Fremantle Stuff > people > Pietro Porcelli

Pietro Porcelli

Pietro Giacomo Porcelli, 1872-1943, born Italy, was a sculptor who lived and worked in WA from 1898. Some of his work is in Fremantle, notably the monumental statue of C.Y. O'Connor on Victoria Quay. Other work here includes: the monument on Monument Hill; the original bust of Maitland Brown on top of the Explorers Monument on the Esplanade (signed PG Porcelli); funerary work in the Cemetery (one of which signed Peter Porcelli); and the North Fremantle war memorial. There is a charming statue of Porcelli at work in Kings Square, by Greg James, 1993.

Fremantle has several sculptures by the state’s first sculptor, Pietro Porcelli. It is not known if he was born in Australia, but in 1880, when he was eight years old, he was in Sydney with his Italian father, a seaman. He studied art at the New South Wales Academy of Art and at the Royal Academy of Naples, from which he graduated at the age of twenty-five with two gold and three silver medals for his student works. He returned to Sydney after graduation, but that city was hit by a depression and he moved, with his father, to Western Australia in the 1890s. They settled in Fremantle in 1898, and between then and 1929 he completed a number of commissions for memorial statues, religious statuary and war memorials in metropolitan and country centres. Opportunities for work declined, so he moved to Melbourne in 1929, where he carved twelve panels for the Inner Shrine of the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance. He returned to Perth in 1939, but lived in straitened circumstances until his death on 28 June 1943.
His works in Fremantle are: Reredos panel of ‘The Last Supper’ (plaster, 1899) now in Christian Brothers’ College Chapel; the Marmion Memorial (1900); the statue of C Y O’Connor (1907); a relief head of Christ on the Parry Street frontage of St Patrick’s Basilica; the Panter, Goldwyer and Harding Memorial on the Esplanade; the Tom Edwards’ Memorial Fountain (1919) and part of work on the Fremantle War Memorial (1927-28).
This sculpture is so lively people often stand in Front of it as though they were talking to it and occasionally children have been seen sitting on the figure’s shoulders, caressing its forehead. (Hutchison)

Pietro Giacomo Porcelli was born in Bisceglie, Bari, Italy. His family migrated to Australia and Pietro Porcelli studied at the New South Wales Academy of Art. He later returned to Naples to study sculpture and drawing with D’Orsi, the President of the Royal Academy. On completion of formal studies he came to Perth with his father Leonard, and lived in Henry Street, Fremantle.

Detail of Greg James statue of Porcelli, King's Square, from his website, used with permission

His first commissioned work was the life-sized bust of Sir John Forrest, situated at the main entrance of Parliament House. He also created the full-sized statue of Alexander Forrest, Sir John Forrest’s brother and a great surveyor and explorer, which stands at the entrance to the Supreme Court Gardens.
Porcelli created many impressive statues which are still seen today in prominent locations around the State. His crowning achievement is considered to be the peace memorial at the Midland Junction Railway Workshop. Other commissions included the C.Y. O’Connor bust at Mundaring Weir and the heroic statue of C.Y. O’Connor at Fremantle Harbour.
Pietro Porcelli married Martha Goodwin in 1910 and had a son and daughter. He moved to Melbourne in the 1920s and in those years worked on carving the twelve panels for the Victorian Shrine of Remembrance. He returned to Perth in 1939.
In the 1980s, Giuseppe Rispoli, a friend of Porcelli and Founder of the Porcelli Memorial Fund, proposed that a statue of the sculptor be commissioned by the Italian community in honour of his memory and his creative artistry. The bronze statue was sculpted by Greg James and erected in the square near the Fremantle Town Hall in 1993. MCB.

Porcelli's grave is in Karrakatta Cemetery at Roman Catholic MC 393.

References and Links

Keane, The Revd Bro. S.B. 1981, 'Pietro G. Porcelli, sculptor, 1872-1943'Early Days, Volume 8, Part 5: 9-28.

Garry Gillard | New: 20 October, 2015 | Now: 28 August, 2020