06 December 2022

London's Blue Plaque heritage programme. Finally in Australia!

Napoleon III in Westminster,
erected 1867 and is the oldest surviving plaque

A commemorative plaque scheme was first suggested to the House of Com­mons by William Ewart MP in 1863 and taken up by the Royal Society of Arts in London in 1866. They first comm­em­orated the poet Lord Byron at his Cavendish Square home, but this house was demol­ished in 1889. So the plaque to Napoleon III in Westminster, erected 1867, is the earl­iest to have survived.

The Society of Arts’ earliest plaques had special patterned bord­ers showing the Society’s name. Plaques were made of bronze, stone and lead, in square, round and rectangular forms, and were finished in brown, sage, terracotta or blue

In 1901 London County Council/LCC took over the scheme and formalised the selection criteria. The LCC’s first plaque commemorated historian Thomas Babington Mac­aul­ay in 1903, and then Char­l­es Dickens’ house in Doughty St.

Known as the Indication of Hous­es of Historical Interest in London, the LCC continued to use the Minton factory, and they developed a highly dec­or­ative laurel wreath border with ribbon additions eg see the LCC plaque for librettist WS Gilbert in Sth Kens­ing­ton. In the 35 years of Society of Arts man­age­ment, it put up 35 plaques. Barely half of these surv­ive, but John Keats, William Makepeace Thackeray and Edmund Burke’s did. 
WS Gilbert, Plaque erected in 1929
Harr­ing­ton Gardens, South Kensington, London,

The blue ceramic plaques became standard from 1921 because they stood out best in the London streetscape. They were made by Doulton from 1923-55, with a colourful raised wreath border. In 1938 the modern, simp­lif­ied blue plaque was designed by a stud­ent at the Cent­ral School of Arts and Crafts. This omitted the laurel wreath and rib­bon border, & sim­p­lified the overall layout, allowing for a bold­er spacing and lettering arrangement. After WW2, plaques continued to be unveiled at a regular pace. By 1965, when the LCC was abolished, it had been responsible for creating nearly 250.

The LCC’s successor, Greater London Council/GLC, covered a wider area, now including Rich­mond and Croydon. From 1966-85, when the GLC was ab­olished, it had put up 262 plaques, honouring stars like Sylvia Pank­hurst women’s campaigner, Mary Seacole Jamaican nurse and Crimean War heroine, and composer-conduct­or Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. From 1984 on, ceramicists Frank and Sue Ashworth made the blue plaques.         
Alfred Hitchcock plaque
awarded in 1999

English Heritage took over the scheme in 1986 and didn’t change much. Except to be awarded an official English Her­itage plaque, the proposed person must have died 20+ years prev­iously. Its first plaque was in 1986, commemorating painter Oskar Kok­os­chka at Eyre Court in Fin­ch­­ley Rd, even though Kokoschka had been honoured with a CBE back in 1959. English Heritage’s recent pl­aques have rang­ed from Alan Tur­ing to the guitarist-songwriter Jimi Hendrix. Sin­ce then English Heritage added 360+ plaq­ues, bringing the total across London to 933.

In 2013–4 government cuts threatened the scheme, but its future was secured by large donations. English Herit­age bec­ame a charity in 2015 and still manages the scheme.  

Hendrix and Handel homes
museums on upper floors, 23-25 Brook St, Mayfair.

The most recent plaque honoured Isaiah Berlin, philosopher-polit­ic­al theorist-historian of ideas, whose Two Concepts of Liberty is an influential political text. Berlin’s plaque is at his child­hood home in Holland Park.
Isaiah Berlin, the newest plaque, 2022
33 Upper Addison Gardens, Holland Park
Is it too high for pedestrians to read?

I studied Australian history in primary school, but only British Em­p­ire, European and Russian history in high school & university. So when historians called for a Blue Plaque Programme in NSW years ago, I tho­r­oughly agreed.

The home in which children’s author May Gibbs creat­ed the bush fairy tales of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie has now been recog­nised. Nut­cote Cot­­t­age, Gibbs’ former studio on Sydney’s North Shore, is one of the first build­ings in NSW to display a blue plaque model­led on London’s programme, and funded through Heritage NSW.

Premier Mr Perr­ottet said the Blue Plaque programme would succ­essfully un­lock the stories of NSW’s history, pro­m­oting the significance of key her­it­age places and people from all cultures. Artist Brett White­ley and Indigenous champion Charles Perkins were two of the initial fig­ur­es recognised by 700+ public nom­inations. In Apr 2022 NSW’s Heritage Minister Don Harwin announced 17 Blue Pl­aques, selected from 750 nomin­ations made in Nov 2021 by comm­un­ity organisations and local councils. They’ll be installed ac­ross NSW later in 2022. Plaques will adorn the ex Registrar-General’s Build­ing in Syd­ney designed by arch­it­ect Walter Liberty Vernon, and heritage-listed Car­ol­ine Chisholm Cottage East Mait­land, a hostel for homeless migrants.

Blue plaques are also available to owners of sites listed in the Vic­t­orian Heritage Register. In 1999 the Mechanics Institute of Victoria Historical Plaques Programme planned to publicise the history of  these Instit­utes across Victoria. The original Mec­han­ics Instit­ute was built in 1842 in Melbourne. The Ath­enaeum Build­ing, with the statue of Athena on the parapet, was completed in 1886 to a design by arch­it­ects Smith & Johnson, and is registered by the Heritage Council. Werribee Railway Station was complet­ed in 1857 as part of the Geelong Melbourne Railway, Austral­ia’s first country rail­way. It has ret­ained its orig­in­al walls, platform and cellar, and is registered. The Colonial Bank of Australasia building in Kilmore, later the Court House Hotel, is also easily identified now.

The Colonial Bank of Australasia building
Kilmore, Victoria
Contains far more history than the London plaques

Many thanks to English Heritage

03 December 2022

Brilliant Czech doctor, Jan Janský 1873-1921 ........ Guest post

I could be seen as having two vested interests in this story (being Czech and a doctor). But I will try not to exaggerate the importance of  some brilliant Czech medical science.

Throughout history, people knew it was imp­os­s­ib­le to live without blood, but they knew nothing about its com­p­os­ition. Most of the dis­coveries about this vi­tal fluid only em­er­ged after the invention of good microsc­opes and medical proced­ur­es. Thus serology began as the scientific study of serum and other body fl­uids in c1900. In practice serology ref­er­red to the diag­nostic id­ent­ific­at­ion of antibodies in the serum. Anti­­bodies were typically formed in res­p­onse to an infection, against other foreign proteins, or to one's own proteins as in auto-immune disease.      

Jan Janský 1902

Jan Janský 1873-1921 was born near Prague, son of a soap maker, and studied medicine in Ch­arles Uni Prague. From 1899 he work­ed in a Pr­ag­­ue psychiatric clinic and once he became a Professor, he gave expert psychiatric evidence in many court cases.

Dr Jansky was interested in if, and how men­­tal disorders were triggered by blood disorders. He wanted to learn if the serum of psych­otic patients, esp­ec­ially schiz­o­ph­­ren­ics, differed in its coagulation char­ac­teristics from the one from the nor­mal people. In a sam­ple of 3,160 mentally ill patients that he examined, Dr Jansky demonstrated that human blood was divided into 4 basic types accord­ing to specific differ­ences in the properties of red blood cells. With the blood coagulation, Jansky establish­ed in his original research  the four basic blood groups that we now call A, B, O and AB!

The ABO blood group system depends on the presence
or absence of an A or B antigen on the red blood cells.

How­ever he did not go on to do further research on blood and focused solely on psychiat­ry and neuro­logical disorders. Dr Jansky intens­ive­­ly re­s­earched the nature and signific­ance of cerebrospinal fluid. After some years of research, he concluded that there was no correl­ation between blood clotting and human mental illness. So in Nov 1906 he gave a lect­ure, then published his findings in a Czech paper cal­l­ed Haematologic St­udies in Mental Patients (1907), report­ing no cor­rel­at­ion bet­w­een the two. Fortunately in the study he did rep­eat how he classified the four types of blood.

Austrian biologist, physician and imm­un­ologist Karl Landst­ein­er (1868-1943) studied medicine at the University of Vienna. To specialise in chemistry he spent five years in the laboratories of Hantzsch at Zurich, Emil Fischer at Wurzburg and E. Bamberger at Munich. Back at home, Landsteiner resumed his medical studies at the Vienna General Hospital, and in 1896 he became an assistant under Max von Gruber in the Hygiene Institute at Vienna

Landsteiner also described the existence of blood groups, but he only identified 3 groups, not the 4 groups we know today. At the time, Drs Janský and Land­st­einer were unaware of each other's work. Later Dr Landsteiner accepted an invitation to go to the Rockefeller Institute, New York.

Karl Landsteiner
Famous Scientists

A similar classification was described by Am­erican physician Dr William Moss. He dev­el­op­ed the Moss System of blood groups in 1910, used to ensure safe transf­usions. The only issue was that Moss’ blood groups I and IV were the opp­osite of Janský's, leading to some con­fusion in blood transfusion. Note that Dr Moss researched the blood types independently of his Eur­opean colleagues. He heard about Dr Jánský only after his dis­c­overies and before their publication in 1910. Later he rightfully credited Dr Jánský with the discoveries.

Dr Jan­ský's discovery was not really noticed, nor celebrated. But in any case, WW1 started and Jan served 2 years as a doctor at the Front, until he suf­fered a heart attack which prev­ented him from serving longer in the army. However he spent the rest of WW1 working as a neuro-psychiatrist in a military hospital.

With his discovery it made poss­ible to make the transf­usions without the risk that the patient might die when receiving the blood of an in­app­rop­riate donor. Jan’s contrib­ution thus saved many lives by in­suring they got the right type of blood during a trans­fusion. Rec­eiving an incompatible donor’s blood could have been terrible.

The different systems continued to create some danger in U.S medical practice. To resolve the issue, the American Association of Immunologists & Association of Pathologists & Bacteriolog­ists made a joint recommendation in 1921 that the Jansky classific­ation be adopted.

Janský was also a committed proponent of voluntary blood donations, campaign­ing for or­dinary citizens to give. This human­itarian legacy lives on today, when people who donate blood regularly in the Czech Republic and Sl­ov­akia get a Jansky medal of honour. What a fitt­ing way to hon­our his contribution to science!

In 1921, America’s Medical Comm­is­sion acknowledged Janský's 4-group classif­ic­ation over Dr Land­st­einer's who classified blood into only 3 groups. So I am still uncer­t­ain why Landsteiner won the No­bel Pr­ize in Phy­siology or Medicine for his blood type discovery in 1930!! One explanation was that Dr Jánský, as a spec­ial­ist psych­iatrist, did not further build on his res­earch - he was still working as a neuro­psychiatrist in a military hospital when he died in 1921.  Meanwhile Dr Landsteiner dedicated his medical life to blood research. 

Tomb of Dr.Jan Janský
Malvazinky Cemetery

Summary Dr Jansky was a Czech serologist, neurologist and psychiat­rist. He was cred­ited with the first classification of blood into the four types but never won a No­bel Prize or other world honour. On­ly decades la­ter was the man slowly celebrated as the true discoverer of the 4 blood gr­oups. 

See the Czech film, The Secret of Blood (1953) . 

Dr Joe             


28 November 2022

Murano near Venice - a tourist's dream.

Murano Glass

Murano consists of 7 individual islands in a lagoon north of Venice, linked together by beautiful bridges. Travel to Murano from Ven­ice by public vapor­etto, then walk the island canals and visit the beautiful build­ings on each side of the Grand Canal on foot. Have lunch outside any restaurant that is facing the Canal. 

Let’s start at the start. Murano made its living from fishing and salt. In the Roman Empire moulded glass was made in Venice, the indus­try blending Roman experience with skills learned from the Byz­ant­ine Empire and trade with the Or­ient. Thus Venice was emerging as a glass-manufacturing centre as early as the C8th.

Initially a church devoted to the Virgin Mary was built in the C7th then rebuilt tw­ice. Apparently Emp­eror Otto I’s ship was caught by a strong Adriatic storm so he vowed to build a church dedic­at­ed to the Virgin. The st­orm stopped, and Otto saw an apparition that directed him to Murano. He built a church con­sec­rated in 957 and the slim cam­p­­anile/bell tower that stood apart. Both the church and the camp­anile were built of unplastered dark-brown-red brick.

Santa Maria and San Donato Cathedral
Trip Advisor 

Note a beautiful square sur­rounded by smaller historical buildings. Note the eastern fac­ade, which faced a canal, was de­­corated with special colon­n­ades to cr­eate a magnificent first imp­res­sion. But why was it called St Donato, a man who did not have any conn­ection to the Venetian lagoon. Ven­etians used to buy important relics and bring them home from their travels, to earn authority in intern­at­­ion­al rel­at­ions and tourism. The relics of St Donato, and the huge bones said to belong to the dragon slain by St Donato, were brought to Murano in 1125. Fights between the St Ma­r­ia and St Stefano par­ish­es were har­sh, lasting until 1125 when Doge Domenico Michele streng­th­ened the Santa Maria church by storing St Donato’s rel­ics in a mar­ble sarcophagus. Since then, the church was devoted to St Don­ato! To celebrate, a col­our­­ful stone mosaic floor in Byzantine style was made in c1140. The is­land only has 3 working churches now.

When did the Glassmakers’ Guild become important on the island? The Guild laid out craft­smen’s rules, to safe­guard the trade secrets and en­s­ure the in­dustry’s profits, and a 1271 law prohib­it­ed the imp­ort of foreign glass or employment of foreign workers. A tougher law was passed in 1291, requiring all glassmaking furnaces be moved to Murano, to avoid fire spreading over Venice’s dense wooden structures.

Because of Venice’s location at the cultural bridge between Eastern and Western trade, the city’s glass peaked in popul­ar­ity in the C15th-C16th. The popularity of Chinese porcelain among Eur­opean nob­ility fuel­led a white-glass-mimicking-porcelain industry. Moneyed families starte­d to create palaces for themselves. Examine eg Pal­azzo da Mula, a medieval palace featuring the gothic façade and Byz­ant­ine déco­r­ation that was so popular in Venetian architecture. In the C16th the noble Mula fam­ily rebuilt the original build­ing to a large extent. It is still a very imp­ressive municip­al registry office today.

Palazzo da Mula

Another patrician palace in typical gothic style became the Palace of the Bishops of Torcello in 1659, just as reb­uilding was being car­ried out based on plans by architect Antonio Gasp­ari. When in 1805 Torcel­lo Diocese was abolished, the palace pas­s­ed to the Venice Patriarchate then sold to the Murano Mun­icipality to become the townhall. When the museum and archives were established in 1861, they were both housed on the 1st floor. But the steady growth of the collection made it necess­ary to find more space and so grad­ual­ly the museum occupied the whole palace. 

After the autonomous Murano Municipality was abol­ished in 1923 and annexed to Venice, the building became part of the Venice Civic Mu­seums. Visit the Murano Museum of Glass which was ren­ov­ated in 2016, although the exterior has rem­ained true to the original.

Ven­et­ian power on the trade routes reduced and new craft centres em­erged in Bohemia and Fr­ance instead. But while Murano glass might have entered a gradual decline in the C17th, this was also an era of baroque taste that spread via European architecture, painting and int­erior de­c­­oration. At least royal courts continued to order glass­ware.

But in the C18th the political climate worsened. The industry suffered with Napol­eon’s con­quest of Venice in 1797 and his abolition of Ven­ice’s guilds. In 1814, the transfer of Venice from France to the Hab­s­burg Em­pire created anot­h­er crisis for Mur­ano’s economy; Habs­burg rul­ers pre­ferred their own art centres in Bohemia so they passed laws mak­ing it ex­pensive to bring neces­sary raw materials into Murano.

Art glass from Murano

In 1861 Ven­ic­e’s mayor built an Archive ded­ic­ated to both the writings and the objects prod­uced. There was an Archive Exhibition (1864) and then intern­at­ional shows followed eg the 1867 Univer­s­al Exposit­ion in Paris where Salviati exhib­it­ed 500+ works made by his firm to in­ter­nat­ion­al acclaim. This publicity led to com­­plete revival of Mur­ano, empl­oy­ing 3,500 people by 1870. The Murano & Ven­ice Exhib­ition of Choice Glass Obj­ects in 1895 in Murano City Hall was success­ful, as were the Paris Univ­er­sal Exposit­ion in 1900, fol­l­ow­ed by Exp­os­itions of Turin’s Decorative Arts in 1902 and Milan’s in 1906.

Coloured houses along the canal 

Many residents on Murano painted their houses in bright neon hues. The homeowners said that the tradition of brightly coloured homes stemmed from the island's origins as a fishing village i.e they used vibrant colours so they could find their way home in the dark and the fog. This made sense since Murano didn’t have the mega-wealthy class of the glory days of Venice. Nonetheless the same bright houses on the canals these days are largely to draw tourists.


26 November 2022

Archibald winning portraits in Australia: Rabbi Porush by W.E.Pidgeon

Let's Face It: The History of the Archibald Prize (1999) was a great book by Peter Ross. See earlier references to the prize-winning Port­rait of the Artist Joshua Smith by William Dobell, for example.

Rabbi I Porush, 1961
by WEP
Archibald Prize Archives

John Feltham Archibald (1856-1919) was born to a hard-working, rural Irish family. The lad was first app­ren­ticed to the Warrn­am­bool Ex­am­iner, then at 19 he moved to Melbourne to work in a newsp­ap­er’s print­ing room. Archibald headed north in 1878. He created a part­nership in Sydney with a newspaper colleague, and started The Bul­let­in in 1880, Aust­r­alia’s first quality weekly magazine of pol­it­ics, business and lit­erature. Famous literary men eg Henry Lawson, Banjo Patt­er­son vis­it­ed often, as did top illustrators eg George Lambert, Norman Lindsay.

Peter Ross was very honest about the Bulletin, saying first editor Archibald was a racist and anti-Semite. Its motto was "Australia for the white man". Alas this biz­arre mix of pol­­itical activism and bitter xeno­ph­obia seemed popular then.

In 1902 Archibald was locked in a Sydney Psychiatric Asy­lum. When he could go back into the community, he sadly had to sell his share of The Bull­etin. But happily he was made a NSW Art Gall­ery Trustee, 1915. He died in 1919, leaving a large estate with these cl­auses in his will. Part was used to
1] create WW1 fountain in Hyde Park by French sculptor François Sicard
2] fund the Journalists' Associat­ion Bene­vo­lent Fund and
3] en­d­ow the art prize, judged by NSW Art Gallery Trustees.

The Archibald Bequest gave a prize for the best portrait painted by an Aus­tralian art­ist, of someone distinguished in art, let­ters, scien­ce or politics. Clearly Archibald’s int­en­t­ions had been to perpetuate the memory of great Austral­ians. But there were many legal challenges.

So the Trustees had to be specific in their Condit­ions of Entry. The prize was first awarded was 1921, won by WB McInnes for his Por­t­rait of architect Desbrowe Annear. Then Mc­In­nes again in 1922 with a Portrait of Prof Harrison Moore. And in 1923 with his Por­trait of a Lady. Then in 1924 with a Portrait of Miss Collins. By then the Sydney critics were angry because 1 Mel­bour­nian was hogg­ing the award. And he won 3 more times before WW2! And from 1925, another Victor­ian artist John Long­staff won 5 of the prizes!

The 1920s was a European decade of great innov­ation with Cubism, Sur­r­eal­ism, Dadaism and Bauhaus abstracts competing. But in Aus­tr­al­ia, the tradition of C19th acad­emic portraiture was thriv­ing, ?pres­erved by its geographic isol­at­ion from Europe. Did the Ar­chibald Prize attract con­serv­at­ive­ art­is­ts who weren’t in the mod­ern­ist movement? Or did more modernist artists adopt tonal realism, to win the prize?

Stanislaus Rapotec, 1960
by Judy Cassab
Art Gallery NSW

A modernist who resisted the traditionalism of the ear­ly Archib­al­ds Grace Crowley had entered the compet­it­ion, only to be turn­ed down by the trustees. The Bull­et­in knew that women art­ists should be excluded! The first woman artist to win was Nora Heysen, Hans Heysen’s daughter. Even then the Sydney Morn­ing Herald questioned the trust­ees’ sanity, in giving her the 1938 award!

In the 1940s the youn­g­er, more mod­ern artists were becoming more frus­trated with the same conserv­at­ive, male choices made by the trust­ees. William Do­bell received much criticism when his work Portrait of the Art­ist Joshua Smith was awarded the Prize in 1943.

Archibald Prize went to William E Pidgeon, 1961
Israel Porush (1907-91) grew up in Jerusalem, studied in an Isra­eli yeshiva until 15 then was sent to secular Ger­man school in 1922. From 1927 he studied at Berlin Uni and at Ber­lin’s Rabbinical Seminary, then he compl­eted a doct­oral thesis in maths at Marburg Uni. In 1933 he migrated to London. In 1939, war encouraged him to become senior rabbi at Sydney’s Great Synagogue, holding it for c33 years. He was head of the Syd­ney Rabbinical Court 1940-75 and welcomed the post-war refug­ees. He was res­p­ected for com­b­ining rabb­inical learning, se­cular sch­olarship and leader­ship, becoming President of the Ass­ociation of Jewish Min­is­ters of Aus­t­ralia & New Zealand.

W.E Pidgeon/WEP left his magazine in 1949 to do portrait paint­ing, com­m­iss­ions becoming his livelihood for 25 years. He joined the Journ­al­ists' Club Syd­ney, WEP submitting a port­rait of the modern­ist jour­nalist Kenneth Slessor to the Archibald. He didn’t win until his port­raits of Ray Walker 1958 and artist Ll­oyd Rees 1968.

 Ray Walker, by WEP, 
Art Gall NSW

Lloyd Rees, by WEP, 
Art Gall NSW

WEP was fascinated with relig­ions and had close Jew­ish ass­ociates eg Sali Her­man, Judy Cas­sab. He believed other por­traits were mov­ing towards more ab­­stract expr­es­­­s­ions, whereas his style was still trad­it­ional. And many of his port­raits were commiss­ion­ed, im­posing greater const­raints.

R’Porush was the only rabbinical portrait that won the Archibald, but he was not the first hopeful. R’Francis Lyon Cohen by Jos­eph Wol­inski featured in the first Archibald (1921). And the same artist put in a portrait of Coh­en’s successor, R’Abraham Wolinski (1931). A 1940 port­rait of R’Leib Falk by Valerie La­zarus al­so got into the exhibition.

The Ar­ch­ib­ald was never far from controversy. The 1961 winning port­rait was of Rabbi Dr Israel Porush by WE Pidgeon/WEP (1909-81). R’ Porush was dressed in his traditional prayer shawl, apparently at the reading platform bef­ore the Holy Ark. But it was actually painted in WEP’s North­wood studio in 6 sittings in 1961. WEP’s portrait of R’ Porush could have been seen as too tradit­ional, but the AGNSW curator emphas­ised that this rabbinical portrait won at a time when the White Australia Policy was still nasty!

Sydney Morning Herald art critic dis­mis­sed WEP’s work as tame, tradit­ional and completely ped­estrian. The crit­ics did­n’t ack­now­ledge the portrait’s social sig­nif­icance, calling it just another depiction of a white middle-aged man in ceremonial rob­es.

Kenneth Slessor by WEP, 
Art Gall NSW
How ironic that racist Archibald had funded a competition which eventually charted Australia’s transformation into one of the wor­ld’s successful cul­turally diverse societies. Not only was this WEP’s 12th entry in the competition, and his 2nd win. Since Arch­ibald died,  3 Jewish artists have won:

1] Viennese Australian Judy Cassab won for her portraits of fellow ar­t­ists Stan Rapotec 1960 and Margo Lewers 1967.
2] Wendy Sharpe won for self-portrait Goddess Diana 1996
3] Yvette Coppersmith won for a self-portrait, referencing New Zealand P.M Jac­inda Ardern (2018). Archibald must have been turning in his grave.

See the ABC’s 2021 series Finding The ArchibaldRachel Griffiths’ mission was to find an Archibald portrait that captured Austr­al­ia’s changes, with the NSW Art Gal­l­ery’s Archie 100: Century of the Ar­chibald Prize.  And read Bul­letin magaz­ine in June 1964. To see each winning portrait, go to The Art Gallery of NSW 

Margaret Olley by Ben Quilty
Art Gallery NSW