What Lies Underneath the Arches
Tuesday 28th March 2017 saw the opening of the recent heritage restoration of the historic galleries inside the Victorian Artists’ Society in Albert Street in East Melbourne. The society was foundered in 1888 and in 1892 the Victorian Artists’ Society’s elegant building appeared on the landscape of East Melbourne, a place for artists to gather, to share their ideas and exhibit their works.
This was a reflection of the enthusiasm and pride that pervaded the formative period of Marvelous Melbourne. The arts society provided studio space for many of Melbourne’s early impressionist artists the likes of which included Streeton, Roberts, and McCubbin.
Over a century later this collection of splendidly restored galleries were officially opened on Tuesdaythe 28th March at a sparkling evening event. This bustling occasion was not simply well attended but importantly provided a platform for the announcement of the winner of the society’s contemporary art competition.
The exceedingly affable MC Ron Smith gave us a brief overview of the many luminaries that have exhibited and performed at the society, including Melbourne’s famous opera diva Dame Nellie Melba who taught at the music conservatorium from 1915- 1931 when it was incorporated into the Artists Society premises.
To honour that occasion we were treated to soprano Rebecca Bode singing three opera arias including my favourite One Fine Day from Madame Butterfly by Puccini. Rebecca’s stunningly powerful rendering of these opera highlights left the audience quite spellbound.
Victorian Artists Society much loved President Eileen Mackley spoke passionately about restoring the original building to its original state and an important aspect of which was the restoration of the iconic arched façade. The work has repaired longstanding water damage, heating, and plumbing and added a new purpose designed sophisticated German lighting system to add luminescence to the artwork.
The Victorian Artist Society prize for Contemporary Art was judged by Godwin Bradbeer, a Melbourne based figurative artist, Head of Drawing in the School of Art at RMIT University in Melbourne from 2005 until 2010. In his eloquent opening speech Godwin chose to reference 20th century cultural icons that the audience could relate to instantly.
“In a field of paintings, varied in manner and accomplished in execution I am ultimately drawn to those works wherein the residue of struggle remains evident and visceral. Where risk and courage are present in the mix. I am reminded of the statement – perhaps apocryphal of Pablo Picasso’s –that;
“the work of art is a battle between the painter and the painting and if the painter is lucky, it is the painting that will win”
“So on this occasion, rather than presenting awards for fine art or for excellence in contemporary painting practice I have chosen to make these awards for valour, for stepping into the breech, for courage in the face of the blank canvas and for confronting the visual culture of the twenty first century”.
With this criteria in mind I acknowledge the high achievement of the Jo Reitze, Paul Laspagis, Margaret Gurney, Clive Sinclair, Raelene Sharp and Ian Wilson.
I deem artist Erica Wagner the prizewinner on this occasion. Her painting atching the Water has a beguiling visuality and Erica’s work has an energy all of its own”.
I caught up with Erica Wagner briefly after her win and asked her what inspires her to paint. She gave me a quote from the German writer and statesman Goethe.
‘Whatever you think you can do or believe you can do, begin it. Action has magic, grace and power in it.’
“His words kept me going during the many years of squeezing my art into tiny spaces while juggling work and family. For the last 7 years, working part-time in publishing, I’ve had the luxury of more time, but when the juggling gets out of control, that quote still fires me up”.
What a delight it is to see the heroine of my 1983 film and TV treatment back on the radar of the French presence in Melbourne. At the time I had spent over a year (1982- 83) researching the life of Celeste de Chabrillan the First French Consuls wife from 1852- 58 and saw the story as a potential film/ TV project.
I put my research in front of our friend Tim Burstall the film Director and he was immediately taken with the possibilities. We went on to write a film and a TV scenario together. We submitted the film scenario to the Australian Film Commission but Australia at the time had no co production agreement with France and I had facilitated a French company to be involved as half the film was to be shot in France.
After months of meetings and negotiations with the Australian Film Commission I then arranged for Bernard Ledun French Consul General in Melbourne to take our scenario to one of my favourite French writers Marguerite Duras in France
It seemed we were at an impasse with the Film Commission because of the lack of a co production agreement between France and Australia in 1983 and the fact that we would have to use some French actors. Tim and I then turned the material into a TV series and submitted the project to Film Victoria with my name, and Tim using the non de plume Digby de Maistre.
In 1984 I submitted my research on Comte Lionel and Celeste de Chabrillan andphotographs for display in the exhibition The French Presence in Victoria 1800- 1901 that was shown at the Victorian Artists Society.
I subsequently took up the position as cultural attaché at the French consulate responsible for publicity and promotion of $25 million cultural program that France gave to Australia for the Australian Bicentennial.
The French played an important role in the history of Australia and certainly the Comte and Celeste de Chabrillan provided some very colourful moments in that rich cultural past. Melbourne University Academic and award winning translator Patricia Clancy and Jeanne Allen translated Celeste’s second memoir Un Deuil au Bout du Monde in 1998 with a fascinating introduction. The bereavement to which the French title refers is that of the Comte’s death in 1858.
Last week at the Alliance Française in St Kilda a new book on Celeste’s final memoirs was launchedCourtesan and Countess translated by three Melbourne University French Academics Jana Verhoeven, Alan Willey, and Jeanne Allen.. These memoirs hidden for 80 years were found by Jana in a Chateau in France once owned by Celeste.
“Courtesan and Countess tells the story not only of her struggle as a creative artist to survive and earn a living, but also of her fascinating life at the centre of the bohemian circles of Paris, surrounded by friends such as Alexandre Dumas père, Georges Bizet and Prince Napoléon. Courtesan and Countess paints a portrait of a remarkable woman and of the turbulent world of Paris during the Belle Epoque.”
The following are pages from my personal diaries that I have mentioned in my blog:
Jours Pour Se Souvenir – Days to Remember
JULY 16, 2012
As a committed Francophile with a passion for fashion and French Culture Bastille Day evokes memories of early travels in France, and in the late 1980’s spent as cultural attaché at the French Consulate in Melbourne. As part of my research when developing my film The French Consuls Wife in 1983 I discovered that Dianne Reilly La Trobe Librarian had located the grave of my principal character Melbourne’s first French Consul, Comte Lionel de Chabrillan, a member of one of the oldest aristocratic families in France. This unruly and neglected grave was located at the Melbourne General Cemetery
In 1984 frantically trying to write my film script The French Consuls Wife it seemed to be a perfect opportunity to throw a cemetery party with Melbourne’s Alliance Francaise and celebrate the hero of my film Comte Lionel de Chabrillan. Throwing a party is probably not the first thing people think of in connection to a cemetery. The French flag draped the austere grave. There was fine French champagne, strawberry pastries, a string quartet and readings from the French poet Baudelaire – all of this among the headstones.
In 1986 we celebrated the graves restoration with a much grander party. I organised a splendid French lunch at the leading French hotel Le Meridian for 35 people. I recreated with the assistance of the chef the menu of the 1848 Café Anglais, gathering place for the Paris dandies, where the Comte first met his future wie. We then all went on to the Melbourne General Cemetry. It was a bleak gray winters day, the French Consul General the elegant Isabelle Costa de Beauregard Robertson gave an eloquent speech. As I spoke about Lionel and the love story with his wife Celeste, the famous dancer La Mogador, a clap of thunder echoed around the tombstones as a huge black crow let out a raucous craw swooping low over the restored grave, as if it had been scripted from a scene out of a Ingmar Bergman film. To this day whenever we see a big black crow we think of Comte Lionel de Chabrillan.
Richard Nylon meets William Johnston
Part of the Johnston Collection House of Ideas Series
From the moment I walked into this riveting exhibition I felt I was walking into a moment of Tardis time travel. Standing on a superb marquetry table was a rhythmically ticking metronome. A moment of whimsy was provided by the ostrich feathers attached to the metronome as its pendulum swung back and forth tick, tick, tick, tick.
Hanging on the walls were numerous antique clocks dating from the 17th century, marking a technological shift in the recording of time. From this period of time, time itself was no longer simply marked by the ringing of church bells. Perhaps our grandchildren living in a digital age will never relate to the comforting sounds of a ticking clock. And there amongst these relics of another age was the ever so present Richard in the form of a tiny figurine. This was indeed a house of ideas.
Richard had imprinted his own sense of theatre on the engaging boudoir with a resplendent golden sun bedhead, which signified that we had now returned to the Court of the Sun King, Louis XIV. On the bed itself there were many tiny ceramic English Setters happily attending their master in bed. Who would have known that Louis XIV adored dogs? He fed them biscuits baked by the Royal pastry chef and they slept in beds made from walnut and ebony marquetry lined with crimson velvet in the chamber des chiens next door to his own bedchamber.
My favourite room however was the philosopher’s room with a round table displaying a splendid collection of small busts of revered philosophers from the past each adorned by Richard with glamorous evening hats. I liked Socrates glamorous chapeau– were the gold leaves the leaves of hemlock that led to Socrates death?
As Socrates so famously said “ An unexamined life is not worth living – Richard seems to concur with this statement in maintaining that to examine ones life is the only life worth living.
There were lots of conundrums, witty statements, and extravagances as only a rich imaginative, fertile mind like Richards could conceive. This is an exhibition not to be missed. To view phone The Johnston Collection 9416 2515.
A Bewitching Private Recital June 2015
Soprano Antoinette Halloran, Tenor James Egglestone and Bass Baritone Shane Lowrencev
A bewitching concert displaying the storms, passion and joys of popular opera arias, in an elegant, private setting, with magnificent flowers, fabulous food and fascinating guests – a tribute to the talent and charm of our host Di Bresciani founder of YMFA.
YMFA is an organisation established to foster music and support of young musicians.
Sara Maitland “How To Be Alone” [Macmillan; Main Market Ed. edition January 2, 2014]
“Learn how to enjoy solitude and find happiness without others. Our fast-paced society does not approve of solitude; being alone is literally anti-social and some even find it sinister. Why is this so when autonomy, personal freedom and individualism are more highly prized than ever before? Sara Maitland answers this question by exploring changing attitudes throughout history. Offering experiments and strategies for overturning our fear of solitude, she to helps us to practise it without anxiety and encourages us to see the benefits of spending time by ourselves, By indulging in the experience of being alone, we can be inspired to find our own rewards and ultimately lead more enriched, fuller lives.”
“From the outside, solitude and loneliness look a lot alike. Both are characterized by solitariness. But all resemblance ends at the surface. Loneliness…
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Friendship isn’t a big thing – its a million little things – unknown author.
I love escaping Melbourne’s winter for the warmth of Brisbane and renewing an old friendship of 26 years in a delightful old vintage Queenslander house.
“When animus and anima meet, the animus draws his sword of power and the anima ejects her poison of illusion and seduction. The outcome need not always be negative, since the two are equally likely to fall in love (a special instance of love at first sight).” ― C.G. Jung
C.G. Jung explaining love at first sight in an interview
La Paix, Rodgers’ Forge
August 8, 1933
I feel very strongly about you doing duty. Would you give me a little more documentation about your reading in French? I am glad you are happy — but I never believe much in happiness. I never believe in misery either. Those are things you see on the stage or the screen or the printed pages, they never really happen to you in life.
All I believe in in life is the rewards for virtue (according to your talents) and the punishments for not fulfilling your duties, which are doubly costly. If there is such a volume in the camp library, will you ask Mrs. Tyson to let you look up a sonnet of Shakespeare’s in which the line occurs “Lillies that fester smell far worse than weeds.”
Have had no thoughts today, life seems composed of…
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