Charles Web Gilbert
1867-1925

AWM ART09833
Charles Web Gilbert
Over the top
AWM ART09833

Charles Web Gilbert was born in Cockatoo, Victoria in 1867. His interest in sculpture developed early. Gilbert was working by the age of nine as an apprentice chef in a Melbourne café, where he would hand model flowers and decorations for wedding cakes.

From 1876 to 1880, he attended private drawing classes conducted by a Mr Sayer, and eventually went on to study part time at the National Gallery School in Melbourne, under Frederick McCubbin, Bernard Hall and G.F. Follingsby.

As a sculptor, Gilbert was predominantly self-taught. At the time, Australia offered few facilities to study the techniques of sculpture. Those with an interest in sculpture either had to teach themselves or leave Australia for art schools in Europe. Gilbert continued to study while working part time as a chef for many years, establishing his own studio and foundry in Fitzroy in 1908.

In 1914, at the age of 47, Gilbert planned to travel to Paris. However, the outbreak of the First World War found him instead travelling to London, where he spent some time working in a munitions factory. It was here that he met Wallace Anderson, who convinced him to join the AIF as a sculptor. In December 1918, Gilbert was made an honorary lieutenant in the modelling subsection of the Australian War Records Section, working with Anderson and Leslie Bowles. They travelled through France making studies and models of battlefields and significant sites to inform the design and construction of the dioramas.

Gilbert was made head of the modelling section, with the job of constructing the Mont St Quentin diorama, the only diorama he ultimately worked on.

In conjunction with his work on the dioramas, Gilbert also produced several sculptures for the Memorial, some of which reflect the figures and action of Mont St Quentin, such as Bomb thrower, Over the top and Stretcher-bearers. He resigned from his position as head sculptor in 1923 to pursue other commissions for memorials.

Gilbert died in 1925 at the age of 57 from heart problems, exacerbated by his physically demanding life. His death occurred while he was in the middle of constructing a major memorial sculpture to the Desert Mounted Corps. In 1923, he had won a competition to design the memorial in remembrance of Australian and New Zealand soldiers who fought at Port Said in Egypt from 1916 to 1918. After his death, several other sculptors, including Paul Montford and Betram McKennal, completed the memorial.