14 September 2013

The frozen people: sculptures of Auckland

A few weeks ago one of my cousins suggested I photograph some of Auckland’s magnificent statues, and I am very glad she did. The commission has opened my eyes both to the wealth of subjects that have been sculpted and to the superb quality of the artworks to be found in the inner city.

I am almost ashamed to say that I had ever seen this magnificent statue until the day I specifically went to photograph it. It's tucked away at the bottom of a gully in a park in the middle of the city but not one I usually walk through and I only noticed the statue when looking out the window of the language school where I was teaching. It's a copy of an internationally known statue by one of the world's greatest sculptors.

The location is Myers Park and the statue is Moses. The plaque reads: ‘This copy of the original sculpture by Michaelangelo was brought to New Zealand for general display by Milne & Choyce Ltd [one of this country’s oldest department stores, now long gone] and was presented by them to the city of Auckland in 1971.’ It is an impressive statue, though I do wonder why Moses is sporting horns.

I don’t think I need to label this statue in Albert Park. She certainly won't be amused if you don't know who she is! The ever-informative, though not always reliable Wikipedia lists 67 statues of Queen Victoria around the world but I’m sure there are many more. Several are very similar to this one – Her Majesty stands erect and regal and unhappy. 

This particular statue was sculpted in 1899 by Francis John Williamson, a British portrait sculptor who was reported to be Queen Victoria’s favourite. He was also responsible for Christchurch’s Victoria statue four years later, as well as many of the versions to be found in Britain.

The athletic-looking bronze pictured below, by New Zealand sculptor Richard Goss, adorns one of the Elliot Memorial entrance gates to the Auckland Domain. Local businessman William Elliot bequeathed £10,000 for the gates’ construction in 1935 and Alan Elliot (no relation), a New Zealand athlete who won a medal at the Los Angeles Olympic Games, was the model for the statue.

I always remember my father telling me that this statue, whose anatomy is all present and correct and in full public view, pees when it rains. I admit I haven’t seen this fascinating phenomenon for myself!

This stately looking chap is one of New Zealand’s most well-known statesmen and was an importance figure in the early governance of this country. Sir George Grey was twice governor of New Zealand, the last superintendent of Auckland and this country’s premier from 1877 to 1879. 

The statue, in marble, was fashioned by Victoria’s sculptor, Francis Williamson, and completed in 1911. It stood originally at the junction of Queens Street and Grey’s Ave but proved an obstacle as traffic flows increased so was moved to its present location in Albert Park in 1922.

The statue below, in Albert Park, was "Erected by the members of the NZ Battery R.A. in memory of their comrades ... who lost their lives in the South African War 1900-1." It was sculpted by an unknown Italian sculptor in 1902 but has since been fenced off due to damage by vandals. 

The bizarre face of the fountainhead below it, which looks to me like an alien creature from some modern sci-fi movie, is, in fact, a lion, a symbol of power and imperial domination than is frequently used in Boer War memorials.

Below right is another artwork I only noticed, though I've walked along the road opposite it very many times. It stands at the bottom of a flight of steps that connects Mayoral Drive with Upper Lorne Street'Aspiration', by New Zealand Roderick Burgess, was donated by the Parisian Neckwear Company that operated in this street between 1919 and 1984. The inscription reads: 'That spirit of his in aspiration lifts him from the earth' from Shakespeare's 'Troilus and Cressida'.

Most sculptures are of famous people but the 2008 bronze (above, left), named ‘Kapa haka’ and created by New Zealand artist Michael Parekowhai, is a powerful depiction of a humble security guard. Located in the grounds of the University of Auckland, the figure was modelled on the artist’s older brother. Parekowhai is an associate professor at the university’s Elam School of Fine Arts. 

These are two of Francis Upritchard's 'Loafers' and they might look large but they're actually quite little figurines - it's all in the camera angle. The figures are perched on three round plinths on Symonds Street, atop the Wellesley Street overbridge. Upritchard is the youngest of the sculptors mentioned here, having been born in New Plymouth in 1976. She represented New Zealand at the 53rd Venice Biennale in 2009 and created these ‘Loafers’ early in 2012.


  1. I love the photo of the sculpture modeled on the athlete. It really emphasizes how graceful-looking it is. And your father's comment about it sounds like the sort of thing my grandpa used to like to point out!

    1. Thanks for stopping by and for your lovely comments, Ursula.