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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Parker, Harold (1873–1962)

by J. McKay

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

Harold Parker (1873-1962), by James Peter Quinn, c1907

Harold Parker (1873-1962), by James Peter Quinn, c1907

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an12186223

Harold Parker (1873-1962), sculptor, was born on 27 August 1873 at Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England, son of Daniel Parker, carpenter, and his wife Jane, née Hollis. In 1876 the family came to Brisbane where Daniel became a contractor. Harold attended the West End Boys' School (1881-88), then studied drawing and modelling at Brisbane Central Technical College (1889-c.1893) under J. A. Clarke and Godfrey Rivers, and wood-carving under Cuthbert Vickers. In 1889-95 Parker won prizes for carving in Brisbane's annual National Association exhibitions. He worked in Sydney for a year, engaged on carvings for the New South Wales forestry exhibit at the Chicago exhibition of 1893.

In 1896 Parker departed for London where he studied sculpture under W. S. Frith at the City and Guilds of London Technical Art School and won various awards, including the City Guild's £100 scholarship. Until 1908 he also worked as assistant to well-known sculptors, including (1911) Thomas Brock, (1917) Hamo Thornycroft and (1911) Goscombe John.

Parker took a studio near that of fellow sculptor John Tweed, who offered encouragement, and from 1903 to 1929 exhibited his own sculpture almost annually at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, and occasionally at the Old Salon, Paris. He was commissioned to portray Queensland expatriates and became a rival of Bertram Mackennal. In 1906 Parker was elected a member of the Royal Society of British Sculptors. The triumph of his career came in 1908 when his 'Ariadne' was acquired for £1000 by the Chantrey Bequest for the Tate Gallery—an unequalled honour for a Queensland artist. In 1910 his 'Prometheus Bound' obtained a 'mention' at the Salon.

Following his marriage in London on 28 February 1911 to Janet, daughter of Sir Thomas Robinson, agent-general for Queensland, Parker made a jubilant visit home. He was honoured with a state reception, but received little patronage beyond the purchase in 1912 of 'The First Breath of Spring' by the Queensland National Art Gallery. His major public commission was executed in London where in 1915-18 he worked on two colossal allegorical groups for the entrance of Australia House.

In 1921 Parker visited Australia again, was elected to the Society of Artists, Sydney, and exhibited in Melbourne, where his half-sized replica of 'Ariadne' was acquired by the Felton Bequest. While visiting Brisbane he experimented with Queensland marbles and carved 'The Pioneer', which was shown at the British Empire Exhibition, Wembley, in 1924, and awarded a medal at the 1928 Paris Salon.

After less favourable response to his sculpture, aloof from modern developments in Britain, Parker returned in 1930 to settle in Australia. Exhibitions of his sculpture and paintings were held in Sydney in 1930 and Melbourne in 1933. Overlooked for major sculptural commissions in his home State, he turned increasingly to painting. In 1937 he became a foundation member of the Australian Academy of Art.

In later life in Brisbane Parker withdrew from public life and was virtually forgotten. Of modest and retiring disposition, he lacked the personality needed to secure commissions in a frontier State. Childless, he died in Brisbane on 23 April 1962 and was buried in the South Brisbane cemetery, beside his wife. The National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, and the University Art Museum, Brisbane, have since acquired some of his work. The latter has two portraits of Parker, while another by James Quinn is held by the family. Some major sculpture was destroyed in storage in London.

Select Bibliography

  • W. K. Parkes, Sculpture of Today, vol 1 (Lond, 1921)
  • G. Sturgeon, The Development of Australian Sculpture 1788-1975 (Lond, 1978)
  • K. Scarlett, Australian Sculptors (Melb, 1980)
  • British Australasian, 30 Jan 1908
  • Steele Rudd's Magazine, Aug 1904, p 8
  • Salon (Sydney), 1, no 5, 1913, p 297
  • Art in Australia, no 2, May 1922, p 32, no 36, Feb 1931, p 42
  • Brisbane Courier, 9 May 1908
  • Herald (Melbourne), 7 Apr 1921
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 9 May 1908, 24 Apr 1962
  • Parker papers (University of Queensland Library).

Citation details

J. McKay, 'Parker, Harold (1873–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Harold Parker (1873-1962), by James Peter Quinn, c1907

Harold Parker (1873-1962), by James Peter Quinn, c1907

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an12186223