Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal. (1863 – 1931)

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Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal (1863 – 1931) was born in Melbourne, Australia. His father was an architectural sculptor and it was under him that Mackennal first studied. He later studied at the Melbourne School of Art and went to England to study the antique at the British Museum in 1883.

The following year he entered the Royal Academy Schools, but the teaching did not prove agreeable to him, and he soon left, to go to Paris. There, still aged only 19, he set up his own studio, while continuing his studies with visits to the workshops of a variety of eminent sculptors.
Back in England Mackennal became head of the art department of the Coalport Potteries in Shropshire. However, in 1887 he won a competition to provide relief carvings for the Victoria State houses of Parliament, and he spent two years back in Australia working on this commission. After rather mixed success, he achieved fame with his statue Circe in 1893. By this time, he was back in London, and it was there that he settled, becoming one of the more important sculptors of his time.
Sir Edgar Bertram Mackennal was not only the first Australian artist to be knighted – he was created MVO (Member of the Royal Victorian Order) in 1912 and KCVO (Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order) in 1921 – but he was the first and only Australian sculptor ever to be made a full member of the Royal Academy, being elected ARA in 1909 and RA in 1922.
Among Mackennal’s many commissions in England are a number of war memorials, including the Islington commemoration of the South African War (1903) and the First World War memorials at Eton College, and in the Houses of Parliament, Westminster (which is dedicated to British MPs who had died in that war). Also, he designed a plaque in Amiens Cathedral in memory of the Australian dead in the Great War. His only war memorial in Australia is The Cenotaph, in Martin Place, Sydney. However, while in Australia on his 1926-27 visit, he was commissioned to complete the Desert Mounted Corps memorial for Port Said, which was left unfinished by the untimely death of Web Gilbert in 1925. Apparently Mackennal worked on this memorial while in Sydney, but he completed the plaster, in London, only a few days before he himself died. The bronze cast was made posthumously.

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