A new location for an old favourite
Regular visitors to Old Parliament House, or those who once worked in this building, may remember the large terracotta panel known as The Greek Mother. It once sat outside the Parliamentary Library and has also resided in King’s Hall. This wonderful sculpture will form part of our new permanent exhibition located in the Parliamentary Library.
The Greek Mother is by the artist George Tinworth (1843-1913) and was produced in 1904-06. It is an unglazed terracotta panel mounted in a glazed walnut case, with an inscription which reads, The Greek Mother giving the shield to her son with the words ‘Either bring this shield back or be bought back upon it’. The inspiration for the panel is taken from the 1882 Edmund Gosse poem The sons of Cydippe. This is not the first time Tinworth sought inspiration from this poem. In 1884 he created two similar panels, both entitled The Sons of Cydippe—these panels are now to be found in the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art .
So how did the Greek Mother end up at Old Parliament House? Originally presented to the Australian Government in 1927, the panel is a part of the Parliament House collection. The panel was left unsold after an exhibition of Doulton wares in Sydney and subsequently offered to the Australian Government with the Australian collector John Shorter acting as the intermediary. John Shorter is also the reason another great Tinworth panel is in Australia. He encouraged Sir Samuel Way, Chief Justice of South Australia to purchase the 1884 Tinworth work entitled the Remorse of Herod, later bequeathed to the South Australian Art Gallery .
In his heyday, George Tinworth was a widely admired artist. Today his name is known more by collectors of fine English pottery. George Tinworth was born 5 November 1843 in South London. He began his career as a wheelwright, a skilled profession that gave him training and access to sculptural materials from a young age. Tinworth’s deeply religious father destroyed his early works, labelling them ‘graven images’. This did not deter the emerging artist and Tinworth continued to create his sculptures in secret.
Tinworth’s formal art education began in 1861 at the Lambeth School of Art in Millers Lane, London. As a reflection of his financial status Tinworth regularly pawned his winter coat to pay his school fees. In 1866 Tinworth began his life long association with the pottery firm, Doulton & Co (Royal Doulton from 1905). One of his teachers at the Lambeth School of Art, John Sparkes, had convinced Henry Doulton to offer Tinworth a job at the Lambeth pottery factory. The arrangement was beneficial for both parties; as Tinworth’s reputation grew, the company capitalised on his talents to produce pieces to show at international exhibitions. Tinworth’s work also started to gain the attention of his peers, including the Royal Academy, and was even admired by the famous art scholar John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) who used one of Tinworth’s pieces to demonstrate an example of the true principles of relief.
Tinworth’s move to large terracotta friezes (such as The Greek Mother) however effectively ended his relationship with the Royal Academy, the panels were just too large and cumbersome to exhibit. They were also not directly profitable for Doulton as they were expensive to produce. Their importance lay more in their promotional value as they represented the skill of the Doulton artisans and ensured regular commissions, for Tinworth in particular, for large scale monuments and portraits. Tinworth was an extremely versatile artist, able to work on both large scale depictions of ancient texts, formal portraits and charming animal figurines (mice were his speciality!). With this versatility and Doulton’s championship of the genre of art pottery, Tinworth remained popular until public tastes changed around the beginning of the 20th century.
George Tinworth died on the 10 September 1913 on his way to the studio. His work remains highly desirable to collectors and key examples of his work can be found in collections around the world.
Image: The Greek Mother (1904-05): detail. Artist: George Tinworth. Old Parliament House collection.