd, The Australian Ugliness, Penguin, Ringwood, 1968, pp. 23-24.
[lvii] Quoted Karl Duldig, Survey Sculpture & Graphic Works 1922-1982, Eva de Jong-Duldig, Melbourne, 1982, p. 28.
[lviii] Foundations, 1 (5), 1960, p. 61.
[lix] Australian Architecture Today, September 1960, p. 38.
[lx] Cross-Section, 101, March 1961, [p. 2].
[lxi] Cross-Section, 92, June 1960, [p. 3].
[lxii] Age, 23 July 1991, pp. 1 & 12.
[lxiii] Herald, 8 November 1967, p. 34.