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The Versailles Peace Treaty (1919) was doomed to fail

WW1 had brought about unprecedented human suffering in European history. Almost every nation across Europe was crippled by the war. Of the 60 million European soldiers who were mobilised from 1914–8, 8 million were killed, 7 million permanently disab­l­ed and 15 million seriously injured. Russia lost the greatest pro­p­ortion of its servicemen, Germany lost 15%, Austria-Hungry lost 17%, France lost 11% and Britain lost 5%. And c5 million civil­ians died from war-induced causes.

Finally, on 11th Nov 1918, Germany agreed to an armistice based on USA’s President Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points, an idealistic set of peace terms designed to placate the isolationists in America. But the Treaty of Ver­s­ailles sharply differed from Wilson’s points.

The general goal of Versailles was to restore European stability and to main­tain perm­an­ent peace. The specific goals were to carve out new nat­ions, divide the Middle East between the victorious Allies, reassign German boundaries and assign reparat­ions. But note that the peace was being sought at the WORST time, a time of unparalleled polit­ical, social and econ­omic chaos.

The Treaty of Versailles, June 1919 
Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles. 
by Joseph Finnemore, 1919, 165 x 247 cm.
Australian War Memorial 

The treaty, negotiated between Jan-June 1919 in Paris, was written by the Allies with little German involvement. In fact 32 nations sent delegates to Paris, but not Russia because the other Allies did not recognise the new Communist government. France and Belgium, where much of the brutal fighting had taken place, had paid the highest price. So it was not surprising that the negotiations revealed a split between the French and Belgium on one side Vs the British, Italians and Americans on the other.

The eventual treaty included 15 parts including:
Part I created the Covenant of the New League of Nations, which Germany was not allowed to join until 1926.
Part II specified Germany’s new boundaries, giving: German-speaking Eupen-Malmedy to Bel­g­ium, Alsace-Lorraine to France, eastern districts to Poland, Memel on the Baltic Sea to Lithuania, and parts of Schleswig to Denmark.
Part III stipulated a demilitarised zone and separated the Saar (on the French border) from Germany for 15 years.
Part IV stripped Germany of all its colonies.
Part V reduced Germany’s armed forces to very low levels and prohibited certain weapons, while also committing to eventual Allied disarmament.
Part VIII established Germany’s liability for reparations, beginning with Article 231, in which Germany accepted responsibility for Allied losses.

WWI officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles.

The progressive German government (1919-33) signed the treaty, even though right-wing German parties attacked it as a betrayal. The Am­er­ican Sen­ate re­fused to ratify the treaty, and their government took no respons­ib­ility for most of its provisions. French Prime Min­ister Clemenceau wanted to dismember Germany. The British Prime Minister planned to use a strong Germany as a bulwark against the Russ­ians. 

There was debate about Total German Disarmament. Event­ually, the Allies agreed that the German navy was to be disarmed and limited in men and ships, and the army in men. But no one realistically expected Ger­many to be disarmed forever.

Britain was more interested in securing her over­seas colon­ies than helping her European allies. So while France argued for the western German front­ier to end at the Rhine for security reasons, British Prime Min­ist­er Lloyd George said no, for trading purposes. The compromise was for the Rhineland was to be occupied by Allied troops for 15 years.

Alas France believed that the Treaty had left Germany largely intact, with a pop­ulation doub­le that of France, and with no powerful East European neighbours. The treaty deprived Germany of only 13.5% of her territ­ory, 13% of her economic productivity and 10% of her inhabitants (7 million).

In 1919 France stationed c30,000 French colonial soldiers in the Rhineland. And for five years the French and the Belgians enforced the treaty rig­or­ously, leading in 1922 to their occupation of the Ruhr. But in 1924 Anglo-American financial pressure compelled France to low­er its goals. 

Big Four at Versailles, June 1919
Left: David Lloyd George UK; Vittorio Orlando Italy; Georges Clemenceau France and Woodrow Wilson USA. 

German War Reparations were also problematic. France felt that Ger­many should cover the costs of restoration of invaded territ­ories and repayment of all war debts. But Britain worried about the rev­ival of international trade, if Germany was impossible in debt. So the exact reparations owed by the Germans were never in­cluded in the Treaty of Versailles. As it happened, Germ­any paid repar­at­ions in 1924 and 1929, but the Depres­sion intervened and led to their can­cel­lation in 1932.

Instead, Article 231 (aka the War Guilt Clause) of the Treaty of Versailles simply laid the blame for WW1 solely on the shoulders of Germany and caused intense emotional debate among Germans: The Allied Governments affirm, and Germany accepts the responsib­il­ity of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss to which the Allied gov­ern­ments and their nationals have been subjected as a conseq­uen­ce of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies.

The War Guilt Clause and the reparations demanded from Germ­any added fuel to growing German resentment of the Allies, and to booming German nationalism. And as time went on, every party in Germany, from the Communists to Hitler’s National Social­ists, con­demned the Vers­ail­les Treaty as unjust. Versailles was the un­ifying issue that held German politics together! Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 made the remaining terms of the treaty highly doubtful.

The Versailles Treaty clearly failed to bring about ever-lasting European stability. But more than that, it can be argued that WW2 was waged by Germany in 1939 specifically to exact revenge for WW1. German nationalists apparently wished to revise the Versailles settle­ment by force, such that Hitler denounced the treaty altogether in 1935.

For follow-up to the Versailles Treaty, read Versailles and After, 1919-1933, by Ruth Henig. The All­ies could win WW1, but not sec­ure the peace. So Henig showed that no formal peace treaty was ever written to end WW2!


A great new art book: The Museum of Lost Art

The Museum of Lost Art is an excellent book by American author-academic Noah Charney (Phaidon 2018). He asked the reader to imagine a “museum” of lost art, one which would contain more master­pieces than all the world’s real museums combined. The Museum of Lost Art is a written history of art, told through the stories of works that have been stolen, destroyed or otherwise lost to the world.

Charney wrote that it was important to study what has been lost and why, to appreciate what has survived, and to understand how delicate the surviving port­ion of man­kind’s creative history was. The premise of Noah Charney's book was that the study of art history had to corr­ect the skewed vers­ion which had to rely entirely on extant works. Charney said this was done by resurrecting lost masterpiec­es, sometimes quite literally from the ashes. So the book was divided thematical­ly by a list of disasters that could befall a work of art: theft, war, accident, icono­clasm, vandalism and destruction by the owner.

Art was fragile and there were many ways in which it could be lost, even while on display in quality museums. The book began with an analysis of famous thefts.  We remember the notorious Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist of 1990 when 13 works were stolen from Boston. This famous, unsolved art theft took place on St Patrick’s Day in 1990; thiev­es stole works valued at $500 million from the Gardner museum, including Vermeer’s The Concert. And consider also Russborough House in Ireland, a country house that has been plundered on four separate occasions.

The chapter on theft highlighted the significance of art crime as the third highest-grossing criminal activity behind guns and drugs. Charney said that it was both very common and very success­ful! Only 1.5% of cases resulted in the recovery of items and the perpetrators being tried.

Other sections of the book were just as fascinating, from accidents by humans (eg a warehouse fire in London in 2004 that ravaged Charles Saatchi’s works) to acts of God (the 1966 flood of Florence when the swelling River Arno ruined works like Paolo Uccello’s Creation and Fall, 1443-46). During a fire in 1734 in the Royal Alcázar palace in Madrid, att­endants frantically struggled to remove the paintings: Velazquez’s Las Meninas survived, while several works by Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Van Dyck, Raphael, Bosch, and Brueghel burned.

The chapter on war was keen to establish that few of nations were blameless in this tale of wanton destruction. Looting was an off­icially sanctioned method of payment for British and French troops in some wars, including during the Opium Wars of the mid-C19th. Of course some works that were thought to have been lost in war.. were later found, as was the case with Leonardo da Vinci’s painting Madonna of the Yarnwinder (stolen 2003, recovered 2007).

Leonardo's Salvator Mundi was painted for Louis XII of France in c1500, and travelled to England with the princess Henrietta Maria when she married King Charles I. Hanging in Greenwich palace, the painting was part of King Charles' art collection that disappeared, only to resurface in 2005. Where was it in the English Civil War and afterwards?

Salvator Mundi 
by Leonardo da Vinci in c1500

Cultural crimes have been committed around the world in the name of war, national­ism and religion. Holbein’s paint­ing The Ambass­ad­ors (1533) had a crucifix in the upper left corner origin­ally was created to be part­ially obscured by the green curtain, but at one point the crucifix was compl­ete­­­ly painted out. This clear alter­at­ion suggested that a political message (references Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic Church through the formation of the Church of England) became offensive in other countries or in other eras.

The iconoclasm and vandalism chapter showed the difference between the two modes of destruction and illustrated it with exam­ples. Some works were altered from their original conception for good historical, religious or personal reasons. Strangely there were also intriguing tales of works deliberately annihilated by the very artists who created those very works - think of Gerhard Richter who burned c60 works in the early 1960s. Van Gogh’s Por­t­rait of Dr Gachet (1890) was completed just before the artist died and was to be cremated with him after the funeral.

For me, the most difficult issue to resolve was that The Museum of Lost Art should have included a chapter on works that had vanished into private collections, possibly to be hidden forever. Charney mentioned the works that disappeared into private collections of a couple who, in the cat­alogue of their collection, posed proudly beside stolen antiquities from Pompeii. Whether ignorance or sheer greed produced these types of collectors it was hard to say, yet they did exist and should have been held accountable more vig­or­ously than Charney did. 

The murky and private world of free ports, providing a means to avoid taxes and to keep assets a secret, apparently aided the growth of art as a speculative asset, and as a criminal asset. This resulted in huge warehouses being stuffed with art that most people would never see, or even know about.. for ever.

As a blog topic, I come back to the topic of lost or faked art often. So Charney’s was a good start towards recovering the “negat­ive spaces of the art world”, at the margins where artworks were lost, destroyed or smuggled away to serve immoral ends. Crucially, Charney pointed out that the works selected in his book offered an alter­nat­ive history of art. Most modern art history courses used a core of c200 extant and significant historic works, illustrated and dis­cussed repeatedly, he said. But even familiar works may not have been the best examples of a particular artist’s total oeuvre. For example, Rogier van der Weyden’s four paintings for the Golden Chamber of Brussels Town Hall were perhaps the best example of lost works that were more important in their time than the artist’s surviving works. It was easy to forget that works we associated with great artists were not necess­arily their greatest, most influential creations.

Several years ago, Charney published the book The Art of Forgery (2015). The reader might like to visit the The Museum of Art Fakes, a real museum of faked and forged artworks that opened Vienna in 2005 and includes the famous Vermeer-forger Han van Meegeren. So whereas it WAS possible to exhibit fakes and forgeries, it was clearly NOT possible to exhibit lost art work!


Was Beethoven inspired by Napoleon Bonaparte?

Intellectuals th­roughout Europe looked on Napoleon as a hero at first, including German artists such as Goethe. As a youth, Ludwig von Beet­­hoven (1770-1827) was attracted by the ideals of the French Rev­ol­ution. His early writing was scattered with revolut­ion­ary sentim­ents and disdain for organised religion. Thanks to Christopher George and Alexander Lee for their excellent articles.

When Beethoven moved to Vienna to study with Franz Joseph Hay­dn, he took his views with him. However since a police state existed in Aus­tria in the 1790s, Beethoven knew not to flagrantly display his sup­p­ort for the revolutionary movement there. Afterall, Beet­hoven was still a German provincial from Bonn.

So as he gained fame as a composer in his own right, his democratic fervour was abating. Welcomed to the Viennese nob­il­ity’s salons, Beethoven adapted himself to his patrons’ tastes. He put on aristo­c­rat­ic airs, claimed descent from an old baronial family and adopt­ed the nobiliary particle “von”. Though he remained a passionate defender of liberty and secularism, the composer now believed that the French Rev­ol­ution had gone too far. He too regarded the Reign of Terror with horror.

By 1800, Beethoven was traumatised to realise that his deafness was worsening. In April 1802, Beethoven left Vienna for Heiligenstadt, a village near Vienna. The Heilig­enstadt Test­am­ent was an emotional document in which Beethoven placed himself as a hero, stricken by deaf­ness, with­drawn from mankind, conquering suic­ide.

But surrounded by nature, he recovered and found a new sense of musical purpose. Wandering in the country, he toyed with a theme in E flat major and soon had a comp­letely new symphony in mind – original and triumphalist.

3rd Sym­ph­ony Eroica by Beethoven
Classic FM

Against his personal anguish, the composer showed his politics. This 3rd Sym­ph­ony Eroica was one of a series of planned dedications to en­light­ened lead­ers in 1800-4. While Beethoven was labouring over the score, he decided to name the symphony after Napoleon Bonaparte (1769–1821), then First Consul of France.

According to the composer’s biographer Anton Schindler, the link to Napoleon had first been sugg­est­ed by Jean-Baptiste Ber­nadotte, French ambassador to Aust­ria. But accord­ing to Beet­hoven’s pupil Ferdinand Ries, the idea was the compos­er’s own. As Ries ex­plained, Beethoven had the high­est esteem for Napoleon, like the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. When the score was finished in early 1804, he wrote Symphony For Bonaparte on the cover and proudly left the manuscript on a table for all to see.

Courtyard of Beethoven's house 
Heiligenstädt near Vienna, 1802.

Poor Beethoven. Not long after finishing his symphony, Ries came to him with news that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor of France (May 1804) and was crowned (in Dec). Beet­hoven flew into a rage, shouting: So he is no more than a common mortal! Now he will think himself superior to all men and become a tyrant!’ Beet­hoven strode over to the score and scribbled out the title so violently that he tore through pap­er.

This event gave rise to an image of Beethoven as a lover of lib­er­ty, an admirer of the French Revolution and a repub­lic­an. Having once admired Napoleon as the god of revolutionary princ­ip­les, the composer later re­viled him for sacrif­icing those very principles.

Ries’ version was suspect be­cause he wrote down his rem­iniscences years later. Schind­ler’s claim that the idea of naming the sym­phony after Napoleon had been suggested by Bernadotte was clearly false. Though Bernadotte had indeed served as the Fren­ch ambassador to Austria, he had quit his post in dis­grace in 1798 and left. In any case Schindler was a known democrat, who destroyed or doctored many of Beethoven’s papers after the comp­os­er’s death. 

Beethoven wrote to his pub­lish­er, disapp­oint­ed that Nap­oleon had concluded a concor­dat with Pope Pius VII and thereby shatt­ered the sep­ar­at­ion-of-Church-and-state dream. Yet Beet­hoven saw Napol­eon as a necessary correct­ive for the excesses of the Revolution, produc­ing political order out of chaos. Napoleon knew how to keep a firm hold, plus he had an appreciation for art and science.

So it was for practical and financial reasons that the com­poser no longer publicly acknowledged Napoleon as the inspir­at­ion for the symphony. He removed Napoleon’s name so as not to lose the patronage of a noble who had been scan­dalised by the Fren­chman’s actions. Note Beethoven dedicated the Eroica to Prince Joseph von Lobkowicz, who had given him 400 ducats for the rights to the music and who later became one of his most ardent supporters.

The symphony received its first private perf­ormance in Dec 1804 at Prince Lobkowitz's palace. It would not have been politically wise for him to have retained an identification with Napoleon. War with France was once again looming, so pat­riotic Lobkowitz raised a battalion of troops against the French. Austria was an implacable foe to Napoleon, at war with France for 13.5 years!!

The first public performance of Eroica Symphony took place in Vienna in Apr 1805 with Beethoven himself conducting. The work did not please the public who thought the symphony too heavy and too long. Refusing to modify the score, Er­oica remained Beethoven’s personal favourite.

The composer admired Bonaparte as a Republican con­sul, but may have thought he could not tolerate him as an auto­crat. Yet Beethoven did not turn­ his back on the Imperial family. In 1808 Napoleon’s broth­er, King Jerome Bonaparte of Westphalia, offered the composer 600 gold ducats a year to serve as Kap­ell­meister to the Court of Kassel!

In taking the pos­ition, Beethoven would have continued a family tradition. [The compos­er's grand father, Ludovicus van Beethoven, had been Kap­ellmeister to the Elector of Col­ogne in 1733]. But before young Ludwig could accept tainted Bona­part­e money, Viennese Archduke Rudolph offered Beethoven 4,000 florins a year.

It was only after Napoleon crushed Austria in the War of the 5th Coalition 1809 that Beethoven’s enthusiasm ended. Shaken by the French bombardment of Vienna and fearful of being compromised by a Bonaparte association, he rep­udiated Napoleon! Contempt grew as the emperor ranged across Europe like a conqueror, especially in Vienna. Beet­hoven was now identified liberty with Germanic patriotism. 

Shortly before the Emperor's exile on Elba, the composer sided with the Allies. So he wrote a short orchestral work celeb­rating Emp­eror's nemesis, Duke of Wellington, in 1813. The Battle of Vitoria Symphony celebrated the decisive British victory over Napoleon's troops in Spain in June 1813, and became Beet­hoven­'s greatest comm­ercial suc­cess. Beethoven dedicated Wellington's Victory to Britain’s Prince Regent and sent him an engraved copy of the score.


Mendel Beilis' blood-libel trial in Kiev 1913

My grandfather told me this story many times in the 1950s. Grandpa was only an adolescent in 1913, at a time when pers­ecution of Jews had never abat­ed. But he believed that immigration visas suddenly opened up for Russian Jews, in a window of opportunity during and after the Beilis trial. What the records do show is that by 1917 the Jewish Emigration Society organised and managed the outflow of endless thousands of Jewish emigres to destinations abroad, before the Society was disbanded in 1917.  Due to Expulsion Edicts, pogroms and revolution, as well as the Beilis Trial.

Beilis with his wife and 5 children, 
after the trial

The libel that Jews committed ritual murder to take Christ­ian chil­d­ren’s blood originated in C12th. In Eng­land in 1144, Norwich Jews were accused of ritual murder-crucifixion after young William of Norwich's body was found. Blood libel trials continued in Gloucester 1168, Bury St Ed­munds 1181 and Bristol 1183. And in 1190, 150 Jews were massac­red in York. Finally every Jew in England was exil­ed in 1290.

In the C19th, blood libels saw a myster­ious revival in Central Europe, with 100+ cases in Germany and Austria-Hungary. This post examines the last blood libel trial in Europe. 
Medieval image of Jews killing a Christian child for his blood

Consider the political background. In Feb 1911 the Duma-parliament began debating the abolishment of the restrict­ive Pale of Settlement. And new elections were pending in the legislature, so there were forces that wanted to prevent liberalising acts. Among them was Tsar Nicholas II, given his strongly anti-Semitic views.

The victim, 13-year-old Andrei Yushchinsky, was found mangled in a cave on the outskirts of Kiev in March 1911. At first the police concent­rated on Vera Cheberyak (see photo) and her underworld associates. But within days of finding the body Russian anti-Semites, known as either Black Hundreds or Union of the Russian People, began spreading the blood libel. A leaflet passed out at the boy’s funeral read: “The Yids have tortured Andrusha Yushchinsky to death!”

The accused was Mendel Beilis (1874-1934) of Kiev. This 39 year old was an ex-soldier and the father of five children, working as a midd­le level manager at Kiev’s Zaitsev brick factory. After his arrest, Beilis spent 2 years in squalid prison cells, waiting for his trial.

In Kiev, the 34-day Beilis trial in 1913 was presented to a biased jury. Of the 12 jurors, 7 were member of the notoriously anti-Semitic Union of the Russian People.

Beilis received international support. Journalists wrote that the Russian state was charging a Jewish citizen with the ritual murder of a Christian citizen, to drain his blood for the baking of Passover matzo. This Dark Ages accus­at­ion led to indignation and drew the attent­ion of leading cultural, pol­itical and religious fig­ures like HG Wells, Anatole France and the Archbishop of Canterbury. In America, rallies head­lined by social reformers like Jane Addams were huge. The New York Times headlined an editorial The Tsar on Trial.

To prove the char­ge of ritual murder, the prosecution produced a weird collection of wit­ness­es and expert testimony. Among those pres­ented to the jury were: a Catholic priest from Tashkent who testified to the real­ity of the Jewish blood rituals, alcoholics and pathologists on-the-take.  But the most sens­at­ional witness was an attractive prima donna, Vera Cheberyak, leader of an infamous criminal gang in Kiev. A few years earlier she had blinded her young French musician lover by throwing sulfuric acid at him. She was the likely mastermind be­hind the murder of Andrei, her son’s best friend, in revenge for his suspected betrayal of her criminal activity to the police. Yet she ended up as a star witness for the state against Beilis!
Vera Cheberyak 

Detective Nikolai Krasovsky found that Vera Cheberiak was responsible for the murder. 
Krasovsky paid dearly for his honesty.

The fate of a huge country was at stake, given that after the 1905 revolution, Tsar Nicholas had already agreed to a constit­ution and a parliament. Beilis’ lawyer reminded the court that already by 1913 the Tsar was constantly und­er­mining emerging democratic institutions. Tsarist autocracy was clearly even more regressive than feared.

Tsarist officials were fully aware of the obvious weakness of their case. By the end of the trial, the state had devised an ingenious insurance policy against any possible failure to convict. The issue of ritual murder would be separated from the guilt of the defendant. The jury would be asked: First, did it accept the prosecution’s desc­rip­t­ion of the crime as having been committed at the Jewish-owned brick factory? The words Ritual Murder were not used, but the implic­ation was clear: the crime had all the hallmarks of the bloody Jewish rite. Second, was the defendant guilty of committing the crime “out of motives of religious fanaticism”?

Most courtroom observers believed the uneducated, peasant-dominated jury would vote with the prosecution on both quest­ions. But the jury voted Yes on the first question and found Beilis not guilty of the crime. 

Beilis had been starved and unwashed for 2 years, before he won his freedom. He warmly thanked the Russian gentiles who risked sacrificing their careers for him – the barristers, phil­osophers, detectives and professors who stood up for him in court and the journalists outside court. The Beilis family moved to Palestine, then to America in 1921.

Recent History 
The case maintained the myth of Jewish ritual murder. In 1926, the official Nazi Party newspaper devoted a series to the Beilis affair. In the 1930s, Julius Streicher, editor of the Nazi weekly Der Sturmer, propagand­ised for Jewish ritual murder charges, devoting special issues to the subject. In May 1943, head of the SS Hein­rich Himmler sent a book on Jewish ritual murder, which included an entire chapter on the Beilis trial, to the Einsatz­gruppen-death squads.

After WW2 the Beilis case in Kiev survived in the collective memory. The worst post-war pogrom in Poland occurred in July 1946 in Kielce, where a mob killed 42 Jews & wounded 80. A Jewish del­eg­ation wanted a state­ment from Bishop Wyszinski of Lublin, condemning anti-Semitism. He wouldn’t con­d­emn blood libel anti-Semitism, writing that “during the Beilis trial, the matter was not definitive­ly set­t­l­ed.”

100+ years after the trial, the Beilis case remains a rallying point for the extreme right in Russia and Ukraine; Andrei Yushchinsky's gravesite is their place of holy pilgrimage.

Robert Weinberg, 
Blood Libel in Late Imper­ial Russia, 2003

Bernard Malamud used the trial for his great 1967 novel, The Fixer. Read Robert Weinberg’s Blood Libel in Late Imper­ial Russia, 2003.  And Ritual Murder in Russia, Eastern Europe and Beyond, edited by Eugene Avrutin et al. Thank you to Chabad.Org for the photos. 


an important Thonet Design exhibition, Munich

THONET & DESIGN is an exhibition at the Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich until Feb 2020. Founded in 1819 by Bopparder master joiner Michael Thonet, one of the world's leading manuf­acturers of bent wood furniture has since emerged. The Pinakothek is showing that from a one-man business to a global enter­prise, 200 years of furn­iture design are reflected in the history of the Thonet family business. Their pioneering achievements - the new tech­nologies, design possibilities, dis­tribution and marketing channels - are on display. Later the conn­ect­ion to the Bauhaus design­ers delivered a new type of tub­ular steel furniture. Since these tubular steel fur­n­it­ure and the early bent­wood furniture have long been integrated into the perman­ent exhib­ition of the Neue Sammlung, the current exhib­ition also focuses on the groundbreaking modern designers.

Now, back to the beginning. German born Michael Thonet (1796-1871) founded his first workshop in Boppard on the River Rhine in 1819 and became a joiner. By the mid-1830s he experimented with a new furn­it­ure-making process. The Boppard Layerwood Chair was his first success, although he could not get his technology pat­ented. Basically the Thonet Chair was the result of using light, strong types of wood that were bent into curved, graceful forms via hot steam. Slowly his use of hot steam and sel­ect­ion of light, strong wood set a new standard for comfortable and dur­ab­le furniture.

Thonet eased his task by buying a glue factory in 1837. This enabled him and his four surv­iving sons to open a business in Moravia and to avoid the heavy, carved designs of the past.
#4 Café Daum Chair by Michael Thonet, 1870s
Beech and bentwood

The success of his Chair #14 began in 1841 when Thonet was at the Koblenz Fair and received an invitation from Austrian Chancellor Clemens Prince Metternich, inviting him to Vienna. Thonet soon succeeded in bending solid wood as well: long wooden rods were made flexible with pressure and steam, then bent into the desired three dimensional form with special equipment and muscle power. Together with his sons, Thonet first did parquet work and chairs at Palais Liechten­st­ein and Palais Schwarzenberg and soon orders for both palaces invited a wider range of furniture eg stools, tables and cabinets.

With unemployment after the 1848 Revolution, many workers were available for the new Thonet factories, steam engines were put into op­er­ation and the first export orders were received. He succeeded in 1859 with Chair #14 bent from solid wood.

After Michael died in 1871, the Gebrüder Thonet Co. stayed with Michael Thonet’s sons who kept the business in Vienna. The brothers always understood the need to integrate new move­ments and technological developments into their work. They presented their designs at the trade exhibitions, and translated catalogues of Gebrüder Thonet for ex­ports. Sales offices in many coun­t­ries opened.

Chair #14 quickly became central to Vienna coffee house cul­ture, at first for Café Daum located at Vienna’s Kohl­markt. Examine the 1896 painting of Cafe Griensteidl by Reinhold Völkel, full of Thonet chairs. This post on Vienna coffee house culture was one of most popular in the long history of my blog.
Adolf Loos Café Museum chair, 1898

The Vienna Secession (1897-1905) was created as a reaction to the conservatism of the artistic institutions in the Austrian capital. By 1900 Thonet’s light and elegant manufacturing greatly appealed to the Viennese designers. The Brothers joined Jacob and Josef Kohn Co to become the leading manufacturers of bentwood furniture. And produced to the designs of Josef Hoffmann, Otto Wagner, Otto Prutscher, Marcel Kammerer and Gustav Siegel.

On Hof­f­mann’s recommendation, Gustav Siegal was hired to head the design depart­ment of Jacob and Josef Kohn whose works were first acclaimed at the 1900 Exposition Universelle held in Paris. In 1901 Jacob & Josef Kohn displayed an ent­ire house of bent­wood furniture at an Austrian Museum for Art and Industry exhibition.

Vienna had become Europe's 4th-largest city after London, Paris and Berlin. But at the turn of the century many families were still using a style that belonged to the aristocratic courtly society. As soon as there was an emerging, strong bourge­oisie in Vienna, they needed their own aesthetic expression. There were new social, econ­omic and technical developments. So the Vienna Seces­s­ion artists joined for­ces against the conservative in­stit­utions. Despite not lasting for too long, the Vienna Secession Movement was infl­uent­ial. Their des­ig­ns were eventually mass-produced, both in Austria and Germany, launched by the Seces­s­ion artists. My favourite archit­ects of the Secess­ion, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner and Marc­el Kammerer, dis­cov­ered the design pos­s­ibilities of bent wood furniture in turn-of-the-century architect­ure.

Both Hoffman and Loos wanted to break with Victorian tradition and borrowed heavily from other traditions, Classical sources for Hoff­man and Japanese minimalism for Loos! The Vienna Workshop's mission was to give the individual a voice. In fact the Secess­ion­ists’ 6th Exhibition, in 1900, was dedicated to Japanese exhibition, the flat surface decor being a running theme throughout.

Adolf Loos disliked the elitism that came to be assoc­iated with Vienna Secession work. The furniture he designed was unpretentious and functional, showing his und­er­standing of materials and of form. So I care that Loos used Thonet bent­wood chairs in sev­eral of his comm­is­sions. His 1901 bench was made of stained beechwood. 

Vienna Secession design of Gustav Siegel, 1905 
Used at the Sanatorium Purkersdorf, Austria. 

Beech and bentwood etagère
Vienna Secession,  with Thonet signature
Mahogany-stained beechwood, c1906

Marcel Breuer for Thonet
Tubular steel and glass table, 1928

But deaths and unem­ploy­ment left families struggling during and after The Great War; and the crisis of bourgeois ideals brought demands for change. For Bauhaus era architects, Gebrüder Thonet represented the ideal of con­temporary seating furniture. However another material, sim­ilar to bentwood in its simp­lic­ity, came into high demand among architects. The revol­ut­ion­ary invention of cold-bent tubular steel furn­it­ure marked a new era in design history. In the 1930s the Com­p­any saw design­s by my Bauhaus favourites: Mart Stam, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer

Many thanks to the Thillmann Collection.


Ned Kelly collections in Victoria

The Victorian architecture in rural Beechworth is beautiful. Visitors should see the Burke Memorial Museum, opened in 1857 and later named in honour of explorer Robert O’Hara Burke (1821-61). After his death at Coopers Creek in 1861 during the famous Burke & Wills Exp­ed­it­ion, Burke’s bible, inscribed revolver and the saddle­bags used in his tragic expedition were immediately added to the collection. 

The Museum holds 30,000+ individual items, and includes a sig­nif­icant collection of Aboriginal weapons and tools, many C19th native animal and birdlife taxidermy, significant Gold Rush era artefects, and the Street of Shops that is a recreation of Gold Era Beechworth.

Now I am interested in a newer section of the museum, the Ned Kelly Vault, opened in the former Sub Treasury building of the Beechworth Historic and Cultural Precinct in 2014. This collection is the most comprehensive of its type in regional Australia and includes the original death mask of Ned Kelly and many original items relating to the bushranger and his Gang.

Glenrowan Inn

This is one of the most famous parts of rural Victoria. The Siege at Glen­rowan on 28th June 1880, was the result of a plan by the notor­ious Kelly Gang to derail a Police Special Train carry­ing Indig­en­ous trackers into a deep gully next to the railway line. The plan was launched two days earlier with the murder near Beech­worth of police inf­ormant Aaron Sherritt. The idea was to draw the Police Special Train through the town­ship of Glenrowan, an area the local Kelly family knew intimately. After the day ended, the Kelly Gang planned to ride on to Benalla, blow up the under-manned police station and rob some banks. But Ned misjudged.

In the early morning darkness of Monday, June 28th, the Police Spec­ial train pulled into Glenrowan Railway Station, and the police contingent disembarked. The Glenrowan Inn was burnt to the ground by police in their attempt to flush out members of the Kelly Gang, sparking a tragic chain of events for the owner Mrs Ann Jones. Her business was destroyed, and her 13-year-old son was killed in the siege after he was hit in the hip by a police bullet. By afternoon the siege of the Glenrowan Inn ended when three of the Kelly Gang members - Joe Byrne, Dan Kelly and Steve Hart – died, and Ned Kelly was captured behind the Inn.

He was hanged at the Melbourne Gaol on 11th Nov 1880. Kelly was, and remains Australia’s best known figure of folk law, partially be­cause of the iconic armour donned by his gang in the Siege at Glen­rowan. The Kelly story became famous because it showed impoverished work­ing class lads standing up against tough authority figures. And in­fam­ous because it focused on an era when guns were allowed in priv­ate hands in Australia.

Now Ashlee Aldridge has written about some precious artefacts salvaged from Ned Kelly's last stand at Glenrowan. The Fire at the Glenrowan Inn in 1880 was a tragic story, and after almost 140 years, surviving items from the blaze now are being dis­play­ed. A small brass box given to the proprietor of the inn, Ann Jones, has been acquired by Beechworth's Burke Museum. Matt Shaw, the founder and co-creator of the Ned Kelly Vault, said "It is handmade, made of brass and would have been an extravagant gift. It has Ann Jones, Glenrowan Inn, Glenrowan 1876 eng­raved on the top. So it was obviously a gift from one of her loved ones, on the com­mencement of this new, exciting business venture."

Kelly Vault, Beechworth

One display cabinet in
the Kelly Vault, Beechworth

The brass box was taken as a souvenir by loc­als the day after the fire. There was no real trace of it until it turned up at an auct­ion in the early 2000s. An antique dealer noticed it was listed in a lot and knowing its significance, bought it and put it on display in Melbourne’s Police Museum. Original objects and documents in the Melbourne collection include Dan Kelly’s and Steve Hart’s armour. 

This programme complements the history of Ned Kelly at the Old Melbourne Gaol. And it complements the State Library of Victoria collection; see the Jer­ilderie letter, Ned’s armour and death mask, family photos, police telegrams and photographs, newspaper reports, letters, minutes from the 1880 Kelly Royal Com­mission and books written about the bushranger.

Also from that horrible moment in history, a bullet-ridden table was salvaged. Burke Museum manager Cameron Auty said "the table was taken out of the inn by the Kelly Gang when their plans didn't go as well as they'd hoped, and police didn't turn up as quickly as they'd liked, so people started to get a bit bored. They decided to have a dance inside the inn, they cleared the table out to make some space. The table has bullet holes and other damage from the siege, so it is amazing to see that still in existence."

The table has been on display at the Ned Kelly Vault since it open­ed and for the next two months, it will form part of an exhibition about Mrs Jones at the Burke Museum. Mr Auty noted that "they're the only two large objects remaining from the siege. There are oth­er small things like scraps and bullets, but no more large objects".

Leather cartridge bag, with two metal buckles and broken straps
taken from Ned Kelly by Sergeant Steele at Glenrowan
Victoria Police Museum

Kelly Gang helmet, with bullet hole

Despite it being 130 years since that siege, interest in the Ned Kel­ly story has continued. Auty added that "the response has been huge, especially in the local community and there has been a lot of media interest. Every­body loves a Ned Kelly story, espec­ial­ly the siege at Glenrowan. It was one of the most significant ev­ents in Austral­ian history. Beechworth has a strong link to the Kelly fam­il­y. Ned grew-up in Greta just around the corner, the Beechworth courthouse hosted 40 trials for the Kelly fam­ily, and Ned and his mother Ellen were in and out of Beechworth Gaol."

And as Benalla is the heart of Kelly country, the Kelly story has emphasis in The Costume and Kelly Museum. In the museum is a transportable cell in which Ned was once imprisoned; it contains Ned's bloodstained sash worn at Glenrowan, his bridle and many letters/documents about Ned's family and Gang.


The true story of penicillin: Fleming, Florey, Chain and the team

It wasn't until the late C19th that scientific studies of anti-biot­ics began. French chemist Louis Pasteur discovered that infectious diseases spread by bacteria; he observed that mould inhibited the growth of an infectious animal disease, anthrax. British surgeon Joseph Lister noted that samples of urine contam­inated with mould didn't allow bacteria to grow, but he couldn't identify the substance in the mould. French medical student Ernest Duchesne successfully tested a substance from mould that inhibited bacterial growth in animals, but he died in 1912.

After WW1, Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming (1881–1955) was working at St Mary's Hospital in London. While conducting an experiment with bacteria, a tear fell from his eye into a Petri dish. He later noticed that a substance in his tear killed the bacteria, but was harmless to the body's white blood cells.

Years later, in 1928, Fleming was doing research on the flu. While he was away on holidays, some mould fell into a discarded Petri dish containing bacteria. When this messy scientist returned to his lab, he recognised the pattern from his previous experience. The mould was producing an antibiotic substance that he named Penicillin.

Thus the first anti­biotic used successfully to treat people with serious infectious diseases began with dumb luck. Bacteria reproduce by dividing into two new cells. They enlarge their size before the DNA chromosome is copied. The two new chromo­somes move apart and a cell wall forms between them. But if there’s penicillin, the new cell wall won't be able to form and the bact­eria can't reproduce, so the disease can't spread. Fleming noticed that mould had prevented the growth of bacteria in his lab but he couldn't extract the bacteria-killing substance. He wrote up his findings in the British J of Experimental Pathology (1929), got a cool response and moved on to other research.

So the main plot of the story inv­olves the re-discovery of pen­ic­il­lin 10 years later by an Australian scientist Howard Florey (1898-1968). Florey had been brilliant at school and sport, and studied Medicine at Adelaide Uni. He won a Rhodes Scholarship and went to Oxford University in 1921.

photo credit: Sandwalk

Florey gathered a team of specialist scientists at Oxford Uni in 1938. They commenced a careful investigation of the properties of anti-bacterial substances that are produced by mould.  German scientist Ernst Chain worked on purifying penicillin with Edward Ab­raham. Norman Heatley improvised methods for extracting penic­illin using ether and bedpans. AD Gardner and Jena Orr-Ewing studied how penicillin reacted with other organisms. Howard Florey looked with Margaret Jennings at the impact of penicillin on animals. Ethel Florey later worked with her husband on clinical trials of penic­il­lin. Indiv­id­ual members worked separately then got together to exchange ideas.

By May 1940 the work was urgent, so Florey's team tested penicillin on eight mice injected with a lethal dose of streptococci bacteria. Four of the mice were treated with penicillin, while four weren’t. Next day, the treated mice had recovered; the other mice were dead.

The results were so exciting Florey knew it was time to test the drug on humans. The first patient in 1941 had a terrible infec­t­ion and was given penicillin, and soon began to recover. But be­cause Flor­ey's team didn't have enough of the drug to see the pat­ient through to a full recovery, the patient died. Instead the team concent­rated on sick children, who required smaller quantities.

In 1943 Florey travelled to North Africa to test the effects of penicillin on wounded soldiers. Instead of amputating wounded limbs, the wounds were cleaned and sewn up, and the patients given penicillin.

Florey's team worked with a lack of funding and equipment, and needed drug companies to help produce the large amounts required. Companies in Britain were unable to help out on a large scale because of the war, so Florey and Heatley took a dangerous flight to the USA in a blackened plane. The trip was against the wishes of Ernst Chain, who wanted to first patent their ideas in Britain. This would have made the team very rich, but patenting medical discoveries in Britain that had used government funding would have been unethical.

Florey explained his penicillin-making methods in the USA, including in a Department of Agriculture laboratory looking for a new use for a by-product of the corn-milling process. When this liquid was used, 10 times the amount of penicillin was able to be produced. Then they found mould growing in cantaloupe was twice as successful again. By late 1943 mass production of the drug had commenced, a sign of Florey's persistence and determin­ation. Thanks to his team, the drug was available to treat Allied troops by D-Day 1944.

By the end of the war, many laboratories were making the drug eg Merck, Squibb and Pfizer Cos in the USA and the Commonwealth Serum Labor­atories in Australia. CSL made the drug available for civilian use.

The Discovery and Development of Penicillin 1928-1945, 
commemorative booklet of the National Historic Chemical Landmarks programme 
American Chemical Society, 1999.

However, several strains of bacteria became resistant to penicillin after a few years, through mutation of the cells. To overcome this, 1950s scientists made artificial penicillin by chemically changing natural penicillin; resistant bacteria multiply when non-resistant bacteria die. Hospitals in Australia etc saw the arrival of antibiotic-resistant bacteria due to the _overuse_ of antibiotics.

Fleming’s role as the leader of the scientists that developed penicillin won him the Nobel Prize in 1945 with Florey and Chain. He was knighted in 1944. He was the first Aus­tr­alian elected to the prestigious position of President of the Royal Society in 1960.

Penicillin G is the form that killed bacteria during Duchesne's work in 1896, Fleming in 1928 and Florey in 1939. There are now 60+ antibiotics, substances that fight bacteria and other microbes harmful to humans. Everybody knows of Alexander Fleming’s role in discovering penicillin. Alas Howard Florey’s vital role in the story is still largely unknown.

I thank and recommend The Discovery of Penicillin by Robert Gaynes and Sandwalk by Prof Moran.


Legal London: training barristers in the Inns of Court

In 1346 the Knights Hos­pital­l­ers formally leas­ed out In­n­er and Mid­dle Tem­ple Fleet St to practit­ioners who cal­l­ed them­selv­es the Society of the Temple. On a square mile in the City of London, each Inn was very exclusive.

Oxf­ord University had already been founded late in the C12th and Camb­ridge soon after. Yet des­pite the importance of these two medieval seats of learn­ing, no other university was built until the C19th. Thus the Inns of Court in London together acted as the city's de facto un­i­v­­er­s­ity, founded on col­l­egiate standards. Each inn had a mas­ter, tutors, chap­el, lec­tures, exams and ac­ademic regula­t­ions.

Dancing was a desirable culture for upper-class gentlemen and so the revels were held on feast days. The dances were large af­fairs and the feasts were grand: In 1574 there were 769 barristers, staff and students in the Inns.

The average age at admission was 17, half of them having previously attended University. Although some wealthy merchants were able to send their sons to the costly Inns, the majority of students were sons of the landed gent­ry.

Lincoln's Inn

The Utter Barristers were practitioners who used their chambers as law offices, and who taught younger members of the Inns. St­udents also attended courts at Parliament, and part­ic­ipated in moots/mock trials and debates. Ju­dges and senior pract­itioners formed a governing body for each Inn of Court, and were called the ben­chers. Readers lec­­tured during the interv­als between le­g­al terms.

Students began as Inner Barristers. After 7 years, they could be confirmed as an Utter Barrister, qualified member of the Bar. Only then could they be admit­ted to a set of chambers. Senior barr­isters who become King’s or Queen's Counsels “took silk” gowns.

Today the Inns still have the exclusive right to ad­mit barr­is­t­ers to the profession. Even now almost all chambers are still in the Inns of Court. But note that modern students no longer have to sleep in the Inns.

The majority of gentlemen who attended the Inns did not go on in a leg­al career. By the late C16th, only 15% of students purs­ued studies long enough to be admitted to the bar. For the rest, the Inns se­r­­ved as a sort of finishing school, enjoy London’s opport­unit­ies with peers and learn law.

Middle and Inner Temple Inns, geographically and hist­or­­ically so close, are coll­ectively known as The Temple. The red brick gate way, which has been attributed to Wren 1685, leads into Middle Temple Lane. Middle Temple (1560s) survives with one of the best Eliz­a­bethan interiors in London. The hall’s inter­ior is spanned by a double hammer beam roof, officially op­ened by Queen Eliz­abeth I. And she do­n­at­ed a gift of the 30' long high table made from a single oak. Note the spec­t­acular carved oak Armada screen, from the wood of a cap­tured Span­ish gall­eon. The loveliest parts of Middle Temple are the library, dining hall and chapel.

Library in Inner Temple

In Inner Temple, the library is huge. In addition to the Engl­ish legal material, Inner Temple holds a specialist collection of Com­monwealth countries’ legal mat­er­ials. The collection incl­udes British history, Literature, Genealogy and Heraldry. Inner Temple hall is perfect for legal or public banqueting.

Early Elizabethan drama owed much to the per­formance of plays in these halls at festive seasons. The first English tragedy was written by two members of the Inn in 1561, and performed in the Inner Temple Hall. The first regular Engl­ish comedy was first acted in Gray's Inn Hall, 5 years later. Comedy of Errors was per­formed in Gray's Inn Hall in 1594, between dancing and revelry. It was for a Christmas revel at the Middle Temple that Shakesp­eare wrote Twel­fth Night 1601 which the bard himself performed. Shak­es­peare made mention of the Temple in Henry VI, where he says that the white [York] and red ros­es [Lancast­er], used as badges in the War of the Ros­es, were plucked in Middle Temple Gard­ens.

The two Inns share the round Temple Church off Fleet Street. Built to the Templar pat­t­ern in 1160, it copied the Holy Sepulchre Church in Je­r­usalem. It had a round nave, obl­ong choir and piers of black pol­ished mar­b­le, Norman west door, priests' hall and cloister. There are 9 marble Associates monuments, in ful­l knightly gear.

Temple Church

The grandest Inn, Gray's Inn in Holborn High St was foun­d­­ed only 25 years later (1371). Gray’s has a small but lovely hall,  and a hand­some cupola. Gray’s has a lovely C17th gateway and its library has one of the most comp­lete law books coll­ections. Their amazing Span­ish Armada carved screen came from Elizabeth I’s Lord High Admiral!

Although the Law Society is based in Gray's Inn, the costs for running this organisation are provided by all four inns co­l­lect­ively. The Law Society's main respons­ibil­it­ies are: educ­ation of barristers, sch­ol­ar­ships, ch­ambers and publication of professional literature.

The most recent of the Inns, Lincoln's Inn Chancery Lane, was first ment­ioned in 1422 documents and named after the Earl of Lincoln. Note the Tudor gatehouse (1518) and the ch­apel attrib­uted to In­igo Jones. The orig­inal Old Hall was extended twice.

Lin­coln's Inn Fields were laid out in 1618 by Inigo Jones. It was the largest square in London, and the most fash­ion­able. In 1640s it was agreed that smart houses could be built around the square, but that the greenery would never be ruined. It all feels rural!

The neo-Gothic Royal Courts of Justice in Fleet St is modern (1874-82) because, till then, Westminster Palace Hall serv­ed as the King's Courts of Law. Thus there had been no need for an extra, purpose-built creation. Enter the huge central hall of the Roy­al Courts, then sit in many of the court rooms to hear civil cases. Criminal cas­es are heard in Old Bailey.

For 1000 years hideous Newgate Prison was the site where pub­lic exe­c­utions were routinely held. First mentioned in King John's reign and then in the reign of Henry III, the King ex­pressly command­ed the sheriffs of London to repair it. When New­gate Prison was demolished, Old Bailey was erected immed­iat­ely, complete with the bronze Goddess of Justice on the dome. Altogether there are 18 courts in the Central Crim­in­al Court com­plex.

Old Bailey

Chancery Lane, between High Holborn and Fleet Streets, was where lawyers bought their books, were outfitted for court and drank wine. The pub opposite the Royal Courts of Justice was once a coffee house for young lawyers.

Then the Public Record Office, the nation's archives of off­ic­ial re­c­ords, once housed in the Tower of Lon­don. It holds import­ant nat­ional material: of­ficial documents, diplomatic corres­p­on­dence and central governmental decisions. The Pub­l­ic Rec­ord Office looks like a Tudor fortress but it is act­ua­l­­ly quite mod­ern (1850s). Only postgrad­uate students and re­sear­ch­ers can get access to this building. But the Public Re­cord Office Mus­eum is open to all.

See Rumpole of the Bailey which was filmed in the Inns.


Hans and his daughter, Nora Heysen - a great art exhibition in 2019

In the late 1880s and 1890s the Heidelberg School painters painted the Australian scene with satisfying accuracy. NSW's Nat­ional Art Gallery created an ex­hib­ition at Grafton Galleries in London in 1898. Expert art committees from 4 Australian states selected and vetted 371 works by the top Australian artists – famously Arthur Streeton, Frederick Mc­Cub­bin, Charles Condor, Tom Roberts and Julian Ashton etc.

The Golden Summers Exhib­ition of 1985 heightened the nostalgia for that prec­ious, short-lived span of painting, contrived en plein air. I loved the Golden Summers Exhibition. But Australian art of the first half of the C20th continued to grow, perhaps as a lesser period after the Heidelberg School.

Now Hans and Nora Heysen: Two Generations of Australian Art is the first major exhibition to bring together the work of father-and-daughter-artists Hans and Nora Heysen. The exhibition is at the Ian Potter Centre NGV, Federation Square Melbourne and will remain open until 28th July 2019.

Thanks to the NGV Magazine #15 for the following two biographies:

1. Born in Hamburg Germany, Hans Heysen (1877–1968) and his family moved to Australia in 1884. In 1892, 14 year old Hans left school, apprenticed to a saw-milling business near Adelaide, buying art materials with his wages and drawing when he could. In 1893, he enrolled in James Ashton’s Norwood Art School, where he was seen as a very talented pupil. A four-year scholarship in Europe followed in 1897, initiating further artistic growth.

By the turn of the century, the Australian bush had become an ob­ject for nostalgia, with most people living in urban centres. In the year he returned to Australia, Hans set up his own studio, won the prestigious Wynne Prizeand got married in 1904. In 1908 Hans Heysen staged a very successful exhibition in Mel­bourne, which established his reputation as Australia’s pre-eminent landscape painter. He was famous for his wonderful depict­ions of the Australian landscape, with van Gogh’s and Cezanne’s influen­ces best seen in Flinders Ranges paintings.

His comfort and success in later life were hard-earned: he had overcome the trad­itional bar­r­iers of a young artist lacking funds and connections, and also the burden of anti-German prejudice, which saw him watched by Austral­ian police during WW1. That he was able to regain his place among the most-loved Australian artists of the C20th is test­ament to both the quality of his work and his peaceable character. He won many awards, was knighted in 1959 and painted almost until his death in 1968.

Hans Heysen,
Droving into the Light, c1915

Hans Heysen,
Lord of the Bush, 1908

 Hans Heysen,
The Toilers, 1920

2. The fourth of Hans’ 8 children, Nora (1911-2003) was the only one to pursue an art career. Although not form­­ally taught by her father, Nora observed his work, accompanying him on his painting trips. In 1926, at 14, she enrolled full-time at the North Adelaide School of Fine Arts. After selling her first painting in 1930, Nora began painting in a converted shed at the family home and over the next three years her works were acquired by national collections around Australia. From 1934-38 she studied in Europe, developing her style. She then moved to Sydney, which remained her home for the rest of her life.

The two generations of artists’ work spanned decades during which Aus­t­ralia and the world underwent major social, political and art­istic transformations. In many ways, theirs was an archetypal C20th Australian story of migration, family life, wartime separation and a deep connection to place. Both artists travelled in Europe and their work demonstrated both international and Australian con­temp­oraries’ influences. And while Hans preferred landscape, Nora pre­ferred portraits and still lifes.

How easy it was to be the artist-daughter of a famous artist-father? Their letters showed a loving and artist­ic­ally creat­ive relationship between Hans and Nora, and into their wider concerns about C20th Australian art and society”. But there were notes of daughterly anxiety written, and some fatherly notes of warning.

Hans was recognised as one of the pioneers of Australian landscape painting, while Nora was an established por­t­raitist and still life painter who in 1938 became the first woman ever awarded the even more prestigious Archi­bald Prize in Australia. This award goes annually to the best por­t­rait of someone distinguished in art, letters, science or polit­ics, painted by any artist resident in Australasia.

This is the first major exhibition including both their works, 270 works that included paintings, sketches and pre­paratory studies. And it is the most com­plete pres­entation of Nora’s career to date. And the exhibition includes her strong and sens­itive self-portraiture and a wide selection of works prod­uced dur­ing her commission as Australia’s first female official war artist in WW2. Serving from 1943-46, she was commissioned to document medical- and res­earch-units around Australia, including wounded soldiers.

Spanning both World Wars and decades of important Aust­ral­ian his­tory, the viewer sees Australian stories across half the C20th. Both art­ists travelled widely across Europe as part of their on­going art education, and their work demon­strated a deep knowledge and apprec­iation of international influences, AND engagement with their Australian contemp­or­aries.

Nora  Heysen,
Self Portrait, 1932

Nora Heysen,
Still Life, 1930

Hans helped shaped the course of C20th Australian art, as did Nora (at least she did until the 1950s). Their shared veneration for the Natural World, seen in Hans’ evoc­ative land­scapes and Nora’s vibrant flower paintings, was part of their bond. Perhaps Hans’ work was strong­er, but Nora’s work was more sensitive.

If I had been living abroad for the last 50 years and had nev­er heard of Hans Heysen, I would love his landscape Driv­ing into the Light c1915 in any case, and would instantly recognise the Australian bush. The NGV catalogue (2019) for this exhibition is excellent.




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