Archive for September 7th, 2014

UA1-WA:P5-p1-Exercise – Visit a public interior

This exercise requires an illustrated account of a visit to a public interior. The interior should ideally be of some splendour or intricacy, and should be considered in terms of its historical interest, its setting for a particular purpose, and the interactions between the architecture and the works on view.

anzac_00I selected the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney as my focus. When visiting and researching the main interior I found I had to broaden the scope to some extent – the interior and the memorial are a whole.

The main interior is a single space. The Hall of Memory is approached from external flights of stairs. Upon entering one is immersed. Above is the Dome of Stars. Below, one looks down into the Well of Contemplation to the Hall of Silence, and in the centre The Sacrifice.

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The concept of a War Memorial was first raised and fundraising begun on 25 April 1916 – the first anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand troops in the conflict we now call the First World War. After the War discussion and fundraising continued. In 1923 the ANZAC Memorial Building Act was passed in NSW. A design competition was held, and in 1930 first prize was awarded to architect C. Bruce Dellit. Foundation stones were laid in 1932, the dome was completed in 1933, and the building officially opened in 1934. One date that is not known is the first involvement of sculptor George Rayner Hoff who collaborated closely with Dellit in the construction of the memorial.

anzac_07The main space of the Memorial is a frozen moment in history. In 1995 a Flame of Remembrance and flags were installed in the Hall of Memory. In 1984 the ANZAC War Memorial was re-named the ANZAC Memorial, and re-dedicated “to honour the men and women of NSW who served in all wars where Australia had been involved”, but this left no physical trace on the space. All the modern necessities – railings, safety glass, lift – are discreet. The Memorial is preserved for future generations.

From an Art History perspective, this provides an amazing time capsule of progressive architecture and sculpture of its time. Dellit was 32 years old when he won the design competition, and was a pioneer of the Art Deco style in Australia. He was inspired by American skyscrapers, and used modern technologies such as reinforced concrete. Many of his works have since been altered or demolished, but the Memorial remains a jewel in its park setting. It has been described as “a unique statement of architectural and sculptural unity, and a masterwork of Art Deco architecture and design in Australia” (Edwards, 1999, p. 73)

anzac_11Dellit worked closely with the sculptor Rayner Hoff, who was responsible for the internal and external statuary as well as many fixtures and details of design. The strongest example of the tight linking, the sympathetic cross-pollination, of their work was the placement of The Sacrifice and the nature of that work. The general layout is based on the tomb of Napoleon in the crypt under the dome of the Eglise du Dome Church at the Hotel des Invalides. An opening in the floor of the church allows visitors to look down at the sarcophagus – bowing their heads to Napoleon. Dellit’s central design is a stripped down, condensed, modernised version of this. anzac_23It is an elegant, understated means to encourage a sense of quiet contemplation and remembrance in visitors, a physical and mental recognition of the sacrifices that were made. Dellit’s proposal for the statue was “a hero, noble and glorious in the Greek manner expiring after having killed a colossal bird of prey … a sorrowing woman nursing tenderly yet firmly an infant in the folds of her right arm, and in her left hand … the branch of one of our Australian gum trees” (Dellit, quoted in Edwards, 1999, p. 77). Hoff distilled this to focus on the sacrifice of the virile young man, the women who loved him, and the nation as a whole.

There was considerable controversy surrounding the decision on the purpose of the Memorial. Many, including members of the ANZAC Fellowship of Women, wanted the Memorial to be “a sacred centre”, commemorating the human sacrifice made for future generations. Led by Dr Mary Booth, who had run the Centre for Soldiers’ Wives and Mothers during the war, the Fellowship had been major fundraisers for the building and were vocal in insisting “their opinions should be respected”. The Returned Soldiers Association urged “a lasting memorial, some outstanding legacy that shall quicken the blood of future generations, and move them to bare their heads in honoured memory of those who won for Australia its place amongst the nations”, while also providing premises for services to returned veterans. The end result was “a wonderful compromise: a building that would be six-sevenths ‘symbolic and aesthetic’ and one seventh ‘practical’ (Spate, 1999, p. 54), used by associations for returned veterans including groups for Limbless Soldiers and those with TB. These groups were accommodated on the ground level, in a series of rooms surrounding the Hall of Silence.

anzac_14The memorial has as unusual focus on women, given its time. In The Sacrifice the dead soldier is bourne by his mother, sister, and wife – who also carries their child. The sacrifice of the women is commemorated. Bearing the fallen on their shield has strong classical allusions.

Jacques-Louis David The Oath of the Horatii Louvre Museum

Jacques-Louis David
The Oath of the Horatii
1784 Louvre Museum,_Le_Serment_des_Horaces.jpg

One stong link is to David’s The Oath of the Horatii. In that painting the women already mourn as their menfolk go to war. The statue portrays a later episode in that often repeated story.

The elongated figures in their formal folds of drapery also suggest the figures seen outside Chartres cathedral, adding to the “secular cathedral” impression of the structure.

The inclusion of women goes beyond fundraising for the Memorial and even bearing their dead in their final sacrifice. Women are included as active participants in the theatre of war.

In the Hall of Memory, just below the Dome, are four shallow marble reliefs. In each there is a central figure flanked by two more, slumped in fatigue, mourning, or perhaps grievously wounded. Behind is a line of crosses, and at the back the March of the Dead – those who were called from life on service. In the example shown above we have a female nurse as the central figure, and just possibly the seated figure at the right, and more remarkably there are naked women included in the March of the Dead. Women and their final sacrifice are honoured and memorialised.

I believe this is very unusual for a “Great War” memorial, and a tribute to convictions and vision of both Dellit and Hoff. However on two more proposed sculptures it was the naked female figures which prevented completion of the Memorial as intended. Two more large bronze sculptures were proposed – Victory after Sacrifice, 1918 and The Crucifixion of Civilization, 1914. Both included as central focus a naked female form. Models were created, but the designs attracted strong criticism from church leaders, and the bronzes were abandoned.

Personally I found the inclusion of so many female figures in the Memorial gave a sense of completeness and also of a broader understanding of the widespread impact of the conflict. This is a Memorial not only to individuals, but to a community.

anzac_24This is a much more inclusive vision than the general ANZAC myth, one of the underlying symbols of identity of Australia as a nation – and one that is generally male. Writing about the Memorial Edwards explained “During the war, the Prime Minister William Hughes, claimed that the Anzac, ‘coming from a land without history’, had through this soldier’s actions, attained for Australia a real and independent nationhood, as opposed to the false nationhood of Federation” (Edwards, 1999, p. 71). I wrote about “the bravery, mateship, determination, skill and intelligence of the Australian troops in action in WWI” in my post of 31-Dec-2013 in reference to the Cenotaph in Martin Place. In the ANZAC Memorial the strident male vigour seems more muted.

Rayner Hoff Australian Venus circa 1927

Rayner Hoff
Australian Venus
circa 1927

In an earlier exercise on figure sculptures (see 13-June-2014) I included this slightly earlier work by Hoff, in which he celebrates a female form of Australian identity. While researching for this current post I learnt that Hoff worked from models rather than synthesizing an “ideal” form. Hoff was an advocate of Vitalism, and believed in a life energy and a male-female unity, and this could underlie the strong female element in the ANZAC memorial.

anzac_01Although I have focused on the interior, as required for this exercise, this space is in a specific and meaningful place. The building is in Hyde Park, close to the centre of the city. Approaching it through the park one walks past the Pool of Reflection, between rows of trees linked to the Lone Pine of Gallipoli. Already a sense of withdrawal from busy life, of contemplation and reflection, is growing.

anzac_19A series of statues on the exterior of the building look down on visitors. These aren’t like the arrogant explorers I noted surveying their territory on the Lands Department building (see 13-Apr-2014). Rather than glorying in battle, they sit or slump, weary, perhaps wounded, pensively looking down at the generations they fought for.

anzac_20The importance of the Memorial is shown by its placement within Hyde Park. A number of other locations were considered, but this places the building in the heart of Sydney, and as can be seen from the Park map it dictates the entire layout of the southern end of the Park. In the northern end of the Park is the Archibald Fountain (mentioned 13-June-2014), with a direct path between the two installations.

anzac_21The fountain is by sculptor François-Léon Sicard and it was unveiled in Sydney in 1932, during the building of the Memorial. The figure grouping closest to the ANZAC Memorial is this, of Theseus killing the minotaur, and it provides a very strong contrast to Hoff’s works.

Has the Memorial endured successful in its purpose? Spate (1999, p. 53) has suggested that the building’s “very perfection acts against its primary function: that of remembrance. It is perfect in the relentless logic of its architectual and sculptural symbolism, but it denies memory in that it allows the spectator no space for his or her experience. There is no gap in its dense web of cultural allusions that would allow one to make sense of one’s confusion of memories, emotions and knowledge about the ‘Great War'”. From my experience I don’t agree.

Today at least half of the ground floor office area is an exhibition area, with changing displays of artifacts from conflict and peacekeeping work by Australians over the decades. There are ongoing special ceremonies, but on my recent visits most of the visitors were tourists. There are helpful guides, many of them ex-service. Beyond that for me there was space for contemplation and memory. The space is high – a secular cathedral. The exhibition is full of traces of individuals who fought, supported, waited… And at eleven o’clock each day, the Memorial and all within it remember. Minutes beforehand the staff – quietly, politely, firmly – speak to each visitor and invite them to participate. I was downstairs in the exhibition area. We stood and faced inward to The Sacrifice and in a brief ceremony we Remembered. In the end the architecture and the sculpture supported, but it was the people who made it a true Memorial.

I went on my Western Australia holiday between my two visits to the ANZAC Memorial and would like to extend this Exercise with a brief comparison to the much more recent HMAS Sydney II Memorial by Charles Smith and Joan Walsh-Smith which I saw in Geraldton. Writing about the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney I have focused on the interior – it was the subject of the Exercise of course, but also it is the centre of not just a building but of a landscape.

hmas_sydney_01The HMAS Sydney II Memorial is not an interior, yet it felt very contained – I suppose an enclosed garden. It is however in a very specific place, overlooking the ocean where the HMAS Sydney fought its last battle in the Second World War.

hmas_sydney_02Both Memorials have Domes. In Sydney there are 120,000 stars, representing the men and women of New South Wales who enlisted in WWI. anzac_22In Geraldton the Dome of Souls consists of 645 seagulls, representing each of the 645 sailors who lost their lives. Souls rising on wings are also referenced in Sydney, seen in the finials of the light fittings at the base of the Dome of Stars.

hmas_sydney_03The HMAS Sydney II memorial is very specific. It remembers a particular ship on a particular day, and the loss of 645 men whose names are engraved on the Wall of Remembrance that embraces, curves protectively around the site. After the wreck of the ship was found in 2008 a Pool of Remembrance was added. 644 gulls encircle the sunken pool. The 645th stands pointing the way to to the final resting place of the sailors. In contrast the ANZAC Memorial in Sydney is very deliberate in not naming the servicemen and women commemorated. The two Foundation Stones were set by “a solider” and “a civilian” – and this extends even to the plaque that records the memorial was opened by “a son of the King”.

hmas_sydney_04A final contrast is the representation of women. I’ve written above about the strong presence of women in the ANZAC Memorial. Only men served on HMAS Sydney II, but the one figurative sculpture included in the memorial is of a woman. This is the Waiting Woman, standing in the breeze on the headland, looking out for her loved one. hmas_sydney_05As far as I have been able to discover the figure is not of any one person, despite the strongly individual features shown. When comparing to the ANZAC Memorial it felt to me that women had been restricted to a passive role. This is probably a reasonable interpretation of the specific focus of the Geraldton memorial, but it made me appreciate even more the progressive representation of the earlier work.


Edwards, D (1999) ‘This vital flesh’: The sculpture of Rayner Hoff and his school. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Spate, V. (1999) “If these dead stones could speak: Rayner Hoff’s sculptures and the ANZAC Memorial” in Edwards, D (1999) ‘This vital flesh’: The sculpture of Rayner Hoff and his school. Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales

Other Resources As well as considerable information available on the website, guides at the Memorial were very helpful both in conversation and in providing me with printouts of additional information.

UA1-WA:P5-p1-Exercise – Visit a public interior
Understanding Art 1 – Western Art
Part 5: Inside, outside
Project one: The interior
Exercise – Visit a public interior


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September 2014

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