Sir F. Chook, Inventor of Leopard Oil

Likeness captured upon a daguerrotype machine in Japan, July 1891


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

Wearing Turn-Ups & Dangling Books

Penned upon the 13th of September, 2007

We’re moving! Lady Tanah and I have just gained the rental of a house, not too far from the rooms we’ve occupied for the past few years. Pray indulge me if I subject you to our experiments in decorating once we move in. We’re rather looking forward to having studios for writing, painting, what have you!

Also, I’ve become the maintainer of the Refinement community! That’s the title of the position, but Refinement is largely self-maintaining – it runs on luxe, calme et volupté, and can traverse the imagination on a glassfull – so my duties should be minimal. Still, I’m happy to have a possible positive part to play in such a long-running and affable institution.

Out with the new and in with the old: I’ve been doing some local history research, reading about Melbourne’s artistic community around the end of the nineteenth century. Despite the coarse-but-honest rural nationalist motif we generally recall the period for, the Belle Époque was alive and well in the colonies – when Roberts and Streeton weren’t painting drovers and little lost English girls, they were dabbling in art nouveau and orientalism. I’ve been stuck in Ann Galbally’s excellent biography of Charles Conder – born in England and raised in India, Conder started his painting career in Sydney and Melbourne before moving to Paris to paint hand-to-mouth and crawl the brothels and cabarets with Tolouse-Lautrec, Beerbohm and Wilde.

Now, here’s a fascinating tidbit – Conder shared a studio with Roberts in Grosvenor Chambers, at the top of Collins St. This building was devoted primarily to accomidation, studios and exhibition space for artists – imagine, the likes of Conder, teenaged, syphillitic and painting subversive images of mixed bathers and bushmen doing household chores, occupying prime real estate at the Paris End of town! But, Grosvenor Chambers was owned by the head of one of the city’s most successful design companies, Scottish-born Charles Stewart Paterson. Charles’s brother, John Ford, was a noted landscape painter, one of the founders of the Australian Artists Association and later President of the Victorian Artists Society. Another brother, Hugh, worked with Charles, and also designed theatrical costumes.

The more I read about the artistic community at the time, the more I find of the Patersons’ touch. As well as providing rooms for artists, the Paterson Brothers design company decorated great public and private buildings – including now-heritage museum Villa Alba, Kew, where you can see their work preserved! (While you’re in Kew, have a discreet peek at Willsmere Apartments, formerly known as Kew Lunatic Asylum, which is quite beautiful, and, I hear, very haunted.) Hugh and his wife Elizabeth – an amateur actress and singer of some renown – seem to have been a pair of consummate aesthetes, and, living with John Ford next door to the McCubbins, were the focal point of artistic society. Their children followed the parents’ calling, too – Esther Paterson especially, who painted, and wrote, and drew, and penned for journals, and modelled, and acted, and wore long hair and artistic dress, all from a tiny wee age.

I’ll be looking further into the history of this fantastic group of people – if you’d like to perhaps take a walk around the city, see some of their work, I’ll include some links!

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