Biography

Birth date: 1867
Birth place: Australia: Victoria, Cockatoo
Death date: 1925
Death place: Australia: Victoria, Melbourne
Conflict: First World War, 1914-1918

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.

Rolls and Awards

Collection Items

Art

Bomber

Depicts an Infantryman in uniform about to throw a Mills bomb grenade. Bronze cast 1936, Melbourne, from plaster cast 1921, Melbourne.

ART09832

On guard

Infantryman with rifle and fixed bayonet, wearing full webbing, protective (tin) helmet and gas mask on chest.

ART09834

Pioneer

Bronze statue cast in 1936 from a mould made in 1922, of an Infantryman (also known as a pioneer), with rifle and spade. Pioneers were specialist infantrymen, who, as well as their ordinary infantry duties, built dugouts for Headquarters and the RAP, dug latrines, carried rations and ammunition...

ART12428

Gunners

Web Gilbert made a number of bronze sculptures depicting Australian soldiers in action on the Western Front. In this work, two of the five-man detachment of an 18-pounder field gun are dead or wounded; the other three continue to operate the gun. Spent shells and a shovel are strewn on the ground.

ART12503

The Digger

Figure of a standing digger.

ART12591

Prisoners of war

Depicts three German First World War soldiers, prisoners of war, one wearing forage cap and carrying gas mask, others wearing protective (tin) helmets, central one carrying bread bag for field rations, all disarmed (not wearing webbing). Bronze cast 1937, Melbourne; plaster cast 1922, Melbourne.

ART12592

Overall design for 'The Anzacs' [Desert Mounted Corps Memorial]

In 1923, Charles Web Gilbert, with architects Stephenson & Meldrum, were awarded first prize for their winning design for the 'Monument to the soldiers of the Australian and New Zealand Forces who laid down their lives in Egypt, Palestine and Syria, 1916-1918'. The design for the memorial featured...

ART12593

Maquette for 'The Anzacs' [Desert Mounted Corps Memorial]

Light Horseman mounted on rearing horse, while NZ Mounted Rifleman is dismounting as his horse scrambles to its feet, created to commemorate the Australians and New Zealanders of the Desert Mounted Corps of the First World War. The maquette was made for the sculpture originally erected in Port...

ART12593.001

Stretcher bearers

Two German prisoners of war lifting stretcher with Australian soldier, who is covered with his greatcoat. Prisoners of war were often used to assist walking wounded or carry stretchers from the front line on their way to the prison camp.

ART12660

Portrait of a soldier 1923

This panel has been completed in low relief and features a portrait of an unidentified Australian soldier wearing open necked shirt. The bronze frame of the panel has design of gum (eucalyptus) leaves and gumnuts, with an AIF 'rising sun' badge at the base.

ART19828

Animals in war memorial

The Animals in War Memorial is a joint project between the Australian War Memorial and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). The memorial commemorates those animals that served alongside Australians in all conflicts. It recognises the practical and psychological...

ART93929

Over the top

Depicts an Infantryman, wearing a uniform and tin helmet, in the act of climbing out of a trench to attack across No Man's Land, during the First World War.

ART09833

not titled [Australian soldier]

Bronze sculpture of an unidentified Australian infantryman wearing a slouch hat. The same figure features in another of Gilbert's sculptures, 'Gunners' [ART12503], indicating this small bronze was probably a study, or spare figure for that group bronze showing Australian artillerymen in battle.

ART12684

Mont St Quentin

This diorama relates to Mont St Quentin on 29 August 1918 when the Germans fell back to the line of the Somme west and south of Péronne, closely followed by the 5th and 2nd Divisions. Here the right and centre of the Australian Corps were brought to a standstill, first by the destruction of the...

ART41018

Part of the reins from the statue on the breakwater at Port Said

This is a small bronze fragment from the reins of the Desert Mounted Corps memorial. Designed by Charles Web Gilbert, it was worked on briefly by Paul Montford, before being completed by Sir Bertram Mackennal. It was installed in Port Said, Egypt and unveiled in 1932 by Australia's wartime Prime...

ART90021

Photograph

P09435.001

Artist Web Gilbert sculpts a model of 1549 Private (Pte) William Roy Guest for the Mont St Quentin Diorama of the Australian War Memorial. Gilbert was largely a self-taught artist who joined the AIF and became an honorary Lieutenant of the Australian War Records Section in December 1918. He...

P09435.001