London, England 1853 – Melbourne, Victoria 1932
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Creation Notes: cast c.1908
Materials & Technique: sculptures, cast bronze, patinated cast and patinated bronze
Many sculptors at the turn of the century used mythological or symbolic imagery as a justification for portraying the naked form. In The cloud, C. Douglas Richardson portrayed a woman bending over and holding a pitcher upside down, directing water to the ‘thirsting’ flowers. She is the personification of a cloud, or the rising mist, with wet drapery sensually clinging to her body. She is an allegorical interpretation of the poem, ‘The Cloud’, by British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, first published in 1820, which began:
I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
Below the woman, at the base of the sculpture, Richardson created a decorative array of blossoms, as suggested by the poem’s opening lines.
Born in England, Richardson was trained in Melbourne and at the Royal Academy Schools in London. In Britain, he was impressed by Art Nouveau and Symbolism and introduced the swirling curves and pure lines of the former into sculptures such as The cloud.
Returning to Australia in 1889, he influenced local sculptors through his teaching. He received a number of sculpture commissions, including the impressive art nouveau Discovery of gold memorial created for Bendigo in 1906. He completed his large version of The cloud in 1900, and made several smaller plaster and bronze versions over the next decade.
In his poem, ‘The Sculptor Sees The Cloud’, Ernest Fysh provided a poetic description of this work:
Rapt in trance, behold the Sculptor stand,
Moulding the plastic clay with eager hand;
Above him rose the Cloud, all glorified
Fresh from the cool heart of the mountainside;
No swirling veil of mist, bust soft and warm,
The unchanging presence of a woman’s form.1
1 Ernest Fysh, Memoir of C. Douglas Richardson, Sculptor and Painter, Melbourne: 1933, frontispiece.
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