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Thomas Woolner


Thomas Woolner | England/Australia VIC 1825-1892 | Portrait medallion of William Charles Wentworth c.1854 | Copper, black paint | 19.7cm (diam.) | Purchased 2010. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery

Portrait medallion of William Charles Wentworth c.1854

Royal Academy-trained Thomas Woolner was the only sculptor member of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. He arrived in Melbourne in 1852, compelled to try his fortune on the Victorian gold fields, but soon returned to Melbourne disappointed. He began to model medallions of leading citizens of the colony, digging local clay, grinding his own gypsum and making his own tools.

Woolner received the patronage of Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe. Many leading citizens commissioned portrait medallions from him, and in Sydney he came into contact with William Charles Wentworth, the distinguished explorer, barrister and politician.

With the hope of winning a commission for a statue of Wentworth to be judged in England, Woolner returned to London in 1854, with a case of plaster masters to produce his portrait medallions, as there was not yet an art bronze foundry in the Australian colonies. He remained in England, becoming a leading sculptor and a poet, sending back the group of medallions to Australia, including this portrait of Wentworth.