Boy with a Thorn
Though the classical bronze that the figure was modeled has become known as Lo Spinario, both Stuart Rattle and Kevin O’Neill referred to it as The Boy with a Thorn.
Information from the late Stuart Rattle and John Graham, the late Kevin O’Neill’s partner.
The statue was bought by Kevin O’Neill from a South Yarra antique dealer in the 1980s. She had bought it in Europe. Stuart believed that it was cast in Berlin by Moritz Geiss who had pioneered the popular process of zinc casting of classical statues.
Schinkel, the architect of early 19th Century Prussian public buildings used the process extensively. I assume that the decorations that can be seen in Berlin currently are copies of those copies, given the comprehensive destruction of the city in 1945.
Unless there is a date stamped on the statue, and there might well be, there is no firm indication of its age, although Stuart and Kevin believed it was “turn of the century”.
It was given to Stuart by John Graham after the death of Kevin O’Neill. Prior to its installation at Musk Farm, it was “by the dam” at Marnarnie, O’Neill’s property at Mt Macedon.
It became a much photographed focal point in the sunken garden at Musk Farm.
The statue is a gift from the Rattle family to The Friends of Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens who intend to give it, in turn, to Hepburn Shire to be placed in the Botanic Gardens. Both the family and the Friends see it as a memorial to Stuart’s tireless work to raise funds for the Gardens and to raise the profile of the Gardens so that their considerable significance could be more broadly acknowledged.
The CMP notes that statuary has been a feature of most botanic gardens (and a notable feature of the Ballarat Botanical Gardens) and James Lowe, the head of Parks for the Shire has also commented that it is an area that could well be developed in the Gardens. This comes from his attendance at meetings of the BGANZ, the “peak professional body” for the development and maintenance of registered botanic gardens in Aus and NZ.
Given the lack of funds that the Shire has been able to allocate to the Gardens, a donation of this calibre is a welcome addition to the cultural asset that the Gardens represent.
A very large number of residents of the Shire are members of the Friends, have visited Musk Farm and are appreciative of the Gardens. There is a current feeling that the Gardens are undergoing a dynamic revival as a result of the success of the Café and also because of the extraordinary improvement and enhancement of the amenity that has been undertaken over the past two years by the Friends.
The installation of the Boy with the Thorn is another move forward for the Gardens.
The statue is cast zinc. It is sometimes referred to a white bronze. As can be seen in the photographs, it is in very good condition with no damage or apparent degeneration of the metal. The Smithsonian Institution has a lengthy document relating to the deterioration and repair of similar casts in the US where urban pollution has taken its toll but for the most part it deals with inappropriate repair rather than maintenance protocols.
One of the properties of zinc that is appreciated in Australia is its ability to withstand the elements and given that the artwork has been either on Mt Macedon or at Musk for the last 30 years or more, its relocation to Wombat Hill seems to be an appropriate one.
The Friends are prepared to organise and pay for the relocation of the statue. The issue of security from the point of view of theft, malicious damage and environmental impact will need to be addressed.
The Ballarat Botanical Gardens have recently reinstalled statuary which has been damaged and which had been removed from the Gardens on account of this. They have used Rockworks Ballarat and Wilson’s Memorials to make plinths, secure artworks with steel pins and to provide especially robust fixings to ensure the safety of the various sculptures.
The CMP (2007) makes a number of recommendations regarding security in the Gardens ranging from the installation of lighting to the locking of the gates overnight and the repair/reinstatement of appropriate fencing – not done as yet to my knowledge.
Paul Bangay has also agreed to act as a consultant in the process of installing the Boy.
John Graham estimates its value at $20,000
The preferred location for the work would be at the entrance to the Fernery from the lawn. The paths form an intersection at that point that could be modified to fit the statue. But this is currently a suggested location only.
The statue is a gift from the Rattle family to The Friends of Wombat Hill Botanic Gardens who have gifted it to the Hepburn Shire to be placed in the Botanic Gardens. Both the family and the Friends of the Wombat Hill Botanical Gardens Daylesford see it as a memorial to Stuart’s tireless work to raise funds for the Gardens and to raise the profile of the Gardens so that their considerable significance could be more broadly acknowledged.
Lo Spinario (Boy with a thorn) c. 1900 copy after the Greco-Roman Hellenistic antique bronze in Rome.
c. 1900 copy after the Greco-Roman Hellenistic antique bronze in Rome (Palazzo dei Conservatori, Musei Capitolini, Rome)
Manufacturer M. Geiss, Berlin
Inscriptions & markings