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Pietro Porcelli

Pietro Giacomo Porcelli, 1872-1943, born Italy, was a sculptor who lived and worked in WA from 1898. Some of his work is in Fremantle, notably the monumental statue of C.Y. O'Connor on Victoria Quay. Other work here includes: the monument on Monument Hill; the original bust of Maitland Brown on top of the Explorers Monument on the Esplanade (signed PG Porcelli); funerary works in the Cemetery (one of which is signed Peter Porcelli); and the North Fremantle war memorial. There is a charming statue of Porcelli at work in Kings Square, by Greg James, 1993.

Fremantle has several sculptures by the state’s first sculptor, Pietro Porcelli. When he was eight years old he was in Sydney with his Italian father, a seaman. He studied art at the New South Wales Academy of Art and at the Royal Academy of Naples, from which he graduated at the age of twenty-five with two gold and three silver medals for his student works. He returned to Sydney after graduation, but that city was hit by a depression and he moved, with his father, to Western Australia in the 1890s. They settled in Fremantle in 1898, and between then and 1929 he completed a number of commissions for memorial statues, religious statuary and war memorials in metropolitan and country centres. Opportunities for work declined, so he moved to Melbourne in 1929, where he carved twelve panels for the Inner Shrine of the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance. He returned to Perth in 1939, but lived in straitened circumstances until his death on 28 June 1943.
His works in Fremantle are: Reredos panel of ‘The Last Supper’ (plaster, 1899) now in Christian Brothers’ College Chapel; the Marmion Memorial (1900); the statue of C.Y. O’Connor (1907); a relief head of Jesus on the Parry Street frontage of St Patrick’s Basilica; the Panter, Goldwyer and Harding Memorial on the Esplanade; the Tom Edwards’ Memorial Fountain (1919) and part of work on the Fremantle War Memorial (1927-28).
Greg James' statue of Porcelli at work in Kings Square is so lively people often stand in front of it as though they were talking to it and occasionally children have been seen sitting on the figure’s shoulders, caressing its forehead. (Hutchison)

Pietro Giacomo Porcelli was born in Bisceglie, Bari, Italy. His family migrated to Australia and Pietro Porcelli studied at the New South Wales Academy of Art. He later returned to Naples to study sculpture and drawing with D’Orsi, the President of the Royal Academy. On completion of formal studies he came to Perth with his father Leonard, and lived in Henry Street, Fremantle.

Detail of Greg James' statue of Porcelli, Walyalup Koort, from Greg's website, photo used with permission >

His first commissioned work was the life-sized bust of Sir John Forrest, situated at the main entrance of Parliament House. He also created the full-sized statue of Alexander Forrest, Sir John Forrest’s brother and a great surveyor and explorer, which stands at the entrance to the Supreme Court Gardens.
Porcelli created many impressive statues which are still seen today in prominent locations around the State. His crowning achievement is considered to be the peace memorial at the Midland Junction Railway Workshop. Other commissions included the C.Y. O’Connor bust at Mundaring Weir and the heroic statue of C.Y. O’Connor at Fremantle Harbour.
Pietro Porcelli married Martha Goodwin in 1910 and had a son and daughter. He moved to Melbourne in the 1920s and in those years worked on carving the twelve panels for the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance. He returned to Perth in 1939.
In the 1980s, Giuseppe Rispoli, a friend of Porcelli and Founder of the Porcelli Memorial Fund, proposed that a statue of the sculptor be commissioned by the Italian community in honour of his memory and his creative artistry. The bronze statue was sculpted by Greg James and erected in the square near the Fremantle Town Hall in 1993. MCB.

David Hutchison, Fremantle Walks, 2006:
C Y O‘Connor Memorial
Designer and sculptor: Pietro Porcelli
C.Y. O’Connor was a great civil engineer. His work is summarised in the ‘Brief History of the City’. He did not live to see all his projects completed. He was borne down by the pressure of work and attacks on him by some sections of the press and some politicians, particularly by their assertions that the Goldfields pipeline would fail. Early on the morning of 10 March 1902 he set out on his customary early morning horse ride along the beaches south of the port. He rode past South Beach along the shore, dismounted, waded into the sea and shot himself with a pistol. A metal sculpture [by Tony Jones], an outline of O’Connor’s figure, now stands in the sea where he committed suicide.
In 1907 the Fremantle Chamber of Commerce proposed that a memorial to O’Connor be erected in the town. A Memorial Committee was formed and gained state government support on a pound-for-pound basis. Local governments throughout the Goldfields and citizens contributed and a total of £1600 ($3200) was raised. An Australia-wide competition for the design was held and Porcelli's proposal was chosen as the best of seventeen entries. The statue was unveiled by the governor ... on 23 June 1911 in front of the then Harbour Trust Offices. It was moved to its present location in front of the Port Authority Building in 1974-75. The statue is set on a pedestal of Western Australian granite. There are four bronze dolphins at the base of the plinth and bronze panels illustrate O’Connor’s engineering achievements. In 2005, as a consequence of the changes to the entrance to the quay, it was proposed to move the statue again.

Porcelli's grave is in Karrakatta Cemetery at Roman Catholic MC 393.

The sculptural works of Pietro Porcelli: research notes

David Hutchison

To discover the works of the sculptor Pietro Porcelli, the Western Mail was scanned; accessed by the National Library’s Trove.
According to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Pietro Giacomo Porcelli ...

... was born 30 January 1872 at Bisceglie, near Bari, Italy, son of Leonardo Porcelli, a Pugliese mariner from Molfetta engaged in shipping on the Adriatic, and his wife Anna née Caputi. At 8 he went with his father to Sydney, leaving his mother and younger sister at home. Pietro began drawing and sculpting, under Achille Simonetti’s guidance. Encouraged by his father and instructors, Pietro then trained at the Royal Academy of Naples, Italy, where he won medals in exhibitions and obtained his diploma.
In 1898, [Pietro and his father migrated] to Western Australia. In December Pietro completed a life-size bust of Sir John Forrest; a bronze cast of the colony’s premier stands in Parliament House's main entrance hall.

It appears that Porcelli established a practice in Fremantle at this time and he was commissioned to do a number of memorials and other sculptured works. He visited Italy in 1906. In 1910 he married Martha Massie Goodwin, a Welsh governess, and they had a daughter and a son. In the mid-1920s he worked in Melbourne creating the twelve freestone panels to adorn the inner Shrine of Remembrance, but

He exerted little influence on the art world there and returned to Perth where he died on 28 June 1943.

Reported works of Porcelli

Pietro Porcelli, a Neapolitan artist, now living in Fremantle has executed in plaster a life-size bust of Sir John Forrest. The Premier is represented almost full-face, and wearing a collar of the Order of St Michael and St George. The pedestal is wreathed with oak leaves, the Scotch thistle (in honour of Sir John’s parentage) and Western Australian wildflowers.

W.M. 24 March 1899

A piece of sculpture consisting of a reredos panel portraying the Last Supper is being executed at the studio of Pietro Porcelli in Henry St, Fremantle, to the order of Rev. Father Ryan. The work is being modelled from Leonardo da Vinci’s celebrated picture, and when finished, it will be placed on the altar in St Joseph’s Convent’s Chapel, Adelaide Street, Fremantle.

See Illustration from 5 May 1899

W.M. 14 Dec 1901

A sum of £230 was raised to erect a monument to William Edward Marmion, who died in July 1896. As a result, a handsome and striking Celtic cross has been erected in his memory at the Mayor’s Park at the junction of Adelaide, Edward, Parry and Quarry Streets, and Cantonment Road in Fremantle.

W.M. 18 Oct 1902

On Friday October 3 ... members of the Alexander Memorial Committee ... viewed the model of the statue which is to be erected at the comer of Milligan Street and St George’s Terrace in the near future ... the model ... represents ... Forrest in his exploring dress ... the posing has been admirably carried out, and the figure is shown with a gun slung across the shoulder, while one hand carries a sextant... this is all the more creditable to the sculptor, Mr Pietro Porcelli.

W.M. 13 July 1906

A bust of Sir James Lee Steere ... will be placed in Parliament House ... the plaster cast will be sent to Italy to be cast in bronze

It appears that most, if not all, of Porcelli’s works had to be sent to Italy for casting in bronze.

W.M. 11 May 1907

Government approved ... expenditure of a sum of money for the purpose of obtaining a bronze bust of the late C. Y. O’Connor, C.M.G., the engineer of the Goldfields Water Supply and Fremantle Harbour Works. It will be similar to the bust ... now in the Perth Museum, and the work has been placed in the hands of Mr P. Porcelli.

W.M. 29 June 1907

Signor Pietro Porcelli... has. under commission, completed a bust of the late Sir James Lee Steere, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

W.M. 3 Oct 1909

The report of the judges ... was received last week by the Secretary of the C. Y. O’Connor Memorial Committee, in connection with the design lor the proposed memorial. Some 17 designs were received from different parts of the Commonwealth and those placed first and second by the adjudicators were the work of Mr P. G. Porcelli.

W.M. 7 May 1910

It is expected that Mr P. Porcelli will complete the plaster cast of the statue [of C. Y. O’Connor] very soon. At the inauguration of the movement it was taken for granted that, when completed, the plaster cast would have to be sent to Italy to be reproduced in bronze. Comparatively recently, however, the question of local production was raised; and one firm in particular made overtures to the Memorial Committee with the object of securing the task of reproduction in bronze ... with a view to ascertaining the class of work the local firm is capable of turning out, experiments are being carried out in smaller statuary ...

W.M. 20 May 1910

After several attempts to have the casting of the statue of the late C. Y. O’Connor carried out locally the effort has now been abandoned, and it is anticipated that in the course of a couple of months the plaster cast, which has been made by ... Pietro Porcelli, will be shipped to Italy for reproduction in bronze.

W.M. 1 July 1911

On the afternoon of June 23 in dull weather, the State Memorial statue of the late Charles Yelverton O’Connor was unveiled by His Excellency the Governor (Sir Gerald Strickland) at Fremantle ... in the grassy lot adjoining the offices of the Fremantle Harbour Trust.

See illustration from 18 June 1910

W.M. 11 Nov 1911

To commemorate ... the late Mr Maitland Brown, one of the early explorers of this State, Mr Julius G. Brockman recently decided to present the residents of Broome with a fitting memorial ... a bust figure in bronze set up on a granite pedestal ... the work has been entrusted to Mr Pietro Porcelli.

W.M. 20 June 1912

[Article about dedication of] a new marble font in St Paul’s Church Beaconsfield] Sunday school children have contributed their pennies towards the font fund ... the order was placed with Signor Porcelli who prepared a handsome marble font, weighing upwards of half a ton. Gothic in design and octagonal in shape. On the three frontal panels of the basin itself are designs representing Faith, Hope and Charity, while on one side, the Cross of St Paul, and on the other the pastoral staves and stars of the Perth Diocese.

W.M. 23 March 1912

A suggestion has been made that the bust statue ... to commemorate the memory of the late Mr Maitland Brown, one of the early explorers of the State, should be erected at Fremantle. It has been pointed out to Mr Brockman that, if he adheres to his original intention of erecting the statue at Broome, comparatively few people would see the memorial, whereas, if it were erected at a spot outside the Fremantle Railway Station it would be viewed by thousands of people from overseas also, as well as the people of the Port and other residents of the metropolitan areas who utilise the train ... It is understood that Mr Brockman will not consent ... unless the people of Broome agree.

W.M. 7 Sept 1912.

Arrangements for the erection in Fremantle of the Maitland Brown Memorial donated by the late Mr George Julius Brockman ... are well in hand. As a result of inspection of various sites, the Mayor ... and the sculptor will recommend ... that the memorial be erected on the triangular road space in front of the Wesley Church and bounded by Cantonment and Market Streets.

W.M. 20 Nov 1912

It has now been decided that the Maitland Brown Memorial ... shall be erected in the Fremantle Esplanade. There are four main panels, one being in memory of the three men whose bodies the late Mr Maitland Brown recovered from Book, another depicting the scene where the bodies were recovered; the third a bas relief of the donor, whilst on the fourth there is an inscription.

W.M. 22 Aug 1912

In common accord the Katanning people some time ago commenced a movement for the erection in their town of a memorial ... of the late Frederick Henry Piesse, C.M.G. ... a bronze statue of the deceased gentleman, and to Mr Pietro Porcelli was entrusted the work.

W.M. 28 Aug 1914

A statue of the late Mr F. H. Piesse. Mr Pietro Porcelli ... has been affected by the war in an unexpected manner, in that the bronze statue of the late Mr F, H. Piesse, of which the original plaster cast was sent by him to Italy to be cast, is on board the German Mail Steamer Roon. Mr Porcelli has received the bills of lading and also the certificate of the Royal Institute of Fine Arts, Naples, setting out that the statue has been cast ...

W.M. 10 Dec 1915

Like many other consignees of cargo by the Nordeutscher Lloyd steamer, Roon, Mr Pietro Porcelli the well-known sculptor, who is awaiting the bronze casting of his statue [of Piesse] ... has suffered much inconvenience and anxiety through the vagaries of the elusive vessel, which is now sheltering in a Java port. He has, however, the consolation of knowing that there is a prospect of his securing delivery of the statue at last. Acting upon the advice of the Java Ships Management Committee, he is causing to be forwarded to Messrs & Crossfield, of Batavia, together with a draft covering the charges for release of cargo, the documents relating to the consignment of the statue.

W.M. 2 Jan 1916

The Piesse memorial statue, erected by public subscription, was unveiled by Sir John Forrest today ... [It] is on a commanding site, at the entrance to the railway station at the junction of Albion Street with Austral Terrace [in Katanning].

W.M. 12 Nov 1916

[Mr Pietro Porcelli] is engaged upon the statues commissioned by the Boulder and Victoria Park Municipal Councils ... as memorials to the men who have upheld the honour of their respective districts in the ranks of the AIF ... [he] is now engaged in working up the clay models of the Boulder statue. The figure is that of a well set up, muscular Australian soldier with his rifle held ‘on guard’, looking fearlessly forward with an expression of determination on his strong face ... to typify the spirit of the Australian soldier ... it will be erected on a 13 foot granite base.

W.M. 20 Jun 1919

Mr P. Porcelli ... has just completed another excellent piece of workmanship, in the shape of a symbolical female figure, done on the ulto-relief principle. The work is a monument of the 20 year old daughter of a well-known Perth resident, and it consists entirely of Donnybrook stone.

See illustration from 20 June 1919

W.M. 17 July 1919

At the meeting of the Kalgoorlie Municipal Council tonight, the tender of Mr Pietro Porcelli for a war memorial monument was accepted. The price will be £1,000 and the monument is to be erected in front of the Kalgoorlie Railway Station.

W.M. 8 April 1920

Plans have been approved, and the contract signed, for the erecting of a handsome sarcophagus over the grave of Lord Forrest. The architectural plans were drawn by Mr G. T. Poole, and he erection will be carried out under contract by Mr P. Porcelli the local sculptor ... [It] will have granite border and [unreadable word] steps of Donnybrook stone, and there will be an obelisk bollard at each comer. The tablet will be of bronze and will be richly ornamented in floral form, the motif for which will be Western Australian flora.

W.M. 10 June 1920

There was a large gathering in the park [King’s Park] last Sunday when the memorial to the fallen Jewish soldiers was unveiled by his Excellency the Governor, Sir Francis Newdegate: The memorial ... in a lovely spot overlooking Melville Water, is a tall, graceful column of beautiful Donnybrook stone, the base being of granite and stone and crowned with a globe of cast bronze, bearing the shield of David. Inscribed on the base, which is surmounted by lions’ heads, are the names of the fallen heroes. Mr T. Anthoness was the honorary architect, and Mr P. Porcelli the sculptor.

W.M. 11 Nov 1920

The residents of Guildford have erected an obelisk, which is 31 feet high, and inscribed “In honour of the men who did their duty at their country’s call and in memory of the men who laid down their lives for honour, freedom and justice with the Australian Imperial Force in the Great War ... a commanding, yet plain piece of work carried out by Mr P. Porcelli

W.M, 8 May 1922

Anzac Day was celebrated at Yarloop by the unveiling of the war memorial ... the memorial, a granite obelisk, 20 ft 6 in high, bears a tablet in each face containing the names of those killed and those who enlisted from the district. Protruding at right angles from each tablet is a crouching lion, carved in South Australian white marble. The design ... was won in a competition by Mr P. Porcelli, who also carried out its construction and erection under the supervision of Mr J. L. Ochiltree, architect for the committee.

W.M. 28 Sept 1922

Illustration [q.v.] of the recumbent figure of the late Bishop Kelly D.D. of Geraldton. The work, executed in hammered copper, was done by Wunderlich Ltd metal craftsmen ... while Mr Peter Porcelli was responsible for the modelling.

W.M. 26 Apr 1923

With a view to commemorating the visit to the State of the Prince of Wales, Mr T. M. Coombe commissioned Mr Peter Porcelli to execute 24 life-size busts of his Royal Highness. These will be presented to various public institutions and secondary schools in the metropolitan area.

W. M. 28 June 1923

Mr P. G. Porcelli received a cable from Italy stating that he bronze cast of a soldier for the Kalgoorlie war memorial has been completed in Naples and will leave for Australia by the R.M.S. Orvieto on July 1.

W. M. 28 May 1924

The Midland Workshops Fallen Soldiers Memorial was unveiled by the Governor ... the design ... prepared by Messrs Eales and Cohen is a mediaeval wayside cross ... [it[ has a rough base and steps of granite surmounted by a tall, slender shaft with a carved crown covering the cross, the total height ... being 28 feet. Four of the octagonal bases are recessed and filled with bronze panels bearing the names of the fallen soldiers ... The site is portion of the railway reserve.

W.M. 8 Oct 1925

The statue ... of Peace executed by Mr P. Porcelli as a memorial to soldiers of the Midland Junction Workshop who fell in the war was forwarded to Italy some months ago to be cast in bronze. The unveiling ceremony will take place at the works on Armistice Day November 11.

After that date, no more works by Porcelli were reported in the Press.

References and Links

Hutchison, David, Fremantle Walks.

Keane, The Revd Bro. S.B. 1981, 'Pietro G. Porcelli, sculptor, 1872-1943'Early Days, Volume 8, Part 5: 9-28.

Second photo of Porcelli working on the O'Connor monument from The Mirror, March 1910.


W.M., The Western Mail

David Hutchison's notes have been added by permission of his family.

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