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No 35 Madame Sophie Sesostoris (a pre-raphaelite satire)



Robert Klippel

Australia, United States of America

19 Jun 1920 - 19 Jun 2001

James Gleeson


21 Nov 1915 - 20 Oct 2008


'Madame Sophie Sesostoris' was carved and assembled by Robert Klippel and painted by James Gleeson in the years 1947-48 when both artists were living and working in London. Her title derives from T.S. Eliot's poem 'The Waste Land' which features 'Madame Sosostris, famous clairvoyant'. The enigmatic predictions of her tarot cards are alluded to, for example, on the four miniature panels at the base of the sculpture. The figure carved by Klippel appeared to Gleeson just the way he imagined Madame Sosostris would look and also reminded him in a satirical way of the mysterious, melancholy women who gazed from the paintings of Dante Gabriel Rossetti and Edward Burne Jones. Gleeson titled the figure, distorted her name and cast her as a 'pre-raphaelite satire'.

Below the surface of her form we are shown the dazzling whirr of the organic machine. Both artists grappled with concepts of the internal and the external and their aim with this sculpture was 'to suggest the vital inner structure of an apparently simple form, to suggest that by some kind of x-ray magic one could look through the opaque skin and see all that lay within.'

This collaborative sculpture was included in the 1948 exhibition held by the two artists in London. Other works shown in this exhibition, include 'Entities suspended from a detector' and 'Fever chart' by Robert Klippel, both in the collection of the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


Other Titles

Madame Sophie Sosostris (a Pre-Raphaelite satire) Madame Sophie Sosostris (a Pre-Raphaelite satire)

Opus 35

Madame Sophie Sesostoris (a pre-raphaelite satire)



Media category


Materials used

beech and various woods, painted in oil


49.5 x 10.0 x 10.0 cm


Gift of James Gleeson and Robert Klippel 1970


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Robert Klippel

Works in the collection


Artist information

James Gleeson

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 6 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 23 publications


Helen Campbell, Australian art: in the Art Gallery of New South Wales, 'Out of Sydney: city and hinterlands', pg. 185-186, Sydney, 2000, 205 (colour illus.), 301.

Jonathan Cooper (Editor), Exhibitions events - Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Nov 1998-Jan 1999, 12 (colour illus.), 13.

Michael Desmond, Art Monthly Australia, 'The ghost in the machine: Robert Klippel at the Art Gallery of New South Wales', pg. 28-31, Canberra, Oct 2002, 28-29.

Dinah Dysart (Editor), Art and Australia (Vol. 31, No. 1), Sydney, Spring 1993, 43 (colour illus.).

Deborah Edwards., Australian Collection Focus: James Gleeson & Robert Klippel Madame Sophie Sesostoris (a pre-raphaelite satire) 1947-48, 'Below the surface: James Gleeson & Robert Klippel Madame Sophie Sesostoris (a pre-raphaelite satire) 1947-48', Sydney, 1998, cover (colour illus.), back (colour illus.).

Deborah Edwards (Curator), Natalie Wilson (Assistant Curator) and Eric Riddler (Compilator), Robert Klippel: Catalogue raisonné of sculpture, Sydney, 2002, (colour illus.). No. 35 Madame Sophie Sesostoris (a pre-raphaelite satire)

Deborah Edwards, Robert Klippel, 'Below the surface: "the cogwheel and the bud"', pg. 30-51, Sydney, 2002, 30 (colour illus.), 31-34, 37-38, 41, 42-43 (colour illus.), 246.

Deborah Edwards, Presence & absence: portrait sculpture in Australia, Canberra, 2003, 59.

Deborah Edwards, Art and Australia (Vol. 40, No. 1), 'Robert Klippel: make it new', pg. 78-85, Sydney, Sep 2002-Nov 2002, 78 (colour illus.).

Deborah Edwards., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'A sculptor of singular vision', Sydney, 20 Jun 2001, 20 (illus.). Obituary by Deborah Edwards for the Metropolitan Section

James Gleeson, Robert Klippel, Kensington, 1983, 60, 61 (colour illus.), 62, 463. plate no. 56; titled 'Opus 35 'Madame Sosostris''

Bruce James., The Sydney Morning Herald, 'From junk to genius, it's all here', Sydney, 21 Aug 2002.

Bruce James, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian Collection: Painting and Sculpture', pg. 102-181, Sydney, 1999, 153 (colour illus.).

Hendrik Kolenberg and Anne Ryan, James Gleeson: drawings for paintings, Sydney, 2003, 45 (colour illus.).

Ewen McDonald, AGNSW Collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 76 (colour illus.).

David Muir (Producer) and Malcolm Otton (Director), 'Madame Sosostris' by James Gleeson and Robert Klippel (1979), Sydney, 1979. This is a short 10-minute film produced by Film Australia as part of the 'Australian Eye' series.

National Gallery of Australia (Editor), Surrealism: Revolution by night, Canberra, 1993, 217 (colour illus.).

Maudia Palmer, Robert Klippel: a retrospective exhibition of sculpture and works on paper, 'Foreward / Acknowledgements', pg. 3, Bulleen, 1987, 3.

Barry Pearce, Art Gallery of New South Wales handbook, 'Australian', pg.13-35, Sydney, 1988, 27, 28 (illus.), 29.

Ursula Prunster, Aspects of Australian art, Sydney, 2000, (colour illus.). card no. 10: James Gleeson and Robert Klippel 'Madame Sophie Sesostoris (a pre-raphaelite satire) 1947-48

Jennifer Sexton', The Weekend Australian, 'Junkyard god', pg. R14-R15., Sydney, 03 Aug 2002-04 Aug 2002, R15 (colour illus.).

Geoffrey Smith, Art and Australia (Vol. 40, No. 4), 'James Gleeson', pg. 626-633, Sydney, Jun 2003-Aug 2003, 628 (colour illus.), 629.

David Tunny, Look, 'Australian Focus on Madame Sophie', pg. 15, Heidelberg, Nov 1998, 3 (colour illus.), 15 (colour illus.). The image on page 3 is in detail.