A Life Revealed: Emil Todt, a German sculptor in nineteenth-century Melbourne


Emil Todt, the German sculptor whose plaster figure group The gold diggers (fig. 1) was modelled in Melbourne in 1854 and acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria in 1884, has been one of the most mysterious of all Australian artists. The dates of his birth, arrival in Australia, supposed departure and death have all been the subject of conjecture, but in the past decade all those dates have come to light, together with many others, enabling us to piece together an outline of his life and work.1 The author draws attention to his two earlier articles on Emil Todt: ‘Emil Todt, a German sculptor in Melbourne’, in E. I. Mitchell (ed.), ‘Baron von Mueller’s German Melbourne’, Plenty Valley Papers, vol. 3, 1999, pp. 58–65; ‘Emil Todt’, in T. Stannage (ed.), Gold and Civilization, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 2001, p. 87.

Emil Hermann Todt was born in Berlin on 26 December 1809 to Johann Carl Todt and his wife, Marriane Catharina Bruchwicka, and was christened at the Church of Sankt Nikolai, Berlin, on 4 February 1810.2 The Church of the Latter-Day Saints International Genealogical Index (C998001, 1804-11, source call no. 0070015). He studied sculpture under Ludwig Wichmann (1788–1859), a tutor at the Berlin Kunst-und Gewerbeschule and Akademie der Künste, and between 1830 and 1841 exhibited a number of works in Berlin, including a herm bust and a statue of a nymph. Unemployment or a possible involvement in the 1848 Revolution may have inspired him to join the South Australian Colonisation Society in Berlin and seek a new life on the other side of the world. He was a member of the party that left Hamburg for South Australia on board the Princess Louise on 23 March 1849 and arrived in Port Adelaide on 7 August 1849. The society, largely comprised of professionals, businessmen and skilled artisans, has been called ‘the single most important group of German intellectuals to come to Adelaide’.3 ‘The 1848 aftermath: coming to South Australia on the Princess Louise’, by P. Payne & I. Schomburgk, in J. Graetz (ed.), Journal of Friends of Lutheran Archives, no. 8, October 1998, pp. 21–58. Many of its members, most notably the botanist and Adelaide Botanic Gardens director Richard Schomburgk, musician Gustav Esselbach and artist Alexander Schramm, went on to play important roles in the scientific and cultural life of South Australia.

The first Australian document referring to Todt is his September 1849 Naturalisation certificate, where his occupation is given as ‘farmer’.4 Ref: A729/11, vol. 3, no. 151, National Archives of Australia. See also A821/1, set 1, no. 48, folio 7. By 1851 he had joined the mass exodus to the Victorian goldfields, which is where artist William Strutt recorded meeting him.5 Typescript of autobiography of William Strutt, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, p. 254 (288). Todt’s name is given as ‘Sadt’. The Argus caught up with him in Melbourne in August 1854:

A German sculptor, of the name of Todt, has long been resident amongst us, and is now, for the first time here, about to devote himself to the cultivation of his art. Mr Todt has just favoured us with an inspection of the work upon which he is at present engaged, which indicates nothing short of genius of a high order. It consists of a couple of diggers, in their ordinary working dress; and the figures are not only natural and beautifully modelled, but the whole piece is interesting and truthful in the highest degree. The group, when completed, will be placed, we believe, in the approaching Local Exhibition; and we are certain that it will meet with great attention and general approval.6 Argus, 28 August 1854, p. 5.

The gold diggers belongs to a specialised category of portraiture, the double portrait, with one figure standing and the other seated. More common in male/female portraiture, especially in photography, the male species of the genre has a certain lineage in nineteenth-century Australian art. A notable parallel in contemporary graphic art is the digger vignette that flanks William Strutt’s View of the Golden Point, Ballarat of c.1852.7 The print is reproduced in H. Curnow, The Life and Art of William Strutt, Martinborough (NZ), 1980, p.16.

The gold diggers shows the thoroughness of Todt’s classical training in Berlin and his familiarity with the sculptural convention of quotation. The standing digger borrows his pose from Polykleitos’s Diomedes, and his seated companion from Michelangelo’s Giuliano de Medici. But Todt’s subject was a very contemporary one and he clad his figures in the garments of the gold digger, paying particular attention to the standing digger’s sou’wester and his friend’s leggings with their minutely detailed buttons.

When Todt exhibited The gold diggers and A bust (portrait) at the 1854 Melbourne Exhibition, they were described as ‘models’.8 Official Catalogue of the Melbourne Exhibition, 1854, in Connection with the Paris Exhibition, 1855, Melbourne, 1854, cat. no. 278, p. 28. Todt’s occupation was given as Sculptor and his address as Albert Street, Collingwood. The gold diggers is probably a maquette, intended to be scaled-up for carving in marble or casting in bronze. There is no evidence that this ever occurred and eventually the sculpture passed out of Todt’s hands. By 1869, when it was shown at the exhibition of Works of Art, Ornamental and Decorative Art at the Melbourne Public Library,9 Catalogue of the Works of Art, Ornamental and Decorative Art Exhibited by the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library, p. 48, cat. no. 22. Todt’s name is incorrectly give as Edward Todd. it had been acquired by the architect Leonard Terry. Upon Terry’s death in 1884 it was donated to the National Gallery of Victoria by his widow.

The success of The gold diggers at the Melbourne Exhibition was followed by a number of commissions, the first being for the prize medal to be awarded to successful exhibitors.10 Argus, 18 November 1854, p. 5. Authorship of the medal (fig. 2) is generally given to James Wyon, who certainly engraved the dies, but there is still a possibility that the patterns were supplied by Todt after designs by Ludwig Becker (see Argus 2 September 1854. A commission for a Madonna and Child for the new Lady Chapel of the Cathedral of St Francis (now St Francis’ Church), Melbourne, went ahead and in July 1855 Todt invited the press to view the statue:

We have lately had the pleasure of inspecting a most meritorious work of art, the production of Herr Todt, the sculptor, whose little group of diggers excited so much attention at the Victorian [sic] Exhibition. This gentleman is at present employed upon a ‘Madonna and Child’, for the Roman Catholic Cathedral, and the work is so near completion as to afford a good opportunity of judging what it will be like when finished. The figures are of the size of life, and both the Virgin and Child are exceedingly beautiful and characteristic. The Madonna is standing erect, holding the infant savior before her, who leans eagerly forward, and expands his arms towards the spectator with a very happy expression of a yearning sympathy and love. The work is highly creditable to Herr Todt, and will no doubt be duly appreciated by the congregation for the embellishment of whose place of worship it is designed.11 ibid., 27 July 1855, p. 5.

When completed, the statue (painted and with gilt draperies) was placed in a niche above the altar of the Lady Chapel of the cathedral (fig. 3). Todt also modelled a statue of St Francis for the cathedral but its present whereabouts, like those of the Madonna and Child, are unknown.12 Illustrated Melbourne Post, 27 July 1866, p. 308. Todt’s Madonna and Child was replaced by a marble statue in 1907. See St Francis 1841–1941, Melbourne, 1941, p. 40.

The mid 1850s saw the peak of Todt’s success in Australia. In 1856 the Journal of Australasia spoke of him and Eugène von Guérard as the leading artists in Melbourne.13 Journal of Australasia, vol. 1, July–December 1856, p. 47. He was also, clearly, an active member of the German cultural community in Melbourne. Von Guérard, who he probably met on the goldfields, seems to have been a friend, and made a drawing of The gold diggers in 1855 (fig. 4).14 Reproduced in M. Tipping, An Artist on the Goldfields, Melbourne, 1982, p. 22. In 1857 Todt subscribed two pounds to the fund for the magnetic observatory that Professor Georg von Neumayer hoped to build in Melbourne. (Von Guérard, Nicholas Chevalier and Ludwig Becker each subscribed two guineas.)15 Der Kosmopolit: Deutsche Zeitung fur Australien, no. 80, 1 September 1857, p. 323. When Neumayer left Melbourne in 1864, Todt’s photograph (fig. 5) appeared in the album presented to him. By 1857 he and former Prussian staff officer and revolutionary Gustav Techow were farming in the Dandenong Ranges, where von Guérard visited them in late January and made drawings of their homestead, whimsically titled New Berlin (fig. 6).16 Von Guérard sketchbooks, Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales (DGB 16, vol. 1). Techow became director of the National Gymnasium in Melbourne and in 1866 published a Manual of Gymnastic Exercises, for the Use of Schools and at Home.17 G. Techow, Manual of Gymnastic Exercises, for the Use of Schools and at Home, Melbourne, 1866. For additional information on Techow, see W. Struve, ‘Nineteenth-century German Melbourne on display’, in Mitchell (ed.), Plenty Valley Papers, vol. 3, pp. 113–14. Struve notes that Techow had involved in the revolutionary movements in Germany in 1848–49 and quotes Henry Mayer’s statement that Techow had been a ‘chief of the revolutionary army in Baden’. Perhaps Todt shared his enthusiasm for this sport.

 

Todt is next sighted in Melbourne at the Victorian Exhibition of Fine Arts at Charles Summers’s Collins Street studio in 1860 where both he and Summers exhibited full-size ‘competitive models’, in clay, for the colossal statue of Shakespeare to be erected in Melbourne in 1864 on the tercentenary of the playwright’s birth. Todt gave his address as the Summers studio, and his model must have been made in situ:

In contradistinction to Mr Summers, Herr Todt has represented his figure in a standing posture, holding in its right hand a pen, and in its left a scroll. The weight of the body, which is slightly thrown forward, is borne chiefly on the right leg, while the left is advanced. Looking to the size of the statue, we are of the opinion that all the limbs are modelled disproportionately small, a fault which is particularly observable in the head. This is well set upon the shoulder, and slightly turned to the right — the pose being natural without constraint. If anything, the figure is more youthful even than Mr Summers’s, but the face is wan and thin. The sculptural expression is fine, but as a likeness the face is not truthful. Every indulgence in criticism, however, is due, seeing, like Mr Summers’s, the statue is in an unfinished state.18 Australian Builder, 26 January 1861, p. 2.

The idea of a Shakespeare memorial was revived in 1864 but by then, Todt was no longer a contender and it was Summers’s design which was, for a time, again under consideration.19 See Illustrated Melbourne Post, 25 April 1964, p. 6. Melbourne, it seems, could support only one sculptor, and the well-connected Summers — portraitist to Sir Redmond Barry and other Melbourne dignitaries — had the advantage. It is not known whether Todt submitted a design in the Burke and Wills Monument Competition but that commission, of course, went to Summers in 1862. The resemblance of Summers’s design,20 The statue is currently located at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets, Melbourne. with its standing and seated figures, to Todt’s The gold diggers is marked.

By 1862 Todt was working for the Board of Lands and Works, and had modelled the collection of coloured plaster fruits and vegetables which was exhibited that year in the Victorian Court at the London International Exhibition. The collection included casts of fifty-seven varieties of apples, forty-five pears, ten cherries, plums, strawberries, figs, oranges, melons, and a large assortment of vegetables.21 Official Catalogue of the London International Exhibition, Industrial Department, London, 1862, p. 143. Some of the models may survive in the large collection of model fruits and vegetables held by Museum Victoria. The ‘extreme size and beauty’22 Herald, 31 March 1865, p. 2. of the fruits and vegetables, produce of the previously untilled soil of Victoria, caused a sensation at the exhibition and they were awarded a prize by the jury. Todt’s activity in this arena confirms a long professional and perhaps social connection between him and the Government botanist, Dr Ferdinand (later Baron) von Mueller, who received the award. It also places Todt in the wider international context of the scientific study of the cultivation of fruit. Todt was probably aware of the work of Friedrich Johann Justin Bertuch, who published on fruit in the Allgemeines Teutsches Garten-Magazin and supplied wax models of fruit from 1804. He may also have known of the famous collection of fruit models Prince Franz of Anhalt-Dessau assembled in his Pomologisches Kabinett at Worlitz.

Following the success of these models, Todt’s services were again secured to make a second set for the Victorian Court at the Dublin Exhibition of 1865. His main contributions, however, were two plaster relief maps of Victoria (fig. 7). The Herald reported:

Two beautiful plaster models of maps of Victoria have just been completed in the Crown Lands Office in Melbourne. They are intended for the Dublin International Exhibition, and, indeed, will be sent immediately. The largest model represents the geological features of the colony, the elevations of the surface being given on a vertical scale of two inches to the mile. The different soils of the colony are distinguished by colours, the meaning of which is explained by corresponding colours at the right hand of the bottom corner of the model. The principal towns and rivers of the colony are named, and the courses of the latter accurately traced. A number of extinct volcanoes in the counties of Hampden, Villiers, Normanby, and Grant, are also marked out. The other model, which is half the size of the geological one, represents the sold and unsold lands, as well as those which are covered with myall and those which are gold-bearing, great prominence being given to the latter. The models of both maps were executed by Mr Todt, the colouring being the work of Mr Mende and Mr Philp. They are skilfully and carefully executed, and will give a better idea of the geographical and geological features of the colony to strangers at a distance than could be conveyed by any other means.23 ibid.

Todt’s plaster bust of the Minister of Lands and short-term premier, Richard Heales (1822–64), probably dates from this time. Presented by subscribers to the Melbourne Public Library (now State Library of Victoria), it was part of the collection of plaster and marble busts of dignitaries at the library. The bust is no longer to be seen at the Library,24 Catalogue of the Statues and Busts in Marble and Casts, in the National Gallery of Victoria, 1880, p. 45. The bust is also listed in the Catalogue of the Works of Art, Ornaments and Decorative Art Exhibited by the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library and Museum, Melbourne, 1869, p. 48. Todt’s name is misspelt Edward Todd. nor at the Parliament of Victoria, where it was on display for a time, but examples of it survive with the Heales family and in Healesville High School, Healesville (fig. 8).25 There is a drawing of the bust in P. Duncan, Heales, Premier for 354 Days, Wilson, 1997, p. 13.

In spite of the paucity of surviving records, Todt’s continued active membership of the German community in Melbourne is indicated by a number of references. In October 1868, W. A. Brahe, the German consul in Melbourne, wrote to Augustus Tulk, the chief librarian of the Melbourne Public Library recommending Todt for the position of assistant at the library.

For his honourable character and conduct, I have no hesitation to answer. He is fond of instructing himself by reading, well versed in German literature, of refined taste and being a sculptor by profession, may be able to make himself useful in connection with the Museum of fine arts.26 Archives Office of Victoria (PROV VPRS 4354/PO Unit 2, Trustees of the Public Library).

(Todt does not appear to have taken up the position.) In 1870 his name appears in the list of subscribers to the Franco-Prussian War appeal in Melbourne, for the benefit of the German soldiers wounded in the war against France, and the suffering families of the soldiers.27 T. Darragh & W. Struve (eds.), Germans in Victoria: The Franco-Prussian War Benefit Subscription Lists, Melbourne, 1995, p. 42.

In the late 1870s Todt became involved in what was to be his last major work — the illustration of von Mueller’s Eucalyptographia, was published in ten ‘decades’ or parts between 1879 and 1884.28 F. von Mueller, Eucalyptographia: A Descriptive Atlas of the Eucalypts of Australia, Melbourne, 1879–84. Todt was seventy-five years of age when the final part was published. Working under the direction of von Mueller, he had provided over seventy of the lithographic illustrations for the book and was the principal artist. Von Mueller acknowledged him by naming a species after him, Eucalyptus todtiana (fig. 9),29 Eucalyptus todtiana is described as a ‘spreading tall mallee shrub or small to medium tree … (It) is distributed in the Darling and Irwin Districts from about 80 km north of Perth to near Dongara. It is a coastal or near-coastal species and grows on deep, usually well drained slightly acidic sands. The wood is not durable and has no economic use. Plants are highly valued for nectar … The decorative fruit is used for various craft activities and floral art. Grown to a limited extent in California, USA. Propogate from seed which germinates readily’ (W. R. Elliot & D. L. Jones, Encyclopedia of Australian Plants Suitable for Cultivation, Melbourne, 1986, vol. 4, pp. 227–8). and paid tribute to him in the text accompanying the plate:

This species bears the name of Mr. Emil Todt, whose artistic talent became devoted only to illustrating plants at a venerable age, when most of those, engaged in such pursuits, have ceased to work professionally. Therefore all the more praise is due to this gentleman for the youthful ardour, which he still brought to bear on the extensive furtherance of the present publication.30 Von Mueller, Eucalyptographia. Text accompanying lithograph of Eucalyptus todtiana.

Emil Todt died at the age of ninety at Clifton Hill on 10 July 1900.31 The cause of death was given as bronchopneumonia. We now know more of the details of his fifty years in Melbourne, and of his diversion from sculpture to the attendant arts of scientific modelling and botanical illustration. In recent years The gold diggers has emerged as one of the most important works of nineteenth-century Australian sculpture, significant for tackling two of the great themes of Australian history and mythology — the gold rushes and mateship — and possessing a monumentality beyond its diminutive size. Todt’s reassembled oeuvre makes him one of the more interesting figures of his generation.

Terence Lane, Senior Curator, Australian Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2006).

Notes

Acknowledgements

I am grateful to Dr John Chapman, Dr Tom Darragh, Ruth Dwyer, Dr Mary Eagle, Simon Jervis, Rachel Naughton, Ian Schomburgk, Doris Sinkora and Jill Thurlow for drawing my attention to the various references.

1     The author draws attention to his two earlier articles on Emil Todt: ‘Emil Todt, a German sculptor in Melbourne’, in E. I. Mitchell (ed.), ‘Baron von Mueller’s German Melbourne’, Plenty Valley Papers, vol. 3, 1999, pp. 58–65; ‘Emil Todt’, in T. Stannage (ed.), Gold and Civilization, National Museum of Australia, Canberra, 2001, p. 87.

2     The Church of the Latter-Day Saints International Genealogical Index (C998001, 1804-11, source call no. 0070015).

3     ‘The 1848 aftermath: coming to South Australia on the Princess Louise’, by P. Payne & I. Schomburgk, in J. Graetz (ed.), Journal of Friends of Lutheran Archives, no. 8, October 1998, pp. 21–58.

4     Ref: A729/11, vol. 3, no. 151, National Archives of Australia. See also A821/1, set 1, no. 48, folio 7.

5     Typescript of autobiography of William Strutt, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, p. 254 (288). Todt’s name is given as ‘Sadt’.

6     Argus, 28 August 1854, p. 5.

7     The print is reproduced in H. Curnow, The Life and Art of William Strutt, Martinborough (NZ), 1980, p.16.

8     Official Catalogue of the Melbourne Exhibition, 1854, in Connection with the Paris Exhibition, 1855, Melbourne, 1854, cat. no. 278, p. 28. Todt’s occupation was given as Sculptor and his address as Albert Street, Collingwood.

9     Catalogue of the Works of Art, Ornamental and Decorative Art Exhibited by the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library, p. 48, cat. no. 22. Todt’s name is incorrectly give as Edward Todd.

10     Argus, 18 November 1854, p. 5.

11     ibid., 27 July 1855, p. 5.

12     Illustrated Melbourne Post, 27 July 1866, p. 308. Todt’s Madonna and Child was replaced by a marble statue in 1907. See St Francis 1841–1941, Melbourne, 1941, p. 40.

13     Journal of Australasia, vol. 1, July–December 1856, p. 47.

14     Reproduced in M. Tipping, An Artist on the Goldfields, Melbourne, 1982, p. 22.

15     Der Kosmopolit: Deutsche Zeitung fur Australien, no. 80, 1 September 1857, p. 323.

16     Von Guérard sketchbooks, Dixson Galleries, State Library of New South Wales (DGB 16, vol. 1).

17     G. Techow, Manual of Gymnastic Exercises, for the Use of Schools and at Home, Melbourne, 1866. For additional information on Techow, see W. Struve, ‘Nineteenth-century German Melbourne on display’, in Mitchell (ed.), Plenty Valley Papers, vol. 3, pp. 113–14. Struve notes that Techow had involved in the revolutionary movements in Germany in 1848–49 and quotes Henry Mayer’s statement that Techow had been a ‘chief of the revolutionary army in Baden’.

18     Australian Builder, 26 January 1861, p. 2.

19     See Illustrated Melbourne Post, 25 April 1964, p. 6.

20     The statue is currently located at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets, Melbourne.

21     Official Catalogue of the London International Exhibition, Industrial Department, London, 1862, p. 143. Some of the models may survive in the large collection of model fruits and vegetables held by Museum Victoria.

22     Herald, 31 March 1865, p. 2.

23     ibid.

24     Catalogue of the Statues and Busts in Marble and Casts, in the National Gallery of Victoria, 1880, p. 45. The bust is also listed in the Catalogue of the Works of Art, Ornaments and Decorative Art Exhibited by the Trustees of the Melbourne Public Library and Museum, Melbourne, 1869, p. 48. Todt’s name is misspelt Edward Todd.

25     There is a drawing of the bust in P. Duncan, Heales, Premier for 354 Days, Wilson, 1997, p. 13.

26     Archives Office of Victoria (PROV VPRS 4354/PO Unit 2, Trustees of the Public Library).

27     T. Darragh & W. Struve (eds.), Germans in Victoria: The Franco-Prussian War Benefit Subscription Lists, Melbourne, 1995, p. 42.

28     F. von Mueller, Eucalyptographia: A Descriptive Atlas of the Eucalypts of Australia, Melbourne, 1879–84.

29     Eucalyptus todtiana is described as a ‘spreading tall mallee shrub or small to medium tree … (It) is distributed in the Darling and Irwin Districts from about 80 km north of Perth to near Dongara. It is a coastal or near-coastal species and grows on deep, usually well drained slightly acidic sands. The wood is not durable and has no economic use. Plants are highly valued for nectar … The decorative fruit is used for various craft activities and floral art. Grown to a limited extent in California, USA. Propogate from seed which germinates readily’ (W. R. Elliot & D. L. Jones, Encyclopedia of Australian Plants Suitable for Cultivation, Melbourne, 1986, vol. 4, pp. 227–8).

30     Von Mueller, Eucalyptographia. Text accompanying lithograph of Eucalyptus todtiana.

31     The cause of death was given as bronchopneumonia.