ADELAIDE'S FIRST PUBLIC STREET STATUE, VENERE DI CANOVA (CANOVA'S VENUS), was unveiled in 1892 on North Terrace to a mixed reception, including complaints of indecency.
The sculpture – a copy of the Venere di Canova (in the Pitti Palace in Florence) by the famous Florentine sculptor Antonio Canova and carved by the Pugi brothers in Florence – shows the partially draped Venus emerge from her bath.
Scandalously, for some, this was on show prominently near Government House at the corner of King William Street and North Terrace, Adelaide.
The location was according to the wishes of its donor: William Horn. The eccentric Horn was also one of the most influential and generous men in 19th Century Adelaide.
Besides his pastoral interests, Horn had been involved with securing the Moonta-Wallaroo copper mines for Walter Hughes. He organised and funded the Horn scientific expedition to Central Australia and served as MP for Flinders 1887-93. He was said to be one of the most generous men in South Australian history.
Horn was adamant that Venere di Canova should be in the open to be viewed by the public. At its unveiling, he said that “to have put the statue within the sacred precincts of the town hall for a privileged few to see occasionally or to have sent it to the Art Gallery would not have suited the object he had in view when he presented it. His purpose was to induce a love for the beautiful in art, and to make the public familiar with it”.
Horn’s other public art donations were Hercules and The athlete. Now in Pennington Gardens between Adelaide Oval and St Peter’s Cathedral, Hercules was previously in Victoria Square but provoked amusement because of the muscle-bound hero’s tiny penis.