Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More August Saupé

A letter to the editor of the South Australian Register, published on Thursday, February 25, 1886 (p. 7), sheds a little more light on the shadowy sculptor August Saupé. It seems to have been prompted by plans either to dispatch various items from Adelaide to the Royal Jubilee Exhibition at Old Trafford in Manchester in May 1887, or to gather them for the Adelaide Jubilee Exhibition, perhaps both. These events were organized to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the accession of Queen Victoria. The correspondent, who signed himself “PLASTIC,” was evidently involved with drawing up one or both of those plans, although his letter is strangely ambiguous in several other respects—for example appearing to suggest, first, that existing “masterly models of the aborigines” by Saupé (in polychrome wax) were certainly destined for display in England, and, later, that such works were not yet executed but merely awaited a commission. Whichever it was, these sculptures appear to have been very similar to polychrome wax replicas (above) of the busts of Tasmanian Aborigines that were cast in 1835 by Benjamin Law (1807–1882). At least two of the works by Saupé were completed six weeks earlier, when on January 12, 1886, the Adelaide Advertiser reported that “Herr A. Saupé, the sculptor, has just completed two life-size figures of male aboriginals, one standing and spearing a fish from his canoe, the other in a sitting posture, with a fire-stick between his hands. They are modelled from life, the subject being a man of the Point Macleay tribe [i.e. the Ngarrindjeri people; Point Macleay on Lake Alexandrina in South Australia has since 1982 been known by the Indigenous name of Raukkan].”


Sir—As my suggestions met unrestricted approval wherever I advanced them, the insertion of my lines may be welcome to those who are specially interested in the success of the Exhibition. I was singularly struck with the masterly models of the aborigines by Herr Saupé, and, indeed, deplore their going to London without having exhibited them here to the public under proper arrangements. I saw in Berlin the very best in the art of wax modeling, and found these equal, if not superior. The secret of our talented sculptor is his rare gift of discerning colours, combined with excellence in copying figures from life. As a rule the predominance of either natural gift for colours or shape decides the choice of the student whether to be sculptor or artist. In Herr Saupé both gifts are remarkably developed, and might be profitably put to task in working out a group of specimens of all different races existing in the Australian Colonies. If Herr Saupé would be commissioned to take copies from well-selected specimens, such a collection would certainly prove highly valuable, not only for the Exhibition but for all times, and I believe the required investment of money a safe, if not profitable one. I hope some practical gentlemen in connection with the Exhibition schemes will consider these suggestions.

I am, Sir, &c.,


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