The Russell Statues 

In 1878, the Auckland Museum received a gift of 22 full-sized plaster casts and 11 busts from a wealthy expatriate Aucklander, Thomas Russell. Russell had ordered the sculptures from the workshop of Domenico Brucciani of Covent Garden, London, and intended them as ‘a truly magnificent donation’ for the newly built Auckland Museum building on Princes Street.

With their arrival, Auckland Mayor Sir John Logan Campbell saw an opportunity to establish the first free school of art in Auckland. The statues were used as models for figure drawing, with stools and easels provided for students and ‘copyists’.

Northeast corner on the ground floor of the Main Hall in Auckland Museum’s Princes Street building. Statues from left are: Discobolus, Demosthenes, Dancing Faun (in corner), Apollino and Laocoön. The Dying Gaul is obscured by Laocoön.

A group of Elam students in front of the Laocoön cast in the Auckland Museum, possibly the Princes Street building. From left: unknown, Margaret (Woodward) Jackson, Alice (Falliwell) Whyte, unknown, Jane Eyre (later teacher).

Three of these casts – the Dying Gaul, Laocoön and Discobolus – now sit on display along the mezzanine above the entrance to the Grand Foyer. They emphasise the Greek Revival architecture of the Museum and are also an acknowledgement of the historical importance of the arts of classical antiquity to European culture.



Laocoön was a priest famous for warning the Trojans about the wooden horse given to them by the Greeks. Shortly afterwards, Laocoön and his sons were killed by two sea serpents sent by the Greek goddess Athena.

The Laocoön is a masterpiece of violent movement and despair. Reproduced from an original marble sculpture, which dates from the 2nd century BCE and brought to Rome in 79 CE, the original disappeared and then was rediscovered in 1506.




Discobolus of Myron portrays an athlete throwing a discus and is taken from a bronze work of Greek sculptor Myron. Discobolus was Myron’s masterpiece and is remarkable in its depiction of the ‘tension of the psychological moment’ of an intense physical action.

Myron preferred to work in bronze and was the leading sculptor in Athens in the middle years of the 5th century BCE. Only copies of the original bronze survive, two of which are in the Terme Museum, Rome.

Discobolus on collections online

Dying Gaul

Dying Gaul

The Dying Gaul portrays a mortally wounded Gallic warrior fallen on his shield and is a frank depiction of the poignancy of defeat and death.

The marble statue as seen in the Capitoline Museum, Rome, is identified as a copy of an earlier bronze sculpture commissioned by King Attalus 1 of Pergamum. Attalus defeated an army of invading Gauls, the Galatians, in 241 BCE and to mark this victory he erected statues of dying or captive Gauls in Pergamum and Athens.

Dying Gaul on collections online


Auckland Museum acknowledges the generosity of the John Logan Campbell Residuary Estate in the initial establishment of this gallery.