This is one of two statue groups by sculptor William P. Macintosh, which were commissioned in 1897 during the construction of the Queen Victoria Market Building.
Located on the west façade of the building’s central arches at the York Street frontage, this group features a male flanked by two draped females. Made from Sicilian marble, the statues stand approximately 4.5 m high.
In his submission to Council in January 1897, Macintosh outlined his specifications for the allegorical group of statues:
On a raised pedestal which is ornamented with the rising sun of Australia stands a lightly draped male figure holding aloft a device of the “fasces” or bound rods- symbol of “Union” in the form of a cross ornamented with five stars of the Southern Cross, surrounded by a wreath of Waratah – the whole symbolising “United Australia”…
On the right is a seated semi-nude female figure representing “Peace” holding a palm branch at her feet – symbols of “Literature” and “Science”…
On the other side is a corresponding female figure representing “Plenty” holding the “Cornucopia” and showing the symbols of the “attendant Arts”.
It was claimed in a 1984 article in the Sydney Morning Herald that the male figures in this group were modelled on the body of Percy Cavill, one of Australia’s first swimming champions.
Macintosh was born in Scotland in 1857 and arrived in Sydney in 1880. He taught sculpture at East Sydney Technical College and from 1880-1882 studied at the Sydney Mechanic Schools of Arts, where he received the inaugural Students Prize in 1882. Macintosh was commissioned by the Parkes Government to provide carved sandstone pillars and sculptures for the Sydney Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences and the Lands Department Building.
The lavish Queen Victoria Building was conceived by wealthy businessmen Aldermen in the boom 1880s but was nonetheless to be built in the economically depressed 1890s by workmen on reduced wages. The plans for this graceful, though extravagant, public building included the provision of two groups of statues.
Designs were called for in 1896 and there was great deliberation regarding the nature of the sculptures in council in January 1897. Mayor Samuel Burdekin along with George McRae, the City Architect W. L. Vernon were appointed to choose two groups of statues from the many submitted, according to the 1898 edition of the Building, Engineering and Mining Journal (p.22). Macintosh’s proposal was chosen by Mayor Samuel Burdekin, George McRae and the City Architect W. L. Vernon from the many submissions.
Macintosh’s proposal was selected and the sculptor signed the agreement for the work on 30 July 1897. Macintosh had provided the City Council with a number of options in terms of the materials and methods he would employ on the commission.
The lost wax process could have been employed to cast the statues at a cost of 2,700 pounds; the piece mould process for casting could have been used for 1,850 pounds; or the statues could have been sculpted from ‘the best Sydney stone’ for 850 pounds. The Council, however, chose to have the sculptures rough shaped in Italy in Sicilian marble and finished in position for a cost of 1,400 pounds.
McIntosh and ten assistants spent four months working on half-sized models, initially made of clay. Subsequently the models were formed in plaster of Paris and transported to Carrara, Italy, where the sculptor supervised the reproduction.