Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891

Lettres

Wherein the Author reflects upon certain topical & personal issues of the Day.

Couture In The Regions

Penned upon the 18th of January, 2009

Hey, gang. What’ve you been up to? Lately I’ve been ensconced in a pile of books – primary sources and the like, for my continuing thesis on the American Transcendentalists. This past Friday, though, we found time – Lady Tanah, her mother and I – to make a wee day trip to Bendigo Art Gallery for the Golden Age of Couture exhibition. Did I ever tell of my study trip to Bendigo? Fascinating town – heavily historicised in its landscape, I think, thanks to a strong sense of personal ownership by its residents which contributes to their quality of life… but anyhow.

We weren’t in town for long this time, but the trip from Melbourne is an interesting one. It’s become something of a ritual that, whenever we’re on that side of the city, we stop in the little town of Malmsbury, and particularly the Merchants of Malmsbury cafĂ©. Strange place, but in a good way – all in one sitting, we could giggle at various antique toys and figurines, of British soldiers and golfers in plus fours and all; purchase a few Modernist and Orientalist prints for our salon-hang; and stuff ourselves with scrambled eggs and spicy chutney with ginger beer. Mmm!

The permanent collection of the Bendigo gallery is worth the visit in itself – it has some amazing Australian pieces, especially from around the turn of the 20th century, and by such later names as Whiteley and Blackman. The Couture exhibition in particular was, well, rather busy! But certainly a happy surprise in itself. I must confess that I couldn’t get into the spirit of the eveningwear room – strapless gowns leave me entirely cold – but that’s my issue, not theirs.

The front room – the daywear collection – more than made up for that. Gorgeous suits, blazers and gowns. Adorable little doll-mannequins, made of twisted wire, wearing intensely-detailed examples of their creators’ designs. Some very fun photography, too – with circus strong-men, no less. I’m always a fan of a good strong-man. If at all the curve of a coat’s skirts, or the fringes of a matching tweed suit and scarf, can give you pause for thought, then it would be instructive to pay a visit, perhaps take a notebook. It’s not absolutely imperative – I’d even say clothing loses something in the museum context, where one can’t try things on, or at least enjoy their feel! – but still worth the entrance fee, particularly for students.


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