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Dadswell, Lyndon Raymond (1908–1986)

by Deborah Edwards

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Lyndon Raymond Dadswell (1908­1986), sculptor and technical college teacher, was born on 18 January 1908 at Stanmore, Sydney, elder child of Sydney-born parents Arthur Raymond Dadswell, accountant, and his wife Maysel Cobcroft, née Pidgeon. Educated at Sydney Church of England Grammar School (Shore), Lyndon attended Julian Ashton's Sydney Art School (1924-25) and East Sydney Technical College (1926-29). Trained under Rayner Hoff, Dadswell moved away from an early interest in commercial art to specialise in sculpture and modelling. His student work, such as `Untitled Classical Relief’ (Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney), reveals the strong reliance on British traditions shared by most Australian sculptors until the 1960s. This orientation was modified by European ideals of postwar reconstruction and Hoff’s notion of `modernising’ British classicism through the stylistic devices of art deco, in order to produce sculptures appropriate to a modern Australia.

In 1929 Dadswell left the technical college to work as an assistant to Paul Montford in Melbourne on the sculptural project for Victoria’s memorial to World War I, the Shrine of Remembrance. Dadswell produced twelve huge relief panels in Hawkesbury freestone illustrating all sections of the Australian armed services. He married Elza Antoinette Ruth Stenning on 24 May 1930 at Windsor, Melbourne, with Congregational forms; they later divorced.

Returning to Sydney in 1932, Dadswell completed a number of commissions, such as a plaque of Bertha McNamara Matilda McNamara (1931, Sydney Trades Hall) and a bust of Edward William Knox (1933, Colonial Sugar Refining Co. Ltd). When he won the Wynne prize for 1933 with `Youth’ (AGNSW), Dadswell was only the fifth sculptor to win this prize in its forty-year history. With the proceeds he travelled to London in 1935 to further his studies, enrolling at the Royal Academy schools. Frequently impoverished, he moved away from the academic dictates of the live model, although his art remained firmly tied to the human figure. The preoccupation of the British sculptors Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth with the dictum `truth to materials’ (the view that materials possess intrinsic qualities which must be respected) influenced Dadswell. He was also inspired by the stylised figures of the Swedish sculptor Carl Milles, and by the work of Britain’s greatest modern portrait sculptor, Jacob Epstein, and the British figurative artist Frank Dobson.

Dadswell remained at the Royal Academy until 1937, when he returned to Australia to take up a teaching position at East Sydney Technical College. He participated in academic causes such as the inaugural Australian Academy of Art exhibition (1938) and joined the Society of Artists’ executive and hanging committees. On 16 December 1939 at Mosman, he married with Congregational forms Audrey Margaret Herbert, a secretary.

On 29 April 1940 Dadswell enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. Posted to the 2/3rd Battalion, he fought in North Africa and Greece. He was seriously wounded in Syria in June 1941; the injury permanently impaired his vision. In September he was commissioned as a lieutenant and appointed a war artist. For six months he worked in a studio at Heliopolis, Cairo, completing about a dozen sculptures. These abstracted figurative works, a significant development for him, were the most stylistically innovative of any Australian war sculptures. Several were included in the touring exhibition (1943-44) of works by Australian official war artists, before being placed in the Australian War Memorial col­lection, Canberra. He returned to Australia in March 1942 and resigned his AIF commission on 18 December.

In 1943 Dadswell returned to East Sydney Technical College (later the National Art School), where he became head of the division of fine arts in 1966. Due to his commitment to sculptural experimentation, his skills as a modeller and his belief in fostering the artistic growth of each student, the school became a nationally respected institution for sculpture training. His work was exhibited in Sydney and Melbourne. Dadswell’s contribution to Australian sculpture was three-fold: through his own substantial and varied body of studio work; through his activities and innovations as a teacher of two generations; and through his public role as a sculptor, and promoter, of major civic commissions. He created sculptures for the Maritime Services Board building, Sydney (1952); Commonwealth banks in Hobart and Sydney (1954) and Perth (1960); the Newcastle War Memorial Cultural Centre (1957); the R. G. Menzies Library, Australian National University (1964); the Jewish War Memorial, Maccabean Hall, Sydney (1965); and the Campbell Park defence establishment, Canberra (`The Tree of Life’, 1977).

Dadswell was a foundation member (1951) and later president of the Society of Sculptors and Associates, a group that lobbied for the greater presence of sculpture in the Australian public environment. He served as an adviser to the National Capital Development Commission, Canberra. While travelling through the United States of America, Britain and Europe in 1957, supported by Fulbright, Smith Mundt and Carnegie grants, he studied art school education.

Remaining influenced by Henry Moore, from the 1950s Dadswell became increasingly receptive to various forms of sculptural abstraction. By the early 1960s he was almost exclusively interested in abstract sculpture—from welded constructivist assemblages to organically modelled and built-up forms that are among his most significant works. Preoccupied by teaching from 1955 to 1965, he enjoyed renewed commitment to his own sculptural practice following his retirement from the college in 1967. He virtually ceased work, due to ill health, in the late 1970s.

In 1967 Dadswell had been awarded the International Co-operation Art Award and the Britannica Australia award for art, and in 1973 an Australian Council for the Arts award. He was appointed CMG in 1978. That year the Art Gallery of New South Wales devoted a major retrospective exhibition to his work. In 1967 Laurie Thomas described him as `a man forever on the move’. Dadswell was committed to the concept of ceaseless experiment and change in the development of individual creativity. Survived by his wife and their daughter and son, he died on 7 November 1986 at Elizabeth Bay and was cremated. His work is represented in the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia and most State galleries.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Edwards, Lyndon Dadswell 1908-1986 (1992)
  • series B883, item NX13548 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Dadswell biography file (National Gallery of Australia)
  • H. de Berg, interview with L. Dadswell (transcript, 1960, National Library of Australia)
  • Dadswell papers (State Library of New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Deborah Edwards, 'Dadswell, Lyndon Raymond (1908–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/dadswell-lyndon-raymond-12389/text22267, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 2 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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