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Duldig, Karl (Karol) (1902–1986)

by Juliet Peers

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

Karl (Karol) Duldig (1902-1986), sculptor, was born on 29 December 1902 at Przemysl, Austria (Poland), and named Karol, son of Marcus Duldig, businessman, and his wife Eidla (Eydl), née Nebenzahl. In 1914 the family moved to Vienna, where his interest in sculpture emerged spontaneously, leading to study at the Kunstgewerbeschule (1921-25) under Anton Hanak, and the Akademie der Bildenen Künste (1925-29). He then shared a studio in Vienna with Arthur Fleischmann, exhibiting widely and obtaining steady commissions. Through the 1920s and 1930s he also gained prominence as a sportsman of international standard in soccer, tennis, and table tennis (Austrian national champion, 1923).

On 15 December 1931 in Vienna Duldig married Slawa Horowitz, herself an artist (who had also invented and patented the first foldable umbrella). Her middle-class, Polish-Jewish origins were similar to his. Their only child, Eva, was born shortly before the 1938 anschluss; in March German troops entered Austria just as Duldig sent sculptures to Paris for exhibition (where they remained unpacked until discovered in 1961). The Duldigs left for Switzerland, and then for Singapore, where a niece had organised visas. He established a studio there and gained wealthy patrons, but in September 1940 the family was deported to Australia as enemy aliens and interned at Tatura camp, Victoria. Released in April 1942 to enlist in the Militia, Duldig was posted to the 8th Employment Company but was discharged on medical grounds in September. The family then settled at St Kilda, Melbourne (moving later to East Malvern), and were naturalised in 1946.

After working in various commercial art positions, Duldig was appointed art master (1945-67) at Mentone Grammar School, while also establishing a small ceramics business with Slawa. Gradually he gained recognition as a sculptor. He exhibited regularly with the Victorian Sculptors’ Society (winning their annual prize in 1956) and in private galleries; his work featured in the Catholic Centenary Art Exhibition (1948), the arts festival associated with Melbourne’s Olympic Games (1956), the early Mildura Sculpture Triennials (inaugurated 1961) and the first Adelaide Festival of Arts (1960). Commissioned glazed ceramic relief murals made a significant contribution to contemporary taste in Melbourne. His figurative expression was tempered by modernism, monumentality and—in works such as the `Progress of Man’ mural (1960, now destroyed), St Kilda Road, and the Kadimah relief (1972) and `Kore’ (1976), Elsternwick—a capacity to cast philosophic and mythic light on the everyday world of Melbourne’s streetscapes.

As a leading figure among the generation of European-trained sculptors who arrived with the diaspora before and after World War II, Duldig affirmed the place of sculptural practice in Australian public and cultural experience. An advocate for artists’ support groups and for his profession, he was foundation president (1962) of the Ben Uri Society for the Arts, which became the Bezalel Fellowship of Arts in 1964. He was president (1977) and an honorary life member (1982) of the Association of Sculptors of Victoria. After retirement from Mentone Grammar, he worked in more diverse media and on larger commissions, and travelled widely. Slawa died in 1975; on 13 February 1983 at Elwood Synagogue he married Rosia Ida Dorin, née Goldman, a Belgian-born widow.

Strong and energetic, Duldig continued to take commissions into his eighties: his last work was the Raoul Wallenberg monument (1985) at Kew Junction. He died on 11 August 1986 at Malvern and was buried in Chevra Kadisha cemetery, Springvale. His wife and the daughter of his first marriage survived him. Several retrospective exhibitions—including a centenary exhibition (2002-03) that travelled to Kraków, Vienna and Melbourne—explored his work. In 1986 the National Gallery of Victoria established an annual lecture on sculpture in his name. His studio at East Malvern is preserved as a house museum and public gallery. Duldig is represented in the National Gallery of Victoria, the McClelland Gallery and Sculpture Park, Langwarrin, and the Newcastle Region Art Gallery, New South Wales.

Select Bibliography

  • P. Ruskin, Karl Duldig: Sculpture (1966)
  • K. Scarlett, Australian Sculptors (1980)
  • Karl Duldig: Survey (1982)
  • H. Bond, The Duldig Ceramics (1988)
  • K. Bandman, A Palette of Artists (1989)
  • P. Stasny (ed), Karl Duldig: Sculptures, Drawings (2003)
  • Age (Melbourne), 3 Feb 2003, p 12
  • Archives (Duldig Studio, East Malvern, Melbourne).

Citation details

Juliet Peers, 'Duldig, Karl (Karol) (1902–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/duldig-karl-karol-12441/text22371, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 18 November 2017.

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

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