QUEEN VICTORIA, QVB

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Dress designed by Rachael Cassar with inspiration from Jenny Kee particularly in the use of bright colours in the dress and the trim of the skirt. Queen Vic’s dress has been made up by Michelle entirely from second-hand fabrics including the main red patchwork of her skirt which is made from old theatre cutains.

Headpiece and jewelery designed by Liane Rossler using plastic bags and found objects. Liane used the hats the guards wear outside Buckingham Palace, the bearskin, as inspiration as well as the character Marg Simpson. She wanted to reference a strong female figure of our times in a position of power. She also wanted to cheer up the statue as she thought it looked a bit sad.

The shamrock shawl and chair cover is designed by Michelle McCosker, referencing this statue’s Irish history and it’s creator John Hughes.

The brooch is by Kirsten McCosker and is a portrait of a dog referencing how Queen Victoria loved her dogs and would commission portraits of them, particularly her favourite whose name was Islay. Sometimes Queen Victoria would paint her own portraits of her dogs, and the statue behind this one outside the QVB of a little dog is based on one of her own drawings.

About Queen Victoria

Victoria was born in 1819 and came to the throne in 1837 at the age of 18. Three years later she married her cousin Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha and over the next 17 years they had nine children. Victoria’s first grandchild was born in 1859, and her first great-grandchild in 1879. There were 37 great-grandchildren alive at Victoria’s death in 1901, and she was the grandmother of Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany and King George V of Britain and grandmother-in-law of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia who led their countries into World War I.

The couple built new royal residences at Balmoral in Scotland and Osborne on the Isle of Wight and spent much of their time there. After the unexpected death of her husband in 1861 Victoria descended into deep depression for three years and even after this she remained in mourning and in partial retirement. After an initial period of respect and sympathy for the queen’s grief, the public grew increasingly impatient with its absent sovereign. She was declared Empress of India in 1876. Her golden and diamond jubilees in 1887 and 1897 revived her popularity, and the Boer War (1899-1902) spurred her to a level of activity and public visibility that she had avoided for decades. Victoria reigned for a record 64 years and died in 1901 at the age of 82.

The phrase ‘we are not amused’ for which Victoria became famous was attributed to her by Caroline Holland in Notebooks of a Spinster Lady, 1919. Holland states that Victoria made the remark in 1900, but supplies no details of the circumstances.

About the Sculptor

John Hughes (1865-1941) was born in Dublin and educated at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1878 and later won scholarships to study in London and Paris. He worked as a sculptor of religious figures and groups, portraits, busts and bas-reliefs. He was appointed as teacher to the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin in 1894 and in 1902 became Professor of Sculpture in the Royal Hibernian Academy School. He left Dublin in 1903 and moved to Italy and then France, where he died in 1941.

About the Statue and its Irish roots

Around 1900 following a visit to Ireland by the Queen, the Royal Dublin Society decided to erect a monument to her and to Ireland’s role in the Boer War. The statue was to be located in the forecourt of Leinster House and Irish sculptor John Hughes was commissioned to design the monument in 1902. The neo-Baroque statue was sculpted in bronze and was unveiled on 5th February 1908.

With the troubles in Ireland and the struggles of the potato famine, not everyone was pleased to see the statue. James Joyce famously referred to the statue as ‘The Auld Bitch’ and there was wide criticism after its unveiling for the garish depiction of the Queen.

The monument remained at Leinster House even after Ireland’s independence when the building became the Irish parliament. By 1929, newspapers reported that many were not happy with the British monarch gazing over the passers by and there was a lobby to remove the monument. One nationalist newspaper report stated:

“Monuments like [those to] Victoria in the streets of the capital evoke memories which it would be in the best interests of all to forget. There is no room in the new Ireland for the outlook and attitude to things Irish which prompted their erection, and we trust that nothing shall be allowed to prevent their speedy consignment to some out-of-the-way location where they will cease to offend the popular gaze.”

In 1948 the statue was removed to the grounds of the Royal Hospital in Kilmainham. It then made its way to a farmhouse in the country town of Daingean, County Offaly where it was all but forgotten.

Skip forward 35 years, and when the Queen Victoria Building was being restored in the 1980s, developers Ipoh Gardens decided in consultation with Sydney City Council that an exterior sculpture of Queen Victoria would be an appropriate addition to the building.

A hunt for a suitable statue began in 1983. The project manager Neil Glasser toured the world searching India, Pakistan, South Yemen and South Africa. Glasser found lots of statues, but no one wanted to part with them. Late in 1985 Glasser found the statue in Daingean, and the Irish were (not surprisingly) happy to offer it to the City of Sydney as a gesture of goodwill from the Government and People of Ireland on a ‘loan until recalled’ basis.

At 4.5 metres tall, Queen Victoria was too large to be carried by plane, so like so many of her subjects she travelled to Sydney by sea. She was restored by Mr Peter Morley while in storage and unveiled by the Chief Commissioner of Sydney, Sir Eric Neal, on Sunday 20th December 1987.

Beautifying a Large Air Duct: Exert from Sunday Telegraph, 6 September, 1987

“More than 140 years after his death, Queen Victoria’s favourite dog will beg for the deaf and blind children of Australia. A $10,000 bronze sculpture of her pet terrier, Islay, will be the centrepiece of a wishing well outside the Queen Victoria Building which organisers believe will raise $50,000 every year…Islay was a favourite pet of Queen Victoria  and whenever he saw the great monarch he would sit up and beg for a biscuit. He was often sketched and painted by Queen Victoria and her painting master Sir Edwin Landseer. At that time she wrote: “My faithful little companion of more than five years… I was much shaken and distressed at his passing.” Young Sydney sculptor Justin Robson modelled the bronze work from a sketch drawn by the monarch in 1843, a year before Islay’s death. The well will also feature a poem telling the story of Islay which will be specially translated into Braille, four proverbs highlighting the morality of giving in six different languages, and a piece of stone from Blarney Castle, Ireland. The idea for the well came after QVB management asked promotions director Neil Glasser to come up with a plan to beautify a large air duct which was essential for the 750 space car park under the building.”

In 1998 John Laws lent his silky tonsils to the cause and now you can hear Islay beg for coins in stereo.

Archive research by Anne-Maree Whitaker

Additional research by Brendan Phelan and Imogen Semmler

Sources

  • Nuala C Johnson’s, ‘Sculpting Heroic Histories: celebrating the centenary of the 1798 rebellion in Ireland‘,Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, vol 19, 1994
  • Sydney Open Museum History Survey (1994), No. 38 – Queen Victoria, QVB Statue
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 December 1987

Further Reading

Books

  • Marshall, Dorothy The Life and Times of Victoria, (London; Book Club Associates, 1972)
  • Lumley, A., Sydney’s Sculptures, (Longman Chesire, 1990)
  • St. Aubyn, Giles Queen Victoria: a portrait (London; Sinclair Stevenson 1991)
  • Thompson, Dorothy Queen Victoria: Gender and Power (London; Virago, 1990)

Articles

  • White, P., ‘Found at Last: Queen Victoria Complete with Right Anatomy’, Sydney Morning Herald, 23.8.86
  • White, P., ‘Ireland sends surplus Queen Victoria as a Gift’, Sydney Morning Herald, 7.10.86