Oct 29, 2016

Richard Oliver Gross, the New Zealand Sculptor of Male Nudes

Ok, I had to find out about this Richard Oliver Gross, who scattered statues of nude men all over the Kiwi landscape.   He doesn't appear in most directories of 20th century artists, but there's a brief biography in Te Ara, the online encyclopedia of New Zealand.

Born 1882 in Barrow-in-Furness, England.  That's my new favorite English village name.

Studied under Albert Toft, "an academic sculptor heavily influenced by the classics."  Moved to South Africa, where he married Ethel Jane Bailey in 1912.  They had three children.

Later they moved to New Zealand, and took up dairy farming near Helensville, on the North Island.

After World War I, he moved to Auckland, where he specialized in memorial sculptures, in association with two architects that he met at the Quion Club (a club for Auckland-area artists): William Gummer and M.K. Draffin.

Under their association, he sculpted at least 9 memorials, 8 with barechested or nude men.

1. The Cambridge Memorial (1923): a shirtless man digging.

2. The Auckland Grammar School Memorial: a naked man atop a sword.

3. The Havelock North Memorial (no nudity)

4. The frieze at the Auckland War Memorial Museum

5. The Wellington Cenotaph.

6. The Athlete (top photo).  It was so controversial that the headlines booted out the Italian invasion of Abyssinia.

7. The Holland Memorial (left)

8. The One Tree Hill Memorial.  A Maori warrior, not nude, but with muscular arms.

9. The Memorial to Michael Joseph Savage, the Prime Minister.

When criticized for his male nudity, Gross said that it represented our efforts to reach "spiritual accomplishment."

Right.  When I see naked men, I'm not usually thinking of spiritual things.

Gross disapproved of the new modernistm in art, and didn't do a lot of original works in the 1940s and 1950s.  He turned to writing poetry, and held many administrative posts, including president of the Auckland Society of Arts.

He died in 1964, survived by his wife and one son.

No specific evidence that he was gay.  But he did gay men everywhere a service by insisting that the male body could be inspiring and beautiful.

See also: Top Ten Public Penises of New Zealand

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