Sculpture, griffin, embossed zinc, used in the Kings Cross Theatre, Kings Cross, Sydney, made by Wunderlich Limited, Redfern, New South Wales, Australia, 1903-1916.
The griffin (or griffon or gryphon) has been a source of imagery and mythology since ancient times. Appearing in Egyptian, Indian, Persian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman antiquity, the griffin combines the face, beak and wings of an eagle with the body of a lion. Human features, notably female breasts, can also feature.
The word griffin originates in the Greek gryphos, meaning lion eagle. Griffins are particularly frequent motifs in the sculpture and mythology of ancient Greece. Symbolically the griffin combines the qualities of both the lion and the eagle. It is the king of birds married to the lord of the earth. Perhaps because of its presence in many cultures, the griffin has embodied numerous qualities; however a role as protector and guardian is the most common. In mythology, the griffin is often the guardian of treasures and secrets; its nest is often constructed of gold and other treasures. Griffins are also symbols of immortality.
As a result, griffins have an enduring presence in heraldry and sculpture. Sculptural griffins are often placed at the entrance of palaces, public buildings, parks and towns as symbolic guardians of wealth and order.
For example, two ceramic griffin sculptures were installed during the 1890s on the main entrance road (Parkes Drive ) to Centennial Park, Sydney. Removed during the 1970s after damage by vandals, these griffins have recently been restored.
The Wunderlich griffins are an example of the use of mythological and allegorical sculpture in an architectural context, a common feature of public and commercial buildings during the 1800s and early twentieth century.
For eighty years after Ernest, Alfred and Otto Wunderlich began importing zinc roofing during the 1880s, the Wunderlich company was one of Australia's leading manufacturers of building materials. Wunderlich was distinguished from its rivals by the variety of its products - encompassing metal, ceramic and asbestos-cement, and by its production of building elements commissioned for particular buildings and interiors. The griffin sculpture is a rare surviving example of Wunderlich's sculptural work.
Charles Pickett, curator, Design and society.
The griffin was made by Wunderlich Limited, Baptist Street, Redfern, Sydney.
The donor purchased this sculpture from the Kings Cross Theatre, Sydney.
The griffin sculpture appears to be identical to those adorning the former Grace Bros Broadway store.
The first building of the Grace Bros store at the corner of George and Bay Streets, Glebe was completed in 1904. Wunderlich Limited produced four copper griffins to visually support a large bronze and glass globe above the corner clock tower. The griffins are listed in Wunderlich's pattern book (A7437-8/17) as design no.883: 'Griffin 5' 6" high spread of wings 9' 9" made in embossed zinc or copper'. This listing demonstrated that designs and moulds existed and that copies could be produced to order.
The pattern number dates this design to 1903. Another set of griffins was produced when the Grace Bros store on the northern side of Bay Street was completed some years later. The Grace Bros griffins were restored during the 1990s by former PHM conservator Archie Zammit-Ross.
The Kings Cross Theatre stood at the corner of Victoria Street and Bayswater Road, Kings Cross. Completed in 1916, the exterior of the Kings Cross theatre was designed in a relatively austere classical style, featuring little sculptural decoration apart from a series of swag reliefs punctuating the wall. The griffin sculpture stood on a raised section of the parapet, above the main entrance to Bayswater Road. Although somewhat at odds with the overall sobriety of the exterior, the griffin sculpture was appropriately located over the entrance to the theatre. Presumably the architect or owners commissioned Wunderlich to produce a copy of the Grace Bros sculptures.
The interior of this 5,000 seat theatre was renovated in 1928, including the installation of a large Wurlitzer organ. It was a thriving venue for Vaudeville acts and plays until the 1940s, when it began to be used as a cinema. During the 1960s it again became a performance venue, hired by pop promoters Lee Gordon and John Hartigan, who renamed the venerable theatre Surf City. The Kings Cross Theatre was demolished about 1970 for the Crest Hotel and Kings Cross railway station.
As a teenager, the donor frequently attended matinee sessions at the Kings Cross theatre, and admired the sculpture. During the 1960s he noticed that the wings had been removed from the sculpture; when he heard that the theatre was to be demolished he asked the owners if he could purchase the sculpture. The sculpture was removed by the demolition contractors, who also located the discarded wings. The wings are also held by the donor.