This marble bust of Queen Victoria, the second longest-reigning British monarch (1837-1901), is believed to have been commissioned by architect John Horbury Hunt to decorate faÃ§ade of his Farmer and Company's landmark Sydney building (now demolished) completed in 1874.
Hundreds of sculpted portraits of Queen Victoria adorned public spaces and buildings across Australian colonies in the second part of the 19th century. Most were imported copies of famous British statues and busts but some were made locally.
This white marble bust presided, between 1874 and 1901, over Sydney's Pitt Street from the first floor red-brick faÃ§ade of Victoria House, part of Farmer and Company's grand three-storey department store. Sydney's first retail building to rival public and church buildings - just across the road from the Royal Victoria Theatre - was designed by John Horbury Hunt to replace Farmer's earlier premises in 1874. Following the death of Queen Victoria on 22 January 1901 (aged 81), the bust was draped with purple crepe and its niche lined with black and purple and the Union Jack flag. Just as the Queen's golden and diamond jubilees were times of public celebration, her death brought a massive wave of public mourning across the British empire. When Hunt's building was demolished in 1910, the bust stood in an alcove of the roof garden of a new six-storey structure where it was still seen in 1940.
Established in Parramatta in 1840 and relocated to 221 Pitts Street in Sydney in 1845, by 1856 Farmer & Co had seventeen employees; in 1934 there were about 2400 staff employed by the firm. Along with the growing business, premises expanded fast fronting Pitt, Market and George streets by 1874 when the Pitt Street building was replaced with a retailing icon designed by the Canadian-born architect, John Horbury Hunt. Hunt had arrived in Sydney in 1863. Setting a new standard for Sydney's emerging civic architecture, his polychrome brick and tile Gothic structure cemented both his career as a leading architect and Farmer's standing as an innovator in Australian retail trading and an important Sydney commercial institution.
The maker and the place of production of the bust are unknown. While it is possible that the bust was used in Farmer's pre-1874 smaller Victoria House store, one can assume that Hunt would have preferred to commission a new bust for his exquisitely designed new building: his 1872 faÃ§ade drawings include an alcove for the bust prominently located in the first floor above the northern entrance. The bust's execution points to local production and its design appears to be a composite of existing images of Queen Victoria in different media from the 1840s -1860s. The coronet and the style of hair and dress resemble those in profile portraits featured on medals designed by the English medallist William Wyon, particularly those issued for the opening of the new Royal Exchange in London in 1844 (N2317). Well known marble busts such as that by the Scottish sculptor Alexander Brodie completed in 1867 show similar facial features.
Eva Czernis-Ryl, 2016