27 February 2009

The Migration Experience, in Art

Ford Madox Brown, The Last of England

Australia has always been a country of migrants. This was true from the very beginning of European migration when, apart from the in­dig­enous population, the only other people were convicts (involuntary migrants), colonial staff and some free settlers. During the first half of the 19th century, the source of migration was largely Britain and Ireland. And the gold rush brought another 600,000 new citizens.

As you would expect, British and Australian art in the 19th cent­ury was very involved in the migration experience. There were many paintings that reflected the tragedy of saying goodbye to parents and siblings, realising that they would most likely nev­er been seen again. Perhaps the most heartbreaking of all were images of life at sea.

John Dollman, The Immigrants’ Ship

Ford Madox Brown painted The Last of England in 1855. Now in Birm­ingham, the image depicted a lovely young couple who made the brave decision to sail 15,000 ks for a better life, risking storms and isolation. Three elements increased the sense of misery: the grey atmosphere; the dangling cabbages on the side of the boat, suggesting a long long trip ahead and the hopelessness of the title.

John Charles Dollman painted The Immigrants’ Ship in 1884, now in the Art Gallery of South Australia. It was not clear whether, for the adults, life on board was exhausting, boring or despondent about the future. At least the small children were keeping themselves amused. Tom Roberts travelled aboard the Lusitania in 1885 and paint­ed Coming South in 1886. Some of the passengers looked as if they were in mourning, presumably for the life that had irreversibly left behind. However some of Robert’s passengers seemed to have been socialising nicely.

Tom Roberts, Coming South

Contact with home was entirely by mail, taking weeks and even months to arrive at its final destination. William Strutt paint­ed Gold Digger’s Letter from Home in c1860, showing how every letter had been retained by the digger, to be read and reread over time. The digger’s mate was there to either share the pleasure or comfort the pain.

William Strutt, Gold Digger's Letter

When WW2 ended, the government took an entirely new approach to migration. The near invasion of Australia by the Japanese caused a complete rethink of ideal population numbers. Prime Minister Ben Chifley noted “a powerful enemy looked hungrily toward Aus­tralia. In tomorrow's gun flash, that threat could come again. We must populate Australia as rapidly as we can before someone else decides to populate it for us.”

When WW2 ended, the government took an entirely new approach to migration. The near invasion of Australia by the Japanese caused a complete rethink of ideal population numbers. Prime Minister Ben Chifley noted “a powerful enemy looked hungrily toward Aus­tralia. In tomorrow's gun flash, that threat could come again. We must populate Australia as rapidly as we can before someone else decides to populate it for us.”

Most migrants arrived by ship, disembarking first in Frem­antle then in the major cities of the Eastern States, Sydney and Melbourne. In the late 1940s and into the early 1950s, Austral­ians greeted incoming migrant ships, waiting to see if any European family members had survived the war. My own husband remembered arriving on the SS Misr in 1952, with his clothes sewn into pillow slips because the family couldn’t afford suitcases.

By 2006 25% of the Australian population was born overseas, and a further 20% are children born IN Australia to migrant parents. No other country has anything like as large a proportion of its pop­ul­ation being foreign born (except of course Israel, whose unique Law of Return mandates that nation to accept as a new citizen anyone fearful of opp­res­sion in their own homeland). In recent censuses, people born in Britain and New Zealand accounted for 33% of all overseas-born persons in Aust­ralia's population, foll­owed by Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Lebanese, Chin­ese, Vietnamese and other nationals.

The migration experience is now faster and safer, but it still requires a brave soul to leave their homeland for a strange country. I am delighted that many blogs are set up to make the experience easier:
[1] Australia immigration - is it 4 u ? http://blog.oz-migration.com.au/

[2] The Immigration Game - A Pom 'Down Under' http://uk2au.blogspot.com/index.html

[3] AFRICAN REFUGEES http://africanrefugees.blogspot.com/

[4] 3GK 2008 Blog http://3gkblogs.edublogs.org/
With the 1918 peace after WW1, there was a revival of assisted mig­rat­ion schemes. In the interwar period, increasing numbers of young men from Greece and Italy paid their own way to Australia. Their wives and children presumably travelled months or years later, once the breadwinner was at least stably settled.With the 1918 peace after WW1, there was a revival of assisted mig­rat­ion schemes. In the interwar period, increasing numbers of young men from Greece and Italy paid their own way to Australia. Their wives and children presumably travelled months or years later, once the breadwinner was at least stably settled.

The blog British Paintings has publicised an exhibition at the Tate in London called Migrations Journeys into British Art (Jan–August 2012). It looks wonderful.

Post WW2 migrants arriving, on the Stratheden

24 February 2009

Blogging Award of Excellence

The aim of the Excessively Diverting Blog Award is to acknowledge writing excellence in the spirit of Jane Austen’s genius in amusing and delighting readers with her irony, humour, wit and talent for keen observation. Recipients will uphold the highest standards in the art of the sparkling banter, witty repartee, and gentle reprove. This award was created by the blogging team of Jane Austen Today to ack­now­­ledge superior writing over the Internet and promote Jane Austen’s brilliance.

It was great that Viola at Royal Rendezvous nominated me for this award! Here are my nominees:
An Edwardian State of Mind. Clare is a woman, she was raised in England and Australia, she writes beautifully and Edwardian topics are always fascinating. These four factors alone make the blog worthwhile. http://edwardianstateofmind.blogspot.com/

Victorian History. Bruce writes one of my favourite blogs because the quality of the writing is top notch. Several times I have used his material as a springboard, then gone on to read more about the topic. http://vichist.blogspot.com/

The Earthly Paradise. Margaret is a historian with a passion for art and literature. A woman after my own heart. She writes about the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, romantic literature and other wonderful stuff. http://www.theearthlyparadise.com/

Van Gogh's Chair Sheramy combines art history, travel, popular cul­t­ure and, her favourite, Van Gogh. Being an art historian, I need the objects to be displayed. But her text is super too. http://vangoghschair.blogspot.com/

The Yorkist Age Brian writes on material outside my area of expertise so I love the challenge of his posts. http://yorkistage.blogspot.com/

Art Deco Buildings David has located and described the most amazing Deco buildings and objects from around the world. http://artdecobuildings.blogspot.com/

Cardinal Wolsey's Today in History. The Cardinal writes outside my own area, but I love his writing and images. Witty writing. http://this-day-in-history.blogspot.com/

Recipients, please claim your award by copying the HTML code of the Excessively Diverting Blog Award badge, posting it on your blog, listing the name of the person who nominated you, and linking to their blog. Then nominate seven (7) other blogs that you feel meet or exceed the standards set forth. Nominees may place the Excessively Diverting badge in their side bar and enjoy the appreciation of their fellow blogger for recognition of their talent.

23 February 2009

Mechanics' Institutes II - who did they serve?

In pursuing motivations for the Mechanics' Institutes movement, I was hoping that middle class philanthropy or middle class hopes of improving workers' morality were NOT the dominant elements. The genteel philanthropists and self-improving artisans who founded the individual Institutes may have wanted to draw workers away from the pubs and noisy music halls. Or to keep them busy at night, improving their minds instead of thinking of petty crime.
See History and Description of the Mechanics’ Institute, by David Roh at Transliteracies: “The Mechanics’ Institute sprang up in 19th century England for the ostensible purpose of imparting upon the working class mechanic knowledge of the sciences, literature and arts. In actuality, a myriad of purposes shrouded the creation of these institutes, which were ultimately appropriated by the middle class when it became apparent that the working class was not as receptive as had been anticipated. Some scholars conjecture that they were really formed as a means of control and indoctrination of the working class, allowing only as little real knowledge as needed for them to improve as workers, but little else. As the middle class began to move in, the working class retreated to the Institute’s libraries and reading rooms, where they were free to discuss topics that interested them.”

"Richard Altick and Frederick Engels writes of the Mechanics’ Institute as a tool of middle-class oppression of the lower class, while others like Ian Inkster paint it as a marker of class divisions in the rapidly changing social order of the post-industrial era. Edward Royle argues that they actually partly succeeded in their original mission of enlightening the working class. Of particular interest may be its effect on kinds of reading material it exposed to its working class members and how they may have influenced their ideologies."

Somerville, Victoria

Perhaps we need to ask if the English model, as described here, was picked up lock stock and barrel by Australians? Perhaps a younger, less class-bound nation found a great concept in the motherland, then modified it for Australian conditions. Secondly there may have been a difference between Mechanics' Institutes in large cities, with their universities, technical schools and libraries, and those in small rural towns. Finally the motivation for starting a movement in one period (1830s-60s) might change with the passage of time. The children and grandchildren of the original settlers in gold towns faced a very different world by the end of the 19th century.

1.Donald Barker, “Funding communal culture: opportunism and standardisation of funding for mechanics’ institutes in colonial Victoria,” in The Australian Library Journal.
2.Anne Firth, “Culture and Wealth Creation: Mechanics’ Institutes and the Emergence of Political Economy in Early Nineteenth-Century Britain,? in History of Intellectual Culture.

21 February 2009

Mechanics' Institutes I - the Victorian history


The Mechanics’ Institute movement began in 1800. Dr George Birk­beck (d1841) of the And­ersonian Institute in Glasgow gave a series of lec­t­ures to local mechanics (ordinary skilled workers) about new tech­nology. The lectures were extremely popular because Birkbeck offered them without fees, at the time when formal education was mostly unavail­able to workers.

The movement’s first organisations were the Edinburgh School of Arts (1821) and then spread south to the London Mechanics’ Institute (1823) and the rest of England. English Buildings, for example, showed the beautiful Banbury Institute building, which provided instruction on the working people of north Oxfordshire. Finally the movement spread quickly throughout the British Empire, Australia’s first Mechanics’ Institute being established in Hobart as early as 1827.


Birbeck wanted to give the workers access to an education for its own sake, not for vocational purposes. But historians seem in disag­ree­m­ent about other peoples’ motives. Clearly many industrial­ists thought that more know­ledgeable workers would result in increas­ed industrial and economic efficiency. And many Victorians, of a more religious bent, hoped that these institutes would become centres for moral and social reform in the working classes. At its height in popularity, between 1850-1914, the Mechanics’ Institute spread right across Britain and the British Empire.

The sites were dedicated to providing education and self improvement opportunities to workers, especially in the technical sub­j­ects. They provided librar­ies, reading rooms, day or evening lectures, museums, halls, games room and meeting places.

Games room, Ballarat

It was a voluntary self-help association, set up for the workers of a town, assisted by a few leading re­sidents who had money and education. The workers had to raise, by means of small weekly fees, a fund to be expended in the instruction of the members. And the Inst­it­utes could also be funded by local indus­t­rial­ists who would benefit from hav­ing skilled workers. Trustees and commit-tee members were dedicated to the improvement of their local communities. Education in science and lit­er­­ature was perfectly acceptable; subjects like religion and politics were not.

The Australian movement really got going in Victoria, as Mechanics Institutes of Victoria Inc blog has shown. The format­ion of the Melbourne Mechanics Institute in Collins St in 1839, renamed The Mel­bourne Athenaeum in 1873, was a landmark event. The Athenaeum, a large impressive building, still operates a library, theatres and shops in its original building today.


From the 1850s, Mechanics' Institutes quickly spread across Victoria. While there were substantial and very attractive Institutes built in Melbourne and the large regional cities, the small rural towns’ Institutes were probably more important. Clearly the Institute served as a centre for adult education for those communities that had no other outlets for technical education or decent libraries. And it's reasonable to think that they served as a cultural centres for rural populations.

I was originally very interested in the architecture of the rural Institutes: classical Greek, renaissance revival, Australian-rural etc. Each Institute seemed to be small, free standing and perfectly formed for its purpose.

above: Geelong, first built in 1856 and later enlargedbelow: Leongatha, built in 1912

Ararat was declared a municipality in 1858 when its first newspaper was published. Work on a hospital, water supply, cem­etery, botanical gar­dens, mechanics institute, church and courthouse began the next year. Even before the post office was established, the Mech­anics’ Ins­titute was one of the first facilities built in the new town in 1859. Through taxes and subscription, wealthy Kyneton was able to build many impor­tant public buildings, incuding its Mech­anics Ins­tit­ute and library 1857-8. This blue stone Inst­it­ute was not flashy, but it was solid and respectable. Beaufort's old library was ass­oc­iat­ed with their Mech­an­ics' Instit­ute, built quite attractively in 1863. Eagle­hawk’s Mechan­ics' Instit­ute opened in 1883. A red brick Institute was built in Creswick in 1892. The Rushworth Museum located in the Mechanics Institute building in High St, built as late as 1913.


But how radical was the idea of workers’ education? The concept of providing lectures and reading, primarily for the purpose of self-improvement in workers who had been moved out of the formal education system at the minimum leaving age, was itself radical. And free education and public libraries were particularly valued in Central Victoria. This part of Australia had enjoyed a more radical history; people valued democ­racy on the ex-goldfields: education for all, Mechanics’ Institutes and public lib­raries, trade unionism and, soon, the vote. But did the Mechanics’ Institutes invite guest speakers to address the locals on workers’ rights and universal suffrage, for example? Was there any opposition from educated people about standards and suitability? Could women join the classes? Did the workers receive recognition from their bosses for having completed classes in their own time? My feeling is that the more educated part of the population may have funded, designed and organised the Institutes for their own purposes.

These Institutes, the forerunners of adult education and the public library system in Victoria, gradually lost their significance. By WW2 the buildings started to be used as libraries, historical societies, small theatres or tourist bureaux. Amazingly 562 still remain today in Victoria.


For a useful history of the movement, see Mechanics' institutes and school of arts in Australia.

17 February 2009

Berta Zuckerkandl, Vienna's Saloniere

Berta Szeps (1864-1945) was the daughter of the liberal Viennese newspaper publisher Moritz Szeps. Due to the unique position of her father at Neues Wiener Tagblatt and closest advisor to Crown Prince Rudolf (son of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth), she could establish contacts within European high society.

Berta Szeps Zuckerkandl

She married Emil Zuckerkandl who was educated in medicine at Vienna Uni 1874. In 1875 he became privat-docent of anat­omy at Utrecht, became assis­tant professor in Vienna in 1879, professor at Graz in 1882 and prof of anatomy in Vienna. Emil opened the door for Berta into the world of science and stood to one side so she could create the salon of her dreams.

A third fortunate connection for Berta occurred when her sister Sofie married Paul Clem­enceau, brother of French President Georges Clemenceau. Now she had good ties to Parisien artistic circles and even better language skills. Berta translated plays from French into German.

As a result of her connections and of her own talents, Berta Zuck­er­kandl was active as a nov­el­ist, journalist and critic, but what she truly loved was modern art. From the late C19th until 1938, Berta led an important literary salon in Vienna, using her villa in Döbling, north of Vienna’s city centre. Her salon was a meeting place for many artists and men of letters, incl Auguste Rodin, Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann, Gustav Mahler, Arthur Schnitz­ler, Max Reinhardt.

Gustav Mahler

Berta was thought to be an open-minded art critic and champion of Viennese mod­ernism. I can’t find any direct evidence, but several good judges have said that the initial discussions on founding the Vienna Secession occurred in her salon. She was certainly very supportive of the young artists and was definitely the person responsible for bringing August Rodin to Vienna in 1902.

And the patronage continued. The first big order for Josef Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstätte, the building of the Sanatorium Purkersdorf (1904) including its interior design, came about by the acquaintance of the building contractor with Ms Zuckerkandl.

The Zuckerkandls were not aristocracy but even if they were, intel­l­ect and achievement were more important than high birth. So it is interesting that her most important address was in a palatial build­ing. Unlike traditional, baroque palaces in Vienna, Palais Lieben-Auspitz was actually built in the late C19th and is therefore called a Ringstrasse Palace. It is five storeys high and once housed Berta’s salon. Located on the street level, the famous Café Landtmann still does great business.

Palais Lieben-Auspitz
This important saloniere was also a cofounder of the Salzburg Music Festival. Nonetheless, the only blog I can find who mentions Ms Zuckerkandl was the Dali House blog.

12 February 2009

Australian Bushfires in Art II - Romanticism

Chris Bellinger1 set me thinking. Now I have to ask if it possible that John Longstaff, as shown in his painting Gippsland, Sunday night, 20th Feb 1898, was really influenced by Europe’s Romantic tradition in art?

Romantic art helped to form our modern notion of what it meant to be an artist, at least from the end of the C18th until the middle of the C19th. I am thinking of images of people cling­ing to a raft in a heaving ocean or Alpine waterfalls smashing over rocks. The threats to the humans in these situations were totally outside their control, so the Romantics saw the crises as very real threats of annihilation. How correct this turned out to be in the case of the Australian bushfires.
Turner, Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, 1812.

Consider William Turner’s Hannibal and His Army Crossing the Alps, 1812 (The Tate); the forces of nature in this work led to a pessimistic res­p­onse in both the artist and the viewer. The weather was huge and the people were like puny ants. And examine the devastation in Caspar David Friedrich’s The Polar Sea, 1824 (Kunsthalle). Tellingly, Polar Sea was known as The Wreck of Hope, in reference to a shipwreck from a failed North Pole Expedition.

Cardinal Wolsey's blog presented an amazing painting of the icy Thames in the 1680s: The Frozen Thames by Abraham Hondius (The Museum of London). Although a dramatic presentation of nature's force, I would not normally have included the work as Romantic, since it looked as if the Frost Fairs were activities of real enjoyment. However note Cardinal Wolsey's line "many communities in northern and eastern Europe were abandoned to the advancing ice". This was not real enjoyment at all; it was a nightmare.

And I found another blog that was very interested in awesome weather conditions in southern England in the early C17th. Mercurius Politicus located the frontispiece of a booklet called The Cold Yeare: 1614. In it, the author wrote of "a deepe snow: In which men and cattell have perished, To the generall losse of farmers, grasiers, husbandmen, and all sorts of people in the countrie; and no lesse hurtfull to citizens". The cover depicted precious cows and horses falling into treacherous snowy caverns. Life was difficult, dangerous and often fatal.

Romantic art had elements that were common across English, Ger­man and French art of the period: a] an intense identification with nature; b] valuing emotions and imagination over cool reason; c] a sense of impending tragedy; and d] a total inability of insignificant hum­an beings to control their future, in the face of powerful, natural forc­es. Although I am not very interested in Romanticism’s nostalgia for the natural simplicity of "some medieval past", we can certainly agree that Romanticism strongly contrasted with the refined, intellectual nature of Neo-Classicism.

Friedrich, The Polar Sea, 1824

I had never thought of Australian art having Romantic influences. Our history has not been interested in making a stand against the Enlight­enment’s aristocratic social and political values. Furthermore we don’t seem to have ever been very involved in the ideas and styles of Johann Goethe or William Blake. Yet Longstaff’s citizens of Gippland were as helpless in the face of rampant Nature as were the victims in Turner, Friedrich or indeed Théodore Géricault.

As were the workers in Arthur Streeton's Fire's On, Lapstone Tunnel 1891 (Art Gallery of NSW). While blasting through enormous rocks for new railway lines in the Blue Mountains in 1891, fire broke inside the tunnel. Workers who could save themselves ran outside and waited. They understood that their colleagues inside would instantly die of burns and suffocation.

Streeton, Fire's On, 1891

For specialist information on Romanticism, see Romantic Circles Blog. Perhaps Nature is back in control ; the murderous bushfires followed even more murderous tsunamis, droughts, floods and earthquakes.

10 February 2009

Australian Bushfires in Art I

It must have been shocking to European artists in the C19th that they had come to a brown land full of dangers. It is true that most art­ists didn’t live in the harsh, dry bush areas except for the land beyond Melbourne and Sydney. But they understood the smallness of human beings in the vastness of the landscape.

They may well have visited the bush, as we can see in the very Aust­ralian images created by the Heidelberg School. And this is where we start to see some of the tragic elements of living in an inhospitable land eg Frederick McCubbin painted A Bush Burial 1890 where a pion­eering family had to conduct a funeral as best they could, far from “civilised city life”.

But no event was more terrifying than fire, arguably an integral part of Australian life. Despite the loss of trees, animal life, homes, farms and even human life, it was always clear that hot, dry, windy summers created the perfect environment for fires to explode into action and spread.

Bushfires provided dramatic story lines for some of the most mem­or­able works in late C19th and early C20th Australian art, including works by Eugene von Guerard (March 1857), William Strutt (Feb 1851) and John Longstaff (Feb 1898).

John Longstaff (1861-1941) was born in central Victoria and would have understood bushfires from his own family’s experience. As an adult and established artist, Longstaff was well aware of the bush­fires that ravaged Gippsland in 1897–98 and caused terrible damage. Two townships were razed to the ground, hundreds of settlers were burnt out and livestock died where they stood. Longstaff visited the area later in Feb 1898 to investigate the aftermath of the fires and to sketch in preparation for a major work.
Longstaff, 1898

Gippsland, Sunday night, 20th Feb 1898 was HUGE (1.45 x 1.99 ms). In it, Longstaff managed to capture the major themes of bush fire icon­ogr­aphy: helplessness, loss and utter desolation. City viewers were impressed and depressed when the painting was quickly exhibited in his Melbourne studio (in August 1898).

In 1898 the National Gallery of Victoria purchased his painting. The work will definitely resonate with Victorian viewers, still reeling from the February 2009 tragedies.

Sunnysideup blog and Gritfx blog have shown that bushfire photos are certainly more immediate than paintings and possibly just as mesmerising.

07 February 2009

The Symbolism of Suffragette Jewellery

Fashion is always a statement of some sort but never was it as pol­it­ical a statement as it was for the suffragettes! Suffragettes liked to be depicted as femin­ine, in soft blouses and with their hair pinned up softly, to counter the stere­o­types put for­ward by opponents that they were mannish or shrieking. Every suffrage organ­isation seems to have dev­eloped a close relation­ship with a partic­ular West End department store in London which outfitted them approp­riately. I looked at this connection in my post on Selfridges suffragettes and fashion.

Suffragettes colours

It is a fascinating piece of social history to examine the jewellery that became identified with the suffragettes. After 1900 there was a general movement towards softer, more feminine colours in jewellery. Fancy colour­ed sapphires were becoming popular, as were peridot and spinel. Diamonds were gaining support and were more available. Art Nouveau was everywhere.

So how did a woman know if a particular brooch, ring, bracelet, necklace or hat pin was feminist or not? Mrs Pethick-Lawrence, editor of the weekly newspaper Votes for Women, explained the symbolism of the colours in spring 1908: "Purple as everyone knows is the royal colour. It stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity; white stands for purity in private and public life; green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring." In other words, she said, the colours stood for freedom and dignity, purity and hope.

Green, white and violet became the popularly rec­og­nised colours of the Women's Social and Political Union. Since the suff­ragette movement slogan was Give Woman the Vote, Emmeline and Chris­ta­bel Pankhurst adopted the three colours: Green=Give, White = Woman and Violet = Vote. The WSPU ex­horted women to "wear the colours" and show the support for the mo­vement. Had amethysts, pearls and peridot not been popular jewels then, I doubt women would have worn them, just for feminist-political reasons.

Brooch with amethyst, moonstone & chalcedony

Above 1909 bracelet, olive green peridots and purple amethysts
Below Pendant with white enamel, pearl drop, purple and green stones

Mrs Pethick-Lawrence wrote that “the colours enable us to make that appeal to the eye which is so irresistible. The result of our proc­essions is that this movement becomes identified in the mind of the onlooker with colour, gay sound, movement and beauty." It certainly did, according to David Walters. One Sunday in June 1908, seven processions from different parts of London marched to Hyde Park with bands and banners; the colours of the movement - purple, white, and green - were in evidence in the favours and dresses of the processionists. Thirty special trains brought up working women from the provinces and the attendance was estimated a certainly 250,000 and probably more than 500,000.

1908 demonstration, Hyde Park. Note the white dresses with purple/green sashes

And one odd bit of fashion history: new laws were introduced in 1908 to limit the size of hat pins. Fearing that suffragettes would use their hat pins as weapons, the new laws specified that the length of hat pin was to be limited to 9”, from end to end. Thus many women were forced to trim down their pins and tone down their hats, to stay within the law.

Did women, who depended on their husband’s generosity in buying jewellery, mention the colours of the women’s movement? They may have simply said “I put aside a beautiful and very delicate bracelet this afternoon, Percy. It will go beautifully with my silk dress”. And did women comment on other women’s political commitments, if they noticed purple, white and green jewellery? Rather it seems that they could wear very fashionable jewellery and quietly make a feminist state­ment, through the symbolism of their jewel colours, at the same time.

As in any political movement, there were variations. The Women's Freedom League had a banner in green, yellow and white; the Married Women's Association has one in green and white; that of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship is green, red and white; one of the banners of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies is green, gold and white, but another is red and green. Ruby, white and green were the official colours of The National Un­ion of Women's Suffrage Societies which made several badges. The NUWSS feared that the militancy of the WSPU (the Pankhurst group whose colours were purple, green and white) would hurt the cause.

The Women's Suffrage Movement: 1866-1928, by Elizabeth Crawford, is excellent on suffragette jewellery whose symbol­ism is based, not on colours, but on prison related objects eg chains. Holl­oway Prison brooches and hunger-strike medals apparently became popular after 1909, when women were being tried and gaoled in larger numbers. A green enamelled shamrock pendant was worn by women released from Dublin's prison system.

Holloway Prison Brooch

However some later historians disagree. Kenneth Florey wrote: “There were a number of journals aimed at suffrage sympathisers, including Votes for Women, The Suffragist and The Woman's Citizen that included advertising. No ad for chain or lock suffrage jewellery ever appeared in these papers nor is there any mention of any Secret Code, especially one involving a corruption of the official colours of the movement. Without wide-scale publicity within the movement itself, the symbolism of any alleged suffrage icon would have been obscure to the average woman”.

06 February 2009

Leonard Cohen in Melbourne

Leonard Cohen was born in 1934 in Quebec. This Canadian singer, musician and poet published his first books of poetry during the 1960s. His work in the early days, and since, dealt with Cohen’s unique analysis of loneliness, sex, struggling relationships and religion.

In 1969, when I met my then-boyfriend (now husband), his first present to me was a book of Leonard Cohen poetry. This was a wise gift from my young boyfriend; it made him appear to be insightful, sensitive and literary-minded.

I loved Cohen passionately in 1969 and I love him now, perhaps more nostalgically than in practice. But each time Cohen has come to Melbourne, we have re-mortgaged the house to afford the tickets. And each time I have remembered ALL the lyrics of his old songs. That is true of the thousands of people who filled Melbourne’s Rod Laver Stadium to the rafters tonight, mostly people over 55.

For the concert tonight, Cohen selected largely from his older repertoire. Of the religious themes, Hallelujah was beautiful as ever:

Now, I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah
Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

The songs sometimes deal with ambiguous topics and there is much debate over Cohen's intentions. I agree with MOKB blog in MOKB Covers Project : Hallelujah Repost 26/2/2008. The religious themes and sexual lyrics imply that the tracks deal with the dynamic of a relationship by using spiritual metaphors, and the tone is often described as regretful. That may be the reason why throughout his career, Cohen's music has sold better in Canada, Britain and Europe than in the U.S. But to Australian fans, it didn’t matter remotely.

There was little blatant political commentary in the Melbourne concert, but one song DID bring the house down: Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming through a hole in the air, from those nights in Tiananmen Square. It's coming from the feel that this ain't exactly real, or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder, from the sirens night and day, from the fires of the homeless, from the ashes of the gay: Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
It's coming through a crack in the wall; on a visionary flood of alcohol; from the staggering account of the Sermon on the Mount which I don't pretend to understand at all. It's coming from the silence on the dock of the bay, from the brave, the bold, the battered heart of Chevrolet.

As Simon Sweetman in Blog On the Tracks noted in New Zealand, Cohen’s self-deprecating comments were scattered throughout the songs and the spoken poetry, although when he covered his mouth with his hand, his slight smile was missed by most of the audience. Let me add one more thought. Cohen’s love songs were written by a young man, but as he ages, the very same words can take on funnier or sadder implications. In Chelsea Hotel, for example:

you were talking so brave and so sweet,
giving me head on the unmade bed,
while the limousines wait in the street.
Those were the reasons and that was New York,
we were running for the money and the flesh.
And that was called love for the workers in song
probably still is for those of them left.

Ah but you got away, didn't you babe,
you just turned your back on the crowd,
you got away, I never once heard you say,
I need you, I don't need you,
I need you, I don't need you
and all of that jiving around.

I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel
you were famous, your heart was a legend.
You told me again you preferred handsome men
but for me you would make an exception.
And clenching your fist for the ones like us
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said, "Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music.

This may be Cohen’s last trip to Australia. Just as he was finishing the evening, he thanked his audience for remembering his old songs and for keeping them alive. It was our very great pleasure, Mr Cohen.

Oh Canada
Thank you.


Readers may enjoy the book I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, written by Sylvie Simmons and published in 2013. And an article in The Algemeiner has very useful reading.

03 February 2009

Coffee Palaces, Temperance and Melbourne

Melbourne Then & Now by Chapman & Stillman is a super book. It shows why visitors to Melbourne in the 1880s were amazed. Here in the Southern Hemisphere was a city larger than most European capitals. In just a decade the population had doubled, to half a million people. Citiz­ens strolled the streets, bursting with pride as their city boomed. Ornate office buildings up to 12 storeys high rivalled those of larger, older cities overseas.

Money was poured into lavishly decorated banks, hotels and coffee palaces. Towers, spires, domes and turrets dominated the city sky line. Lace work appeared everywhere. Cast iron was used to decorate verandas, which grew from one to two stories. By 1870 Australia was producing its own lace work which began to feature Australian flora. During the prosperous 1870s-80s speculative builders built thousand of tightly packed ter­races in the inner cities to cope with a rapid­ly growing popul­ation distinctly Australian in style.

A partic­ular feature of the city's boom years were the temp­erance hotels/coffee palaces. A small number of hotels had al­ways ref­us­ed to sell alcohol. But the coffee palace, as a viable al­tern­at­ive to hotels, was a Rechabite concept introduced to Melbourne in the 1880s. Coffee palaces were actually much grander and more multi-purpose than pubs.

So the cons­truction of buildings for the temperance movement coin­cided with a economic boom in Australia and use of rich­ly ornamental High Vict­or­ian architecture. I love the high-status names that these hotels were given eg The Grand or The Royal, suggesting that clients should be well dressed and well behaved.

First known as Victoria Coffee Pal­ace 1880, the Vic Hotel was founded by a Temp­erance League as an alternative to rowdy, bawdy pub accommodat­ion. The original lobby is still in use today.
An extravagant temperan­ce hotel, designed by Charles Webb in the Second Empire Style, was the Grand Hotel (1883) in Spring St Melbourne. Now called the Windsor Hotel, it was built for a shipping mag­nate who in the late 1880s sold it to a Tem­perance Party sup­porter. At first having 200 rooms, this Second Empire style building was extend­ed to 360 rooms to accommodate overseas and interstate visitors to Melbourne’s 1888 Centenary Exhibition.

Grand Hotel 1883, now The Windsor

The Federal Hotel at the corner of Col­l­ins and King Sts Melbourne was another exam­ple of French Renaissance design by William Pitt. The Federal Hotel was su­p­erseded in the land-boom, when the Federal Coffee Pal­ace 1888 was built, also by Pitt, but in a far more opul­ent high-Victorian manner. In fact this massive, opulent building best epit­omised the specul­at­ive land boom which was 1880s Marvellous Melbourne.
Federal Coffee Palace, then Hotel

The Federal had 7 floors crowned by an iron-framed domed tower. Bed ­rooms were on the top 5 floors, while the lower floors contained maj­estic dining, lounge, sitting, smoking and billiard rooms. There were 6 lifts, gas lights, electric service bells and a basement ice-making plant. The temperance movement fell out of fav­our in 1890s and the Federal Coffee Palace became the Federal Hotel which was licensed in 1923. The irony of licensing a coffee palace was not lost on temperance supporters, but at least it kept the building alive and in use. Eventually, however, the entire building was dem­ol­ish­ed in the 1970s.
Coffee palaces really survived best in beach suburbs of Melbourne. The Victoria Hotel in Albert Park, now converted into flats, looks over the sand and sea. The palm trees gave the coffee palace something of a tropical feel.

Victoria Hotel, Albert Park

And they survived well in country resorts where, even after the inter­est in temperance had faded, families still needed good quality, clean places to stay. Many of the truly beautiful hot­els in Queenscliff, for example, had started life as coffee palaces and temperance hotels. Once the railway line from Melbourne reached this beach town in 1879, many splendid places went up within a very short decade, including Baillieu Hotel (1881), later renamed Ozone Hotel.

Ozone Hotel Queenscliff, 1881

The "Humble" Blog in The Coffee Palace - (Director - William Humble) mentioned that the principal building at Barwon Heads in 1893 was the Coffee Palace which, although only three years established at the time of writing, had won golden opinions from its numerous patrons. The palace had 34 bedrooms, parlours, dining room and sitting-rooms. A different Humble ancestor, a zealous Methodist, staunchly supported temperance and was a director of the short-lived Geelong Coffee Palace Co. in 1888-89.
Warrnambool’s truly splendid Ozone Coffee Palace was erected in 1890 during the fashion for temperance hotels. By 1910 the palace was struggling financially and was in very bad condition; by 1915 the building was closed and remained so until 1920 a local business­man installed a picture theatre and ballroom and reopened it as the Hotel Mansions. Nothing remains of Ozone Coffee Palace today.

Ozone Coffee Palace, Warrnambool, 1890

Because the coffee palace movement was strongest in Victoria, it is more difficult for me to find histories and photos of coffee pal­ac­es in other states. But clearly there were several very fine build­ings in Sydney, Launceston and Hobart etc. Grand Central Coffee Palace Hotel in Clarence St Sydney, for example, seems to have been operating by 1889. Alas we catch only glimpses of it. Labour Hist­ory mentioned that “protesters paused for speeches outside the Hotel Australia and the Grand Central Coffee Palace, where the well-heeled had gathered for the evening” (1893).

Grand Central Coffee Palace Sydney, 1889

People love coffee but it seems difficult to keep their interest in temperance for very long. And I don't suppose the terrible recession starting in 1893 helped. Timing is, of course, critical.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh's Art Nouveau: 1896-1916

The Art Nouveau style appeared in the early 1880s and was gone as WW1 was starting. For a brief, brilliant moment, Art Nouveau was a shin­ing artistic light in Europe’s city centres, urbane and of its time. Perhaps artists, architects and craftsmen examined the rapid urban growth and technological advances that followed the Industrial Revolution, and hated them.

In 1888 British designer Charles Ashbee established a workshop and school for artisans in London. Ashbee’s furniture and metalwork de­signs reflected a more rectilinear version of art nouveau style. In the graphic arts, Aubrey Beardsley drew illustrations for per­io­dicals. Beardsley’s vigorous use of line and distinctive double-curves and whiplash lines was indeed Art Nouveau. Art nouveau architecture in Brussels flourished in the 1890s with work of local designers Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde.

Horta Museum 1890s

In 1895 in Paris, the name of the Art Nouveau movement was fin­al­ly accepted because of the art gallery La Maison de l'Art Nouveau, which was opened as a showroom for the new art of Siegfried Bing. Paris added also a touch of glamour to Art Nouveau with the Divine Sarah Bernhardt and her men: Alfons Mucha and René Lalique.

Paris hosted the 1900 World Fair, which particularly helped to make Art Nouveau famous. Art Nouveau would have entered the inter­national art and design scene anyhow, but now a very wide audience was thrilled by Art Nouveau at Paris’ World Fair and by the opening of Paris’ Metro stations.
  Paris Metro

This rich, voluptuous style appealed to a wealthy elite whose taste en­couraged designers to innovate. The overall sense of Art Nouveau was utterly feminine and exuberant in form, colour and line; the typical shape was a flowing curvy line, especially vines with twirling tend­rils or a nymph with flowers in her thick flowing hair. Friv­olous or not, the style's patterns and motifs were taken primarily from nature.

Art nouveau embraced all forms of art and design equally: jewellery, architecture, fur­n­iture, glassware, graphic design, painting, silver, pottery and textiles. This was in contrast to the trad­itional sep­ar­ation of art into distinct categories: fine art (painting, scu­l­pture, architecture) and applied arts (ceramics, furniture, glass, silver etc). So it was an excellent decorative style for Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928) who specialised in a wide number of art forms, including architecture, textiles, furniture, murals, stained glass.

CRM mural, tearooms, 1900

The question here is did CRM, a man who started his career in the midst of Art Nouveau, end his career in a more modernist style? Consider when CRM was study­ing and when he first started work. CRM attended evening classes at the Glasgow School of Art in the late 1880s. The creative environment of the Glasgow School was central to the young man’s artistic development. Luckily this school was one of UK’s most succ­essful and progressive in the 1880s and 90s. After complet­ing his apprenticeship, young CRM quickly moved to the architectural practice of Honeyman & Keppie in 1889.

Early in his career (in 1896) CRM was asked to design the wall murals of Miss Cranston’s new Buchanan St tearooms. The tearooms had been designed and built by one architect, with interiors and furn­ish­ings being designed by another. CRM only had to design Art Nouveau friezes; they depicted opposing pairs of long female figures surrounded by roses, for the ladies’ tearoom and the luncheon room.

In 1898, his next commission was to design the furniture and interiors for the existing Argyle St tearooms In 1900 Miss Cranston commiss­ioned him to redesign an entire room in her Ingram St tearooms, which resulted in the creation of the White Dining Room. Patrons entering the dining room from Ingram St had to pass via a hallway separated from the room by a wooden screen with leaded glass inserts.

Then CRM created new tearooms in Sauchiehall St in 1903: the exterior architecture, interior design, the internal layout and furn­iture. The final building came to be known as the Willow Tearooms. The ladies' tea room at the front was white, silver and rose; the general lunch room at the back was panelled in oak and grey canvas, and the DeLuxe tea gallery above was pink, white and grey. You can see Art Nouveau elements on the doors, windows and table legs.

Willow tearooms, Deluxe

The tea rooms marked the first appearance of CRM's trademark high-backed chair design. But look how modernist it was, not a curve to be seen – it was in dark oak wood with geomet­ric­al shapes, perp­end­icular slim lines. Already his elegant decorative interiors comp­lemented his wooden furniture, designed with minimal decorations, such as brass fittings or leaded glazed glass panels. They may have been enriched by a stylised rose but no Art Nouveau rose had ever looked like this.

CRM's Highback Chair

The Textile Blog has shown in Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Windyhill that Windyhill was the first private home project that CRM took total responsibility for, and while somewhat cautious and tentative compared to later homes, it did have many of the elements of a later, fully fledged Mackintosh design. He started the project in 1900 and finished it by 1901.

In 1901 Charles and Margaret entered a competition in a German de­s­ign magazine to design a House for an Art Lover. The drawings were pub­lished in the magazine Deut­sche Kunst while the full portfolio was published in 1902 and exhibited at the International Exposition in Turin. But until 1988, the plans remained just plans. Then the house was built, by Glasgow City Council, to the original Art Nouveau specifications.

In the House for an Art Lover, the external walls are painted white and the two main facades are decorated with a few Art Nouveau relief sculptures of female cary­atids sculpted in sandstone. The Dining Room, a room with dark panels that follow the style of the sombre main hall. The table with the high-backed chairs provide the focus in the dining room. Then there is a very light room, the Music room, where light streams in and shines off the light walls.

Derngate, Hall Lounge

Finally we get to 78 Derngate, a Georgian terrace house in Northampton, CRM didn’t ext­ens­ive­ly remodel it until in 1916-7. By that time, Art Nouveau had run its race and the owner, Mr Bassett-Lowke, probably preferred a geometric, more modern­ist style anyhow. But CRM dec­orated the hall-lounge and bed rooms in striking matte black and bold, unrelenting stripes. Even the stairs were walled with a grid of opaque glass squares to admit light.

Derngate, Spare Bedroom

Note that the very modern style at Derngate was similar to that of the Library at Glasgow School of Art, which had been complet­ed 9 years earlier. CRM was reusing and refining a new style he already loved.

As time went on, CRM employed bolder geometric forms in place of organic-inspired symbolic decoration. Was Mackintosh a revolutionary, delaying the modernist programme with a call to organic architecture? My own guess was that he was a traditionalist whose version of Art Nouveau was always more geometric than other artists'.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Plumbing Life’s Depths blog had thought Mackintosh was using the power of implication and minimalism to introduce the organic and human back into a sterile architecture. Istead he seemed to have been a reasoned modernist picking his way from an organic (Art Nouveau) tradition toward a more modernist programme. Finally Woken blog agreed, saying that Mackintosh became known as the pioneer of the modernism, although his designs were far removed from the bleak utilitarianism of Modernism.

And another thing. CRM’s last major commission came in 1916 and after that, his financial situation became more dire. What had happened to that era’s most popular British architect and designer?