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Percival Ball (1845–1900)

by Ken Scarlett

This article was published:

Percival Ball (1845-1900), sculptor, was born on 17 February 1845 at Westminster, London, son of Edward Henry Ball, carver, and his wife Louisa, née Percival. Showing early artistic talent, he studied at the Royal Academy of Arts schools, London, winning several gold medals and prizes. Between 1865 and 1882 he exhibited twenty-four works at Royal Academy exhibitions. About 1870 he went to Paris and then to Munich and Rome, where he lived for some eight years; his work in marble received high praise.

Troubled by asthma and bronchitis, in 1884 Ball sought the milder climate of Australia; heavy drinking was probably another reason for his voluntary exile from Europe. After six months in Sydney he settled in Melbourne and established a studio in Collins Street East; by 1888 he had moved to 9 Collins Street.

In 1886-87 Ball completed James Gilbert's statue of Sir Redmond Barry and the memorial was placed outside the Public Library, Melbourne. Another work commissioned in 1886 was a marble bust of Bishop Moorhouse, now at the La Trobe Library. In 1889 he completed a statue of the Scottish hero Sir William Wallace for the Ballarat Botanical Gardens. He executed a number of portrait busts, including one of the bookseller and publisher George Robertson. He produced a small model in 1890 for the proposed memorial to Francis Ormond; the full-scale figure was completed in 1892 and cast in bronze in Melbourne. This work was more realistic than most of Ball's sculpture: a contemporary wrote that he 'has managed to produce a most faithful likeness of features and expression of his subject, and he has also succeeded in catching Mr. Ormond's attitude and bearing in ordinary conversation'. It was not until June 1897 that the statue was erected and unveiled outside the Working Men's College, at a cost of some £1200.

Ball also received commissions from the other colonies. The relief panel, 'Phryne before Praxiteles', on the outside wall of the Art Gallery of New South Wales, was commissioned by the trustees in 1898. It was completed by 1900 and Ball was sent to London to superintend the casting in bronze. Local critics suggested that Australian craftsmen could cope with the casting, or that skilled craftsmen should be brought to Australia. Unfortunately Ball died in London of heart failure due to asthma and bronchitis on 4 April 1900 before his work was completed. He was unmarried. By 1903 the relief was cast and erected; skilfully designed, it is a typical Victorian academic work, which hints at the sensuous behind the cover of an acceptable classical myth.

Ball had exhibited with the Society of Artists in Sydney and in 1886 was a member of the Australian Artists' Association and the Victorian Artists' Society. Examples of his work are in the National Portrait Gallery, London; Peel Park, Salford, England; the Art Gallery of New South Wales; and the La Trobe Library, Melbourne.

Select Bibliography

  • E. Bénézit, Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Sculpteurs, Dessinateurs & Graveurs de Tous les Temps et de Tous les Pays ..., vol 1 (Paris, 1911)
  • Table Talk (Melbourne), 31 Aug 1888, 1 Aug 1890
  • Illustrated Australian News (Melbourne), 1 Mar 1892
  • Argus (Melbourne), 8 June 1897
  • Australasian Art Review, 1 Jan 1900.

Citation details

Ken Scarlett, 'Ball, Percival (1845–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 25 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 February, 1845
London, Middlesex, England


4 April, 1900 (aged 55)
London, Middlesex, England

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