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Achille Simonetti (1838–1900)

by Noel S. Hutchison

This article was published:

Achille Simonetti (1838-1900), sculptor, was born in Rome, son of Louis Simonetti, sculptor, and his wife Rosina. Educated at the Accademia Nazionale di San Luca, he trained under his father and visited Greece. In 1871 at the instigation of Bishop James Quinn he migrated to Brisbane. By 1874 he had moved to Sydney, where he set up a large studio at Balmain and worked on St John's College, within the University of Sydney. He modelled a bust of Governor Sir Hercules Robinson, and won a silver medal for 'sculpture and modelling' at the New South Wales Academy of Art's exhibition. Next year he was awarded the sculpture prize at the exhibition held by the Agricultural Society of New South Wales and a gold medal at the academy's annual exhibition; he continued to win similar awards until 1880. In May 1875 he became instructor in sculpture and modelling at the academy's new art school. Next year he showed a bust of Commodore J. G. Goodenough at the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition in London. At the Sydney International Exhibition in 1879 his 'Venus of the South' attracted favourable criticism. With two busts it was shown as the New South Wales sculpture exhibit at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition.

Befriended by (Sir) Saul Samuel, Simonetti became the most fashionable sculptor in Sydney and modelled busts of many of the city's notables. In the 1880s he served on the committee of the Art Society of New South Wales. He was commissioned by the government to carve six allegorical figures for the niches on the building of the Colonial Secretary's Department fronting Macquarie, Bridge and Phillip streets. In 1891 he completed a marble memorial statue of Quinn, reputed to be his best work, and worked on a life-sized marble statue of J. H. Challis for the University of Sydney.

On 18 October 1889 Simonetti had been commissioned by Sir Henry Parkes to construct for £10,000 an elaborate monument to Governor Phillip, to be sited in the Botanic Gardens and completed by May 1893, but the work was later delayed for a year by Sir George Dibbs's 'express authority'. Further delays occurred when, at the suggestion of Sir Julian Salomans and E. L. Montefiore, the supporting figures were changed from realistic to classical. In November 1893 Simonetti visited Italy to supervise the bronze casting by Messrs Galli Bros, of Florence, of the fifteen-foot (4.5 m) statue of Phillip and the base statues of Agriculture, Commerce, Neptune (navigation) and Cyclops (mining). Coriolano Fontana executed the Carrara marble pedestal and basins in Genoa. Eventually the fifty-foot (15.24 m) high monument was completed for over £14,000 and unveiled by Governor Hampden on 22 June 1897 during Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Its eclectic combination of realistic and neo-classic style was unfavourably received.

Aged 62, Simonetti died of heart disease on 23 March 1900 at his home in Birchgrove and was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery. He was survived by his wife Margaret, née Doherty, and by a son and daughter; his estate was valued for probate at £529. Talented and industrious, Simonetti preferred to sculpture in the neo-classic style but his clients preferred realism. Examples of his work are owned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Legislative Council and the University of Sydney.

Select Bibliography

  • H. E. Badham, A Study of Australian Art (Syd, 1949)
  • A. McCulloch, Encyclopedia of Australian Art (Lond, 1968)
  • J. G. De Libra, ‘The fine arts in Australia’, Australasian Art Review, 1 July 1899
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 7 Nov 1891
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 26 Mar 1900
  • S. N. Hogg, Balmain Past and Present (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Colonial Secretary's letters (State Records New South Wales).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Noel S. Hutchison, 'Simonetti, Achille (1838–1900)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (Melbourne University Press), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


Rome, Italy


23 March, 1900 (aged ~ 62)
Birchgrove, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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