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Australian art

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The spirit of the sea



Barbara Tribe

Australia, England

20 Jun 1913 - 21 Oct 2000


In 'The spirit of the sea' 1933 Barbara Tribe has endowed a mythological subject with a modern sensibility. The marine theme was influenced by her upbringing in Sydney's eastern suburbs and was in tune with the classicised reimagining of beach life by Australian artists during the 1930s. Tribe has modelled a mermaid being devoured by a sea creature in 'The spirit of the sea'. Its overt eroticism, represented by the sexual symbolism of the serpent and its contortion of the female figure, is indicative of the vitalist traditions taught by Rayner Hoff with whom Tribe was a student of at East Sydney Technical College.' The spirit of the sea’ was first exhibited in the Society of Artists, Sydney, in 1934, where it and was reviewed favourably in the Sydney Mail.




Media category


Materials used

plaster, wood


39.5 x 41.5 x 23.5 cm

Signature & date

Signed l.l. verso, incised "Barbara Tribe.". Not dated.


Bequest of Barbara Tribe 2015


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Barbara Tribe

Artist profile

Works in the collection


Shown in 2 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 5 publications


Deborah Edwards, 'This vital flesh': the sculpture of Rayner Hoff and his school, 'The new renaissance: the practical apparatus', pg. 15-30, Sydney, 1999, 24, 25 (colour illus.), 109. bronze version

Peter Lanigan-O'Keefe., Alice to Penzance : a retrospective exhibition of the work of Barbara Tribe, F.R.B.S. Australia's most important living sculptress and the Originals Outback collection of contemporary Aboriginal paintings, 'Barbara Tribe, F.R.B.S.', London, 1991, n.pag..

Patricia McDonald, Barbara Tribe: sculptor, North Ryde, 2000, 15, 77 (colour illus.), 148, 156, 160. plate no. 2

Society of Artists, Society of Artists Annual Exhibition (1934), Sydney, 1934, n.pag. (illus.). 240; titled 'Spirit of the Sea (Decorative Figure)'; priced 10 gns

'The man on the street', Sydney Mail, 'The Society of Arists', pg. 15, Sydney, 19 Sep 1934, 15.