24 February 2024

Australian art dealer, collector, patron: Joseph Brown

Born Josef Braun (1918-2009) in Lodz Poland, he arrived in Aus­tr­alia with his father and siblings in 1933. At 15 he settled in Melbourne and attended Princes Hill Central School. Brown showed an early talent for drawing and was first exhibited at his school.

Bush track Dromana, 1875
by Louis Buvelot

Frederick McCubbin, Autumn Memories, 1899
donated by Brown to the National Gallery of Victoria in 2004

Farm landscape, 1905
by Sid Long, 

Self-portrait, 1906
by George W lambert

Along the way his surname was anglicised to Brown, and after school he began night art classes in painting and sculpture at the Working Men's College (RMIT Uni) in 1934 under artist Nap­ier Waller, and won a schol­ar­ship to the Brunswick Tech­nical College. But the ongoing Depress­ion forced him to abandon studies to help sup­port his family. By the late 1930s Joseph Brown was part of Melbourne’s artistic and intell­ectual circle and friends with Albert Tucker, Noel Counihan and Yosl Bergner etc.

Despite WW2 in 1939, Brown continued to make some art. Then in 1940 he enlisted in the Australian Army and served in the 13th Arm­oured Regiment AIF until 1945. After returning from war service, he became more invol­v­ed in the fashion industry. That year he married and set up J Brown Mantles, a fashion design business in Flinders Lane. He specialised in evening gowns, occas­ion­ally painting and sculpting.

He exhibited with the Victorian Scul­ptors’ Society in the 1960s but ul­tim­at­ely the demands from his growing fashion bus­in­ess made it diffic­ult to concentrate on art. Over the foll­owing decades, Brown established himself in the Australian art world as a collector-dealer. In becoming a leading art dealer and con­sul­tant, he promot­ed a wide range of Australian his­t­orical and contemp­or­ary artists. He recl­aimed the work of for­gotten artists, mentor­ed some new art­is­ts and was a great advocate for portraiture as an art form.

In 1967, life changed. He sold his fashion business, bought a Victorian mansion in classy South Yarra, and established himself as a commerc­ial art dealer in classy Collins St. Brown had found his vocation, and for the next 15 years the Joseph Brown Gallery held many mixed exhibitions of historical and modern art; plus solo exhibitions. His taste was broad, promoting many art­is­ts & genres that had become unfashionable to collectors & ac­ad­em­ics, including col­onial art, marine painting, women artists, scul­­­p­ture and portrait­ure. Meanwhile he’d created a striking private collection of Australian art.

Brown loved John Russell, Austral­ia's lost Impressionist who lived on Belle Ile off Brittany and was a friend of Claude Monet, Vin­c­ent van Gogh and Henri Matisse. In 1968 John Peter Russ­ell 1858-1930: Aust­ral­ian Impressionist opened at Brown’s gal­lery, with works received from the artist's fam­ily. Thus the reputation of one of Australia's most significant art­ists was rebuilt. Brown also supported and promoted living art­ists, and the many portraits painted of him offered a visual record to their affection.

 Portrait of Joseph Brown, 
 by Judy Cassab, 1996 

Brown also was the trusted adviser to many private individuals, corpo­r­at­ions and nearly all state, regional and univers­ity galleries, the Museum & Art Gallery of the Nor­thern Territory in particular. And collections assem­b­led by comm­er­cial organisations. People who collaborated with him to form signific­ant private collections included Marc & Eva Besen, Jos­eph & Gerda Brender, Dudley & Barbara Cain, John & Pauline Gandel, and Kerry Stokes.

From 1966 on, Brown donated 460 works of art to pub­lic collections! In 1973, he received the Order of the British Empire, then in 1990 by an Order of Australia and honorary doct­orates from Monash, Melb­ourne and La Trobe unis.

Over time, Brown built up a fine private art collections and made major contributions to the Australian art story. A major survey of his work, Dr Joseph Brown, a Creative Life: 65 Years a Private Artist, was presented by the Ian Potter Museum of Art at Mel­bourne Uni 1999.

With age, Brown became anxious to find a per­manent home for the rest of his collection of Australian art, and he was clear that the works would have to be disp­layed in ded­icated rooms. Luck­ily he was guaranteed that his works would rem­ain on permanent dis­play as a independent collection by the Nat­ional Gallery Victoria/NGV. So in May 2004 he made the lar­g­est and most generous gifts of 19th and C20th Australian art to any pub­lic Aust­ralian gallery: 154 works worth $35 million. This Joseph Brown Col­lection recorded the diff­erence he made to Australian culture.

Outlines of Australian art: Joseph Brown collection.
by Daniel Thomas, 
Melbourne: Macmillan, 1989
Just before he died, Brown supported the exhibition of Master­pieces of Australian Impressionism to raise funds for Cabrini Health. Then Australia's most generous and respected art dealer died aged 91, survived by his wife and large family. Including my closest friend, Joseph's niece.

An edition of the Joseph Brown Collection publication was pro­d­uced to coincide with the 2018 centenary of Joseph Brown’s birth. Photo credits: Joseph Brown Collection

20 February 2024

Coffee and culture in Budapest’s N.Y Cafe

In 1894, during Budapest's golden fin-de-siècle era, a grandiose fa­cility was built in the city centre. Al­­­ajos Hauszmann was comm­is­s­ioned to plan the design and along with Flóris Korb and Kálmán Gier­gl, he created a lavish, 4 st­or­ey­ed palace with a ground-floor café. The New York Café soon be­came the centre of Hung­ar­ian cultural his­t­ory, the favourite meeting place of art­ists, writers and poets. 
Front of NY Cafe, Pinterest
Tables surrounded by marbled columns, ceiling frescoes and crystal chandeliers.

The site’s history, closely entwined with lit­er­ature, lived through different eras and his­torical ch­anges, always providing com­fort for artists. There is no literature without a Café, said C20th writer Sándor Márai who frequented this historical building for in­s­piration.

There has always been live gypsy music in N.Y Café, but since 1995 the musicians have played every day until 5 PM. Mus­ic accomp­an­ies the del­ights of a good coffee, delic­ious food and atmosphere. The Lugosi Salon Gipsy Band’s huge repertoire means they can play many pieces by heart, clas­sical as well as modern music, with traditional Hun­garian gypsy instr­u­ments. The band interprets Hung­arian folk and gypsy music, plus music by Brahms, Kodály, Bartók or Liszt.

When it comes to an elegant event venue in Budapest, NY Coffee House is unbeatable. Its his­tory and heritage, this “most beautiful coffee house in the world” greatly raises its prestige and makes it more ap­pealing for guests. The building will dazzle all its guests as soon as they arrive in the street, the exclusive interior and the spec­ial­ly qualified staff ensures that formal events go through with no complications.

The opulent, roomy interior has en­joyed the spotlight since the early years of the building. The interior spaces are separated by spiralled marble columns. The ornamental brass statues on the Café's exterior are the 14 sinister fauns, created by Károly Senyei, as the symbols of sensuality and mockery. The figure of El Asmodai can also be found here, as the representation of the spirit of coffee and thinking, so as to provide inspiration for the artists dropping in. 

Full decoration continues around the stairs

The presence of history can be felt when entering the building. Several famous Hungarian writers and poets spent their time here. The iconic Hungarian work of “Pál utcai fiúk” was also written in the Café by Zsigmond Móricz.

The site was the gathering place of many famous Hungarian writers of distinction, such as Mihály Babits, Géza Gárdonyi, Frigyes Karinthy, Dezső Kosztolányi, Gyula Illyes and Sándor Weöres. No wonder, since the central placement of the building and the mentality that promoted arts provided the young artists with an atmosphere in which they could exert their creative potential to the fullest. Back then, the not so well-known and often poor writers could get access to the Writers’ Bowl at a small expense, thanks to the innovation of the Harsányi brothers.

The Nyugat Bar upstairs, with its dim light, is one of the cosiest places in the cafe. It offers a view of the Salon Restaurant and the lobby of the hotel while sipping coffee and enjoying the piano music

Nyugat Bar upstairs

Originally the building was the head office of the N.Y Life Insur­an­ce Company, but it soon became an important public venue. The café was estab­lish­ed on the ground floor, and the Company offices were on the first floor.

The cultural scene needed a central venue. The fact that the ceremonial opening in Oct 1894 was attended by the best literary and art stars proves how real this need was. Without advertising, the N.Y became a literary café.

While other cafés were established in existing buildings, it was not a secret that the aim was to create a venue that could represent the Insurance Company appropriately and could fascinate whoever enters the building. This is why the N.Y Café was extraordinarily ornate and polish­ed, and the café became the main attraction of the build­ing: it wanted to captivate visitors and demonstrate the Com­pany’s unlimited wealth. First-hand accounts about the opening event talked in superlatives about the grand interiors.

In 1918, Miksa Aczél and Co. took over the café. Not all the remodelling was univers­ally liked, especially critical were the artists and members of the press. In the Deepwater Room, the bill­iard room was turned into a restaurant, and the rooms behind the up­per balcony were con­v­erted into a bar. But a few years later, af­ter more remodelling, the cosy space was called Mahogany Bar, much loved

In 1927, the restaurant was ex­panded in major reconstr­uction. Immed­iately the locals and famous guests loved the Mahogany Bar: built sym­metrically to the marble hall over the door­way. Guests were thr­illed ab­out the hid­­den lights and the alabaster columns that emitted a delicate opals­cent light. Built in Renaiss­ance/Art Nouveau style, with marble columns, sparkling chandeliers, stuccoed angels, amazing frescoes and gilding, the cafe takes visitors back to another era. The exclusive bar soon bec­ame the centre of Budapest nightlife. A few years later, Budapest artists were given desks and furniture.

Lugosi Salon Gipsy Band

The café suffered very badly during WW1 and WW2, and the N.Y Café was briefly turned into a sports goods store in the 1950s. But it rose from its ashes in 1954, and was renamed Hungária Café. The real revival came in 2006 when a major renovation allowed the New York Café to regain its former gilded glamour. The café is open Mon–Sun 8 AM–midnight.

New York Cafe is just a short walk from the popular Jewish District where my in-laws once lived, and Andrassy Ave. 
Thank you to New York Cafe for the history and photos.

17 February 2024

Australian Utopia in Paraguay part 2

After the crises of the Maritime Dispute in 1890, Shearers’ Dis­pute in 1891 and the Great Depression of early 1890s, many in Austral­ia’s work­­­ing class believed that their nation could never be a work­ingman’s parad­ise. Some were drawn to a utopian settlement in Paraguay. 

William Lane, c1892

British-born William Lane (1861–1917) was the popular editor of Bris­bane Work­er newspaper, inspiring the 1890s Aust­r­al­ian la­bour move­ment. Lane loathed oppr­essive industrial laws, dan­g­erous work pr­actices and Chinese migrat­ion. He loved the Women’s Suf­frage Mov­e­ment, progressive taxation, and ut­op­ian societies.

Why did the New Australia Move­ment chose the remote nation of Parag­uay, full of jungles. The New Aust­r­alia Ass­oc­iation originally thought farming would be best in Argent­ina, but that government was unhelpful.

After a long dictatorship, Paraguay had declared war in 1865-70 ag­ain­st its neighbours Brasil, Argent­ina and even Ur­ug­uay. Dev­ast­ation fol­l­owed when two-thirds of Paraguay’s popul­ation were dam­aged or kil­led. The nat­ional govern­ment offer­ed mig­rants desirable land grants, to boost its popul­at­ion of fit young men and help the local economy.

This was the first-ever organised emigration project from Australia, but was op­posed by lo­cal newspapers. So the group continued working and seek­ing members, and pub­lis­h­ed the monthly Journal of New Aust­ra­l­ia commenc­ing Nov 1892. Men had to pay £60 each to join the colony, a large out­­lay! Still, Lane signed up 238 shearers, farmers, stock­men, un­ionists and their families. The Co-operative bought the S.S Royal Tar, intend­ing to transport many ship­loads of members to the new par­adise. They  all gathered in Sydney, but the NSW government used all its mar­it­­­ime rul­es to delay the first voyage.
In July 1893 the tall ship finally sailed, across the Pac­if­ic, round Cape Horn and up the Arg­entine coast. In Sept, 500 Aust­ralians arrived in Paraguay’s capital, As­uncion. From there they cont­inued by train to their promised land, facing bul­l­ocks, wag­ons, riv­ers and mosquitoes until they arrived. 75,000 hect­ares of FREE land, but nothing like the arable land they’d wanted.

Eventually the Royal Tar sailed from Ad­el­aide with an­ot­h­er ship­load of emigrants for Paraguay, the utopia of equality, fairness and comm­unal liv­ing. But while many of the settlers seemed both skil­led and well motivated, some New Aust­ralia set­t­l­ers were not well suited to rural life, couldn’t toler­ate grim condit­ions and spoke no Spanish.

Alas Lane was an autocrat; his controlling lead­ership style was al­ready clear aboard ship. His strict rules bann­ed alcohol or soc­ial­ising with local women, very difficult for the single shear­ers. And there were few single Australian women. But even with Lane’s total control, how horrible that committed men were expel­l­ed!

New Australia soon comprised a few small villages and farms but many settlers left to seek a better city-based life. In response to falling numbers and failing finances, and appalled by the behaviour of the young shearers, Lane left.

Par­aguay’s gov­ernment was still generous, granting Lane’s second group another area of land in the south. This even more faithful group of 63 Chr­istian soc­ial­ists moved to a new set­tlement, Cosme 72 ks away, st­ar­ting to clear the bush, buil­d­ houses and plant crops. And a shop soon opened.

Cosme's first shop
University of Sydney

Cosme’s philosophy had the aims of an idealistic society: 1] ev­eryone was equal­, with commitment to the sup­erior­ity of English speaking whites, 2] lifelong marriage and 3] tee­total­ism. Even in the 1890s, this was a strange mix­­ of radicalism and conservatism, perhaps following the views of Australian working-class move­ments th­en. But it was difficult.

Cosme Monthly was a small news journal, from Nov 1894-Dec 1896, hand­written by William Lane. All issues were 4-6 pages, some print­ed by Trade Union Printers of E. London. Subscript­ions for Cosme Month­ly were accepted at Trades’ Halls in all Australian capitals, showing propaganda and progress reports. Regarding social life they reported danc­ing classes, gala nights, cricket matches, chess ga­mes, the Lit­erary and Social Union and school dates for the 22 pupils. 

Cricket match, Cosme

The sett­le­ment’s dire situation could be seen in the final issue (June 1904) of Cosme Month­ly headed: Consider Before Coming: Intend­ing migr­ants to Cosme should carefully consider the foll­owing
Health: The work here is entirely manual, the summer climate is trying and the food is very limited.
Temperament: Disappointments in the industries are common in Cosme; af­­t­er 10 years, still in debt. Our popul­at­ion decreased since last May

One of Aust­ral­ia’s most fam­ous writ­ers, Mary Gilmore, was a colonist who ed­ited the newspaper, taught Cos­me’s ch­il­d­ren and married a settl­er. Gilmore, who’d always bel­ieved in social­ist ideals, wrote about her time in Paraguay saying “It wasn't a succ­ess, however it was a gr­eat exper­ien­ce. Under Lane’s dictat­or­ship it would never work!”

Australian farm workers in Cosme
Courier Mail

Cosme’s sense of lost ideo­l­og­ical and fin­ancial invest­ment must have been heartbreaking. Within a few years most of the fam­­­ilies star­t­ed to move else­where in Parag­uay, sailing to UK or returning home. Event­ually the settle­­ments were dissolved as a coop­erative by the Par­a­guay government, and settlers who stayed were given their own private land. Lane res­ig­ned as Chairman in June 1899 and left. But even now, there are des­cendants of the original New Aust­ral­ians in Paraguay, with names like Jones or with red hair.

5 years after leaving Australia, Lane ditched his socialist utopia and moved to N.Z where he returned to journalism for a right-wing newspap­er!! From N.Z, Lane was invited by the Aus­tralian Work­ers’ Union to be­come editor of the Sydney Worker. He was back with the Australian Lab­our movement but he only for 3 months because his views were no long­er comp­at­­ible with Labour values. He’d ad­voc­ated a strong imper­ial­is­t­ic line during the Boer War!! When WW1 started in 1914, this became a plat­form for rabid British patr­iot­ism and anti-German views. Lane was rel­uctant to talk about Parag­uay but died in Aug 1917 anyhow.

The New Australia & Cosme Collection in NSW’s Powerhouse Museum analy­ses the socio–politics of late C19th Australian colonial society, his­tory of our labour movement, migration of culture between nations, and Paraguay’s New Australia utop­ian settlement. See the Migration Herit­age Centre with its Cosme Monthly, a great source of contemp­orary settlement information.

Paraguay was trying to rejuvenate its economy by off­ering immig­rants free land, tax exemptions and farming assistance. Paraguay made a deal with Lane’s New Australia Co-operat­ive Assoc­iat­ion - that he’d receive c230,000 hectares of land in exchange for 1,200 migr­ants. Nueva Aust­ra­lia started off well (1893) and within the first few years, the col­ony had prominent re­sidents. But by 1902 the utopian dr­eam had failed, due to William Lane’s autocracy and due to the tough South Am­er­ican jungle. Some of the or­ig­inal sett­l­ers moved to an Australian community c70 ks away and others moved away totally.

There aren’t many descendants of the original Austral­ians left in Nueva Australia/now Nueva Londres, but there is still an Aust­ralian flag on the welcome sign. 

13 February 2024

Quokkas - Australia's lovable marsupial

Scientists believe that marsupials evolved in Nth America, sp­read to Sth America and thence to Australia, formerly con­nected continents. Most marsu­p­ials died out in the Americas, beaten by placental mammals, but they thrived in Aust­ral­ia. By the time Sth America, Australia and Antarctica separated millions of years ago, Australian mammals had evolved.

A quokka family on Rottnest Island,

Australian quokkas were first discovered by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh in 1696. One of the first Eu­r­op­eans to reach these shores, he met the strange animal near the Swan River, and across mainland SW Aus­tr­a­l­ia in swampy shrub­lands. These quokkas were still abun­d­ant when Eur­op­eans col­­onised the reg­ion in the early 1800s, but a cen­tury later th­eir numb­ers had fallen. They were hunted and lost in large strips of min­ing, farming and bush­fires. The main enemy was the red fox, deliber­ately int­ro­d­uc­ed in the 1930s for hunting. Alas quokka num­bers on mainland fell to c2,000, most­ly liv­ing in small and isolated populat­ions in forest and coastal heath between Perth and Albany.

de Vlamingh had named the isl­and near the Swan River: Rat’s Nest. This is where most quokkas are now, on Rottnest Is­land west of Perth. Quokkas survived there via a fluke: In the late 1830s, the Aust­ralian gov­ern­ment de­­sig­n­ated the island as an Abor­iginal penal colony. The pr­ison kept both main­­­land Eu­ropeans AND red foxes isolated for so long that when quokkas did move in, the natural environ­ment was carefully prot­ected. Today Rot­t­nest has c10,000 quokkas.

The other quokka home in W.A is Bald Island, near Albany. Suc­cess on Bald Island was from quokkas finding plentiful food sources but few predators.

There are 334 surviving marsupial species today, 200+ of them nat­ive to Australia. Our quokkas are special; they are covered with short, coarse brown-grey fur over most of the body, have short round furry ears, small black, naked noses and a short, muscular tail. They are the smallest wallaby species, and like kangaroos, they hop, round­ed and hunch­ed.

Mother carrying joey in her pouch, San Diego Zoo

Unlike the vast major­ity of the world's placental mammals, mars­upial fe­m­ales give birth to tiny embryos that compl­ete de­velopment out­side their mothers' bodies in a mars­up­ium/pouch. Female quokkas give birth to a sing­­le joey a month after mating, the joey remaining in the pouch for c6 months. It continues to feed at its mother's teats for another 2 months but once weaned, the joey ventures off alone.

Quokkas are nocturnal. They fanned out in small family groups across their scrub­­by habitat searching for food. At midnight, the animals stop­ped forag­ing but con­tinue eating, chewing one leaf at a time until sun­rise. These crea­tures love to climb small trees in search of the next meal, browsing herbivores who favoured grasses, leaves, stems and bark. On Rott­nest Is, their diet is primarily succulents or wattle leav­es. They can go for long periods without food or water, as they store fat in their tails for emergencies. They spend their day sleeping in groups, rest­ing behind the protection of plants’ spikes and escaping predators.

Quokka climbs a tree to eat leaves. 
San Diego Zoo

Quokkas were recently added to the International Union for Con­ser­vation Threat­ed Species List, given their popul­ation decline due to hab­itat loss. Other serious threats were foxes, dogs and mainland cats, further damaging the creat­ures vulner­ab­le from Dingos c4,000 years ago and Eu­r­o­pean Red Foxes in 1930s. Today there are recovery signs on the main­land due to Dept of Parks & Wild­life’s feral-proofing tasks. Act­ion was taken to reduce Red Fox numbers, thus contributing to some quokka protection.

Human impact also effected quokka numbers. Clearing for agricultural dev­elopment, spread of housing and logging have contributed to reduced numbers, as well as camping, and controlled burns before the bushfire season.

A quokka weighs 2.5-5 ks and is 40-54 cs in length, one of the smallest wallab­ies. Main­land populations cluster around dense streamside veget­at­ion but also be found in shrub­land and heath areas, around swamps. Quok­kas prefer a warm climate but are adapted to changes on Rottnest Island.

Quokkas, on average, can live for 10-15 years. They are able to breed from c18 months of age. On the mainland, female Quokkas can produce c18 babies in a lifetime, with 2 joeys born each year. But on Rottnest Is, with a shorter breeding sea­son, Quokkas only give birth once a year.

Wild Quokkas live in areas defended by dominant mal­es. In other areas, territ­ories were less evident and larger, over­lapp­ing groups of 25–150 adults formed around water, sharing a c40-acre territory. The older males fight to dom­inate both fem­ales and youn­ger mal­es; a male's pos­it­ion in the hierar­chy deter­mining his access to food, shade and females

Quokkas are not afraid of humans; they have broken into Rottnest homes to steal food. The animals can be approached so closely that they regul­arly nip children’s fingertips. NB travellers should not actually touch any quokkas, or they could be fined by local authorities.

On the other side of the continent, visit Featherdale Wildlife Park in Western Sydney. And thank you to the Australian Museum in Sydney