Unknown political prisoner II, Danila Vassilieff
  • Artist
    Danila Vassilieff
  • Born
    1897
  • Died
    1958
  • Title
    Unknown political prisoner II
  • Date of Production
    1952–1953
  • Medium
    Lilydale limestone
  • Dimensions
    25.3 x 51.1 x 14.8 cm
  • Credit Details
    Purchased with assistance from the L J Wilson Bequest Fund and the Caltex Victorian Government Art Fund, 1981. © National Gallery of Victoria

Danila Vassilieff

Unknown political prisoner II

A self taught artist and pioneer of expressionist painting in Australia, Vassilieff was by birth a member of the White Russian aristocracy. He worked his way to Australia via the Middle East, and then to other parts of the world, including South America and Spain, before returning to Australia in 1936. A sculptor as well as a painter, Vassilieff began to work in stone in 1949 after building 'Stonygrad', a stone and log cabin at Warrandyte whose name was a humorous reference to the country of his birth.

On hearing about the International Sculpture Competition based on the theme of the Unknown Political Prisoner, Vassililieff drew on his earlier works to produce a maquette in Australian marble featuring a double sided figure with a haunted appearance that was male on one side and female on the other raising its fist in a defiant gesture.

This competition also inspired two further marble carvings on the same theme of the Unknown Political Prisoner, one in Italian marble and the other in Lilydale limestone that is even more difficult to work because of its hardness. It is the latter, with its mottled surface highlighted by polishing and its boldly articulated body that captures the strength of the human spirit, that is now part of the Gallery's collection.