There is a tendency in Australian heritage circles to set aside detached assessments of aesthetic quality in respect of the colonial built environment, and fill that void with bright jingo. A perfect example is Stonnington, which for the first few decades after Federation served as State Government House. It is generally described as a mansion, but Lady Talbot, who lived there, thought it was “a nasty little villa,” which is without question more accurate—Stonnington is old, comparatively large, and obviously “historic,” but it is not great architecture, nor probably even good.
In a similar vein, last week I was intrigued by the large fountain that stands in front of the south façade of the Royal Exhibition Building, and is actually an indispensible fulcrum for the principal arch, the forecourt, and the axial arrangement of the entire design of the Carlton Gardens on the Victoria Street side. According to the plaque, that fountain was designed and modeled in Portland cement by a man who rejoiced in the name of Josef Hochgürtel, and this is evidently the only work by him that was ever built in colonial Australia. Here is what the emelbourne website says about him, and it:
Josef Hochgurtel was born in Cologne and trained under Herr Fuels, who modeled the Cologne Cathedral. In creating the Exhibition Fountain, he was assisted by August Saupe, who had worked on similar pieces in Berlin, Dresden and Copenhagen. The colossal fountain stands some ten meters high on the south side of the Royal Exhibition Building, outside the Great Hall. It was constructed for the first of Melbourne’s two grand international world fairs. The fountain’s visual elements were designed to display the young colony’s confidence and advancement, simultaneously signaling the purpose of world fairs to display the produce and industry of nations. At the central level of the fountain, four youths (representing a young and vibrant colony) dance below symbols of the arts, science, commerce and industry; for example, musical instruments, a telescope, sailing ship, steam engine and globe of the world. Above this are images of Victoria’s indigenous flora and fauna, and a boy with a clamshell. Holding all of this aloft are four merpeople rising up from the waters of the lower pool. Built during Victoria’s boom years, the fountain’s spouting water, it was thought, would demonstrate the power and success of the recently established Yan Yean project, which brought potable water to the city. On opening day, however, the pressure was too poor to affect much more than a spurt from atop of the grand edifice. In 1994, Hochgurtel’s fountain underwent major restoration. It remains a great reminder of the glorious days of Marvelous Melbourne.
Hmmm, yes. Time for a little fact-checking.
The names of Josef Hochgurtel and August Saupe and Fuels do not appear in Saur (Allgemeines Künstlerlexikon Bio-Bibliographischer Index), nor in the revised Bénézit, nor in Thieme–Becker, which is very suspicious, but it turns out that whoever drafted this text gleaned most if not all of the pertinent facts from an article entitled “The Exhibition Fountain” that appeared in the Argus on Tuesday, May 18, 1880 (p. 7). There it is made clear that Messrs. Hochgürtel and Saupé were present in the colony, which partly explains why they flew under the radar screen of Thieme–Becker, and almost everybody else since then. Mr. Saupé may have come overland from Adelaide, where he is documented living slightly later. His name appears nowhere in the shipping lists. Mr. Hochgürtel, meanwhile, “a young German artist, who has recently arrived here with the intention of settling in Melbourne should sufficient inducement be offered,” in fact sailed into Hobson’s Bay aboard the Sultan in September 1879, aged 25. According to the Argus, “Mr. Hochgürtel, who is a native of Cologne, has enjoyed a wide continental experience, having received his preliminary training at the hands of Herr Fuels, of that city, modeler for the Cologne cathedral, the noblest Gothic structure in Germany…” I have used Australian colonial newspapers for so long that by now I can not only spot a misspelled name, but can usually correct it. Now, the Kolner Dom was begun on August 15, 1248. Construction ground to a halt in 1560 and did not recommence until 1842, when the work was directed by the Gothic Revival architect Ernst Friedrich Zwirner (1802–1861), liberally financed by the King of Prussia and the Zentral-Dombau-Verein. So Herr Fuels must have been a sculptor working on the site, and, sure enough, there he is, popping up in the records as Peter Fuchs (1829–1889), a churner out of hundreds of life- and over life-sized figures for the interior and exterior of the cathedral. Mr. Hochgürtel, the Argus went on, “was also associated with Professor Hasenphlug [sic], of Cassel [sic], and Professor Franz, of Berlin, and studied anatomy under Professor de la Halette St. George [sic], at Bonn, and Professor Lucea [sic], at Frankfort-on-Maine [sic]. Mr. Hochgürtel has with him another European artist of considerable experience—M. August Saupé, who has been engaged upon similar works at Berlin, Dresden, and Copenhagen.” Karl Hassenpflug (1824–1890) was from 1868 professor of sculpture at the Kasseler Akademie. Julius Franz (1824–1887), of the Berliner Akademie, specialized in portrait busts and rather wan genre groups in marble. Adolf Johann Hubert, Baron de la Valette St. George (1831–1910), director of the Anatomisches Institut at Bonn, was actually an ichthyologist, and alas I cannot trace Professor Lucea (obviously misspelled). M. Saupé may have belonged to a family of artists in Dresden, meanwhile, because Saur and Thieme–Becker record Johann Gottlob Sauppe, sculptor of capitals for the Church of the Holy Cross in that city (active 1764–1792), and also Louis Saupe, “Genremaler u[nd]. Lithograph um 1845/47, tätig in Cassel u[nd]. Dresden,” in other words just maybe our sculptor’s father, or else an uncle or cousin. August Saupé definitely crops up in the Class III (“Sculpture, Statuary, and Artistic Modelling”) section of the Official Catalogue of Exhibits in South Australian Court at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition which took place in London in 1886. The entry gives an excellent impression of the gentleman’s range, and also the general artistic company he kept in colonial Adelaide: “1. Commissioners for South Australia.—(1) Plaster cast of Mullaway fish. (2) Plaster cast of South Australian fish (painted, natural tints, by A. Saupe [sic]). (3) Wax models of Fruits grown in South Australia (made by Mrs. Gray, Melbourne-street, North Adelaide). (4) Plaster casts of Merino Ram, and one double cast of the same. 2. Kennedy, William, Noarlunga.—Carving on slate by a self-taught workman, “Old England and the New.” The exhibitor is an ostler [i.e. a stable-man, usually at an inn], and has executed this work with rude tools. 3. Saupe, August, Adelaide.—(1) Bust of Sir W. F. D. Jervois, G.C.M.G., C.B., ex-Governor of South Australia. (2) Medallion of the Hon. Sir Henry Ayers, K.C.M.G., President Legislative Council. (3) Medallion of late Rev. James Way, Bible Christian Minister. (4) Medallion of Dr. Way. (5) Medallion of the late Dr. Chas. Gosse. (6) Hoh-relief copy of [Bertil] Thorwaldsen’s ‘John the Baptist Preaching in the Wilderness [i.e. pediment of the Frue Kirke, now Copenhagen cathedral].’” Mr. Saupé is also mentioned in connection with an intriguing proposal to create an ambitious group of polychrome wax models of Australian Aborigines, and much later as a prospector for quicksilver and gold. Finally, in 1900 the Queensland branch of the Royal Geographical Society acquired a medallion of Ferdinand von Mueller by August Saupé, to whose name at least several papers (the Queenslander, the South Australian Register and the Advertiser) added the fictitious postnominals “R.A.” The Exhibition Fountain itself belongs to the so-called Renaissance Revival type, usually with various personifications, that was pioneered in France by Louis-Tullius-Joachim Visconti (1791–1853), and proliferated as a model for the modern city, to some extent imitated but also given a distinctly stodgy cast for German squares and terraces by the building inspector of Karlsruhe, Friedrich Weinbrenner (1766–1826). The Argus gives the best and most comprehensive reading of the artist’s scale model for the projected fountain, which was displayed in the window of Messrs. Nicholson and Ascherberg, music publishers, “importers of fortepianos, cabinet organs, and harmoniums,” along with a corresponding scale model of the Royal Exhibition Building (also made by Hochgürtel) :
The design, which is to be carried out by the artist himself, is for a fountain 34 ft. high, rising out of a basin 60 ft. in diameter. The material used in its construction will be the best Portland cement, on a strong framework of stone and iron, and when finished the fountain is expected to be the handsomest structure of its kind in the Australian colonies. The base of the fountain is an irregularly-shaped mass of rock, rising 2 ft. or 3 ft. above the level of the water, on which there are three colossal figures, half human and half fish, supporting the first ledge or basin, 48 ft. in diameter. The figures are each 9 ft. high, and in the bays formed by their tails are placed three boys, one deeply intent on fishing, another stooping down to dip up some water in a shell, while a third is represented in the ludicrous position of affright at the appearance of a turtle which is crawling up out of the water towards him. Above the first basin the central column is continued in the form of a hemisphere, around which four boys are dancing hand-in-hand. These figures will represent Commerce, Industry, Science, and Art, symbolical devices being shown over the heads of the dancers. The second basin has a circumference of 30 ft., and above this the fountain is continued in another form, the supporting pillar being fancifully embellished with birds and flowers, all of which are taken from species indigenous to Victoria. Twenty-nine feet above the level of the water, the third ledge or basin supports the figure of a boy bearing on his head a basket with four fishes, from the mouths of which streams of water will flow and from the basket itself will rise a strong jet, which may be forced up to a height of 70 ft., should the pressure be available. In addition to the figures described, 12 young crocodiles are shown in the act of crawling up from the water below, and simultaneously invading the first basin of the fountain. Their forepaws and heads are level with the water in the basin, and from the mouth of each a jet of water ascends, which, curling outwards, falls into the huge basin below—a clear descent of 22 ft. The upper basins are imperceptibly filled with water, which falls downward in sheets, and in addition to the crocodiles some 29 heads of marine animals spout water in all directions higher up the fountain. The closest attention has been paid by the artist to detail, and the fountain in play will be supplied with water from every tier or basin. The supply-pipe will be 4 in. in diameter, drawn direct from a 22 in. main, so that on special occasions the fountain may be worked up to 100 ft., though 70 ft. is likely to be the ordinary height attained…The total cost will be £800, the commissioners at their last monthly meeting having accepted this estimate.The finished work differs only in minor details from this plan, although it is interesting to note how completely degenerated the action and effects of the water have become in recent times, presumably in an effort to save water. Goannas appear to have taken the place of crocodiles, and platypuses were introduced in amusing dialogue with them from a corresponding vantage point at the lip of the middle basin. The 29 marine animals seem to have been conflated, perhaps in the interests of increasing water pressure, and an engaging upper fretwork of ferns is the only feature that the Argus did not mention, possibly a refinement introduced during the process of construction. It is delightful, symphonically vulgar, and fabricated out of deeply unpromising materials, although I suppose we must be grateful that they did not carve it out of bluestone. It is hardly surprising that nothing else remains of the sculpture of Josef Hochgürtel and August Saupé, although given the impressive scale and ambition of the Exhibition Fountain it seems strange that neither artist has ever made it into McCulloch, or any other printed record other than Ken Scarlett, the Victoria Government Gazette, and the daily newspapers. Hochgürtel simply evaporated.