30 January 2009

Yosl Bergner, the Australian Years

Frank Klepner wrote a wonderful book called Yosl Bergner: Art as a Meeting of Cultures, MacMillan, Melbourne, 2004. I was particularly interested in the part of Bergner's career that he spent in Australia and the influence he had on Australia's most important artists before and during WW2.

Yosl Bergner was born in Vienna in 1920, and was raised in Warsaw. With rampant anti-Semitism in Europe, the Freeland League for Jewish Territorial Colonisation was formed in July 1935, to search for a potential Jewish home land. Soon afterwards a pastoral firm offered the League c16,500 square ks in the Kimb­erleys, stret­ching from the north of Western Australia into the Nor­thern Terr­it­ory. The plan ultimately failed, but for a time, the idea was at least interesting. Bergner's father, Melech Ravitch, became involved in a serious investigation of the Kimberleys, and thus the Bergner family moved to Australia.

16 year old Yosl left Poland with Yosl Birstein, who be­came a nov­el­ist. Together the teenagers travelled to Australia, arr­iving in 1937 when this country was still in the grip of the Depres­s­ion. He thus belonged to the gener­at­ion of people uprooted from home and forced to build a life elsewhere. Even safely in Australia, Berg­ner struggled to survive. He worked in unskilled jobs in Carlton fact­ories, while studying painting at Melbourne’s National Gal­lery Art School.

Father and Sons, 1943

From this inauspicious beginning, Klepner asks, how could such a raw teenage new comer affect the course of art events? In Melbourne from 1937-48, Bergner be­friended many of the local artists who now epit­om­ise modern Aust­r­a­l­­ian art: Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker, John Per­c­eval and Arthur Boyd. The men socialised together.

Friendship with artist Arthur Boyd introduced a new avenue of Bergner inf­l­uence. Klepner suggests that Boyd came from the most stable back ground of all the 1940s artists and had never met anyone like Bergner with his deprivation and persecution. Boyd noted that Bergner’s great influence was his expressionist style. Yosl introduced him to writ­ers like Dostoyevsky & Kafka. Bergner’s profound commitment to human­it­arian values rein­forced Boyd’s own social conscience. Some of the urban paintings of 1938 and 1939 showed Boyd’s new direction: dark backgrounds, shroud­ing heavily outlined heads distorted by anxiety or cruelty, or some other existential, deep turbulence. Boyd noted that Bergner encouraged them to go be­y­ond their trad­it­ional landscape style; he introduced them to soc­ial commentary about the human condition, thus changing Australian art.

Adrian Lawlor returned from WW1 in 1919 & moved with his wife to Warrandyte where they lived for 30 years. Bergner was a frequent visitor at this home. Lawlor & George Bell str­ongly resisted the proposal to form a conservative Australian Academy of Art in 1937 and next year set up the oppos­ing, progressive Contemporary Art Society with Lawlor as secretary. Lawlor’s 1937 book and 1939 pamphlet dealt well with the controversy; he was a guide-lecturer at the 1939 Herald Show of French/British Contemporary Art and spoke on modern art at meetings.

Young Tucker looked upon his art as a hobby. It wasn't until meeting Russian Danila Vassilieff who arrived in Melb­ourne in 1937 and Yosl Bergner in 1938 that Tucker changed his mind. These foreign artists and their unsettling depictions of the anguish of the most oppressed elements of Australian society had a strong impact on Tucker. He soon began to investigate and create the trauma, insec­ur­ity and anxiety produced by the Depression and the war. The two Europ­eans’ experience convinced Tucker that, despite his back­ground and his poverty, he could also make a career out of his work.

It was at this point that Tucker’s talent was spotted by Sunday and John Reed, and his involvement with the Heide homestead and his ass­ociation Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Joy Hester, who became his wife. He felt for the first time, despite the differences of ideol­ogies and beliefs, very much a part of a like-minded group. Tucker wrote for the pub­lication Angry Penguins, the principal outlet for the expression of avant-garde ideas between 1941-6.

Still Life c1941 (Ian Potter) shows his Surrealist in­fluence. The domestic utensils of the house become alive, yet they remain sharpish. Noel Counihan's approach to light and dark was said to be influenced by Bergner's Still Life, a rendering of vegetables lying on a white tablecloth that melds with the European snow. "I was the first expressionist in Australia," Bergner wrote in What I Meant to Say, in 1997. "I brought express­ionism to Australia without knowing it." Inspired by European modern­ism his strong social-realist paintings were influenced (politically or in painting style) by French artists like Daumier.

Bergner's influence on Tucker, Noel Counihan, Arthur Boyd and Vic O'Connor was great. It was not just the style and mood of Berg­ner's paintings - the dark, glowering eerie cityscapes where the disp­os­s­essed, the victims and the loners wander. The Australian born artists clearly loved the idea of a marginalised refugee making it in art.

Of course Bergner wasn't the only source of Europeanisation. Ex­hibitions of modern art from Europe and America had a great effect on the local scene. In 1939 the Herald Exhibition of French and Br­itish Contemporary Art (aka Degenerate) in the Melbourne Town Hall assem­b­l­ed can­vases that included many of the best modernists in France and Britain. Then in 1941 the Contemp­orary Art Society held its famous exhibition, bringing together works testifying to the dynamic changes that had taken place in Australian painting since the 1930s. Two triumphs for progressive art.

Aboriginals in Fitzroy, 1941

Yet of the generation of artists that called themselves the Angry Pen­guins, Bergner was arguably one of the least app­rec­­iated! Bergner was probably unprepared for the plight of many struggling Austral­ians. Yet he felt a strong connection between the suffering of people everywhere, whether they were the Jews in Central and Eastern Europe, dispossessed blacks in central Australia or hungry children in Carl­ton. Among his subjects of that time were highly sympathetic depict­ions of indigenous Australians eg Aborigines in Fitzroy 1941 (SA Gall).

He painted images which were drawn from his experience of hunger; views of a sad urban environment, inhab­ited by refugees and slum dwellers. Klepner’s book has very moving, dark works like Citizen and The Pumpkin Eaters 1939-42, now in state galleries.

The empathy that Bergner displayed in his art attracted immediate attent­ion, according to Klepner, and inspired many young Mel­bourne artists during the 1940s. Russian artist Danila Vass­il­ieff also arr­ived in Melbourne in 1937 and met Bergner and Tucker in 1938. These meet­ings inspired Tucker to examine his values and to focus on the pain of the Depression and of war. Bergner's influen­ce on Noel Coun­ihan was just as important; Klepner suggests that Counih­an's ap­proach to light and dark was affected by Bergner’s expression­ism. Tuck­er, Berg­ner, Counihan and Vassilieff all joined the newly formed Contem­p­orary Art Society, to give voice to art not accepted by the estab­lish­ment and to influence the future direction of Australian art.

The Pie Eaters 1940 was shown at Melbourne's Contemporary Art Society An­n­ual Exhibition in 1941. Appropriately the exhibition was en­titled: Art and Social Commitment: an end to the city of dreams 1931-1948. Pie Eaters portrayed 2 refugees in a dark, barren environ­ment, enclosed by the wall behind them. They neither speak nor look at each other, as each is lost in their own world. Despite the title of the painting, there is no pie to be seen, just a bare table, an empty plate, a bottle and continuing hunger. Perhaps it illustrated a very personal and passionate response to the artist’s own poverty.

In the 1940s he was a homeless painter. Bergner’s association with the Australian Jewish community was pred­ominantly through Kadimah and the Yiddishists. He became very friendly with writers Pinchas Gold­har, Judah Waten and Yosl Birstein. Fortunately they provided food!

Tocumwal, 1944

During WW2, Bergner enlisted in the Australian Army Labour Company at Tocumwal NSW 1941-6. He worked with other Friendly Aliens who had been refugees from Axis count­r­ies. Drawing on personal experience, he evoked a mood of dejection and exhaust­ion eg Tocumwal, Loading the Train 1944. The bleak palette of muted browns added to the atmosphere of gloom. The 4 anonymous fig­ures, their bodies slumped dejectedly, had survived another day of endless loading and unloading goods trains for the war effort. Bergner later won a Commonwealth Rehabilitation Schol­arship, to return to studies at the National Gallery Art School.

For Albert Tucker WW2 was also an experience that viol­ated the social and moral stability of urban Australia. He was dis­turbed by the live-for-the-day mentality that pervaded the city with the influx of service­men on leave. Victory Girls 1943 presents a grotesque night image of two young women accepting the advances of drunken soldiers. In Flinders St At Night 1943, we note the nightmarish qualities of a woman dancing with a death mask and of 2 trumpeters playing away. The painting seems to be speaking out against the immense slaughter of human life and the distorted social relations produced by the war.

Bergner may have kept his sense of humour, but his work was often dark and despairing. There were hints of optimism eg the recurring motif of the ladder, symbol of hope. But dark­ness was ongoing. Two Women 1942, one black and one white, had an air of resignation. Father and Sons 1943 was beyond despair. Only Looking Over the Ghetto Wall 1943 suggested vague hopefulness, unfulfilled hopefulness (all three in the NGV).

Bergner was only in Australia until 1948, before leaving permanently for Israel. Yet it was Bergner who showed that art was not merely a ref­lection of Australian society; instead it could be an instrument in its very shap­ing. In his 11 years here, Bergner became politically more involved and his social criticism sharpened.

Over the Ghetto Wall 1943

He left Australia in 1948, travelling first to Paris and then to Israel in 1951. It is said that he became an Israeli without shedding his Jewish cosmopol­itan/refugee identity, an identity he zealously guarded in Israel’s melting pot of the 50s and 60s. Even after the state was est­ab­lished, Bergner’s Israeli works were filled by the trauma of the refugee. Eugene Kolb, Director of the Tel Aviv Mus­eum, curated a wonderful exhibition and catalogue of Bergner’s works in 1957.

Caustic Cover Critic blog amazingly found some book covers designed by Bergner.

27 January 2009

Vienna: Coffee, Art, Pastries

The Italians say they had the first coffee place in Europe when in 1645 they opened a coffee house in St Mark’s Square, Venice. This seems likely. 20 years later Emperor Leopold I apparently granted Armen­ian merchants the ex­clusive right to serve coffee, but the evidence is scanty.

The most dramatic spread into Ch­ristian countries came in 1683, by accident, when a Turkish army had besieged Vienna. In th­eir hurried withdrawal, the Turks left behind hundreds of sacks of green beans, which the locals as­sumed was fodder for Turkish cam­els. A Turkish-speaking Pole Georg Kolschitzky had done valuable work during the siege, carry­ing messages through the Turkish lines. He asked for only 2 re­w­ards: all the sacks of green coffee beans left by the Turks, and a house where he would be able to establish the first Viennese coffee-house: Blue Bottle.

The Viennese did not like the Turkish taste, so Kolschitzky str­ained off the sediment & added milk & honey to neut­ralise the bit­terness. The new drink soon became extremely pop­u­lar and bus­iness thrived.

Cafe Griensteidl,  1896
painting by Reinhold Völkel.

The drinking of Viennese-style coffee soon spread over cent­ral Europe: Mar­seil­les and Paris, soon after Vienna, 1683; Nuremberg and Regens­burg, 1686; Hamburg, 1687; Stut­tgart, 1712; Berlin, 1721. By 1714 Vienna had already 11 licensed coffee houses. In England during the C18th, many of the coffee-houses declined and were later developed into exclus­ive men's clubs, offering better facilities. Meanwhile coffee houses in Paris and Vien­na cont­in­ued to flourish, as cafe society culture remained popular there.

During the Vienna Congress of 1814-15, the Neuner’s coffee house emerged as Vienna’s leading literary café. In 1824 Ignaz Neuner promoted his café to the Silver Coffee House, a deluxe café. All the utensils and room accessories were made of sil­ver. After the Silver Coffee House’s heyday, Café Griensteidl wel­comed Vien­nese literary luminaries with comfortable decoration and daily newspapers. And Café Zentral was elegant from the outside and gorgeous inside.

Passion for Newspapers, 1837, 

Being an expresso fanatic myself, I can only be grateful that in intellectual Viennese circles, coffee-drinking was regarded as an aid for clearer thinking and better discussion. Each coffeehouse catered for its subgroup of regular customers and developed individ­ual styles of coffee preparation. It became a home away from home for its pat­r­ons. There was a coloured eng­raving, The Passion for Newspapers 1837, which showed a coff­eehouse of the original, spacious, high-ceilinged kind. Coffee was drunk, and pipes were smoked. Letters were read and written, and newspapers from all over were available.

Another thing important for me personally was that the development of coffee-houses in Austria went along with the growth of early periodical newspapers eg Wien­er Zeit­ung. These news­pap­ers ap­p­eared twice a week, so a person could either have a subscr­iption OR read it in a coffee-house. When read­ing newspapers was not allowed, on Sundays, coffee houses were closed.

But it took 180 years for Julius Meinl to develop a process which could supply roasted coffee of a consist­ently high quality. In 1862 he opened a retail shop in Vienna, the first with the great idea of supplying coffee already roasted. The business rapidly expanded into an elegant chain that stretched throughout the Habsburg Empire.

The heyday of the coffee house was the late C19th. Many artists, scientists, and politicians of the period were constant cof­fee house patrons, the famous ones to be seen, the impoverished ones (I am guessing) to stay warm in winter. In other cities of the Austro-Hungarian empire, coffee houses in the Viennese style popped up.

The Sachertorte was created by young pastry chef Franz Sacher (1816-1907) in 1832 for Prince Metternich, the Austrian State Chancellor. The Sachertorte and other recipes made him famous, and in time he ran several cafes and rest­aurants. Anna Sacher, later Franz’s daughter in law, became manager of the gorgeous Sacher hotel.

Cafe Sacher

Patissier Christoph Demel acquired a pastry business in 1857 and it moved to its present position in 1888. The Demel, like the Hotel Sacher itself, is claimed to be the only other place where you can buy the Sachertorte and listen to music. And the beautiful people stayed in grand hotels like the Bristol, the Imperial and Hotel Sacher.

The 1873 World Fair was built in Vienna's Prater Park, located along the Danube. Emp­eror Joseph II had already declared the Prat­er to be free for public enjoyment, and allowed the establishment of coffee-houses and cafés, which led to the start of the Wurstelprater. This was perfect. The park was c4,000 acres, including lawns, gardens, lakes, streams and forests.

The Ringstrasse was built in the place of the medieval walls that used to surround the centre of Vienna, now the 1st District. Em­peror Franz Josef I announced the demolition of the city’s orig­inal walls, in order to build an imperial boulevard as an exp­r­ession of the glorious Habsburg Em-pire. The work was completed in 1890. The new Ringstrasse was a place for café society to parade and sup. Evangeline at Edwardian Promenade blog says in The Viennese Cafe that by the early 1900s, c500 cafes flourished in Vienna. Café Imperial was one of the most famous Ringstrasse cafés.

Both the Vienna Opera House and the Burgtheater had already been compl­eted before Ring­stras­se was started. Now the parks were filled with musicians’ statues: Mozart, Beethoven and Strauss, and concerts offered music by Mendelssohn, Schubert, Mahl­er, Brahms & Johann Strauss. Vienna took its culture very seriously; people went to the opera or concert, then wended their way to Sacher.

Johann Strauss, 

The Fearless Read blog noted in Cafe Society that Fin-de-siecle Vienna, sliding ever deeper into political instab­il­ity, was an ideal place to escape from the exigencies of daily life through art and coffee. The Tate Exhibition showed how small groups gathered for literary and artistic discussion at their favourite coffee places. In their portraits, Kokoschka, Schiele and Richard Gerstl focussed on pushing beyond the public face of the era to expose raw psychol­ogical truths.

In the end, café society and the good life certainly crashed in WW1’s battle fields and the breakdown of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

People say that whereas Paris cafes concentrated on coffee, alcohol and a bohemian life style, Viennese cafes focussed on coffee, cakes, stringed quartets and an elegant lifestyle. That seems right. But how much of Old Vienna still exists: Café Landtmann, Café Sperl, Café Hawel­ka and The Braun­erhof are all in business. The locals and tourists love them and Merisi's Vienna For Beginners has the photos to prove it in At Demel's in the Year of Darwin.

Cafe Sperl

Thanks to Under The Net blog in Vienna Café Festival, I heard about the exhibition, conference and collection of essays entitled The Vienna Café 1900, Oct 2008. This joint project of the Royal College of Art and Birkbeck College London was an event I would love to have attended.

25 January 2009

Art Deco - War Memorials

I didn’t understand why memorials built to honour Great War soldiers utilised the rather abstract, pared back Deco style. After millions of people had been slaughtered in WW1, we might have expected statues of weeping mothers and young male bodies to emerge in every city and town. And some did. Emm in London, for example, showed a young soldier with the mud of Flanders on his boots, remembering his fallen friends. This Dartford memorial was unveiled in 1922.

In Derby, the figures were placed on a stone pedestal against a backdrop of a Celtic cross; this popular form of war memorial was a combination of a symbolic Christian victory, sacrifice and eternal hope. The mourning wife/mother and the orphaned baby could be seen as a continuation of the Victorian tradition of public statues.

Derby, WW1 memorial, built 1923

But too much public grief crippled communities. 8.5 million people died in WW1, boys in late adolescence and early 20s. They had to be remembered and honoured, but in a way that allowed some hope for the future.

The Cenotaph 1919 in White­hall was designed by Edwin Lutyens, first in plaster then in Portland stone. This very early Deco design was left undecorated, save for a carved wreath on each end and Rudyard Kipling’s words The Glorious Dead. Perhaps the clue is in the name Cenotaph, meaning empty tomb. We don't even know where the dead boys lie, nor do we know their names. This memorial was honouring sacrifice and heroism in the abstract, unemotionally and without dwelling on personal tragedy.

Cenotaph London, by Lutyens 1921

Sydney’s Anzac War Memor­ial was designed in a monum­ental and highly sculptured design which broke away from C19th traditions. Located centrally in Hyde Park South, the granite memorial was made possible after a compet­it­ion and fund raising program initiated in 1919. It was built in 1929-30. I would recommend examining the Deco sculptures in Sydney City and Suburbs blog.

Even Melbourne's neo-classical Shrine of Remembrance, the city’s most important war memorial building, has very distinctive Art Deco elements. It took from 1928-1934 to complete.

Thank you to the people who alerted me to three more Art Deco war memorials, undoubtedly based on Lutyens' cenotaph. This one monument clearly influenced the design of many other war memorials in Britain and in all the Commonwealth countries. Young men from Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Canada etc rushed to aid the Mother Country, particularly in the worst years of the war - 1914 and 1915. My own grandfather was fortunate. He gave a kidney and three years of his life to the Great War but survived, I assume because he was an official translator (Russian, Polish, Yiddish, German, Hebrew and later French, English), not a foot soldier.

To commemorate the tragic losses of the Great War, the City of Fremantle in Western Australia erected the Fallen Sailors & Soldiers Memorial in 1928. The main memorial , 14m in height, was created from Donnybrook stone. The Calgary Cenotaph in Memorial Park was er­ected in 1928 to honour the fallen of Calgary, Alberta. The National War Memorial in Wellington was originally built to commem-orate all New Zealanders who gave their lives in the South African War and WW1. Wellington's Art Deco Carillon tower opened on Anzac Day 1932.

Calgary Cenotaph, 1923

David Thompson at Art Deco Buildings has found an amazing Cenotaph, Durban, completed in 1926. The shape is very similar to the Wellington Carillon, but the fallen soldier and the angels are brightly coloured.

In the years after the Great War ended, it must have become clear that war consisted of bad decisions, needless slaughter, despair and little achievement. Within a decade, cities wanted to represent their response to war and their sacrifice, but with a deliberate aim to avoid glorifying war. Perhaps the Deco war memorials achieved that balance, through austere architecture, minimalist decoration and intellectual, non emotional appeal.

Sydney Anzac Memorial, 1934

For an image of the Cenotaph in London, actually surrounded by Italianate buildings in the centre of town, see Emm in London's blog.

Jerusalem was liberated from the Turks in late 1917 when General Allenby formally entered the city, with French and Italian leaders. Jerusalem War Cemetery started with 270 British Commonwealth burials, later increased to 2,514 Commonwealth burials. Within the cemetery see the Jerusalem Memorial, commemorating 3,300 Commonwealth servicemen who died in operations in Egypt or Palestine and who have no known grave. The memorial, opened in 1927 by Lord Allenby, was designed in a very Deco style by Sir John Burnet, with sculpture by Gilbert Bayes.

Jerusalem War Cemetery and Memorial, 1927

To this day, ANZAC Day commemorations are held every year at the Jerusalem Memorial where Australian and New Zealand families can remember their grandfathers and Israelis can thank the British Commonwealth troops.

24 January 2009

Californian Bungalow: Australia's Favourite Interwar Home

The first American house to be realistically called a bungalow was illustrated in 1884 in Arnold Brunner's Cottages or Hints on Economical Building; it was called Bung­alow With Attic. The attic was acceptable, since all main living quarters were indeed located on the ground floor.

To keep costs down, the parts of prefab­ric­ated bungalows were mass-produced in a factory, numbered, loaded onto a train. They could be sent to any part of the country where a skilled carpenter could put them together in a day by following the instruct­ions provided. The most famous of these mail-order firms was Sears, Roebuck and Co.

Within the Arts and Crafts Movement, the bungalow was a progressive architectural design that proliferated in the USA in the early part of the C20th. Cal­led Craftsmen bungalows, these bungalows were small cottages that had specific architectural features:
1. Low-pitched roof lines, gabled or hipped roof
2. Deeply overhanging eaves
3. Exposed rafters or decorative brackets under eaves
4. Large front porch beneath extension of main roof
5. Tapered, square columns supporting roof
6. Double-hung windows
7. no more than 1.5 stor­eys high
8. Frank Lloyd Wright design motifs
9. Hand-crafted stone or woodwork
10. Mixed materials, that suggest a cosy cottage.
11. stone chimneys, gabled dormers, sloping foundation
12. inside: built-in cabin­ets, shelves & seating.

You can see an entire Pasadena neighbourhood full of these lovely Craftsmen bungalows in L.A. Places

Craftsman bungalow, California, 1.5 storeys

In Erica Swanson's blog, we find that the bungalow was part of a movement that provided hous­ing that the working class could afford. Many people were choosing to make a move to the west for its warm, arid climate and it was because of this that the Craftsman Bungalow reached its full potential in California. The San Gabriel Valley lends well to Craftsman homes because of the broad front porches that is a common feature of the architectural style, which allows a homeowner to take full advantage of the year round sunny weather that is typical to the Pasadena area. Craftsman bungalows had to be affordable, but they were far from shoddy. Bungalows were built with old-growth timber, real plaster, wooden windows and doors, and the built-ins that are now mostly found in high-end homes. It is because these homes were built so well that many Craftsman Bungalows still stand today.

Imported originally from California in 1916 by a real estate agent, the first Australian Californian bungalow was erected in Sydney. The bungalow become the favourite house style in Australia immediately after WWI, when it quickly spread across all Australian towns and cities. It was a solid and respectable house, serving the two great needs that made it so popular in California: affordability and suitability for a dry, warm climate.

Timing was everything for the bungalow in Australia. Tim Durbridge at The Durb Net  showed the British idea of Garden Cities was taking firm hold of the minds of Australian town planners. Here was a means of fostering the egalitarian Australian ideology. It also ensured that new development improved land values since zoning disallowed cheap, owner-built haphazard housing. Blending with its natural surroundings in the sun splashed bush, great for the family to sleep out and gaze at the Southern Cross, the bungalow provided privacy, excellent plumbing and much respectability in Australia’s new Garden Suburbs.

Were our bungalows any different from those built in the USA? Single-storey homes in Australia were absolutely the norm, rather than 1.5 storeys. Utilities could be installed more easily than in a two-storey house and there were no staircases for the elderly and children to navigate. The Australian back yard had to be big enough for the entire family, for dogs, cubby houses, cricket games and a chicken shed. The front garden could be smaller, but it had to be surrounded by a decent fence. And the building materials were specifically Australian.

I suppose the earliest designs in Australia were based on craftsman design principles. Houses were built low, with shallow, low pitched roofs of terracotta shingles or roofing slates, exposed rafters and beams showing from under the roof. People loved materials with a rustic, natural look. Mixed materials were used, to add to the cot­t­agy look: stone, brick and timber, earthy materials were used in Australia [whereas in the USA they had used wood shake shingles, river rock and clinker brick]. A gable roof faced either the front or side always and although the building could be asymmetrical, masonry veranda piers were remained very popular. Windows had small panes and were arranged in casements. Front doors were typically high-waisted and decorated with leadlight.

Californian bungalow, Melbourne, asymmetrical

The interior plan was left to the family’s preference, but typically featured a central hallway, the good rooms at the front of the house and the kitchen and laundry at the back. Two bedrooms were initially built – if families needed a third, it would have to be added under the roofline or tacked onto the back at a later date. Panelled walls had a plate shelf, and built in furniture, such as window seats, bookshelves and fireplace nooks.

Knight and Harwood floorplan, Melbourne

In the Australian bungalow, simplicity and craftsmanship could harm­onise in a truly aff­ordable house. So although Australians didn’t build bungalows until 25 years after the Americans started, they quickly became Australia’s most popular home. And remained so until WW2.

Good reading:
Butler, G The Californian Bungalow in Australia. Origins, revival, Source Ideas for Restoration, Lothian, Port Melbourne, 1992
Winter, Robert American Bungalow Style, Simon & Schuster, 1996.
The blog Melbourne Our Home has internal and external photos of a renovated Melbourne bungalow, retaining as many original features as possible.

22 January 2009

Splendid Porcelain, Splendid Architecture: Dresden

Augustus, Elector of Saxony 1670–1733 is one of my favourite royals because he was one of the truly great patrons of the arts and arch­it­ecture. Dresden hadn’t been the centre of world culture before Augustus, so he quickly got involved the age-old royal method of paying artists, scientists, histor­ian, philosophers and musicians to move to his court.

Anyone who has vis­ited his amazing baroque palace in Dresden, and seen his collections, cannot fail to be impressed, as shown by Guy Michael Davis and The Arkansas Traveller. The Zwinger, for example, was designed by Matthaus Pöppelmann. It took from 1710 until 1728 for the three wings to be completed, used predominantly for impressive display galleries and libraries. It might have been a bit far-fetched to refer to Dresden as Florence on the Elbe, but Augustus would have loved the label.

Zwinger Porcelain Displays

Write Antiques proposed that as Augustus II was a great fan of the Chinese pots, he spent a fortune on purchasing a collection of 20,000 pieces. The collection utterly filled his palaces and storerooms. Chinese porcelain was clearly the definitive symbol of prestige, luxury and good taste. But Augustus could envisage a day when the royal budget could not afford another ship load of porcelain objects. He desperately needed to discover the secret of porcelain for himself, presumably with a view to producing the precious artwork in Dresden or Meissen.

My students will be reading Janet Gleeson’s book The Arcanum over the long holidays. I refer blog readers to it now. Gleeson investigated the invention of European porcelain and the founding of the Meissen Porcelain Manufacture outside Dresden. Here is the review from Publishers Weekly:

“Who would have thought that the story of porcelain would be such a rousing tale of wealth, intrigue and outrageous greed and gluttony? In a deserted German mountaintop castle called Albrechtsburg in the town of Meissen, a brilliant C18th apothecary and alchemist called Johann Frederick Bottger discovered the secret for making por­celain, which was the next best thing to gold at the time in Eur­ope. Like many other alchemists then, Bottger had once untruth­fully claim­ed to have found the secret formula for turning base metals into gold. But for Augustus, who promptly imprisoned the young scientist, the arcanum for porcelain or china, would have to suffice. Gleeson's story of how Meissen became the West's first por­celain centre follows a colourful cast of characters: the lascivious Augustus; two rival decorative artists, Johann Gregorius Horoldt and Johann Kaend­ler, who applied their skills as diligently against each other as they did in creating precious porcelain objects; and gold­smith Christo Konrad Hunger, a hard-bitten profiteer who’d happ­ily stoop to intimid­ation, threats and all manner of chicanery if he needed to. Greed for money, fame, porcelain or power seems to have motiv­ated everyone associated with Meissen. A delightful historical narrative”.

A couple of years passed, and with the assistance of miners and metal workers, Bottger’s experiments with different clays cont­in­ued. The breakthrough was not achieved until 1708 when two loads of minerals finally changed pottery into porcelain: kaolin, and alab­as­t­er as flux material. A delighted Augustus was informed and Böttger’s success came when he was made head of the first porcelain factory outside Asia.

Böttger beaker with Chinoiserie decoration c1718 (left); Horoldt beaker c1730 (right)

Meissen flowers and animals, 1730

Alas poor Bottger died in 1719 and Johann Gregorius Höroldt soon became the director at Meissen. It was Horoldt who introduced the brilliant colours that made Meissen porcelain so deservedly famous.

The three wings of the Zwinger were not enclosed until Prof Gott­fried Semper built a neoclassical building for the fourth wing. Called the Semper Wing, it was built in the C19th to host the Gemälde­galerie Alte Meister art gallery. Spanish, It­alian, German and French masterpieces were collected from the Kunstkammers in princely castles and palaces, a perfect partner for the splendid porcelain and architecture.

Semper Wing

20 January 2009

Alfons Mucha, a proud Czech: art nouveau

My husband was a young lad in Jablonz Czechoslovakia (now Czech Rep­ublic) although his parents’ home was actually near Munkachevo (now Ukraine). The family had a particular affinity for Alfons Mucha 1860 -19139 who was born in the town of Ivancice, Moravia, then part of Austro-Hungary (now Czech Republic).

Young men seemed to travel very easily back then because in 1877, Mucha applied to the Academy of Visual Arts in Prague. When that failed, he soon got a job in Vienna as an assistant in a firm that made theatrical stage sets. In 1884, after touring northern Italy and Austria with his noble patron, he studied at the Academy of Visual Arts in Milan.

But it wasn’t until 1888 that Mucha first visited Paris, the artistic and cultural capital of the universe. Like many an expat before him, Mucha studied at the Academie Jul­ian and the Academie Colarossi. But his parents couldn’t support him so he needed a real job. Mucha began to draw illustrations for books and magazines. An artist must eat, pay for rent, buy clothes and drink, so it wasn’t long before the painter designed his first advertising poster.

Advertising might have been selling out to the enemy, but the work was profitable and it could also be quite creative. Examine an image he created for a beer company, Muchian to be sure, but blatantly commercial. And visit the Old Paint blog which has a gorgeous advertising poster called Papier a Cigarettes: Job,1896. The young lady's flowing golden tresses actually merged with the picture frame!

Bieres de la Meuse

Mucha made his name for designing a poster for the show Gismonda of the hugely popular stage actress Sarah Bernhardt in 1894. Poster-printing was well known in Paris, usually consisting of large amounts of text with a few simple illustrat­ions, in few colours. The Gismonda poster, on the other hand, was utterly different. The col­ours were confident, the line very vertical and the details were profuse. The gorgeous Sarah Bernhardt was so impressed with his work that she im­mediately offered Mucha a long contract. He was responsible for all her posters during the 1890s, as well as the stage sets and costumes at the Theatre de la Renaissance, where Bernhardt worked.

Sarah Bernhardt

The Calladus Blog was delighted with Mucha, writing that Mucha's style of bold, sensuous lines and bright colours, coupled with nat­ural and idealised decorative elements were a perfect fit for litho­graphy and for the decoration of the rest of the world. The precepts of his art were quickly incorporated with other Art Nouveau concepts for the design of everyday items, from chairs to bus stations. But Mucha just painted as he pleased.

The Written Word blog was more measured, noting that Mucha specialised in a decorative and romantic style of illustration. His works evoked old world charm and mystery, and were often based on elemental designs. His style was particularly feminine: the fashion, fauna and ornamental bordering.


Magazine History: A Collector's Blog reported that Mucha’s magazine work was limited and, naturally, it appeared in French periodicals for the most part. Happily Steve found a few Mucha images reprinted on the covers of American magazines: Burr McIntosh Monthly, Literary Digest and Hearst's.

Timing is everything. Mucha wanted to design a spectacular series of elaborate jewels, to be created by Georges Fouquet in Paris. Those jewels did in fact form the centrepiece of Fouquet's display at the 1900 Exposition Universelle in Paris. Mucha also designed the Bosnian Pavilion in the same World's Fair. As soon as the Exposition was over, Mucha set about publishing Documents Decoratifs, passing on his artistic theories to a keen audience of young students and artists.

Fouquet-Mucha Jewellery

Art Nouveau had nowhere to go in the new century. When Mucha travelled to his homeland, visiting Moravia and Prague in 1902, he seemed to become excited about painting a series of historical patriotic works, visualising the Slavs in a neo-classical style. This project consumed so much of his time and energy that the once-extremely popular artist tended to disappear from the art world. I stopped following his work at this stage.

The world´s first Mucha Museum, dedicated to his life and times, is not in Paris. Rather it is housed in Prague's Kaunický Palace, appropriately for a Czech lad.

18 January 2009

Stolen Art Identified

Nathan Tallman's LIS Blog: Nazi records of stolen art found in National Archives discussed the discovery of two original leather bound photograph albums documenting art that was looted by the Nazis during WW2. A key player was Robert Edsel, co-producer of the documentary film, The Rape of Europa and founder of the Monuments Men Foundation for the Preservation of Art.  The film was based on the book The Rape of Europa: The Fate of Europe's Treasures in the Third Reich and the Second World War by Lynn Nicholas.

These albums were created by the staff of the Third Reich’s Einsatzstab Reichsleiter Rosenberg (ERR). This special unit was organised in summer 1940 under Reich Leader Alfred Rosenberg, initially to collect political material in occupied countries for exploitation in the "struggle against Jewry and Freemasonry." Hermann Goering gave the ERR the responsibility for the confiscation of "ownerless" Jewish art collections. Late that year, Adolf Hitler ordered that all confiscated works of art be brought to Germany and placed at his personal disposal. During the next several years, the ERR was engaged in an extensive art looting operation in France that was part of Hitler’s much larger scheme to steal art treasures from conquered nations.

The Archivist hailed this discovery as one of the most significant finds related to Hitler’s premeditated theft of cultural treasures since the Nuremberg trials. The original documents shedding light on this important aspect of WW2 are still being located, important because of the hundreds of thousands of cultural items stolen from victims of the Nazis that are still missing.

These two photographic albums were held by the heirs to an American soldier stationed in Berchtesgaden Germany in the closing days of WW2. The albums showed just how obsessed and personally involved Adolf Hitler was with building the world’s greatest museum—the Führer Museum, in his hometown of Linz. I'll mention Linz again.

After the German occupation of France in 1940, the ERR, focused their art confiscations on the world renowned Jewish- owned art collections from families such as the Rothschilds (5,009 items), the Veil-Picards, David-Weill (2,687 items) Alphonse Kann (1,202 items) and Jewish dealers such as the Seligmanns and Georges Wildenstein. According to the German ERR documents from 1944, art seizures in France totalled 21,903 objects from 203 collections. The first shipment of confiscated art objects sent to Germany from Paris required 30 rail cars and consisted primarily of Rothschild paintings intended for Hitler’s Linz Museum. Among the first 53 paintings shipped to Hitler was Vermeer’s Astronomer from the Édouard de Rothschild collection, now in the Musée de Louvre Paris.

Vermeer, The Astronomer c1668

As the ERR staff looted and catalogued the French collections, they created photograph albums specifically intended for the Reichschancellery and Adolf Hitler in an effort to keep them apprised of their work in France. And they provided a catalogue of items from which Hitler and his curators could choose art treasures for the Führer’s Art Museum in Linz. ERR staff stated that 100 such volumes were created during the years of their art looting operation.

We need to understand the role of the men and women of 13 nations, known as Monuments Men/staff of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives units. These people rescued and returned 5 million cultural items to the countries from which they had been stolen, including many of the paintings featured in these Hitler Albums. When some of the ERR photographic albums were recovered, they were turned over to the Monuments Men and were stored at the Munich Central Collecting Point where they were used in identifying art work to be returned.

Today the National Archives has custody of the 39 original ERR photograph albums that were discovered at Neuschwanstein, where the Germans had placed them for safekeeping in April 1945. In late 1945, this set of 39 albums was used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials to document the massive Nazi art looting operations. Until now it was believed that the missing ERR albums had been destroyed during the latter days of WW2. Now two more albums have been recovered and will undoubtedly serve as useful sources for documenting not only Nazi art looting but also establishing the provenance of art works.

Big Lightning blog has perfect timing. Linz is one of Europe’s Capitals of Culture for 2009, with Vilnius. During the year, Linz Castle Museum will hold an exhib­it­ion about Hitler’s museum, the Führermuseum. From 1938 until the end of WW2, Linz Castle was used as a showcase of the National Socialist culture.

Art Deco and Cruise Ships, a marriage made in heaven

By 1900 the arrival of four German luxury liners, all named after members of their imperial family, caused the British to build their own luxury fleet. Cunard's Lusitania was launched in early 1907 and the Mauretania in later 1907. Aquitania was their last, completed in 1913. Cunard's British rivals, White Star Line, launched the Olympic in 1911, and then Titanic and Britannic before World War One broke out in 1914.

But it wasn't until the later 1920s when Art Deco started to epitomise the age of jazz, Hollywood glamour and conspicuous consumption, or at least the promise of the glamour. Deco was adopted as a totally modern style and became the style of the new pleasure sites: cinemas, cruise ships, restaurants and bars. But nowhere was it used more comprehensively than in cruise lin­ers.

This was the era of speed: trains, ships, cars and planes were all achieving faster and faster speeds. My favourite Deco posters showed trains and ships seemingly bursting forward and giving the illusion of speed. So note two things. a] The Deco Style was itself represented by fast, modern ships. And b] now we are about to see how inside these ships, the taste was almost always deco. Art Deco and cruise ships referenced each other.

Deco poster for the Normanie, 1939

The French Line’s success took off when a third ship was added: the Ile de France in 1927. The novelty of Art Deco aboard a ship was an immediate sensation and the reaction of the visiting press was appar­ently very favourable. Was it the first passenger ship completely decorated in the contemporary deco style? I can find nothing earlier.

One of the key materials used on Art Deco floors was Linoleum. They used it in striking geometric patterns or in a plain colour with a contrasting border around the edges of the room.

cabin timber work

Much of the furnishings of Art Deco were to add glamour. Walls were painted plain cream or brown, but they could have a thin border added around the cornices. Paint finishes became common. Velvet and leather were used as upholstery materials, and furniture had pronounced rounded corners. Wood-work was widespread and superbly crafted, sometimes in medium coloured finishes. Plain pelmets were used to keep the effect striking. Fabrics were plain or had a geometric design such as Aztec.

This was the era of glass and chrome. Lighting was an important part of Art Deco, both for the electric light effects created, and the light fittings themselves. In keeping with the general Art Deco theme, light fittings were streamlined. A typical feature was the wall light, in a fan or bowl shape. Lamp bases were often made of figurines.

Queen Mary, lighting

SS Normandie, lighting

Before Art Deco, colours were commonly creams and beiges, but now more vibrant colours became fashionable. Purple, green and lavender appeared with metallic finishes and reflective surfaces that emph­asised the colours. Black was saved for emphasis eg picture frames, thin lines on walls for a border effect or edging on lamp shades.

SS Champlain, salon

The French Line’s SS Champlain of 1932 was another truly modern ocean liner and embodied many design features later incorporated in the more famous SS Normandie. Her gorgeous interiors were designed by Rene Prou who déc­or­ated spaces in several earlier French Line ships.

Building of the Queen Mary started in 1930 on the River Clyde in Scotland. But the Depression meant the ship, the pride of Britain, wasn’t completed until 1936. Rooms in this enormous ship today still feature the original wood pan­el­ling, etched glass and deco taste. Queen Mary boasts 2 restaurants, including Sir Winston's, and several cocktail bars.

Queen Mary, bar

Holland-America's Nieuw Amsterdam’s public rooms reflected the growing shift towards simp­lic­ity of design late in Deco era. It is suggested that the Holland-America's flagship had a smoother, less garish interpretation of Art Deco than most of her contemporaries. Muted colour schemes and motifs were introd­uced, so that the pass­engers could provide the gaiety. As well as to restoring the vessel to her pre-war standard of high luxury, they added the complete redesign of the main public apartment, the Grand Hall, on the Promenade Deck. The other public rooms were fully restored: the domed dining saloon, Ritz-Carlton room, smoking room, two indoor pools and the Turkish Baths. Peter Knego's Sea Treks located a pair of Deco bas-reliefs from the ship, before it was scrapped in 1974.

THE BLUE LANTERN's post called Bon Voyage! showed some of the beautiful Deco posters that were used as cabin art in Holland-America's Volendam and Nieuw Amsterdam. Note the sophistication and the promise of glamour.

It is interesting that modern ships may also want to surround themselves in the Art Deco taste, some 70 years after Deco was the rage. Cruise Diva blog in Royal Caribbean Culinary Experiences Evolve Aboard Oasis of the Seas reported that Silversea Cruises’ newest ultra-luxury ship, Silver Spirit, is set to debut in lavish style in Jan 2010. The onboard décor will lend a sophisticated 1930s Art Deco ambiance to the public spaces.

17 January 2009

Garden Cities; early green thinking

The garden city movement was a British approach to urban planning, founded in 1898 by Sir Ebenezer Howard. Garden cities were to be planned, self-contained communities surrounded by green belts. They were to include carefully balanced areas of residences, industry and agriculture. Howard’s book Tomorrow: A Peaceful Path to Real Reform came out in 1898, just one year before he founded the Garden City Association in 1899. Two of my favourite garden cities reflect Howard’s thinking: Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City, both in or near Greater London.

The garden suburb wanted to provide solutions for social problems by applying certain spatial principles, such as picturesque images, strict control on design, physical distance from crowded cities and a degree of mixed use and diverse housing. I suppose many people had tried this before, but these satellite cities were different in that they were to be self-sufficient. It was the agricultural beltline and the factories of leading industrialists that would provide the self-sufficiency of the garden city's residents. So the intention was to combine the advantage of town life with the attract­ions of living in a healthy rural environment.

Strange Maps blog provides a wonderful schematised Howard plan called Slumless, Smokeless Cities. Central City (pop 58,000) was to be the hub for 6 surround-ing garden cities (pop 32,000 each). Each of these 7 urban centres was surround­ed by a canal, which also connected them to the neighbouring and the central cities, forming a wheel-shaped system of waterways, the Inter Municipal Canal. A slightly smaller circle was formed by the Inter Municipal Railway. Within this circle lay all the public institutions that would be needed by the community. And space was clearly allocated for the reservoirs, forests and farms.

And standards were to be maintained, beyond the design and building phases. It was important that both the town and the agricultural belt would to be permanently controlled by the public authority under which the town was developed.

Henrietta Barnett founded Hampstead Garden Suburb in 1907. She wanted to save 80 acres of land from the "rows of ugly villas that dis­fig­ure most of the suburbs of London". She required that a] the cottages and houses should be limited on an average to 8 per acre; b] roads should be 40’ wide; c] fronts of the houses should be at least 50’ apart, gardens occupying the space between; d] plot divisions should not be walls but hedges/trellises; e] every road should be lined with trees.

Welwyn Garden

What I didn’t know was that Edwin Lutyens’ association with the city beautiful tradition was already strong by the time Barnett needed a consultant. In the event, Lutyens was mostly notably involved in the central Town Square which, to Barnett’s way of thinking, was the most important part of Hampstead Garden Suburb. This was where the suburb’s key public facilities were built.

My interest in the garden city concept came, surprisingly, from The Arts and Crafts Movement which seemed to have a dilemma. On one hand, they romanticised the simple and honest rural life. On the other hand, the movement was receiving most of its support and patronage in large cities like London and Glasgow. But fortune smiled on the arts and crafters. As suburbia extended into the countryside, late C19th town planners became more anxious to preserve green space in inner cities and protect the countryside on the cities’ outskirts. In and near London, arts and crafts developments thrived in the garden suburbs like Ham­p­stead Gar­den Suburb. [The move to the Cotswolds was something quite different, I think].

Ebenezer Howard's Garden City Association was really quite radical. Its objectives were:
1. To secure decent, well designed homes for everyone, in a human scale environment combining the best features of town and country
2. To empower people and communities to influence decisions that affect them and
3. To improve the planning system in accordance with the principles of sustainable development

James Shepherd of the Where blog noted that the Garden City Association/later the Town and Country Planning Association had real results. And not just Letchworth Garden City and Welwyn Garden City. Both could be called the ‘home’ of town planning, precursors and arguably basic blue-prints for the Britain’s 21 New Towns that were built from 1946. These New Towns have subsequently been used as valuable case studies by urban planners when designing new conurbations across the globe.

Councils all over the world became interested. Based on the garden city concept, a small area was bought in June 1915 from the Grange Farm estate in Adelaide. During WWI it had been the site of an army camp and after the soldiers came home, the area was ready to develop. Cal­l­ed Colonel Light Gard­ens, this Adelaide suburb was an excellent example of 1919 town plan­n­ing, probably the most comp­lete example of a garden suburb in Australia. It had radial street pattern, reserves and gardens, wide avenues, useful laneways, street frontages and park-like setting. And because Colonel Light Gardens was built a gener­ation after Letchworth Garden City etc, housing tastes had changed. The Adelaide suburb adopted a consistent style of mid-1920s Californian bungalows.

Col Light Gardens, Adelaide

For a Sydney example, see the inner west suburb of Croydon. Sydney City and Suburbs depicted the Malvern Hill Estate which was subdivided in 1909 and designed as a model suburb with Federation style houses and tree-lined streets. Houses of the '20s and '30s by Peter Cuffley discussed the first Australian Town Planning and Housing conference and exhibition held in Adelaide in 1917. He also listed the garden suburbs and model estates developed around the SE corner of Australia.

For an American example, examine Greenmont in Dayton Ohio: Daytonology: Greenmont as Garden Suburb, completed by 1942.

16 January 2009

A History of Tea Rooms and the Suffragettes

The Edwardian Emporium blog discussed one of my favourite themes in cultural history, the appearance of tea rooms in the late C19th. Staffed by smart waitresses in black uniforms and serving tea and cakes, tea rooms were patronised by a new class of clientele. Classy enough to attract well dressed women, but not beyond the budget of the new working women who were being increasingly employed as office workers in London and Glasgow.

And if you believe these tea rooms appeared long before the women's suffrage movement got going, consider this: In 1866 a group of university women from the Kensington Society organised a petition that demanded that women should have the same political rights as men. The women took their petition to MPs who supported universal suffrage. When the bill was defeated, members of the Kensington Society decided to form the London Society for Women's Suffrage.  Similar women's suffrage groups were formed all over Britain and in 1887, seventeen of these individual groups joined together to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies.

The most popular tearooms were the ABC [Aerated Bread Company] and its direct competitor, Lyons Corner Houses, both of them opening in the late 1880s and into the 1890s. What I didn’t know was that these rooms could come complete with palm courts and live orch­estras. St James' Restaurant, on the fourth floor of Fortnum & Mason, was one of London's most famous spots for Afternoon and High Tea. It too included a regular pianist. Music in tea rooms was added to all of the major hotels where there would have been enough space, but ordinary tea rooms in the high street might have struggled for space.

Ingram St Tearooms, Glasgow

My image of 1890s tea rooms is very much influenced by the Ladies' Luncheon Room in Miss Cranston's Ingram St Tearooms, Glasgow.

I am very interested in the connection with the struggle for women’s suffrage and recommended the book Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London’s West End by Erika Rappaport to students. Rappaport drew a lovely link between men-free tea rooms and the early women’s movement. Suffragettes prom­oted the ABC teashops and Lyons Corner Houses, presumably because the women could enjoy themselves in unchaperoned settings that were suitable and safe for decent women.

But it wasn’t just the tea and scones. Undoubtedly the tea rooms also gave women access into the heart of the city, opening up London's cultural life. By the 1890s, public transport went almost everywhere so it became easy for women to get to the West End on the Under­ground. They could spend ex­tended periods of time there without having to return home.

The book Women's Suffrage Movement by Elizabeth Crawford suggested an even more radical connection. Alan's Tea Rooms, run by Alan Liddle in Oxford St, near Oxford Circus advertised regularly in the newspaper Votes for Women that they had a large room available for meetings. Mr Liddle’s profit apparently came from selling the tea and buns to the women.

In Sydney, feminist Louisa Lawson was editor of the Republican and founder, publisher and editor of Dawn: A Journal for Australian Women. Soon after establishing the paper, she founded The Dawn Club and held meetings in various places, including Quong Tart's tea rooms in King St and George St. Apparently his tearooms were the site of many of Sydney's suffragette meetings in the 1885-8 era. Quong Tart’s greatest success was the Elite Hall Tea House. Occupying two floors of the Queen Victoria Building, these tearooms were on both the ground level and first floor.

Cossington-Smith, The Lacquer Room, Sydney

15 January 2009

The Great Exhibition of London and Augustus Pugin

The Earthly Paradise: Gothic Revival in Architecture and Augustus Welby Pugin has caused a rethink of Pugin's role in the 1851 Great Exhbition

London’s Crystal Palace was built for the Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, 1851. It has been called proto-modern architecture, and was widely imitated in elsewhere. But its design was prob­lematic. Pugin called it a glass-monster, Carlyle a big glass soap bubble and Ruskin a conservatory. Ruskin's label was closest to the truth: the building had been designed by Joseph Paxton, using his experience in building a large green house for the Duke of Devonshire. In this building, cast-iron structure, pre-fabricated units and a glass curtain wall were tested out.

Crystal Palace, interior

Victorian History blog suggested that modernity was not uniformly present throughout the exhibition architecture. Inside, the wonderful straight lines which captured the eye and drew it onward and upward were compromised by busy, rounded art works totally out of place; not to mention out of time. While the era demonstrated progress in architecture, power and construction in the sciences, the arts languished. Ornamentation was oldfashioned and over the top.

Well, yes! I had always known that medievalist architect Augustus Pugin 1812-52 said to Joseph Paxton, architect of the Crystal Palace “you had better keep to building green-houses, and I will keep to my churches and cath­ed­rals”. So I assumed from that comment that Pugin would have wanted to keep well away from the modernist glass monster.

Yet in 1851, as Margaret showed, Pugin was hard at work on the Medieval Court for the Great Exhibition and many of the objects on display were designed by him. In one way, this makes perfect sense. Pugin was deeply involved in a rel­ig­ious movement that idealised the Middle Ages for its spir­itual awareness – he loved the gothic aesthetic and he loved the medieval morality. Pugin created a series of detailed drawings that gave details of medieval Gothic architecture and decoration. Spec­im­ens of Gothic Architecture and Examples of Gothic Architecture, both published in the 1820s, helped contemporaries architects and designers recreate the Gothic style anew.

Let us ask two questions. Why was Pugin allowed to construct a medieval court, “with wild Gothic longings for pre-Reformation Cath­olicism and trappings, all made in Birmingham” (New Statesman Dec 1999). Many Anglican critics must have half feared a new Catholic resurgence in England. Secondly why did Pugin agree to work in a setting (Crystal Palace) that must have felt repug­nant to him? He certainly prepared his Medieval Court with his normal att­ention to detail and in the end, his court even won the 1851 Great Exhibition Prize Medal! But a medieval court hardly fitted in with the pro-science, pro-industry and modernist architectural attitudes of the Great Exhibition.

Despite all fears, the exhibition eventually made a large surplus. All profits went on to fund an education trust with grants given out for industrial research, in particular the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Medieval court, Crystal Palace 
by Nash

Alas for Pugin, he had thrown himself heart and soul into his career for too long. Soon after the 1851 Exhibition at Crystal Palace, Pugin collapsed from exhaustion and died.

Crystal Palace moved from Hyde Park (built 1851) to Sydenham (1853-4). The new Crystal Palace Company re-erected its identical, standardised cast-iron sections and created the surrounding gardens. The second version was more expensive than the first because it had five rather than three floors and it had elaborate gardens with terracing and fountains. Pugin's original Medieval Court was now joined by Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Moorish, Renaissance, Indian, Chinese and other courts.

In Nov 1936, the second Crystal Palace was razed to the ground in a horrible fire. The cause of the fire was never established, so everyone rushed to their own judgement: the fire brigade was not called until it was too late; the internal wiring was defective; previous repairs were cheaply done, to encourage auctioning off the Palace; the neighbouring community resented the crowds and endless costs etc etc.

Modern visitors can go to  Crystal Palace Museum which has collected all the photos, documents and artefacts that survived the fire. The museum is appropriately housed in a building actually constructed by the Crystal Palace Co.

Australia's Own School of Landscape Painting II

To show you how quickly the Heidelberg style became accepted as the definitive version of Australian cultural nationalism, I refer you to Geoff Pound's:
THE OFFICIAL F W BOREHAM BLOG SITE: Boreham on Frederick McCubbin’s Painting, ‘The Pioneer’

Quoting F W Boreham, ‘The Pioneer’, Mountains in the Mist of 1914, he wrote "Every Australian has reverently raised his hat at some time or other to Mr McCubbin's great picture The Pioneer 1904. It holds a place of honour in the Melb-ourne Art Gallery, and copies of it have found their way into every home in the Commonwealth". Note the date - 1914.
McCubbin, The Pioneer, 1904

"The first of the set represents the pioneer on pilgrimage. There stands the wagon! The horses are turned out to forage for food among the scrub. The man himself is making a fire under a giant blue-gum. And, in the very foreground, sits the sad young wife, her chin resting heavily upon her hand and her elbow supported by her knee. Her dark eyes are eloquent with unspeak -able wistfulness, and her countenance is clouded with something very like regret. Her face is turned from her husband lest he should read the secret of her sorrow, and see that her heart is breaking. She is overwhelmed by the vastness and loneliness of these great Australian solitudes; and her soul, like a homing bird, has flown back to those sweet English fields and fond familiar faces that seem such an eternity away across the wilds and the waters. The pioneer's wife!

The centre picture—the largest of the trio—shows us the freshly built home in the depths of the bush. The little house can just be seen through a rift in the forest. In the foreground is the pioneer. He is clearing his selection, and rests for a moment on a tree that he has felled. His axe is beside him, and the chips are all about. Before him stands his wife, with a little child in her arms. The soft baby-arm lies caressingly about her shoulders.

In the third picture we can see, through the trees, a town in the distance. In the immediate foreground is the pioneer. He alone figures in all three pictures. He is kneeling this time beside a rude wooden cross. It marks the spot among the trees where he sadly laid her to rest."

Sacrifice, the importance of family, hard labour, the bush, distance from home (Britain), commitment to building a life in the new country (Australia)!

14 January 2009

Australia's Own School of Landscape Painting

In the light of last week's interview, I now have to explain why the Heidelberg School of Australian art produced such important paintings.

By 1886 nationalism was on the rise in Australia and one of the imp­ort­ant questions facing the colonies was whether to federate. I suppose it was inevitable that Australia WOULD one day federate, but the details about when, and which states would want to be included, were still very uncertain.

Landscape painting was deeply linked to cultural nat­ion­alism in Aus­tralia then, and the work of those artists who engaged with these broader cultural ideas was increasingly seen as the Nat­ional School of Art. Romantic images of stockmen and gold prospectors symb­olised a simpler, agricultural Australia. If this bucolic life had ever existed, by the 1880s it was well and truly subordinate to city life.

McCubbin, Down on his Luck

Frederick McCubbin teamed up with Tom Roberts in Box Hill, an area on the edge of Melbourne that ap­p­eared in many early McCubbin paintings, including While the Billy Boils 1886. This very small work seemed to be a trial run for Down On His Luck 1886. The figure appeared lonely, but the man could have been living off the land as best he could. The vegetation in this image was closer, more dense, more bluish, more encompassing. This title clarified that times were tough in the bush i.e on the land. He made the country side look pretty and benign, but perh­aps that was the point. ­In my opinion, McCubbin was true to the real colours of the Austral­ian bush and to its harshness; his paintings did not look like Gainsborough with kangaroos.

Roberts, Wood Splitters

In 1886 Tom Roberts joined Frederick McCub­bin and Louis Abrah­ams, young men he had met much earlier at the National Gallery of Victoria art sch­ool. They set up an art­is­ts' camp in the bush, initially in Gardiner’s Creek, Box Hill. The Wood Split­ters 1886 was one of the first Australian works to show the activities of ordinary rural lab­ourers. Roberts was clearly infl­uen­ced by the French painters of the Barbizon school, whose work extol­led the dignity of the rural lab­ourers and whose method involved sketching directly at the scene. This was also one of the works made by Roberts from sketches drawn at their camp. Roberts used a cool palette to capture the eucalypts and the misty winter light.

Then during the important years of 1888-90, Roberts joined Charles Conder and Arthur Streeton, painting at the old farmhouse on the Eag­lemont Estate owned by Charles Davies. During these summers at Box Hill and Eag­le­mont, it must have been a fair­ly basic life­: food cook­ed as best they could over a fire, drought and flies by day, lighting by can­dles at night, beds made from sack­ing, no wifely com­panionsh­ip. At least on weekends, they were vis­it­ed by many ot­h­er art colleagues and students, especially young people still studying at the Nat­ional Gallery of Victoria school, a hot bed of artistic nationalism. So the artists’ camp was a stim­u­l­­at­ing, intimate exper­ien­ce, one they remembered fondly for the rest of their lives.

Streeton’s work Selector’s Hut/Whelan on the Log 1890 was painted in summer 1890, on the Eaglemont hillside. The model for the se­l­ector, relaxing on the log, was Jack Whelan. He was the caretak­er of the estate, and at this time shared the old house on the estate with Streeton. Another work depict­ing Jack Whelan, and rep­ortedly painted at the same site on the same day, is Under a Southern Sun by Charles Conder.

Streeton, Whelan on Log

Walter Withers, David Davies, Clara Southern, Tudor St George Tucker and a couple of other painters are almost always included in the title Heidelberg artists.

Condor, Under Southern Sun