Australia 1892 – 1964

The people c.1945 Materials & Technique: sculptures, wood carved, oiled and waxed

Dimensions: 41.9 h x 17.6 w x 19.8 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1976
Accession No: NGA 76.1087
  • I thought of sculpture as something copied from nature as well as possible in any material; but now I realise that sculpture is a very different thing from nature and should be treated as such. If one carves a figure in stone or wood, or models in clay, it should look like stone, wood or clay. It is a symbol of a figure, not flesh and blood and never could be.

    Ola Cohn1

    Ola Cohn’s The people is a contemplative sculpture, a vision of peace and human strength. Like much of Cohn’s work, The people has a tranquil and spiritual sensibility, a desire by the artist to convey an ‘essence of being’ through sculptural form. Created around1945, the sense of reflection and solitude that this work evokes relates also to the human loss and suffering caused by the Second World War and the impact of these events ‘back home’.

    Cohn’s affinity with wood as a material and her capacity to use its inherent qualities to enhance her sculpture is demonstrated in The people. The grain of the wood provides a graphic element to the work, lines running down the face of the figure and across the neck, forming the shape of the hand. Like a softly-drawn portrait, the facial features are delicately carved, the subtle cheek bones and hairline contrasting with the sharper edges of the brow and nose. The smooth, shiny surface and scale of this work evoke a very physical response, triggering the human sense of touch.

    Born in Bendigo in 1892, Ola Cohn was a dedicated artist, author and arts administrator. In 1926, Cohn moved to London to study sculpture at the Royal College of Art and was tutored by Henry Moore, an artist whose ideas greatly influenced her development. While in London, she also studied wood carving and bronze casting at the London School of Arts and Crafts. Following her return to Australia in 1930, Cohn became a teacher and, in 1948, became president of the Melbourne Society of Women Painters and Sculptors, a position she held until her death in 1964.

    Beatrice Gralton

    1Ola Cohn, ‘My interpretation of Sculpture’, H. Tatlock Miller, (ed.), Manuscripts: The book nook miscellany, Gelong, no.1, [November] 1931, pp.15-17

    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