Sculpture Journal

Postcards from the edge? Thomas Woolner's Captain Cook for Sydney

Sculpture Journal (2014), 23, (2), 209–220.

Abstract

In this article, I provide a close reading of Thomas Woolner's 1879 Captain Cook monument for Sydney in the context of the question of worldwide Pre-Raphaelitism and the broader historiographical status of Victorian monuments. Contextualizing Woolner's memorial with its contemporary press reception, and in subsequent scholarly accounts, and emphasizing the statue's significance within British imperial cultures in the years surrounding its unveiling, I argue that such monuments represent the ‘extremist edge’ of Pre-Raphaelitism, in William Michael Rossetti's phrase, not aesthetically, as in the case of John Lucas Tupper, but politically, revealing the complicity of the mid-century sculptural avant-garde with empire. Drawing on Woolner's outback journals and letters home from Australia, the article returns to centre stage the sculptor's discreditable views on aboriginal Australians and other global populations, including those populating the Celtic fringes of the United Kingdom.

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Author details

Edwards, Jason