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image icon 'Holden lion' sculpture, c1930

'Holden lion' sculpture, c1930
Art Gallery of South Australia


This is a bronze sculpture, measuring 36.5 cm x 40.5 cm x 12.7 cm, by Rayner Hoff (1894-1937), created about 1930. Its basic form is that of a lion set on top of a rectangular plinth or base. The creature is set back on its hindquarters with its head reared, ears pinned back and mouth open in a roaring snarl. The exaggerated muscles, which emphasise the massiveness of the creature's legs, shoulders and torso, all add to this impression of fierceness. The lion's mane has been interpreted as a series of triangular units that alternate with bands of parallel line patterning. The body is supported by a triangular unit resembling a tilted wedge of rock. A large, round ball with an irregular surface (as if made of stone) sits beneath the lion's right paw.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a significant piece of Australian Art Deco-style sculpture - Art Deco (a name derived from a shortened form of a 1925 Paris exhibition 'Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs') was a decorative style that originated in the 1920s and 1930s, characterised by streamlined forms, clean lines, shallow detailing, stylisation from geometric or representational forms and the innovative use of materials such as glass, concrete and plastic
  • is a work by Rayner Hoff, who was Australia's most significant sculptor working in the Art Deco style - after studying at the Royal College of Art in London, Hoff arrived in Sydney in 1923 where he began teaching at the East Sydney Technical College; in 1931 he became head of the sculpture department at the college and remained in that position until his death in 1937; Hoff's work and that of his students, including Jean Broome-Norton (1911-2002 ) and Barbara Tribe (1913-2000), dominated the production of sculpture throughout the late 1920s and early 1930s; Hoff's defining public work is the Anzac Memorial, located at the southern end of Hyde Park, Sydney; Hoff was the collaborating sculptor on this memorial which is thought to be the best interpretation of the Art Deco style in Australia
  • is characteristic in style of much of Hoff's sculptural work - the streamlined form of the lion's upper body and mane and the stylised patterns of muscular forms (sometimes referred to as musculature), seen in the clean-cut modelling around the haunches and shoulders, illustrate Hoff's artistic aims in representing natural forms as symbols of primal power and virility; the relationship between the creative and procreative forces of life was an underlying theme in all his work
  • has close stylistic links with the art of the ancient world - Hoff's work, as did Art Deco generally, integrated a wide range of traditions including Assyrian, Egyptian, Aztec and Greek sculpture; one particular work by Hoff, 'Renascence' (c1920), was influenced by the Assyrian lion-hunt carvings held in the British Museum, London; aspects of the ‘Holden lion' also closely resemble those of a lion that is part of the central action in an Assyrian relief, also in the British Museum, titled 'King Ashurnasirpal 11 hunting lions' (874-60 BC); the use of the 'lion and ball motif' most likely comes from an ancient legend that tells of a man 'discovering' the wheel by observing a lion playing with a round rock
  • was a specially commissioned work - Hoff was commissioned to produce the 'Holden lion' insignia for the Holden Motor Company in 1926; he was to produce the sculpture as the base for the die-cast relief plates that were to be fixed to all Holden car bodies from 1928 to 1939; this sculpture is one of a pair; Hoff's initial design for the work was inspired by the 'Wembley lions', which James Holden had seen at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, London, for which they were the primary logo
  • is closely linked to the history of the Holden motor car - the Holden automobile company began its life as a saddlery in King William Street, Adelaide, in 1856; in 1885 it began to build carriages; in the 1920s the Holden company was contracted by General Motors Corporation to build auto bodies that were to be fitted to chassis imported from the USA; in 1931 the company merged with General Motors to become General Motors-Holden; in 1948 the first fully Australian-made 'production line' automobile (the 48/215, better known as the 'FX' Holden) was produced at the company's Fishermen's Bend factory in Victoria; this model bore a version of Hoff's 'lion with a ball' badge above its grill; variations on this design have been used on Holden cars since 1928
  • is critically regarded as the ideal symbol of modernity for the era - art writer and curator Christopher Chapman has commented that 'Hoff's style was perfectly suited to the depiction of the Holden lion motif as the modern, stylised form; the strong lines and sense of energy in the work paralleled the design of Holden's cars of the 1930s'.