ANZAC War Memorial Hyde Park
1929—34 C Bruce Dellit; exterior restored 1979 Sculptor: Rayner Hoff

The culminating work, both of Rayner Hoff’s career and of his utilisation of stylistic devices which can be identified as Art Deco, came in the early 1930s with his commission from architect C. Bruce Dellit to produce sculpture for the state’s memorial to the First World War — the Anzac Memorial — which lies at the southern end of Sydney’s Hyde Park.

At the time of its completion in 1934, the Anzac Memorial was one of the most innovative of Australia’s public monuments, embracing a style which, although popular in theatre architecture, had rarely been seen in Australian ‘high art’ products of the period. A unique statement of architectural and sculptural unity, it has been described as the ultimate conception of the Art Deco style in this country. The memorial was conceived by the architect virtually as a monumental sculpture, and its structure incorporates an extraordinary number of sculpted figures, both internally and externally. It holds in microcosm the modern—classical, national—international duality at the heart of Hoff’s work and his interest in Art Deco.

The memorial, which stands thirty metres high and is tipped by the stepped form of an Art Deco ziggurat, incorporates a wide range of classic Art Deco motifs — from the skyscraper motifs in its windows, to the stylised funerary urns, rising sun motifs, winged finials, geometric detailing above doors, and the interior marble wreath. It also incorporates, on the exterior the blocky masses of Hoff’s sixteen seated and four standing figures in cast synthetic stone, four corner sections of cast stone reliefs, and two ten-metre-long bronze reliefs, over the east and west doors. The exterior sculpture portrays the functions of individuals and groups in various units of the Australian Imperial Forces and illustrates their activities overseas. The interior chamber of the building holds Hoff’s bronze sculpture, Sacrifice, surrounded by a marble balustrade, relief panels representing ‘The March of the Dead’, and 120,000 gold stars which stud the ceiling, symbolic of each person who left for the war.

The memorial was constructed by Dellit with the idea that it should function to bring the past into the present, for the future, through the symbolism of art. For Dellit, who felt that the memorial must align itself to contemporary Australian values, the Art Deco style facilitated a distinctive form encapsulating modern expression.

Rayner Hoff, the ideal collaborating sculptor on such a project, was chosen, Dellit claimed, because he would provide the ‘dynamism’ required to complement the modernity of the architect’s structure. (Hoff and Dellit had previously collaborated on Dellit’s commission to design the Kinsela Funeral Parlour in Sydney’s Darlinghurst in 1931—32.)

The exterior figures and Sacrifice, like the Art Deco style of the building itself, combined modernity and archaism in order to convey a modern—ancient and a timeless—specific duality which promoted the permanency of modern Australian values. These values are concentrated and celebrated in the pervasive sculpted figure of the Anzac in the work. The interior group, Sacrifice, which is literally and figuratively at the heart of the memorial, is undoubtedly the Australian masterwork of Art Deco sculpture. Sacrifice constructs a code of meaning through the central preoccupation of the Hoff school — that is, the relationship of male and female — and it holds in microcosm those symbolic dualities (masculine—feminine, timeless— specific, modern—ancient, sacred—profane, past—future) through which meaning in the memorial is organised. In it Hoff utilises the highly polished machine-inspired aesthetics of Art Deco to deal with the concept of the sacrifice and horror’laid on the youthful manhood and womanhood of the nation by war and to create productive tensions between ‘the ancient’ (the classical) and ‘the modern’ (the Australian) in the work.

Facilitated by the split-level architecture of the building, Sacrifice presents two associated concepts of ‘sacrifice’ — one through a ground- level view dominated by a column of three women and a child, and the other through a view from above, dominated by the lithe body of a young dead soldier. Radiating from the work, in bronze paving, are the flames of destruction. The soldier, who is both the Australian Anzac and a Spartan youth returning home dead on his shield, is carried literally by a caryatid —figures who represent the Australian mothers, sisters and wives—lovers who lost soldiers. Hence the soldier becomes simultaneously the brother, son and husband killed in war. The women represent the living — the soldier the dead. He signifies the past — they hold the future in the child one of them carries. Together the figures are meant to embody the abstract concept of sacrifice. As they are welded together structurally into one coherent form, so too are the individual sacrifices represented welded into a complex unity signifying national sacrifice.

Classical allusion — the youth, the caryatid column and classicised robes — projects the work into the realm of the timeless and universal. Yet the contemporary or Art Deco references—for example, the streamlined gun barrel or bullet-shaped base of the work indicating the devices of modern warfare, and the geometricised, repeated surface patterning of hair and robes—pull the sculpture back to the recent past.

In terms of the current notions of what constituted sculptural acceptability in Australia in the 1920's and 1930's, Hoff’s and his students’ work was particularly adventurous. Contributing to its adventurousness was the use of Art Deco devices, which while not aligned to the revolutionary theories of modernism, made strong claims to being ‘Moderne’.

Taken from "Art deco in Australia : sunrise over the Pacific by Mary Nilsson, Mark. Ferson, Art Deco Society of New South Wales.