Our Headful Ballerina

La Ballerina with some of the donors who made her restoration possible (photo: Simone Cottrell)

The following media release (thanks to Kerry Brown) tells a little more of the story just in case you missed the ABC or SBS news on Thursday night, or the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday!

Missing piece of history returns to Gardens

Once a prevailing presence in the Royal Botanic Gardens, their morality and their taste have been questioned, and their numbers diminished as they have been burned, banished and beheaded.

But the tide has turned and the historic statues of the Gardens and Domain are being rehabilitated. On 23 July, “La Ballarina” was returned to the Gardens with her new head, hand and foot.

She was one of a shipment of eight statues purchased in Italy in 1883 for the new Palace Garden in Sydney’s Botanical Gardens on the site of the razed International Exhibition Centre. Postcards of the newly laid-out garden show almost as many statues as trees.

Botanic Gardens Trust Executive Director, Tim Entwisle said, “The nineteenth century statues were integral to the early design of the Gardens and the values that inspired it. European civilisation was recreated in these young colonial gardens through classical and neo-classical artworks.”

La Ballarina was sculpted by Charles Summer, a highly successful Australian-born sculptor living in Carrara, Italy. It is a copy, albeit a good one, of a work by Antonio Canova, the most famous Italian sculptor of the nineteenth century – some say the best since Michelangelo.

After more than three decades in the Gardens stoneyard, and losing important appendages including her head, La Ballarina is the first surviving Italian marble to undergo reconstruction.
Managing Director of International Conservation Services Julien Bickersteth, who has overseen the work, said the new head, foot and hand were sculpted by Polish-born Master Jacek Luszczyk of Traditional Stone in Lidcombe, Sydney.

“Jacek worked from images of the original sculpture by Antonio Canova. The marble for the reconstructions was shipped from Carrara, the source of the original marble,” Mr Bickersteth said.

La Ballarina was unveiled beside the Main Pond, casually balancing on the toes of one foot, her graceful new fingers touching the chin of her new tilted head.

Also speaking at the unveiling, Australian Ballet Artistic Director David Mcallister said, “Dance is enormously popular in Australia, with around 300,000 people actively participating in a dance class each week. We can only imagine the joy that visitors to the Royal Botanic Gardens will experience when stumbling across the beautifully restored La Ballarina after such a long injury and absence from the stage.”

La Ballarina now stands within coo-ee of the 1995 mosaic “Wuganmagulya” by Aboriginal artist Brenda Croft recalling ancient rock carvings of the area’s original inhabitants that depict the sea, land, native flora and fauna of the place where the viewer is standing.

“The Gardens’ statuary acquired over more than 150 years provides a unique visual record of the evolving social and artistic values of Australian society,” said Dr Entwisle.

Other marble “Italians”, such as the Discus thrower currently lying broken and bound in the Gardens stoneyard, are among the statuary lined up for restoration as private donations make this possible.

Last year, five bronze monuments in the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain underwent extensive conservation through private funding.