Douglas, Isle of Man 1894 – Sydney, New South Wales, Australia 1937
Collection Title: Theseus
Materials & Technique: sculptures, carved sandstone, cast bronze, patinated
One of Australia’s most important sculptors of the inter-war period, Rayner Hoff was also one of the most influential teachers of his time. During the 14 years that he worked in Australia until his sudden early death in 1937, Hoff’s ideas injected a new vitality into the languishing Sydney sculpture scene. At the same time, the artist developed a distinctive style of his own. Abundant in pagan imagery and in references to classical Greek ideas, this style was equally relevant to the Australian inter-war context, appealing to nationalist sentiment and concentrating on the vitality and potential of the human body.
A neo-classical expression of the heroic warrior, Theseus represents the Greek hero whose best-known achievement was the slaying of the Minotaur. Hoff made the figure of Theseus from a block of sandstone. The carving is minimal and stylised. Very little of the stone was removed, and the result is an image of strength and control, whose severity is exaggerated by the bronze helmet. In its austere simplicity, Theseus conveys a sense of virility, restrained passion, determination and courage – the archetypal virtues of the classical warrior.
Hoff produced many individual works during the 1920s and 1930s and also designed sculptures for a number of public monuments. He worked closely with architects on these public commissions, the most important of which was the Anzac Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney 1931–34.
Helen Maxwell, 20021
1 Helen Maxwell, ‘Recent Aquisitions’, Australian National Gallery Association News, January/February 1987, p.7.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
From: Anne Gray (ed), Australian art in the National Gallery of Australia, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2002