The Shakespeare Beadle bust: origin and history

The 2016 Heritage Collections exhibition, Shakespeare in his time showcased rare Shakespearian treasures alongside specially selected items from Sir George Grey Special Collections relevant to the world that Shakespeare lived and worked in.

Featured in the exhibition was the well-known Shakespeare Beadle bust, created three centuries later than any other piece. Usually residing on Level 2 of the Central City Library it shows Shakespeare contemplating the world which he holds in his hands. This bronze bust was created by ProfessorPaul Beadle through a commission from the Auckland City Council. The plaque below this sculpture, however, doesn’t tell us about its complicated, and mostly unknown, history.

Image: Paul Beadle, Bust of Shakespeare, Bronze, 1970.

Records from the Auckland City Council archives tell us that in 1967 £500 was left as a bequest from Florence Walker for the creation of a statue of Shakespeare “similar to that at Stratford-upon-Avon.” Councillors at the time debated over accepting the donation with some putting forward that there were plenty of statues of Shakespeare and that the money would have been better if it were going to something else. Others quoted the Bard and put forward Shakespeare’s contribution to the English language in favour of accepting the bequest.

Image: Auckland Star, 1 June 1967, page 4.

The bequest and its terms were eventually accepted by the Council and they commissioned Paul Beadle to create the bust, giving him artistic flexibility in the appearance of the sculpture. They also contributed another £500 towards the project from the Improvement Trust Account in order to cover any other costs.

PaulBeadle was a Professor and Dean of Fine Arts at Auckland University from 1961 to 1977. He cast the bust in bronze using the lost wax process. The Shakespeare figure was cast for the sculptor at D.M.S foundry, Penrose and the sphere, which features semi-relief figures representing humanity, was cast by the sculptor himself. They were then welded together. Completed in 1972, the work has run into issues because it was unbalanced for some time until it had a proper base created. 

Image: New Zealand Herald, 24 September 1975, section 1, page 6.

The bust was originally created to be under the care of Auckland Art Gallery but was never displayed there. The Council also considered placing the Shakespeare bust in Albert Park to replace one of the existing white marble statues which were in poor condition. Instead it was placed in the Auckland Public Library Rare Book room (now the Special Collections Reading Room).

Concerns arose in 1976 that “the work [was] not receiving appropriate exposure” and so they considered moving it to the Mercury Theatre in August 1976 on permanent loan, but this never eventuated. The bust also receives a mention in The Governor’s Gift, Wynne Colgan’s book about the Auckland Public Library 1880-1980.

The life of Shakespeare’s bust in Sir George Grey Special Collections has been one which involved uncertainty but which has always been based on the public enjoying and appreciating the sculpture itself and what it represents.

We plan to create a new plaque for the sculpture which honours both Paul Beadle, the artist, and Florence Walker, the woman who made the original bequest. Little is known about her and we would love to hear from anyone who has a connection to her to understand more about her life. Do you have this connection? Let us know!

In the spirit of the bust we also encourage you to learn more about Shakespeare. See more about the bust and the Shakespeare in his time exhibition in this Newshub segment which ends with some lovely shots of the bust: Shakespeare's secret work on display.

Author: Laura Jamieson