Perth’s Prodigal Son returns

IN this week’s Speaker’s Corner, Maylands’ MIKE ROEGER shares his love for one of the WA Art Gallery’s rarely seen treasures, hidden from the public for decades.

SOMEBODY told me the Art Gallery of WA was closed for renovations.

Fake news! Fake news! It’s open.

Enter off Beaufort Street — the former police courts.

To my delight the change has revealed a gallery treasure for decades hidden from the general public: The Prodigal Son by terracotta artist George Tinworth (1843 – 1913).

This high-relief panel, 114cm x 264cm, and framed in teak, was gifted to the gallery in 1935. The visitor will find it in the corridor, directly opposite the toilets.

George Tinworth was born in Walworth, south London, son of a wheelwright whose fondness for drink kept the family in poverty. His mother was a devout Calvinist; she imbued George with a love of God and the knowledge of scripture which would later inspire his most famous work.

Tinworth’s talent for carving was noted by a neighbour who suggested the youth attend the Lambeth Art Night School but his father would have none of it saying his son was just “wasting his time” with all this whittling.

Happily his mother thought otherwise and covered for him when he slipped away to art classes. On one occasion he had to pawn his coat to pay his fees! 

His talent was soon recognised; in 1864 he entered the Royal Academy; in 1867 he obtained a job at Doulton the stoneware manufacturers where he worked until his death.

At Doulton Tinworth had his own studio and produced a variety of figurines and jars. These were usually clay with salt-glaze firing, a specialty of Doulton.

From around 1874 his terracotta scriptural panels started to appear. At that time he was the sole English exponent of the terracotta medium.

The Duke of Bedford, when he saw The Prodigal Son in Tinworth’s studio, remarked that the son had been made to look too old. “Well your Grace,” countered the artist, “it tends to make a man look old when he hasn’t a halfpenny in his pocket.” (“But what would he know about that?” Tinworth harrumphed when the Duke had gone)

In this panel Tinworth follows Luke closely: the fatted calf led away to be slaughtered, a ring, new shoes and clothes presented to the repentant son, musicians play, all are merry — all except the fatted calf.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s