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Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England 1873 – Brisbane, Queensland, Australia 1962

  • Australia 1876-96
  • England 1896-1930 with visits to Australia 1911 and 1921-22
  • Australia from 1930

Orpheus 1904 Place made: London, Greater London, England
Creation Notes: cast in London c.1909
Materials & Technique: sculptures, bronze; marble cast bronze, patinated Support: marble base
Place Published: London

Primary Insc: Signed and dated in the cast between feet of Orpheus, 'Harold Parker/ 1904'.
Dimensions: sculpture 43.6 h x 15.0 w x 17.5 d cm base 5.5 h x 20.0 w x 20.0 d cm
Acknowledgement: Gift of William Richard Cumming 1984
Accession No: NGA 85.421
  • In the 1880s, the New Sculpture Movement revitalised English sculpture with the introduction of ‘art bronzes’, or small-scale sculptures, which became a well-established genre by the 1890s.

    In Greek mythology, Orpheus is the legendary musician who descended to the Underworld in an attempt to retrieve his love, Eurydice, after her untimely death. Mesmerised by Orpheus’ music, Hades, ruler of the Underworld, gave him a chance to lead Eurydice back to the living on condition that he did not look back at her during their journey. Despite this warning, in a fateful moment of self-doubt he stole a glance and lost her forever. Parker’s Orpheus plucks his lyre, a symbol of his divine talent, yet his melancholic gaze foreshadows his human vulnerability and the ultimately tragic end to his heart’s quest.

    Twenty-two-year old Harold Parker arrived in London in 1896, where he studied sculpture under the influential teacher W.S. Frith, then worked as an assistant to a number of eminent Victorian sculptors. Orpheus, first modelled in clay in 1904, is Parker’s earliest known statuette, although it was not exhibited as an ‘art bronze’ at the Royal Academy until 1909, two years after the companion statuette of Eurydice.

    Steven Tonkin

    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