Posts Tagged ‘Mary Wigman

01
Mar
19

Exhibition: ‘Berlin in the revolution 1918/19’ at the Museum für Fotografie, Berlin

Exhibition dates: 9th November 2018 – 3rd March 2019

 

Otto Haeckel (1872-1945) and Georg Haeckel (1873-1942) 'Soldiers with weapons Unter den Linden, corner Charlottenstraße' November 1918

 

Otto Haeckel (1872-1945) and Georg Haeckel (1873-1942)
Soldiers with weapons Unter den Linden, corner Charlottenstraße
November 1918
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Gebrüder Haeckel

 

 

Today, revolution is in the air around the world, just like it was in 1968 (a posting on this year to follow soon) and in 1918. I hope this wonderful posting of photographs, posters, films, murders, bombings, funerals, detailed close ups of the barricades and the people manning them gives you some of the flavour of the times. This was the order of the day in Berlin in 1918/19. Revolution.

What we must not forget is out of this revolution, out of this ferment of creativity, uncertainty, “liberal” democracy and militaristic society emerged the seeds of its downfall: the beginnings of the National Socialist Party (the Nazis).

“In July 1919 Hitler was appointed Verbindungsmann (intelligence agent) of an Aufklärungskommando (reconnaissance unit) of the Reichswehr, assigned to influence other soldiers and to infiltrate the German Workers’ Party (DAP). At a DAP meeting on 12 September 1919, Party Chairman Anton Drexler was impressed with Hitler’s oratorical skills. He gave him a copy of his pamphlet My Political Awakening, which contained anti-Semitic, nationalist, anti-capitalist, and anti-Marxist ideas. On the orders of his army superiors, Hitler applied to join the party, and within a week was accepted as party member 555 (the party began counting membership at 500 to give the impression they were a much larger party). …

At the DAP, Hitler met Dietrich Eckart, one of the party’s founders and a member of the occult Thule Society. Eckart became Hitler’s mentor, exchanging ideas with him and introducing him to a wide range of Munich society. To increase its appeal, the DAP changed its name to the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers Party; NSDAP). Hitler designed the party’s banner of a swastika in a white circle on a red background.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

Rising to prominence through his demagogic beer hall speeches on populist themes, Hitler would attempt a coup known as the “Beer Hall Putsch” in 1923, a stepping stone on his rise to becoming the dictator of Nazi Germany.

The flowering of German Expressionism (modern art labelled by Hitler Entartete Kunst or “Degenerate Art” in the 1920s) and a society which proposed the first advocacy for homosexual and transgender rights, were both positives of the interwar period. A prominent advocate for sexual minorities was the German sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld.

“In 1920, Hirschfeld was very badly beaten up by a group of völkisch activists who attacked him on the street; he was initially declared dead when the police arrived. In 1921, Hirschfeld organised the First Congress for Sexual Reform, which led to the formation of the World League for Sexual Reform. Congresses were held in Copenhagen (1928), London (1929), Vienna (1930), and Brno (1932)… Hirschfeld co-wrote and acted in the 1919 film Anders als die Andern (“Different From the Others”) [see below], in which Conrad Veidt played one of the first homosexual characters ever written for cinema. The film had a specific gay rights law reform agenda; after Veidt’s character is blackmailed by a male prostitute, he eventually comes out rather than continuing to make the blackmail payments. His career is destroyed and he is driven to suicide.” (Text from the Wikipedia website)

Of course these small, hard won freedoms, this cabaret of life, and the more liberal atmosphere of the newly founded Weimar Republic were all swept away by the Nazis in the 1930s.

How quickly it can turn. Today, as then, we must be ever vigilant to guard our freedom against the power of conservative forces that seek to do us harm. Brothers, never again!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Museum of Photography, Berlin for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. All the photographs have been digitally cleaned. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In November 1918, exactly 100 years ago, the old regime of Kaiser Wilhelm II was swept away by a revolution. It ended the First World War and led to the establishment of democracy in Germany. The Weimar Republic was born out of the struggle for a new social order and political system. The upheavals that occurred in 1918/19 were captured on camera, sometimes by renowned press photographers such as Willy Römer; their works are crucial for historians today. For the first time ever, this book investigates the role of film and entertainment in the Weimar Republic and includes it in the historical analysis. What do the street fights in the first months following the First World War have in common with the people’s recreational pleasures? How did photographers record the political turmoil, the demonstrations, strikes, shootings, and fights for control of the palace and the newspaper district? And, at the same time, what distractions were offered in Berlin’s cinemas and revue shows? How did the entertainment industry react to the revolution? Examining photos, films, and poster art, this book presents a dense and previously unseen portrait of German history.

Text from the catalogue

 

 

“So ends this first day of the revolution, which in just a few hours has witnessed the downfall of the House of Hohenzollern, the dissolution of the German army, and the demise of the old German social order. One of the most memorable and dreadful days in German history.”

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Harry Graf Kessler, diary entry from November 9, 1918

 

“The Christmas fair carries on blithely throughout all of these bloody events. Hurdy-gurdies play on Friedrichstraße, street vendors peddle in-door fireworks, gingerbread, and silver tinsel, the jewellery shops on Unter den Linden remain unheedingly open, their brightly-lit display windows glittering. On Leipziger Strasse, the usual Christmas crowds throng to-ward Wertheim, Kayser, and the other big stores. It is safe to say that in thousands of homes, Christmas trees are lit and children are playing around them with presents from Daddy, Mummy and dear Aunty. The dead lie in the royal stables, and on Holy Night, the wounds freshly inflict-ed on the palace and on Germany gape wide.”

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Harry Graf Kessler, diary entry, December 24, 1918

 

“I cannot get out of head the execution of 24 sailors on Französische Strasse, where during all of these days, there has been no trouble. It is one of the most abominable civil war crimes I know of in history. This evening I tried to watch Reinhardt’s production of ‘As You Like It’, but was not in the mood. I cannot stop thinking about these murders and shootings, which are the order of the day in Berlin.”

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Harry Graf Kessler: diary entry, March 14, 1919

 

Otto Haeckel (1872-1945) and Georg Haeckel (1873-1942) 'Soldiers with weapons Unter den Linden, corner Charlottenstraße' November 1918 (detail)

 

Otto Haeckel (1872-1945) and Georg Haeckel (1873-1942)
Soldiers with weapons, Unter den Linden, corner Charlottenstraße (detail)
November 1918
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Gebrüder Haeckel

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) '"The Guards Ranger Battalion marching past General Lequis"; on the left, next to the Brandenburg Gate, the photographer Walter Gircke with camera' 10/11 December 1918

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
“The Guards Ranger Battalion marching past General Lequis”; on the left, next to the Brandenburg Gate, the photographer Walter Gircke with camera
10/11 December 1918, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery' 24.12.1918

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery
24.12.1918, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery' 24.12.1918 (detail)

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery (detail)
24.12.1918, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery' 24.12.1918 (detail)

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Street battles on Christmas Eve in Berlin. Naval ratings in front of the ruined Palace entrance after bombardment by artillery (detail)
24.12.1918, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

 

The revolution in winter and spring 1918/19 was decided in the streets of the imperial capital, Berlin. Berliners celebrated the abdication of the German Emperor with demonstrations in front of the Reichstag and the palace on November 9th, 1918, in the newspaper quarter in January 1919 rolls of printing paper were used by the Spartacists to erect barricades against approaching government troops, after fighting had ceased, a large funeral procession crossed Frankfurter Allee to the cemetery in Friedrichsfelde. Press photographers were omnipresent with their big plate cameras, taking shots of orators in the crowd, soldiers behind machine-guns, vehicles carrying party posters in the National Assembly election campaign, and destroyed buildings and ravaged squares. At the same time, everyday life in the city went on. People went to the numerous cinemas with their expanding repertoire of films, enjoyed themselves at revues and cabarets, and danced the two-step and the foxtrot. The exhibition in the Museum für Fotografie shows both a photographic visual history of the revolution in Berlin and a panorama of the entertainment culture of those months.

The brothers Otto and Georg Haeckel were the most important press photographers during the first days of the revolution. As experienced war reporters, they reacted quickly to cover the spontaneous rallies on Unter den Linden and in front of the palace. The photographers worked without assignment and offered their images to publishers like Mosse or Ullstein. There are few visual records of the fighting itself. Rather, photographers took advantage of breaks in the fighting to recreate scenes on the barricades or with soldiers with readied weapons. The largest group of photos of the revolution of which the original contact prints survive is by Willy Römer. One of his photographs was even taken immediately before his own arrest by a troop of Spartacists.

Weekly newsreels in cinemas across Germany reported on the rallies and demonstrations in Berlin, showed film portraits of the ministers of the new imperial government, and confirmed the restoration of order by showing scenes from everyday life in the streets of the capital. At the same time, they solicited votes for the National Assembly. Given lengthy production times, the feature films of winter 1918/19 do not yet reflect the revolution in any way. But the suspension of censorship enabled the production of new, more daring films, which, for example, opposed the criminal persecution of homosexuals.

As a reaction to the end of the war and without as yet reckoning with the dangers of the revolution and its fighting, an unprecedented desire for pleasure-seeking reigned in Berlin during the winter and spring of 1918/19. Besides opera houses and straight theatres, Berliners frequented the popular operetta and revue theatres, as well as cinemas; they also went to ballrooms and drinking holes to dance. Some revues reacted to current issues like the housing shortage and the strikes. The poverty of war invalids was also a subject of popular music. The song ‘Bein ist Trumpf’ from 1919 alludes to the fate of four men maimed in the war: the dance with a wooden leg or prosthesis amid the workings of a world-apparatus that turns and turns without end.

Text from the Museum of Photography, Berlin website [Online] Cited 08/02/2019

 

Josef Steiner. 'Senta Söneland in her sketch "Pst! Pst!"'

 

Josef Steiner
Senta Söneland in her sketch “Pst! Pst!”
Poster for the performance in the Metropolitan Cabaret
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Demonstration of the soldiers for immediate demobilisation: Karl Liebknecht speaks in front of the Ministry of the Interior on Unter den Linden' 4.1.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Demonstration of the soldiers for immediate demobilisation: Karl Liebknecht speaks in front of the Ministry of the Interior on Unter den Linden
4.1.1919
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

 

Karl Liebknecht

Karl Paul August Friedrich Liebknecht (German 13 August 1871 – 15 January 1919) was a German socialist, originally in the Social Democrat (SPD) and later a co-founder with Rosa Luxemburg of the Spartacist League and the Communist Party of Germany which split way from the SPD. He is best known for his opposition to World War I in the Reichstag and his role in the Spartacist uprising of 1919. The uprising was crushed by the Social Democrat government and the Freikorps (paramilitary units formed of World War I veterans). Liebknecht and Luxemburg were executed.

After their deaths, Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg became martyrs for Socialists. According to the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, commemoration of Liebknecht and Luxemburg continues to play an important role among the German left, including Die Linke (The Left). …

 

Revolution and death

Liebknecht was released again in October 1918, when Prince Maximilian of Baden granted an amnesty to all political prisoners. Upon his return to Berlin on 23 October he was escorted to the Soviet embassy by a crowd of workers. Following the outbreak of the German Revolution, Liebknecht carried on his activities in the Spartacist League. He resumed leadership of the group together with Luxemburg and published its party organ, Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag).

On 9 November, Liebknecht declared the formation of a Freie Sozialistische Republik (Free Socialist Republic) from a balcony of the Berliner Stadtschloss, two hours after Philipp Scheidemann’s declaration of a German Republic from a balcony of the Reichstag. On 31 December 1918/1 January 1919, Liebknecht was involved in the founding of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Together with Luxemburg, Jogiches and Zetkin, Liebknecht was also instrumental in the January 1919 Spartacist uprising in Berlin. Initially he and Luxemburg opposed the revolt, but they joined it after it had begun. The uprising was brutally opposed by the new German government under Friedrich Ebert with the help of the remnants of the Imperial German Army and militias called the Freikorps. By 13 January, the uprising had been extinguished. Liebknecht and Luxemburg were captured by Freikorps troops on 15 January 1919 and brought to the Eden Hotel in Berlin, where they were tortured and interrogated for several hours. Following this, Luxemburg was beaten with rifle butts and afterwards shot, and her corpse thrown into the Landwehr Canal, while Liebknecht was forced to step out of the car in which he was being transported, and he was then shot in the back. Official declarations said he had been shot in an attempt to escape. Although the circumstances were disputed by the perpetrators at the time, the Freikorps commander, Captain Waldemar Pabst, later claimed, “I had them executed”.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Election propaganda with car, flags and posters "Vote List 4"' [Election propaganda automobile of the German National Party on the streets of Berlin] January 1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Election propaganda with car, flags [red] and posters “Vote List 4” [Election propaganda automobile of the German National Party on the streets of Berlin]
January 1919, later contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Paul Telemann. 'Mariposa. Fox-trot (Fuchs Dance)' 1919

 

Paul Telemann
Mariposa. Fox-trot (Fuchs Dance)
Music by Ernest Tompa
Berlin 1919
Sheet music, private collection
© Drei Masken-Verlag, Berlin-Munich

 

 

Fox Trot

“The new flu is here – and it is not Spanish, but English in origin, and it is known as “the new popular dance” […]. In Berlin, “Fox Trot steps” are applied to any old melody […]. Outside, they are banging away at the Palace […]. Machine-gun fire rattles around the advertising pillars, whose colourful posters bear invitations to Fox Trot teas.”

F.W. Koebner, in: Der Roland von Berlin, 1919

 

Film

In the years 1918 and 1919, the German film industry experienced pronounced growth tendencies. Among the most successful production firms of the era alongside Universum Film AG (Ufa), established in 1917 as a propaganda establishment by the Supreme Army Command, were the Projektions-AG Union (PAGU), the Decla-Film-Gesellschaft-Holz & Co. (later Decla-Bioskop), and the Deutsche Lichtspiel-Gesellschaft (Deulig, DLG). Alongside new, advantageous financing possibilities, it was the announcement of the abolition of film censorship in November of 1918 that inaugurated rising production figures. At the same time, lowered admission prices allowed cinema to become a leisure activity for broad social strata.

More than in any other German city, these developments were observable in Berlin: the greater part of the film industry was headquartered here, and accordingly, this continuously growing metropolis, with approximately 200 cinemas, became a centre of attraction for representatives of all cinematic branches.

Immediately after November 9, 1918, the revolution played virtually no role in the city’s multifarious cinematic program – primarily responsible for this was production scheduling for most films, which usually entailed intervals of many months. In the course of 1919, the film industry responded emphatically to current political events, releasing a series of feature films that either thematised the revolutionary goings-on explicitly or at least alluded to them.

 

Newsreel 1918/19

With their compilations of up-to-date documentary film footage, the Wochenschauen (weekly newsreels) were able to convey impressions of revolutionary events in Berlin to a contemporary public more quickly than other film genres. Launched during World War I, this format – which was screened in cinemas before main features – soon became the most important medium of information for large segments of the population.

Only a portion of the newsreel editions produced by German firms and pertaining to the revolutionary events of 1918-19 in Berlin have survived, and in many instances only as fragments. Among them are numbered editions of the Messter-Woche, named for their initiator, the film pioneer Oskar Messter. With the aid of these 5-15-minute short films, produced under time pressure and with minimal technical expenditures or design features, it becomes possible to reconstruct central stages of the revolution – and the perspectives of contemporary film journalists of these events.

 

Joe May

Among the most productive directors in Berlin at the time was the Austrian Joe May, who – like the majority of participants in Berlin’s film world – observed the revolutionary events in the city only from a distance. In his monumental films, his wife Mia May played the main role. Veritas vincit, premiered in April of 1919, is an elaborately outfitted historical film whose episodic plot revolves around the transmigration of souls. During 1919, Joe May intensified his cinematic approach, oriented toward spectacular entertainments, with the production of an eight-part adventure film entitled The Mistress of the World, outfitted with an exotic flair.

Wall texts

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Spartacists behind barricades made from rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building (Berliner Tageblatt) on Schützenstraße at the corner of Jerusalemerstraße' 11.1.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Spartacists behind barricades made from rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building (Berliner Tageblatt) on Schützenstraße at the corner of Jerusalemerstraße
11.1.1919, later contact print
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

 

The Spartacists

A member of a group of German radical socialists formed in 1916 and in 1919 becoming the German Communist Party, led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. In December 1918, some of the Spartacists – including Luxemburg and Liebknecht – founded the German Communist Party. Luxemburg had written numerous pamphlets about Lenin and how his leadership of theRussian Revolution would be of such great value to Russia.

While her political philosophy may well have merited such pamphlets, many Germans (and Europeans in general) were terrified of the ‘Red Plague’ in Russia and the adoption of the name ‘communist’ was fraught with danger. Many soldiers had returned from the war fronts massively disillusioned with the German government and hugely suspicious of anything that smacked of left-wing political beliefs. Many who had quit the German Army joined the right wing Free Corps (Freikorps). These would have been battle-hardened men who had been subjected to military discipline.

In January 1919, the Communists rose up in revolt in Berlin. In every sense it was a futile gesture against the government. Ebert withdrew his government to the safety of Weimar and allowed the Freikorps and what remained of the regular army to bring peace and stability back to Berlin once again. No mercy was shown to the Spartacists / Communists whose leaders were murdered after being arrested. The Freikorps was better organised and armed – they also had a military background. The majority of the Spartacists were civilians. No-one doubted who would win.

C. N. Trueman. “The Spartacists,” on The History Learning Site, 22 May 2015 [Online] Cited 09/02/2019

 

Spartacist uprising

The Spartacist uprising (German: Spartakusaufstand), also known as the January uprising (Januaraufstand), was a general strike (and the armed battles accompanying it) in Germany from 5 to 12 January 1919. Germany was in the middle of a post-war revolution, and two of the perceived paths forward were either social democracy or a council republic similar to the one which had been established by the Bolsheviks in Russia. The uprising was primarily a power struggle between the moderate Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) led by Friedrich Ebert, and the radical communists of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), led by Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, who had previously founded and led the Spartacist League (Spartakusbund). This power struggle was the result of the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II and the resignation of Chancellor Max von Baden, who had passed power to Ebert, as the leader of the largest party in the German parliament. Similar uprisings occurred and were suppressed in Bremen, the Ruhr, Rhineland, Saxony, Hamburg, Thuringia and Bavaria, and another round of even bloodier street battles occurred in Berlin in March, which led to popular disillusionment with the Weimar Government.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Machine-gun post behind barricades consisting of rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building on Schützenstraße' 11.1.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Machine-gun post behind barricades consisting of rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building on Schützenstraße
11.1.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
13 x 18 cm
Ullstein picture
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Machine-gun post behind barricades consisting of rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building on Schützenstraße' 11.1.1919 (detail)

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Machine-gun post behind barricades consisting of rolled newspaper in front of the Mosse building on Schützenstraße (detail)
11.1.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
13 x 18 cm
Ullstein picture
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Wolfgang Ortmann (1885-1967) 'Song from the Strike from Halloh! Halloh!' Berlin 1919

 

Wolfgang Ortmann (1885-1967)
Song from the Strike from Halloh! Halloh!
Berlin 1919
Cabaret pieces by Fritz Grünbaum. Music by Rudolf Nelson
Sheet Music with Portrait of Käthe
Erlholz, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin, Music Department
© Wolfgang Ortmann / Kollo-Verlag GmbH, Berlin

 

 

With more than 300 photographs, postcards, posters, sheet music, newspapers and magazines, film clips, newsreels and audio stations, the exhibition at the Museum of Photography shows a photographic picture of the 1918-19 revolution in Berlin as a panorama of the entertainment culture of these troubled months.

The revolution in the winter and spring of 1918-19 and thus the struggle for the construction of the first German republic decided in the streets of the capital Berlin. Berliners celebrated the abdication of the Emperor on November 9, 2018 with demonstrations in front of the Reichstag and the castle. In January 1919, in the newspaper district, barricades of the Spartacists were erected from printing paper rolls against the advancing government troops. After the end of the fighting, the great funeral procession moved to the cemetery in Friedrichsfelde via Frankfurter Allee.

There were always press photographers recording the speakers in the crowd, the soldiers behind the machine guns, the parties’ party wagons for the National Assembly elections and the ruined houses and devastated squares. But at the same time, everyday life in the city continued, people visited the many cinemas with their expanding film offering, amused themselves in revues and cabarets, danced One-Step, Two-Step and Foxtrot.

The photographers did not provide an objective picture of the story. They could not work all focal points, so their cameras judged the events according to subjective criteria and they determined with the image what should be handed down. And yet their recordings bring the events back to life. For example, the photographs help with the reconstruction of dramatic episodes such as the Christmas battles for the castle and the stables between the Volksmarine Division and government troops.

They show the huge number of mourners around Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg and exemplify the involvement of actress Senta Söneland as election campaign speaker for the National Assembly. The press photos also allow critical inquiries into the history of the revolution: the clothes of the demonstrators and the fighters suggest that by no means only workers and soldiers, but also employees and commoners engaged politically.

In the first days of the revolution, the brothers Otto and Georg Haeckel were the most important press photographers. As experienced war reporters, they were quick to accompany the spontaneous rallies at Unter den Linden and in front of the castle. They worked without a commission and offered publishers such as Mosse or Ullstein their photographs as contact prints in the format 13 x 18 cm for the weekly picture supplements of the daily newspapers (eg for the “Zeitbilder” of the “Vossische Zeitung”) or magazines (eg the “Berliner Illustrirte Newspaper”).

There are few photographs as evidence of the fighting itself. Rather, the photographers used the breaks in fighting to recreate scenes of soldiers with shot-guns or at the barricades. From Willy Römer most of the images of the revolution in original contact prints are handed down. One of his photographs was even made immediately before his own arrest by a squad of Spartacists. Romans had a keen eye for the special situations of everyday life, when he photographed the unusual means of transportation of the Berliners during the general strike in January.

In the cinemas, the newsreels throughout Germany reported on the rallies and demonstrations in Berlin, produced film portraits of the ministers of the new Reich government and, as proof of the restored order, showed everyday scenes from the streets of the capital. At the same time, they campaigned for the National Assembly. The humorous short film “Anna Müller-Lincke kandidiert” (“Anna Müller-Lincke is a candidate”) presented the colourful range of candidates and challenged the population to make their own electoral decision. Due to the longer production processes, the feature films offered no reflection on the revolution in the winter of 1918-19. However, the lifting of censorship enabled the production of new, daring films that were directed against the criminal prosecution of homosexuals. Immediately after the revolutionary event in Berlin, Richard Oswald‘s work “Anders als die Andern” (“Different from the Others”) began, the first film explicitly referring to Paragraph 175.

One of the most significant feature films on the revolution and at the same time a representative example of the socio-democratic values supported by the film industry is “Die entfesselte Menschheit” (“Unleashed humanity”) by Joseph Delmont, which was released in cinemas in 1920. Willy Römer was a press photographer during filming of barricades in Kreuzberg in autumn. His photographs are more dramatic than many photographs of the revolution the year before.

In response to the end of the war and without first taking into account the dangers of the revolutionary struggles, an unprecedented desire for pleasure prevailed in Berlin during the winter and spring of 1918-19. In addition to opera houses and straight theatres, the Berliners frequented the more popular operetta and revue theatres, the cinemas, as well as ballrooms and Kaschemmen (bars) to dance there. Operettas like “Schwarzwaldmädel” (“Black forest girl”) in the Komische Oper (Comic Opera) were supposed to transport the audience into an ideal world and distract them from the everyday life of war and revolution.

But there were also revues that responded daily to topics such as the housing problem and the strikes like “Halloh! Halloh!” by Rudolf Nelson (music) and Fritz Grünbaum (text). The misery of war invalids was also a subject of popular music. In the song “Bein ist Trumpf” from the year 1919, the fate of many war-injured men is addressed: the dance with the wooden leg or the prosthesis in the transmission of an ever-rotating world structure. At the same time, the footage of the press photographers showed them with crutches and tied to wheelchairs and their protests against the insufficient supply.

The exhibition in the Museum of Photography is essentially based on the archive of Willy Römers, which is preserved in the Photography Collection of the Art Library – National Museums in Berlin. The comprehensive holdings of the bpk-Bildagentur and ullstein bild offer valuable additions. For the field of film and entertainment culture, exhibits from the graphic design collection of the Art Library have be used. Important loans come from the Music Department of the National Museums in Berlin, from the Deutsche Kinemathek Foundation, the Falkensee Museum and Gallery, and from private collections.

Press release from the Museum of Photography, Berlin translated from the German by Google Translate Cited 08/02/2019

 

With more than 300 photographs, postcards, posters, sheet music, newspapers and magazines, film clips, newsreels and audio stations, the exhibition at Museum für Fotografie shows both a photographic history of the 1918-19 revolution in Berlin as a panorama of the entertainment culture of these troubled months.

The revolution in winter and spring 1918/19 was decided in the streets of the imperial capital, Berlin. Berliners celebrated the abdication of the German Emperor with demonstrations in front of the Reichstag and the palace on November 9th, 1918, in the newspaper quarter in January 1919 rolls of printing paper were used by the Spartacists to erect barricades against approaching government troops, after fighting had ceased, a large funeral procession crossed Frankfurter Allee to the cemetery in Friedrichsfelde. Press photographers were omnipresent with their big plate cameras, taking shots of orators in the crowd, soldiers behind machine-guns, vehicles carrying party posters in the National Assembly election campaign, and destroyed buildings and ravaged squares. At the same time, everyday life in the city went on. People went to the numerous cinemas with their expanding repertoire of films, enjoyed themselves at revues and cabarets, and danced the two-step and the foxtrot. The exhibition in the Museum für Fotografie shows both a photographic visual history of the revolution in Berlin and a panorama of the entertainment culture of those months.

The brothers Otto and Georg Haeckel were the most important press photographers during the first days of the revolution. As experienced war reporters, they reacted quickly to cover the spontaneous rallies on Unter den Linden and in front of the palace. The photographers worked without assignment and offered their images to publishers like Mosse or Ullstein. There are few visual records of the fighting itself. Rather, photographers took advantage of breaks in the fighting to recreate scenes on the barricades or with soldiers with readied weapons. The largest group of photos of the revolution of which the original contact prints survive is by Willy Römer. One of his photographs was even taken immediately before his own arrest by a troop of Spartacists.

Weekly newsreels in cinemas across Germany reported on the rallies and demonstrations in Berlin, showed film portraits of the ministers of the new imperial government, and confirmed the restoration of order by showing scenes from everyday life in the streets of the capital. At the same time, they solicited votes for the National Assembly. Given lengthy production times, the feature films of winter 1918/19 do not yet reflect the revolution in any way. But the suspension of censorship enabled the production of new, more daring films, which, for example, opposed the criminal persecution of homosexuals.

As a reaction to the end of the war and without as yet reckoning with the dangers of the revolution and its fighting, an unprecedented desire for pleasure-seeking reigned in Berlin during the winter and spring of 1918/19. Besides opera houses and straight theatres, Berliners frequent-ed the popular operetta and revue theatres, as well as cinemas; they also went to ballrooms and drinking holes to dance. Some revues reacted to current issues like the housing shortage and the strikes. The poverty of war invalids was also a subject of popular music. The song ‘Bein ist Trumpf’ from 1919 alludes to the fate of four men maimed in the war: the dance with a wooden leg or prosthesis amid the workings of a world-apparatus that turns and turns without end.

Press release from the Museum of Photography, Berlin in English [Online] Cited 08/02/2019

 

Walter Gircke. 'Elections to the National Assembly in Berlin. Agitation by the actress Senta Söneland in front of the Zoologischer Garten station' [National Assembly in Berlin: agitation by the actress Senta Söneland] January 1919

 

Walter Gircke
Elections to the National Assembly in Berlin. Agitation by the actress Senta Söneland in front of the Zoologischer Garten station [National Assembly in Berlin: agitation by the actress Senta Söneland]
January 1919
Postcard
© bpk / Walter Gircke

 

 

Senta Söneland

Senta Söneland (née Werder) was born in 1882 the daughter of a Prussian officer. She attended a higher girls’ school and then a teacher seminar, but also took additional training courses at the Berlin Schiller Theater.

In 1910 she received her first engagement at the Hoftheater Meiningen. In 1912 she returned to Berlin and in the following years appeared on various stages such as the Komödienhaus, the Theater am Kurfürstendamm and the Metropol-Theater. As at the beginning of the war in 1914, when theatre life was severely impaired, she sought like many other actors of the time their chance in film.

Söneland was known primarily as a comedian in film comedies. After a long absence from the screen in the 1920s, she had many performances as a supporting actress at the beginning of the sound film era after 1930. She also participated in entertainment evenings on the radio. So she was heard in the program Kunterbunt with the Berlin Radio Chapel.

The artist was politically involved in women’s suffrage, and her fiery speech on 19 January 1919 at the Berlin Zoo Station on the occasion of the election to the National Assembly (see photograph above) is remembered above all.

After the sudden death of her husband, Söneland said goodbye in 1934 and took her own life a little later. She was buried in the cemetery Wilmersdorf in Berlin.

Text from the Wikipedia website translated from the German

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hoardings with SPD election posters' before 19.1.1919

 

Unknown photographer
Hoardings with SPD election posters
before 19.1.1919
Old contact print
Gelatin silver print
bpk

 

 

 

 

Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others) 1919 Homosexuality Advocacy Film

Different from the Others (German: Anders als die Andern, literally ‘Other than the Others’) is a German film produced during the Weimar Republic. It was first released in 1919 and stars Conrad Veidt and Reinhold Schünzel. The story was co-written by Richard Oswald and Magnus Hirschfeld, who also had a small part in the film and partially funded the production through his Institute for Sexual Science. The film was intended as a polemic against the then-current laws under Germany’s Paragraph 175, which made homosexuality a criminal offense. It is believed to be the first pro-gay film in the world.

The cinematography was by Max Fassbender, who two years previously had worked on Das Bildnis des Dorian Gray, one of the earliest cinematic treatments of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Director Richard Oswald later became a director of more mainstream films, as did his son Gerd. Veidt became a major film star the year after Anders was released, in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

Anders als die Andern is one of the first sympathetic portrayals of homosexuals in the cinema. The film’s basic plot was used again in the 1961 UK film, Victim, starring Dirk Bogarde. Censorship laws enacted in reaction to films like Anders als die Andern eventually restricted viewing of this movie to doctors and medical researchers, and prints of the film were among the many “decadent” works burned by the Nazis after they came to power in 1933.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Paragraph 175

Paragraph 175 (known formally as §175 StGB; also known as Section 175 in English) was a provision of the German Criminal Code from 15 May 1871 to 10 March 1994. It made homosexual acts between males a crime, and in early revisions the provision also criminalised bestiality as well as forms of prostitution and underage sexual abuse. All in all, around 140,000 men were convicted under the law.

The statute drew legal influence from previous measures, including those undertaken by the Holy Roman Empire and Prussian states. It was amended several times. The Nazis broadened the law in 1935; in the prosecutions that followed, thousands died in concentration camps as a widespread social persecution of homosexuals took place.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Different from the Others

The director and producer Richard Oswald (1880-1863) is regarded as the founder of the so-called Sitten- or Aufklärungsfilm (i.e. a film concerned with public morals or sex education) – a genre that took up socially taboo themes such as the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, drug consumption, or topics such as abortion and homosexuality, activities still subject to criminal prosecution at that time. The production of such films, propelled by an educational impetus, was intimately bound up with the abolition of censor-ship in Germany, announced in November of 1918. For Anders als die Andern (Different from the Others), the first film to take an explicit stand against Paragraph 175, which made homosexual acts between males a crime, Oswald called upon the expertise of the sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld as his advisor.

The film narrates the story of the violinist Paul Körner, who is blackmailed by a male prostitute who threatens to reveal his homosexuality, and is finally charged with violating Paragraph 175. In a central scene of the film, Magnus Hirschfeld – who plays himself – delivers a plea for tolerance of homosexuals. To be sure, the blackmailer is condemned, but so too is Körner, found guilty of infringing Paragraph 175. In despair over the social ruin brought about by the verdict, he commits suicide.

 

Folkets Ven, Die entfesselte Menschheit, and Irrwahn (Mania)

The Danish film Folkets Ven arrived in German cinemas in December of 1918 under the distribution title Söhne des Volkes (Sons of the People). In Berlin, the production of films about the political upheavals had just be-gun, necessitating a recourse to import films in order to entertain – and to influence – Berlin cinema-goers. In the magazine Der Kinematograph, the film was promoted as “a new film for a new time” with the message: “For the unification of the socialist groups, against Bolshevism.”

One of the most important feature films dating from around the time of the revolution, and at the same time a typical document of the (social) democratic values reinforced by the film industry, is Die entfesselte Menschheit (Humanity Unchained). Narrated in this “key work of anti-Bolshevist film” is the story of a group of German prisoners of war who return to a Berlin that has been convulsed by Spartacist battles, and are steered toward participation in a bloody civil war by the Bolshevist fanatic Karenow. Approximately 17,000 extras took part in this ambitious undertaking, part of it filmed on Am Tempelhofer Berg, a street in Kreuzberg.

Along with their anti-Bolshevist tendencies, the principal characteristic of the “political problem films” produced around 1919 and 1922, with their references to the revolution, was a deliberate renunciation of any explicit identification of the location of the events. In Irrwahn (Mania), filmed in Berlin in 1919 and heralded in the press as a “socialist-revolutionary drama,” the director Hans Werckmeister maintains a certain ambiguity about whether the events are taking place in Germany, Russia, or in some imaginary fantasy land.

 

Nerven (Nerves)

Robert Reinert’s influential silent film drama Nerven (Nerves) had only a brief reception among the contemporary cinema public: after its premiere in December of 1919, a number of spectators are said to have developed symptoms of madness. As a consequence, the censors resolved upon radical interventions which left the film in an utterly mutilated state. The story of Roloff, a wealthy factory owner who loses his faith in technological progress during the revolutionary turmoil occurring at the end of World War I, his sister Marja, who is committed to armed struggle against the ruling powers, and the teacher Johannes, who calls for social reforms at the people’s assembly, offers a multifaceted description of the traumatic impact of war and revolution on the psychological states of human individuals. Observable in Nerven are design elements that are immediately reminiscent of Expressionism: close-up shots of faces registering intense emotion, gloomy, oversized buildings, dissolves suggestive of menace, as well as striking effects of light and shadow. This fateful historic document has now been successfully reconstructed from fragments.

Wall texts

 

 

 

Nerves (Germany, 1919)

The films tells the political disputes of an ultraconservative factory owner Herr Roloff and Teacher John, who feels a compulsive but secret love for Roloff’s sister, a left-wing radical. They are all driven psychologically and morally to the borderline, tormented souls living their lives in a tormented country.

Duration: 110 Minutes
Director, Producer, Screenplay: Robert Reinert
Starring: Eduard von Winterstein, Lia Borré, Erna Morena, Paul Bender, Lili Dominici, Rio Ellbon, Margarete Tondeur, Paul Burgen Reconstruction
Producer: Stefan Drössler
Cinematography: Helmar Lerski

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Fighting in the Berlin newspaper district. The Vorwärts building after being bombarded by government troops' [The Spartacist had barricaded themselves inside the Vorwärts building. The photo shows the Vorwärts building after an artillery assault by government troops] 11.1.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Fighting in the Berlin newspaper district. The Vorwärts building after being bombarded by government troops [The Spartacist had barricaded themselves inside the Vorwärts building. The photo shows the Vorwärts building after an artillery assault by government troops]
11.1.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'General strike in Berlin. Moving van as barricade on Prenzlauer Straße' 7.3.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
General strike in Berlin. Moving van as barricade on Prenzlauer Straße
7.3.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Street battles in Berlin. Battleplace Alexanderplatz with the downed lines of the tram' 8.3.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Street battles in Berlin. Battleplace Alexanderplatz with the downed lines of the tram
8.3.1919, old contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'View of the funeral procession in the Frankfurter Allee on the occasion of the funeral of Rosa Luxemburg' [Funeral of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Funeral procession on Große Frankfurter Strasse] 13.6.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
View of the funeral procession in the Frankfurter Allee on the occasion of the funeral of Rosa Luxemburg [Funeral of Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. Funeral procession on Große Frankfurter Strasse]
13.6.1919
Gelatin silver print
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

 

Artistic Dance

During the revolutionary period of 1918-19, artistic or expressive dance – whose best-known exponent, Mary Wigman, was accorded considerable acclaim even before World War I – was characterised by heightened variety and intensity. The aim of the tendency was to generate a new conception of humanity through the unity of music, movement, costume, and stage design. Expressive rhythm and a natural approach to bodily experience harmonised well with the expressive forms of the artistic avant-gardes, in particular Expressionist painting. The search for modern expressive resources that were remote from classical balletic conventions was spearheaded by renowned dance reformers. Among them were Valeska Gert, with her grotesque caricature dances, Anita Berber, with her eccentric and erotic performances, and Gret Palucca, with her powerful leaps. But Hannelore Ziegler – no longer a familiar figure today – too numbered among the representatives of these new, contemporary dance forms.

 

Erna Offeney

Erna Offeney (1888-1977), one of the less-known erotic dancers and ballet mistresses, who is presented here in a larger context for the first time, headed her own touring ballet company, with up to 150 ensemble members, which made acclaimed guest performances throughout Germany and Switzerland, as well as Vienna. In a way that is characteristic of the pre-revolutionary era, she wrote in her diary: “It was 1918, the final year of the war, the theatre was full of soldiers on leave who wanted to forget the miseries of war during this brief intermezzo, and were delighted with every diversion and pleasure. Most were invalids, cripples who had been obliged to sacrifice arms or legs for the Fatherland. They were scattered throughout every town, and nearly every family lamented the presence of a member in such a state, and depending upon temperament, those affected – or those who were more foreseeing – were suffused with hate or gloomy resignation […] And then came the applause, which never seemed to end. In the orchestra area, I saw two soldiers, each one-armed, slapping their single hands together in order to applaud. Seeing this, I nearly wept.”

 

‘Nude’ and Erotic Dance

During the revolutionary period of 1918/1919, ‘nude’ dance, erotic ballet, and erotic dance enjoyed a decided popularity. At the same time, the war wounded and war cripples filled the streets of Berlin. “The sheer profusion of erotic dance performances – appearing in every cabaret, in every better dance club, in every bar that offered the public music and entertainment, were nude dancers or groups of dancers – this mass phenomenon only became possible after the war,” wrote Hans Ostwald in 1931. “Favouring the movement was a lust for life that sprang from sheer misery, and the greater general freedom.” But the abolition of censorship also promoted the proliferation of such offerings. Although the dancers were for the most part clad in gossamer fabrics, with breasts and privates veiled, they appeared to be naked. Performances by dancers such as Olga Desmond and Celly de Rheydt belonged in the context of the movement toward naturism and nudism.

 

Ballroom Dancing

The great dance wave, the dance frenzy, the dance craze – all referred to the mass phenomenon of dance as a form of participatory entertainment among the populace of Berlin after World War I. This form of enjoyment was ubiquitous, with each dancer dancing for a different reason: for one, dancing compensated for the general misery. Another enjoyed the license to dance when and where it pleased – a freedom that accompanied the demise of the Wilhelminian moral codex. Depending upon the financial resources available, people met in the elegant dance clubs in the city centre, or instead shook a leg in dives found in the northern and eastern districts of Berlin. The new popular dances – ragtime, jazz, the Boston waltz, the shimmy, but first and foremost the foxtrot – found their ways into dance clubs, dance halls and ballrooms, dance floors, and hotel lobbies, and were an essential component of the amusement and entertainment industry that expanded explosively after the war. The rapidly growing number of performances of operettas and revues meant that a public hungry for diversion was continuously exposed to new hit tunes. Thus primed, they spread out onto the dance floor, with dance bands providing the requisite atmosphere of exuberance.

 

Sheet Music Cover Pages

Originally, sheet music cover pages were little more than decorative ‘accessories’ accompanying printed music. At the same time, they mirror contemporary social and political life. Observable around 1918/19 are topical foci such as emancipation and the pleasures of dance, eroticism, fashion, beauty, and film. In some instances, sheet music cover pages were furnished with portraits of interpreters whose names were familiar through the advertisements that appeared in the daily press. Like the artist’s postcards so widely disseminated at the time, these images allowed the public to see the stars at least in picture form – not everyone could afford tickets to live operetta or revue appearances.

Domestic music-making, including light music, was widespread. Inseparable from such activities were the countless popular dance forms. And all of this required accessible sheet music. With the growing vogue for revues, operettas, film operettas, and burlesques after the end of World War I, the circulation figures of printed music rose quickly. After the recent horrors, there title motifs satisfied a yearning for togetherness, harmony, happiness, and a peaceful life.

 

Places of Entertainment and Amusement

In 1918/19, entertainment was of paramount importance. As much can be gathered from numerous travel guides intended for visitors to Berlin, such as those by Grieben. These supplied tips for performances of operettas, burlesques, revues, promoted information on which cabarets and coffee-houses provide live music, recommended dance halls, and offered general information on other entertainment options. Providing guidance is well were the advertising pages of daily newspapers such as the Vossische Zeitung, the Berliner Tageblatt, and the Berliner Volkszeitung. Found in particular on Friedrichstraße, Behrensstraße, and Jägerstraße alongside theatres and operetta stages were ballrooms, dance clubs, dance cafés, concert houses, cabarets, and coffeehouses. Advertised as well were summer theatre performances and garden concerts where military bands supplied the music. With seating for up to 3000 people, they were frequented by numerous visitors. In the working class district of Prenzlauer Berg, there was the Prater Summer Garden; in Treptow, the Zenner Beer Garden – every urban district had its entertainment establishments featuring concert and dance. And all promoted themselves through specially printed postcards, so that today, we have a detailed picture of the sheer variety that prevailed at the time.

Wall texts

 

Robert L. Leonard. '"Strindberg's intoxication" with Asta Nielsen' 1.8.1919

 

Robert L. Leonard
“Strindberg’s intoxication” with Asta Nielsen
1.8.1919
Alfred Abel, Carl Meinhard
Director: Ernst Lubitsch
Poster for the premiere of the film in UT Kurfürstendamm
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979) 'Dismissed soldiers and unemployed. The gaming tables in front of the employment office in Gormannstraße' [Gambling den in front of the employment agency on Gormannstraße. For strengthening during the game, there is coffee and cake at the next table] 24.11.1919

 

Willy Römer (German, 1887-1979)
Dismissed soldiers and unemployed. The gaming tables in front of the employment office in Gormannstraße [Gambling den in front of the employment agency on Gormannstraße. For strengthening during the game, there is coffee and cake at the next table]
24.11.1919, later contact print
Gelatin silver print
Kunstbibliothek
© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Art Library – Photothek Willy Römer / Willy Römer

 

'Berlin in the revolution 1918/19' catalogue cover

 

Berlin in the revolution 1918/19 catalogue cover

 

 

Museum für Fotografie
Jebensstraße 2, 10623 Berlin, Germany
T: +49 30 266424242

Opening hours:
Tues – Sunday 11am – 7pm

Museum für Fotografie website

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08
Oct
17

Review: ‘Brave New World: Australia 1930s’ at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 14th July – 15th October 2017

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 - Australia 1953, Australia from 1886) 'No title (Powerlines and chute)' c. 1935

 

Harold Cazneaux (New Zealand 1878 – Australia 1953, Australia from 1886)
No title (Powerlines and chute)
c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of the H. J. Heinz II Charitable and Family Trust, Governor, 1993

 

 

In 1934 BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited) commissioned leading pictorialist photographer Harold Cazneaux to record their mining and steel operations for a special publication to mark their fiftieth anniversary in 1935. Cazneaux’s dramatic industrial images blended a soft, atmospheric focus with a modernist sense of space, form and geometry. In 1935-36 Australia exported close to 300,000 tonnes of iron ore to Japan; however, after Japan’s invasion of China in 1937 fear of its expansionist aims in the Pacific increased and soon afterwards the federal government announced a ban on the export of all iron ore to Japan.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

 

Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGV Australia, Melbourne is a small but stylishly designed exhibition that presents well in the gallery spaces. The look and feel of the exhibition is superb, and it was a joy to see so many works in so many disparate medium brought together to represent a decade in the history of Australia: photography, sculpture, painting, drawing, ceramic art, magazine art, travel posters, Art Deco radios, film, couture, culture, Aboriginal art, and furniture making, to name but a few.

The strong exhibition addresses most of the concerns of the 1930s – The Great Depression, beach and body culture, style, fashion, identity, culture, prelude to WW2, dystopian and utopian cities etc., – but it all felt a little cramped and truncated. Such a challenging time period needed a more expansive investigation. What there is was excellent but one display case on slums or magazine art was not substantive enough. The same can be said for most of the exhibition.

There needed to a lot more about the impact of the Great Depression and people living in poverty, for you get the feeling from this exhibition that everyone was living the Modernist high-life, wearing fashionable frocks and smoking cigarettes sitting around beautifully designed furniture surrounded by geometric textiles. The reality is that this paradigm was the exception rather than the rule. Many people struggled to even feed themselves due to The Great Depression, and it was a time of extreme hardship for people in Australia. Life for many, many people in Australia during the 1930s was a life of disenfranchisement, assimilation, oppression, social struggle, poverty, hunger and a hand to mouth existence.

“After the crash unemployment in Australia more than doubled to twenty-one per cent in mid-1930, and reached its peak in mid-1932 when almost thirty-two per cent of Australians were out of work… The Great Depression’s impact on Australian society was devastating. Without work and a steady income many people lost their homes and were forced to live in makeshift dwellings with poor heating and sanitation.” (“The Great Depression,” on the Australian Government website)

New artists and designers may have been emerging, new skyscrapers being built and the new ‘Modern Woman’ may have made her appearance but the changes only affected white, middle and upper social classes. Migrants, particularly those from Italy and southern Europe, were resented because they worked for less wages than others; and only brief mention is made of the White Australia policy in the exhibition but not by name (see text under Indigenous art and culture below). This section was more interested in how white artists appropriated Aboriginal design during this period for their own ends.

With this in mind, it is instructive to read sections of the illustrated handbook (not in the exhibition) produced by the National Museum of Victoria (in part, the forerunner of the NGV) to accompany a special exhibition of objects illustrating Australian Aboriginal Art in 1929:
.

“The subject of aboriginal Art – in this case the Art of the Australian Aboriginal – has to be approached with the utmost caution, for, though it comes directly within the domain of anthropology, it is in an indirect way a very important question in psychology and pedagogies. We possess some knowledge of our own mentality through the kind of offices of psychology; but though we have some – many in certain classes – material relics of our primitive and prehistoric ancestor, the only evidence of evolution of thought and the development of his powers of abstract conception must be derived from his art…

Still it appears possible that the study of primitive man, as represented by our Australian black, will throw some new light on the subject, and even if not more important than the old world pictographs themselves, his art work will enable the efforts of the Aurignacian and Magdalenian artists [cultures of the Upper Paleolithic in western Europe] to be better comprehended, and their import understood. But, for that study to achieve even a modicum of success, it is essential that the inquiring psychologist divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man – or of the infant of the present day.”1

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This is the attitude towards Aboriginal art that pervaded major art institutions right across Australia well into the 1950s. That the white has to “divest his mind of all civilized conceptions and mentality and assume those of the prehistoric man” – in other words, he has to become a savage – in order to understand Aboriginal art. It says a lot that the Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria then decided to reprint the illustrated handbook in 1952 without amendment, reprinting the publication originally used for the Exhibition in 1929. Nothing had changed in 22 years!

 

Australian Aboriginal Art 1962

 

National Museum of Victoria
Australian Aboriginal Art (cover)
1952 (reprint of 1929 illustrated handbook)
Brown, Prior, Anderson Pty. Ltd., Melbourne (publishers)
Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria
39 pages

 

 

Other small things in the exhibition rankle. The preponderance of the work of photographer Max Dupain is so overwhelming that from this exhibition, it would seem that he was the only photographer of note working in Australia throughout the decade. While Dupain was the first Modernist photographer in Australia, and a superb artist, Modernist photography was very much on the outer during most of the 1930s… the main art form of photography being that of Pictorialism. None of this under appreciated style of photography makes an appearance in this exhibition because it does not fit the theme of “Brave New World”. This dismisses the work of such people as Cecil Bostock, Harold Cazneaux, Henri Mallard, John Eaton et al as not producing “brave”, or valuable, portraits of a country during this time frame. This is a perspective that needs to be corrected.

Highlights for me in this exhibition included an earthenware vase by Ethel Blundell; a painting by that most incredible of atmospheric painters, Clarice Beckett (how I long to own one of her paintings!); a wonderful portrait by the underrated Cybil Craig; two stunning Keast Burke photographs; two beautiful stained glass windows of a male and female lifesaver; the slum photographs of F. Oswald Barnett (more please!); and the graphic covers of mostly short-lived radical magazines.

These highlights are worth the price of admission alone. A must see before the exhibition closes.

Marcus

  1. A. S. Kenyon. “The Art of the Australian Aboriginal.” in Australian Aboriginal Art. Melbourne: Trustees of the National Museum of Victoria, (1929) reprinted 1952, p. 15.

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Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The 1930s was a turbulent time in Australia’s history. During this decade major world events, including the Depression and the rise of totalitarian regimes in Europe, shaped our nation’s evolving sense of identity. In the arts, progressive ideas jostled with reactionary positions, and artists brought substantial creative efforts to bear in articulating the pressing concerns of the period. Brave New World: Australia 1930s encompasses the multitude of artistic styles, both advanced and conservative, which were practised during the 1930s. Included are commercial art, architecture, fashion, industrial design, film and dance to present a complete picture of this dynamic time.

The exhibition charts the themes of celebrating technological progress and its antithesis in the nostalgia for pastoralism; the emergence of the ‘New Woman’ and consumerism; nationalism and the body culture movement; the increasing interest in Indigenous art against a backdrop of the government policy of assimilation and mounting calls for Indigenous rights; the devastating effects of the Depression and the rise of radical politics; and the arrival of European refugees and the increasing anxiety at the impending threat of the Second World War. Brave New World: Australia 1930s presents a fresh perspective on the extraordinary 1930s, revealing some of the social and political concerns that were pertinent then and remain so today.

Text from the NGV website

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)

 

Fred Ward (designer) (Australia 1900-90)
E. M. Vary, Fitzroy, Melbourne (attributed to) (manufacturer) active 1920s-40s

Sideboard
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), painted wood, painted plywood, steel
(a-e) 84.0 x 119.7 x 48.7 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

Side table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), steel
55.7 x 66.0 x 49.2 cm
Proposed acquisition

Tray table
c. 1932
Mountain ash (Eucalyptus sp.), blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon), steel
(a-b) 52.0 x 60.9 x 42.5 cm (overall)
Proposed acquisition

 

 

A new generation of artists and designers

While modern art was a source of debate and controversy throughout the 1930s, modernism in architecture, interior design, industrial design and advertising became highly fashionable. In Melbourne a small group of designers pioneered modern design in Australia. Furniture designer Fred Ward first designed and made furniture for his home in Eaglemont, where he had established a studio workshop. It was admired by friends and he was encouraged to produce furniture for sale. In 1932 Ward opened a shop in Collins Street, Melbourne. There he offered his furniture, as well as linens and Scandinavian glass. The fabrics for curtains and upholstery were printed by Australian designer Michael O’Connell with bold designs that shocked some but were favoured by a new generation looking to create modern interiors.

More than in most periods, in the 1930s art, design and architecture were closely integrated with the changing realities of contemporary life. It was a time when the last vestiges of the conservative art establishment were swept away by a new generation of artists and designers who were to drive Australian art in the second half of the twentieth century.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement at left and Ethel Blundell’s Vase centre on sidboard
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Fred Ward was one of the first and most important designers of modern furniture in Australia. He began making furniture around 1930, and in 1932 opened a shop in Collins Street selling his furniture, as well as textiles by Michael O’Connell and other modern design pieces. In 1934 Ward went into partnership with Myer Emporium and established the Myer Design Unit, for which he designed a line of modular ‘unit’ furniture for commercial production. Ward’s simple, functional aesthetic and use of local timbers with a natural waxed finish was in contrast to the luxurious materials and decorative motifs of the contemporary Art Deco style.

The armchair, sideboard and occasional tables were designed by Fred Ward and purchased by Maie Casey in the early 1930s. The wife of R. G. Casey, federal treasurer in the Lyons Government, Maie was a prominent supporter of modern art and design. Moving to Canberra in 1932, she furnished her house at Duntroon in a modern style with furniture by Ward and textiles by Michael O’Connell. The design of Ward’s armchair closely resembles a 1920s armchair by German Bauhaus furniture designer Erich Dieckmann, who was known for his standardised wooden furniture based on geometric designs.

 

Michael O'Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37) 'Textile' c. 1933

 

Michael O’Connell designer (England 1898-1976, Australia 1920-37)
Textile
c. 1933
Block printed linen
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1988

 

 

Michael O’Connell pioneered modernist textiles in Melbourne and was an influential advocate of modern design. Working with his wife Ella from his studio in Beaumaris, O’Connell used woodblocks and linocuts to hand print onto raw linens and silks, which were used for fashion garments and home furnishing. O’Connell’s boldly patterned and highly stylised designs were considered startlingly modern. Some of his early fabrics featured ‘jazz age’ scenes of nightclubs and dancing, while later motifs were based on Australian flora and fauna, or derived from Oceanic and Aboriginal art.

 

Sam Atyeo. 'Album of designs: tables' c. 1933 - c. 1936

 

Sam Atyeo
Album of designs: tables
c. 1933 – c. 1936
Album: watercolour, brush and coloured inks, coloured pencils, 14 designs tipped into an album of 16 grey pages, card covers, tape and stapled binding
30.0 x 19.2 cm (page) 30.0 x 20.8 x 0.8 cm (closed)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the artist, 1988

 

 

Sam Atyeo was a leading figure in Melbourne’s emerging modernist circles in the early 1930s, the partner of artist Moya Dyring and lover of Sunday Reed. He had studied at the National Gallery School, where he was a brilliant and rebellious student. Around 1932 Atyeo became friendly with Cynthia Reed, who managed Fred Ward’s furniture shop and interior design consultancy on Collins Street. After she opened Cynthia Reed Modern Furnishings in Little Collins Street, Atyeo designed furniture for Reed, that was strongly influenced by Ward’s designs.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Illustration for Kelvinator advertisement
1936
Gelatin silver photograph
32.8 x 25.3 cm
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors’ Program 2000

 

Ethel Blundell. 'Vase' 1936

 

Ethel Blundell
Vase
1936
Earthenware
17.6 x 16.8 cm diameter
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented through The Art Foundation of Victoria by Mrs Margaret Howie, Governor, 1999
© Ethel Blundell

 

 

Utopian cities

Modernity reflected what was new and progressive in Australian urban life. The image of the city became an allegory for this in art, and efficiency and speed became watchwords for modernity. Many artists celebrated the city and technological advancements in works utilising a modern style of hard-edged forms, flat colours and dynamic compositions. The engineering marvel of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, which opened in 1932, was an ongoing source of fascination for artists, as were images of building the city, industry and modern modes of transport.

The skyscraper was also a powerful symbol of modern prosperity, especially when the Great Depression cast doubt on the inevitability of progress; hence the advent of tall buildings in Australian cities was hailed with relief and optimism. In 1932, at the peak of the Depression, the tallest building in Melbourne was opened: the Manchester Unity Building at the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. With its ornamental tower and spire taking its overall height to 64 metres, the building was welcomed by The Age newspaper as ‘a new symbol of enterprise and confidence, undaunted by the “temporary eclipse” of the country’s economic fortune’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria at left; and Evening dress at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Seventh city of the Empire - Melbourne, Victoria' 1930s

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Seventh city of the Empire – Melbourne, Victoria
1930s
Colour lithograph printed by J. E. Hackett, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee, 2007

 

 

Percy Trompf’s poster celebrates Melbourne’s first skyscraper, the iconic Manchester Unity Building on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets. Designed by architect Marcus Barlow in the Art Deco ‘Gothic’ style, it was built at high speed between 1930 and 1932, and provided much needed employment during the Depression. At twelve storeys high and topped with a decorative tower it was Melbourne’s tallest building and contained the city’s first escalators. A powerful symbol of the city’s modernity, it was often featured in images of Melbourne.

 

Unknown, Australia 'Evening dress' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Australia
Evening dress
c. 1935
Silk
144.0 cm (centre back), 36.0 cm (waist, flat)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Irene Mitchell, 1975

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24) 'The works, Yallourn' 1933

 

Ethel Spowers (Australia 1890-1947, England and France 1921-24)
The works, Yallourn
1933
Colour linocut, ed. 3/50
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
The Joseph Brown Collection
Presented through the NGV Foundation by Dr Joseph Brown AO OBE, Honorary Life Benefactor, 2004

 

 

Ethel Spowers and Eveline Syme were leading figures in modern art in Melbourne. In the 1920s they studied with modernist Claude Flight at the Grosvenor School in London, where they learnt to make colour linocuts that followed Flight’s principles of rhythmic design combined with flat colour. In April 1933 Spowers and Syme visited the Yallourn Power Station in Gippsland, which had been opened in 1928 and was the largest supplier of electricity to the state.

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968) 'Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)' 1931

 

Vida Lahey (Australia 1882-1968)
Sultry noon (Central Station Brisbane)
1931
Oil on canvas on plywood
44.7 x 49.2 cm
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane Purchased 1983
© QAGOMA

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935) 'Taxi rank' c. 1931

 

Clarice Beckett (Australia 1887-1935)
Taxi rank
c. 1931
Oil on canvas on board
Kerry Stokes Collection, Perth

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham's 'George Street, Sydney' (1934) from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Herbert Badham’s George Street, Sydney (1934) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

After serving in the Royal Australian Navy during the First World War, Herbert Badham studied at the Sydney Art School and began exhibiting in 1927. In his paintings he was a keen observer of everyday urban life: streets with shoppers, city workers on their lunch break and drinkers in the pub were painted in a contemporary, hard-edged realist style.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Rush hour in King's Cross' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Rush hour in King’s Cross
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
41.2 x 40.3 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Mr A.C. Goode, Fellow, 1987

 

 

During the 1930s the city provided a rich source of imagery for artists working in modern styles, who celebrated the speed and efficiency of modern transport technology and expanding road and rail networks. Yet as car ownership increased during the 1930s, larger cities began to suffer congestion and the rush hour became part of urban life. Throughout the decade the pace and stress of modern life became a topic of public debate, with conservative commentators decrying this transformation of the Australian lifestyle.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Grace Cossington Smith’s The Bridge in-curve at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Grace Cossington Smith. 'The Bridge in-curve' 1930

 

Grace Cossington Smith (Australia 1892-1984, England and Germany 1912-14, England and Italy 1949-51)
The Bridge in-curve
1930
Tempera on cardboard
83.6 x 111.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the National Gallery Society of Victoria, 1967
© Estate of Grace Cossington Smith

 

 

The slow rise of the Sydney Harbour Bridge above the city was recorded by numerous painters, printmakers and photographers, including Sydney modernist Grace Cossington Smith. Her iconic The Bridge-in-curve depicts the bridge just before its two arches were joined in August 1930, and conveys the sense of wonder, achievement and hope that was inspired by this engineering marvel. By painting the emerging, rather than the complete bridge, Cossington Smith also focuses our attention on the energy and ambition required to create it.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Installation view of Frank Hinder’s Trains passing (1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Trains passing' 1940

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Trains passing
1940
Oil on composition board
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1974

 

 

Frank Hinder was one of the first abstract artists in Australia. After living and studying in the United States, Hinder and his wife, the American sculptor Margel, returned to Sydney in 1934. There they became part of a small avant-garde group that included Grace Crowley, Rah Fizelle, Ralph Balson and the German sculptor and art historian Eleanore Lange, all of whom were interested in Cubist, Constructivist and Futurist art. Hinder later said that this work was inspired by seeing Lange, sitting next to him on a train, reflected in the windows of a passing train.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Commuters' 1938

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Commuters
1938
Tempera on paper on board
Private collection

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976 'The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress' 1937

 

Victorian Railways, Melbourne (publisher) Australia 1856-1976
The Victorian Railways present The Spirit of Progress
1937
Booklet: colour photolithographs and letterpress,
12 pages, cardboard cover
printed by Queen City Printers, Melbourne
20.8 x 26.8 cm (closed)
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Launched in November 1937, The Spirit of Progress express passenger train was a source of immense pride to Victorians. Built in Newport, Victoria, the train featured many innovations, including all-steel carriages and full air-conditioning. Designed in the Art Deco, streamlined style by architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the passenger carriages were fitted out to a level of comfort not previously seen in Australia, and included a full dining carriage. The train ran between Melbourne and the New South Wales state border at Albury, the longest non-stop train journey in Australia at that time, at an average speed of 84 kilometres per hour.

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis' 'Speed!' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Ivor Francis’ Speed! from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924) 'Speed!' 1931

 

Ivor Francis (England 1906-Australia 1993, Australia from 1924)
Speed!
1931
Colour process block print
Art Gallery of South Australia
Adelaide South Australian Government Grant 1986

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s 'Night gown' c. 1938

 

Randille, Melbourne (maker) active 1930s
Night gown
c. 1938
Silk (a) 166.0 cm (centre back) 38.9 cm (waist, flat) (dress) (b) 121.0 cm (centre back) 38.0 cm (waist, flat) (slip)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by Mrs A. G. Pringle, 1982

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Rush hour in King’s Cross left and Frank Hinder’s Jackhammer third from right and Margel Hinder’s Man with jackhammer second right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934) 'Man with jackhammer' 1939

 

Margel Hinder (United States 1906-Australia 1995, Australia from 1934)
Man with jackhammer
1939
Cedar
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of J. B. Were & Son, Governor, 2001

 

 

American-born Margel Hinder was one of Australia’s leading modernist sculptors. She had studied art in Boston, where she met and married Sydney artist Frank Hinder. In 1934 they moved to Australia and became an important part of Sydney’s small modern art scene. In Man with jackhammer Hinder has simplified and contained the figure within a square frame, the strong diagonal form of the jackhammer creating a sense of compressed energy and force. Man and machine have fused in this celebration of industry and progress.

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34) 'Jackhammer' 1936

 

Frank Hinder (Australia 1906-92, United States 1927-34)
Jackhammer
1936
Airbrush on black paper
52.0 x 38.0 cm
Private collection, Sydney
© Enid Hawkins

 

 

Modern Woman

In the 1930s the new ‘Modern Woman’ made her appearance as a more serious and emancipated version of the giddy 1920s ‘flapper’. A woman who worked, she often lived alone in one of the new city apartment buildings, visited nightclubs and showed less interest in traditional marriage and child rearing. A lean body type became fashionable and was enhanced by the lengthened hemlines and defined waists introduced by French couturier Jean Patou in 1929. This slender silhouette was supported by form-fitting foundation garments by manufacturers such as Berlei.

The Modern Woman became one of the most potent images of contemporary life, being celebrated in women’s magazines such as the ultra-stylish Home and the Australian Women’s Weekly, launched in 1933. While such magazines were congratulating her and promoting new consumer goods to the Modern Woman, at the same time she was criticised by conservative commentators. In 1937 photographer Max Dupain wrote: ‘There must be a great shattering of modern values if woman is to continue to perpetuate the race… In her shred of a dress and little helmet of a hat, her cropped hair, and stark bearing, the modern woman is a sort of a soldier… It is not her fault it is her doom’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Peter Purves Smith’s Maisie left, Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Peter Purves Smith’s Lucile at  top right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Cybil Craig’s Peggy second left and Lina Bryans The babe is wise at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Maisie' 1938-39

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Maisie
1938-39
Gouache
National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Bequest of Lady Maisie Drysdale 2001

 

 

In 1937 the striking, auburn-haired Maisie Newbold was a student at the George Bell School in Melbourne, where she met fellow student Peter Purves Smith and his best friend Russell Drysdale. Maisie and Purves Smith were married in 1946, only three years before latter’s premature death from tuberculosis. Purves Smith painted this portrait at the start of their relationship. It depicts Maisie as a stylish woman wearing the latest fashion, the angularity of her features contrasted by the soft fur of her collar and feathers of her hat. Many years later Maisie married Drysdale.

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig's work 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Installation view of Sybil Craig’s work Peggy c. 1932
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 - Australia 1909, Australia from 1902) 'Peggy' c. 1932

 

Sybil Craig (England 1901 – Australia 1909, Australia from 1902)
Peggy
c. 1932
Oil on canvas
40.4 x 30.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Purchased, 1978
© The Estate of Sybil Craig

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910) 'The babe is wise' 1940

 

Lina Bryans (Germany (of Australian parents) 1909-Australia 2000, Australia from 1910)
The babe is wise
1940
Oil on cardboard
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Miss Jean Campbell, 1962

 

 

Lina Bryans’s portrait of author Jean Campbell is titled after Campbell’s 1939 novel The Babe is Wise, a contemporary story set in Melbourne and in which the main protagonists are European migrants. A well-known figure in Melbourne’s literary circles, Campbell was noted for her ‘quick and slightly audacious wit’. Bryans had begun painting in 1937 with the support of William Frater. In the late 1930s she lived at Darebin Bridge House, which became an informal artists’ colony and meeting place for writers associated with the journal Meanjin.

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40) 'Lucile' 1937

 

Peter Purves Smith (Australia 1912-49, England 1935-36, England and France 1938-40)
Lucile
1937
Oil on board
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 2011 with funds raised through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation Appeal

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37) 'Self-portrait' 1932

 

Nora Heysen (Australia 1911-2003, England and Italy 1934-37)
Self-portrait
1932
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Acquired with the assistance of the Masterpieces for the Nation Fund 2011

 

 

During the first decade of her life as a professional artist, Nora Heysen completed numerous self-portraits. In many of these she depicts herself in the act of drawing or painting, holding a palette and brush or with other accoutrements of the artist, and thereby asserting her professional identity. Yet these are also highly charged works in which Heysen scrutinises herself (and the viewer) with an unflinching and unsmiling gaze.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Arthur Challen’s Miss Moira Madden above chair
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Arthur Challen 'Miss Moira Madden' 1937

 

Arthur Challen
Miss Moira Madden
1937
oil on canvas
89.8 x 77.4 cm (framed)
State Library of Victoria
Gift of Mrs S. M. Challen, 1966
© The Estate of Arthur Challen

 

 

Body culture

The terrible physical losses and psychological traumas of the First World War changed Australian society and prompted anxious concerns about the direction of the nation. For some this meant an inward-looking isolationism, a desire that Australian culture should develop independently and untouched by the ‘degenerate’ influences of Europe.

The search for rejuvenation frequently involved explorations of the capabilities and vulnerabilities of the human body. In the hands of artists, corporeal forms came to symbolise nationhood, most often expressed through references to the art of Classical Greece and mythological subjects. The evolution of a new Australian ‘type’ was also proposed in the 1930s – a white Australian drawn from British stock, but with an athletic and streamlined shape honed by time spent swimming and surfing on local beaches.

This art often has a distinctive quality to it, which in the light of history can sometimes make for disquieting viewing. With the terrible knowledge of how the Nazi Party in Germany subsequently used eugenics in its systematic slaughter of those with so-called ‘bad blood’, the Australian enthusiasm for ‘body culture’ can now seem problematic. Images of muscular nationalism soon lost their cache in Australia following the Second World War, tainted by undesirable fascistic overtones.

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Harvest' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Harvest
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph (25.6 x 30.5 cm)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gerstl Bequest, 2000

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 - Australia 1974, Australia from 1904) 'Husbandry 1' c. 1940

 

Keast Burke (New Zealand 1896 – Australia 1974, Australia from 1904)
Husbandry 1
c. 1940
Gelatin silver photograph
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney
Gift of Iris Burke 1989

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Discus thrower' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Discus thrower
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
38.5 x 37.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Souvenir of Cronulla' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Souvenir of Cronulla
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of National Australia Bank Limited, Honorary Life Benefactor, 1992

 

 

In the 1930s Max Dupain responded to Henri Bergson’s book Creative Evolution (1907) in which he considered creativity and intuition as central to the renewed development of society, and the artist as prime possessor of these powers. Vitalism, as this philosophy was termed, was believed to be expressed through polarised sexual energies. In this work Dupain focuses on the sexually differentiated ‘energies’ of men and women, associating women with the forces of nature.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Daphne Mayo’s A young Australian in foreground
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25) 'A young Australian' 1930, cast 1931

 

Daphne Mayo (Australia 1895-1982, England 1919-23, France 1923-25)
A young Australian
1930, cast 1931
Bronze, marble
(a-b) 51.0 x 35.2 x 18.1 cm (overall)
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney Purchased 1930
© 1982 by The Surf Life Saving Foundation and the Uniting Church in Australia Property Trust (Q.)

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes and Resting Diana at left; Tom Purvis’ Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations (wall print) at centre rear; and Jean Broome-Norton’s Abundance on plinth at right
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959) 'Australia's 150th Anniversary Celebrations' c. 1938

 

Tom Purvis (England 1888-1959)
Australia’s 150th Anniversary Celebrations
c. 1938
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill's 'Neo-classical nudes' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Dorothy Thornhill’s Neo-classical nudes from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 - Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929) 'Resting Diana' 1931

 

Dorothy Thornhill (England 1910 – Australia 1987, New Zealand 1920-29, Australia from 1929)
Resting Diana
1931
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1977

 

 

The invocation of the Classical body as a modern prototype was a powerful idea in the 1930s. The Graeco- Roman goddess Diana, the virgin patron goddess of the hunt, was popularly invoked as an ideal of female perfection, and represented with a slender and athletic physique. Dorothy Thornhill’s Diana is a remarkable visualisation of such a ‘modern Diana’, her angular body and defined musculature reflecting the masculinisation of female bodies at this time. She is a formidable presence, the quiver of arrows slung nonchalantly across her shoulders a trophy of her victory over the male gender.

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002) 'Abundance' 1934

 

Jean Broome-Norton (Australia 1911-2002)
Abundance
1934
Plaster, bronze patination
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of ICI Australia Limited, Fellow, 1994

 

 

“High-rise buildings, fast trains and engineering feats such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge jostled against the Great Depression, conservatism and a looming Second World War during the 1930s, one of the most turbulent decades in Australian history. The major exhibition at the NGV, Brave New World: Australia 1930s, will explore the way artists and designers engaged with these major issues providing a fresh look at a period characterised by both optimism and despair. The exhibition will present a broad-ranging collection of more than 200 works spanning photography, painting, printmaking, sculpture and decorative arts as well as design, architecture, fashion, graphics, film and dance.

Tony Ellwood, Director, NGV, commented, “Brave New World explores an important period of Australian art history during which Abstraction, Surrealism and Expressionism first emerged, and women artists arose as trailblazers of the modern art movement. It will offer an immersive look at the full spectrum of visual and creative culture of the period, from Max Dupain’s iconic depictions of the Australian body and beach culture to a vast display of nearly 40 Art Deco radios, which were an indispensable item for the Australian home during the 1930s.”

Presented thematically, Brave New World will show how artists and designers responded to major social and political concerns of the 1930s. The Great Depression, which saw Australia’s unemployment rate rise to 32% by 1932, is seen through the eyes of photographer F. Oswald Barnett in his powerful images of poverty-stricken inner Melbourne suburbs such as Fitzroy, Collingwood and Carlton, and in the works of Danila Vassilieff, Yosl Bergner, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker who were among the first artists to depict Australia’s working class and destitute.

In contrast, many other artists at the time chose to focus upon the vibrant city streets, cafes and buildings of contemporary Australian cities, such as renowned modernist Grace Cossington Smith with her energetic canvasses of flat colours and abstracted forms. Other artists featured in Brave New World including Hilda Rix Nicholas and Elioth Gruner concentrated on more traditional scenes of the Australian bush, which was seen as a place of respite from the frenetic pace of modern city life.

The exhibition will explore artists’ responses to the growing calls for Indigenous rights during the 1930s, which was accompanied by a rising interest in Aboriginal art and particularly the work of Albert Namatjira, the first Indigenous artist of renown in Australia; and the rise of the ‘modern woman’, a female who favoured urban living, freedom and equality over marriage and child rearing.

The 1930s also saw the idea of the ‘Australian body’, a tanned, muscular archetype shaped by sand and surf, come to the fore of the Australian identity. Artists who engaged with this idea, including Max Dupain, Charles Meere and Olive Cotton, will be presented in Brave New World. The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully-illustrated, 212-page hardback publication, featuring essays by leading writers on each of the exhibition themes. A series of public programs will also be offered including a major symposium, an Art Deco walking tour of Melbourne and a dance performance, recreating Demon machine (1924) by the Bodenweiser company that toured Australia in the late 1930s as well as an original solo by the choreographer, Carol Brown (NZ).

Press release from the NGV

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937) 'Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D'Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour' 1939-40

 

Nanette Kuehn (Germany 1911-Australia 1980, Australia from 1937)
Borislav Runanine and Tamara Grigorieva in Jeux D’Enfants, original Ballets Russes, Australian tour
1939-40
Gelatin silver photograph
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection. Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

The expressive body: dance in Australia

If modern art encapsulated the ideals and conflicting forces of the early twentieth century, then modern dance embodied its restless vitality and the quest for a different kind of subjectivity and expression. To many, modern dance is the pivotal art form for a mid twentieth century concerned with plasticity, the expressive body and tensions between the individual and its collective formation.

The decade of the 1930s is framed by the 1928-29 tour of Anna Pavlova’s dance company and the three tours of the remnant Ballets Russes companies (1936-37, 1938-39,1939-40) that excited many aspiring modernist artists. These tours sowed the seeds for subsequent ballet narratives in Australia, because the eruption of war in 1939 meant that Ballets Russes dancers, including Helene Kirsova and Edouard Borovansky, stayed in the country and established ballet companies. While trained in Russian dance technique, these artists were also influenced by the aesthetics of change in European art and dance that included new bodily techniques, dynamic movement patterns and modern technologies. It was the individual dancers of modern dance, however, including Louise Lightfoot and Sonia Revid, who produced the expressive intensity of a more autonomous art of movement.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA featuring a wall print of Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach c. 1935 by an unknown Australian photographer
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Australia, Unknown photographer. 'Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach' c. 1935

 

Australia, Unknown photographer
Sonia Revid dancing on Brighton beach
c. 1935
Courtesy of State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Sonia Revid was one of the leading proponents of modern interpretative dance in Melbourne. Born in Latvia, she studied with the great dancer Mary Wigman in Germany before coming to Australia in 1932. Revid is credited with introducing the ‘German Dance’ to Australian audiences, and in the mid 1930s established the Sonia Revid School of Art and Body Culture in Collins Street. She composed her own dances, one of the best known being Bushfire drama (1940), based on the 1939 Victoria Bushfires.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)' 1937, printed (c. 1939)

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Ballet (Emmy Towsey and Evelyn Ippen, Bodenwieser Dancers performing Waterlilies)
1937, printed (c. 1939)
Gelatin silver photograph
44.5 x 33.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2003

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20) 'Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet' 1936-37

 

Jack Cato (Australia 1889-1971, England 1909-14, South Africa 1914-20)
Helene Kirsova and Igor Youskevitch in Les Presages, Monte Carlo Russian Ballet
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
24.8 x 19.4 cm
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
The Australian Ballet Collection
Gift of The Australian Ballet, 1998

 

 

Choreographed by Léonide Massine in 1933, Les Presages (Destiny) was a popular and avant-garde work during the Ballets Russes tours to Australia in 1936-37. It was one of the first contemporary ballets to be choreographed to an existing musical score, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Portrayed in this picture are two principal dancers from the Monte Carlo Ballets Russes: Hélène Kirsova, who remained in Australia and formed her own ballet company in Sydney in the early 1940s, and Igor Youskevitch, who became a leading American ballet dancer, appearing here in the role of the Hero.

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s 'Dress for Slavonic Dances' 1939

 

Evelyn Ippen designer and maker active in Australia 1930s
Dress for Slavonic Dances
1939
Cotton, silk (velvet) (appliqué), elastic, metal (zip) for a production of the Bodenwieser Ballet, choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser
Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre, Melbourne
Bodenwieser Collection. Gift of Barbara Cuckson, 2000

 

 

The Slavonic Dances were choreographed by Gertrud Bodenwieser to represent what she described as the ‘vigour and passionate feelings of the Slavonic people’, and toured with her first company in Australia in 1939. Loosely using folk-dance motifs, this ensemble work would have been a stylish crowd-pleaser in contrast to more serious dances. The appliqué and colourful flower motifs on this dress are similar to designs by Natalia Goncharova for the Ballets Russes, although the simplified appeal of its ‘red bodice, long, swirling skirt, and gathered white sleeves’ were probably designed by one of the company dancers, Evelyn Ippen.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Tamara Tchinarova in Presages' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Tamara Tchinarova in Presages
Published in Art in Australia, February 15, 1937
National Gallery of Victoria
Melbourne Shaw Research Library

 

 

Australia Tunes Into The World

These radios comprise a selection of Australian designed and manufactured tabletop models from the 1930s at a time when this new method of communication became an integral part of every home. They reflect the rapid spread of the streamlined style to Australia from the United States, England and Europe, where industrial designers applied machine-age styling to everyday household appliances. The use of new synthetic plastics (Bakelite) and mass production helped to make radios affordable for ordinary people, even in the depths of the Depression, and radio transmission brought the world into every Australian home. As cheap alternatives to the expensive wooden console in the lounge room, these small, portable radios allowed individual family members to listen to serials, quizzes and popular music in other rooms such as the kitchen, bedroom and verandah, as well as in the workplace.

Radios of the 1930s are now appreciated as quintessential examples of Art Deco styling, and one of the first expressions of art meeting industry. These colourful and elegant radio sets were one of the first pieces of modern styling in the Australian home. They were also a symbol of modern technology and a new future.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer) 'Mullard' 1938

 

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (white)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (speckled green)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch

Airzone (1931) Ltd, Sydney (manufacturer)
Mullard (black)
1938
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA 'Egg crate' (various colours)' 1938

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA ‘Egg crate’ (various colours)
1938
Bakelite
21.0 x 33.0 x 19.0 cm (each)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913 'AWA Radiolette 'Empire State' and cigarette box (green)' 1934

 

Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia) Ltd., Sydney (manufacturer) est. 1913
AWA Radiolette ‘Empire State’ and cigarette box (green)
1934
Bakelite
(a) 28.0 x 27.0 x 15.0 cm (radio) (b) 8.0 x 8.0 x 4.5 cm (cigarette box)
Collection of Peter Sheridan and Jan Hatch
Photo © Peter Sheridan

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of Australian Art Deco radios from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

Sun and surf

The beach was a complex location in the Australian creative imagination. It was a democratic site in which the trappings of wealth and position were abandoned as people stripped down to their bathers. It was a place of hedonistic pleasures that offered sensuous engagement with sun and surf, and a primitive landscape where natural forces restored the bodies of those depleted by modern life. It was a playground for the tourist that was considered distinctively Australian. As war loomed again in the late 1930s, it was also a pseudo-militaristic zone in which the lifesaver was honed for ‘battle’ in the surf.

The lifesavers that helped protect the beach-going public were regularly praised as physical exemplars who could build the eugenic stock of the nation. As the Second World War approached, the connection of these trained lifesavers to military servicemen also became painfully apparent.

Male lifesavers were used by artists in promoting Australia to tourists: a poster commemorating the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 1932 positioned the lifesaver as the quintessential representative of Australian manhood. Douglas Annand and Arthur Whitmore’s virile lifesaver proudly gestures towards the new bridge, his muscles as strong and protective as the steel girders that span the harbour.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'On the beach. Man, woman, boy' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
On the beach. Man, woman, boy
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
39.2 x 47.2 cm
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

Showing a naked family on the beach, Max Dupain’s work is a perfect illustration of social concerns of the times. As Australia moved closer to engagement in another world war, fears about the poor physical fitness of the population were debated, with a ‘national fitness’ campaign instituted by the government in 1938. Dupain’s father, George, was one of the country’s first physical educationalists, opening the Dupain Institute of Physical Education and Medical Gymnastics in 1900 and writing extensively on the subject of health and fitness. Max Dupain attended the gym and was well versed in contemporary concerns about fitness.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Male lifesaver, window' and 'Female lifesaver, window' (both c. 1935)

 

Installation view of Male lifesaver, window and Female lifesaver, window (both c. 1935) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Male lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Male lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.5 x 40.8 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by C. J Dennis

 

 

‘On golden and milky sands, bodily excellence is displayed the year round, clearly defined by the sun in an atmosphere as viewless and benign as the air of Hellas as described by Euripides.’

J. S. Macdonald, 1931

 

Unknown, Melbourne. 'Female lifesaver, window' c. 1935

 

Unknown, Melbourne
Female lifesaver, window
c. 1935
Stained glass, lead
47.0 x 40.9 cm
Williamstown Swimming and Life Saving Club, Williamstown
Donated by Councillor R. T. Bell

 

 

Although much was made of the ‘gods of the golden sand’, as one poet glowingly described lifesavers, lifesaving clubs were not entirely male in membership. Women lifesavers also made their mark, albeit in more limited numbers and with much less recognition. At the Williamstown Lifesaving Club in Melbourne a woman lifesaver was included in this fine and very rare stained glass window that, along with its counterpart featuring a male lifesaver, graced the newly established clubhouse around 1935.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the male and female lifesavers (centre); Max Dupain’s The carnival at Bondi (fourth from right); Sydney Bridge celebrations (second right); and Douglas Annand and Max Dupain’s Australia (right)
Photo: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Sunbaker
(1938), dated 1937, printed c. 1975
Gelatin silver photograph
38.0 x 43.1 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with the assistance of the Visual Arts Board, 1976

 

 

Taken on a camping trip near Culburra, on the Shoalhaven River in New South Wales, in January 1938, Max Dupain’s original version of the Sunbaker was a much darker image that existed at the time only in an album gifted to his friend Chris Van Dyke. Dupain lost the original negative and printed this variant version in 1975 for an exhibition. It is an image that is now considered an icon in Australian photography, and has come to represent key values of the interest in ‘body culture’, celebrating health and fitness in the context of the beach.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'The carnival at Bondi' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
The carnival at Bondi
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

‘The lifesaving teams … are splendid examples of the physique, resourcefulness and vitality of our youth and manhood. They are typical of the outdoor life which Australians lead and they are living testimonies to the value of surfing and the vigor and stamina of our race.’

DAILY EXAMINER, July 1935

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Manly' 1938, printed c. 1986

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Manly
1938, printed c. 1986
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from funds donated by Hallmark Cards Australia Pty Ltd, 1987

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'The seaside calls - go by train - take a Kodak' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
The seaside calls – go by train – take a Kodak
1930s
Colour lithograph
Printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Grant Lee

 

 

Gert Sellheim was born to German parents in Estonia, at that time part of the Russian Empire. After studying architecture in Europe he travelled to Western Australia in 1926, before settling in Melbourne in 1931, where he began working as an industrial and commercial designer. Working for the Australian National Travel Association, Sellheim created a series of posters promoting beach holidays, which incorporated Art Deco motifs and typography. His most famous design is the flying kangaroo logo for Qantas, which he created in 1947.

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65) 'Sydney Bridge celebrations' 1932

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Arthur Whitmore (Australia 1910-65)
Sydney Bridge celebrations
1932
Colour lithograph
47.6 x 63.6 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76) Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Australia' c. 1937

 

Douglas Annand (Australia 1903-76)
Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Australia
c. 1937
Colour and process lithograph
105.3 x 68.4 cm (image and sheet)
Australian National Maritime Museum Purchased, 1991
© Courtesy of the artist’s estate

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76) 'Follow the sun - Australia's 150th Anniversary celebrations' 1938

 

Douglas Annand (attributed to) (Australia 1903-76)
Follow the sun – Australia’s 150th Anniversary celebrations
1938
Colour lithograph and photolithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

The 1930s were the heyday of the travel poster. Posters were commissioned by railway and tourism groups or shipping companies and airlines to promote Australian holiday destinations, both at home and overseas. The Australian National Travel Association was formed in 1929 to promote Australia to overseas markets. As part of its strategy it commissioned posters from leading graphic artists, such as Percy Trompf, James Northfield and Douglas Annand. From the late 1920s Australia began to actively promote itself to the world by using the beach, sun and surf as motifs.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with the work of John Rowell, Hilda Rix Nicholas, Gert Sellheim and Percy Trompf on the far wall, and Robert E. Coates Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) on the projector screen at left
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

 

The Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair projected an image of Australia as a young and healthy nation, a place of industry, sport and tourism. Designed by John Oldham of Sydney architectural firm Stephenson & Turner, the modern design of the building was complemented by Douglas Annand’s interior displays featuring the latest graphic design, and audio-visual and photomontage techniques. These photographs of the Australian Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair were taken by commercial photographer Robert E. Coates.

 

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

Installation view of Robert E. Coates' 'Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World's Fair' (1939)

 

Installation views of Robert E. Coates’ Photographs of Australian Pavilion at New York World’s Fair (1939) (digital images, looped)

 

 

Pastoral landscapes

Along with the beach, another national myth evolved around the Australian bush. Although most Australians lived in cities, in the years following the First World War the nation became increasingly informed by a mythology centred on the bush and the landscape. For those who considered the modern city a profoundly depleting force, the bush was a touchstone of traditional ‘values’. It was nostalgically conceived of as an idyllic natural realm whose soil, literally and metaphorically, sustained its people. Both the classical Pastoral ideal of a land in which only sheep and cattle roam, and the Georgic tradition, which celebrated the achievements of agriculture, became dominant themes in landscape art.

Pastoral landscapes were admired above all as representing the antithesis of ‘decadent’ modern life. As art critic and gallery director J. S. Macdonald wrote, such art would ‘point the way in which life should be lived in Australia, with the maximum of flocks and the minimum of factories’. With their emphasis on farming and pastoral industries, such works affirmed white landownership, with Indigenous people largely absent.

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973) 'Blue hills' c. 1936

 

John Rowell (Australia 1894-1973)
Blue hills
c. 1936
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1936

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Spring in the Grampians' 1930s

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Spring in the Grampians
1930s
Colour photolithograph
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased 2000

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The fair musterer' c. 1935

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The fair musterer
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane
Purchased 1971

 

 

As a young artist Hilda Rix Nicholas had a successful career in France before returning to Australia after the First World War. In 1934, several years after the birth of her son, Rix Nicholas returned to painting and depicted her new life living on the family property Knockalong, on the Monaro Plains in New South Wales. Depicting the governess of her young son holding the reins of her horse, dog at her feet, and sheep in the distance, in The fair musterer Rix Nicholas claims for women an active role in the masculine world of pastoral Australia.

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18) 'The shepherd of Knockalong' 1933

 

Hilda Rix Nicholas (Australia 1884-1961, Europe 1911-18)
The shepherd of Knockalong
1933
Oil on canvas
Collection of Peter Rix, Sydney
Courtesy of Deutscher & Hackett

 

 

Depicting the artist’s husband and young son, The shepherd of Knockalong is a reminder of the traditional importance of the wool industry to the nation’s economy. With his legs firmly connected to the ground and pictured as a large figure dominating the landscape setting, the farmer is the benign owner and ‘shepherd’ of the land spreading out behind him, the presence of his young son ensuring dynastic succession. At a time when Aboriginal people were confined to reservations and denied citizenship, Hilda Rix Nicholas’s painting can also be considered as an assertion of the British colonisers’ right to ownership of Australia.

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64) 'Western Australia' c. 1936

 

Percy Trompf (Australia 1902-64)
Western Australia
c. 1936
Colour lithograph
Courtesy of Josef Lebovic Gallery, Sydney

 

 

Indigenous art and culture

During the 1930s Aboriginal people were often pejoratively referred to as a ‘dying race’. The Australian Government continued to enforce a ‘divide and rule’ assimilationist policy. Determined by eugenics, this entailed removing Aboriginal people of mixed descent from their families and reserves, and absorbing them into the dominant society, with consequent loss of their own language and customary ritual practices. Increasingly during this period, Aboriginal people formed their own organisations and agitated for full citizenship rights.

This was also a decade that saw increasing awareness of, and interest in, Indigenous art. Albert Namatjira astonished Melbourne audiences at his first solo exhibition at the Athenaeum Gallery in 1938. Comprising forty-one watercolour paintings, all of his works sold within three days of the opening. The following year the Art Gallery of South Australia purchased one of Namatjira’s works. Indigenous art also inspired non-Indigenous artists, including Margaret Preston and Frances Derham who appropriated design elements in their works. The idea of ‘Aboriginalism’, in which settlers sought an Australian identity in the context of Britishness and the Empire, saw artists travelling to the outback to paint and sketch subjects they believed connected them to Indigenous history.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) Kangaroo and 'Aboriginal motifs' 1925-1940

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894–1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo and Aboriginal motifs
1925-1940
Linocut printed in brown ink on buff paper
4.6 x 7.3 cm (image) 12.6 x 10.3 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988
© Estate of Frances Derham

 

 

Best known as a progressive educator and advocate of children’s art, Frances Derham was also an active member of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria, and with potter Allan Lowe shared Margaret Preston’s interest in the appropriation of Indigenous art. From the mid 1920s Derham began to incorporate Aboriginal motifs into her linocuts and in 1929, synchronous with the exhibition Australian Aboriginal Art at the Museum of Victoria, Derham presented a lecture to the Arts and Crafts Society, entitled ‘The Interest of Aboriginal Art to the Modern Designer’.

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'Kangaroo (at the zoo)' c. 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
Kangaroo (at the zoo)
c. 1931
Linocut printed in brown ink on Chinese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08) 'The Aboriginal artist' 1931

 

Frances Derham (Australia 1894-1987, New Zealand and Ireland 1902-08)
The Aboriginal artist
1931
Colour linocut on Japanese paper
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mr Richard Hodgson Derham, 1988

 

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19) 'Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales' 1940-1941

 

Margaret Preston (Australia 1875-1963, Germany and France 1904-07, France, England and Ireland 1912-19)
Shoalhaven Gorge, New South Wales
1940-1941
Oil and gouache on canvas
53.7 x 45.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated from the Estate of Dr Donald Wright, 2008
© Margaret Preston/Licensed by VISCOPY, Australia

 

 

During the 1920s Margaret Preston considered Aboriginal art a source of good design in the decoration of household items. In the 1930s her study of Aboriginal culture intensified, as she developed a greater interest in its anthropological and cosmological elements. In 1940 Preston travelled to the Northern Territory to study Aboriginal art. On her return she developed a more explicit Aboriginal style in paintings featuring earthy tones, strong black outlines and patterns of dots and lines.

 

Unknown Walamangu active (1930s) 'Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)' c. 1935

 

Unknown
Walamangu active (1930s)
Dhukurra dhaawu (Sacred clan story)
c. 1935
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.), resin
128.3 x 63.9 cm
The Donald Thomson Collection
Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, segregation was the main government policy regarding Aboriginal people. It was re-enforced by the 1909 Aborigines Protection Act, which gave the Aborigines Protection Board the power to control where Aboriginal people lived in New South Wales. In 1937 the Commonwealth Government adopted a policy of assimilation, whereby Aboriginal people of mixed descent were henceforth to be assimilated into white society, while others were confined to reserves. In 1931 Arnhem Land was declared an Aboriginal Reserve by the government and non-Indigenous entry into the region was restricted.

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani Liyagalawumirr active 1930s 'Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story)' 1937

 

Tjam Yilkari Katani
Liyagalawumirr active 1930s
Wagilag dhaawu (Wagilag Sisters story) (installation view)
1937
Earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.)
The Donald Thomson Collection Donated by Mrs Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria, Melbourne
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

For Yolgnu people, painting on bark or objects is intimately connected with painting on the body, and the Yolgnu term barrawan means both ‘skin’ and ‘bark’. These paintings are transcriptions of the sacred designs that were painted onto men’s bodies and convey the power of the Yolgnu ancestors whose actions created their world. The Wagilag Sisters Dreaming story chronicles the creative acts of the sisters as they travelled across Arnhem Land. Such stories pass on important knowledge, cultural values and belief systems to later generations.

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40) 'Walila, Pintupi tribe' 1934

 

Arthur Murch (Australia 1902-89, Europe 1936-40)
Walila, Pintupi tribe
1934
Pencil
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 1934

 

 

In 1933, on the invitation of Professor H. Whitridge Davies, Sydney artist Arthur Murch accompanied a research team from Sydney University to Hermannsburg Lutheran Mission, south-west of Alice Springs. Murch remained there for six weeks painting the landscapes and making portraits of Indigenous people. These were exhibited in Sydney soon after his return.

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938) 'Thomas Foster' (installation view) 1934

 

Percy Leason (Australia 1888-United States 1959, United States from 1938)
Thomas Foster (installation view)
1934
Oil on canvas
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Mrs Isabelle Leason, 1969
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Thomas Foster was born at Coranderrk Station in 1882, the son of Edward Foster and Betsy Benfield. Foster’s was one of the last portraits painted by Leason as part of the unfortunately titled exhibition The Last of the Victorian Aborigines. These portraits were debuted on 11 September at the Athenaeum Gallery in Collins Street, Melbourne, to great public acclaim. Foster, like most of Leason’s subjects, appears shirtless, his arms folded behind his back, pushing forward his chest and clearly showing his scarification marks.

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926) 'Corroboree Australia' 1934

 

Gert Sellheim (Russia (of German parents) 1901-Australia 1970, Australia from 1926)
Corroboree Australia
1934
Colour lithograph printed by F. W. Niven, Melbourne
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of the Australian National Travel Association, 1934

 

 

Dystopian cities

Australia was hit hard by the Great Depression. The worst year was 1932, when unemployment reached nearly thirty-two per cent, and by the following year almost a third of all unemployed men had been without work for three years. With wages cut and unemployment rising, many families were left struggling to survive and this poverty was most evident in run-down, inner-city areas. Two émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner, were the first Australian artists to turn their attention to the plight of the urban poor and the disposed. Their powerful, expressive style was influential upon young artists, including Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker.

Economic hardship fostered bitterness and political unrest, and membership of radical groups on both the left and right increased. Boundaries between political agendas and art production became porous in this decade, and many artists believed, like Bergner, ‘that by painting we would change the world’. The complex enmeshment of the creative and political became a defining feature of the decade, and art in Australia became increasingly political, with the political realm involving itself with art.

By the end of the decade the worsening political situation overseas and a sense that another world war was inevitable contributed to a growing sense of unease. Many artists expressed this anxiety and foreboding in their works.

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90) 'No title (War montage with globe)' c. 1939

 

Laurence Le Guay (Australia 1917-90)
No title (War montage with globe)
c. 1939
Gelatin silver photograph
30.4 x 24.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through the NGV Foundation with the assistance of Mrs Mem Kirby, Fellow, 2001

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Hot rhythm!' 1936

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Hot rhythm!
1936
Silver gelatin photograph
24.7 x 17.8 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

In this work, Max Dupain has the shadow of a slide trombone seemingly bisect the naked body of a woman in a photograph that, in the context of his known views, is less an erotic celebration of modern jazz culture and nightlife than a comment on the disruptive nature of modernity.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Doom of youth' 1937

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Doom of youth
1937
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Purchased 1982

 

 

In Doom of youth – a title taken from Wyndham Lewis’s 1932 polemical book of the same name – Max Dupain creates an allegorical photograph in which a naked male body represents his vision of modern Australia. Using symbols that suggest disempowerment, Dupain implies that the flywheel of mechanisation has doomed youth (the representatives of a nation’s future) to a bleak fate.

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep' 1936-37

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Night with her train of stars and her gift of sleep
1936-37
Gelatin silver photograph
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2016

 

 

Referring to Edward Hughes’s 1912 Symbolist work of the same name, Max Dupain has replaced the painter’s dark-winged goddess of the night, who tries to calm the putti (or ‘stars’) that cling to her, with an updated modern version in which city lights replace starlight. The symbolism of the giant breast that towers over the electric lights of the urban landscape suggests an inversion of the natural for the man-made. The personification of night refers to the Greek goddess Nyx, a powerful force born of Chaos, and the mother of children including Sleep, Death and Pain. Given his often gloomy assessment of modernity, Dupain’s invocation of Nyx seems appropriate in the context.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation views of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Herbert Badham’s Paint and morning tea second left and Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait third from right
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961) 'Paint and morning tea' 1937

 

Herbert Badham (Australia 1899-1961)
Paint and morning tea
1937
Oil on cardboard
75.6 x 71.5 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Felton Bequest, 1937
© The Estate of Herbert Badham

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker's 'Self-portrait' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Albert Tucker’s Self-portrait (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

In the late 1930s Albert Tucker’s contact with émigré artists Yosl Bergner and Danila Vassilieff was to provide important encouragement for him to pursue his artistic vocation and to make art that was responsive to the issues of his time. In 1938 Tucker was a founding member of the Contemporary Art Society, and he became one of the most articulate voices in the often bitter debates between modernists and conservatives. In the 1940s, together with his partner Joy Hester, Tucker was a key member of the group of artists and writers that formed around John and Sunday Reed at Heide.

From 1936 until the early 1940s Albert Tucker chronicled himself with numerous painted and drawn self-portraits. In these works we witness a harrowing disintegration of his physical self, which mirrored the artist’s overwrought emotional state. He recalled: ‘It was a period when the whole world, and all the people I knew, seemed to be seething with ideas and energies and experiences; and my own mind was a seething mess … The highly emotional, overwrought expressionist paintings suited my state at the time’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with work by Danila Vassilieff on the centre black wall including Street scene with graffiti (left), Truth, Woolloomooloo (second left) and Young girl (Shirley) the large painting at right; and F. Oswald Barnett’s photographs of Melbourne slums in the display cabinet
Photos: Courtesy NGV Photographic Services

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Street scene with graffiti' 1938

 

Installation view of Danila Vassilieff ‘s Street scene with graffiti (1938) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Truth, Woolloomooloo' 1936

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Truth, Woolloomooloo
1936
Oil on canvas
Private collection

 

 

It is notable that the first artists to depict the poverty of inner-city slums were two recently arrived émigrés, Danila Vassilieff and Yosl Bergner. Russian-born Vassilieff, who had fought with the white Russian army, first arrived in Australia in 1923 before leaving again in 1929. On his return in 1935 he painted a series of dark streetscapes, depicting the inner suburban areas of Woolloomooloo and Surry Hills in Sydney. Moving to Melbourne, Vassilieff’s expressionist style influenced many young artists, including Lina Bryans, Albert Tucker, Arthur Boyd and Sidney Nolan.

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34) 'Young girl (Shirley)' 1937

 

Danila Vassilieff (Russia 1897-Australia 1958, Australia from 1923, Central and South America, Europe, England 1929-34)
Young girl (Shirley)
1937
Oil on canvas on composition board
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
National Gallery Society of Victoria Century Fund, 1984

 

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Fitzroy. Rear view of house'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room 48 Palmerston Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street'

F. Oswald Barnett. 'West Melbourne rubbish tip'

 

F. Oswald Barnett (Australia 1883–1972)

Fitzroy. View from the Brotherhood of St Lawrence
Fitzroy. Rear view of house
North Melbourne. Group of children in Erskine Place
West Melbourne. A Dudley Mansion
Carlton. Wash-house and bath-room, 48 Palmerston Street
North Melbourne. No. 19 Byron Street
West Melbourne rubbish tip

c. 1930-c. 1935
Gelatin silver photograph and typewriting on card
State Library Victoria, Melbourne
F. Oswald Barnett Collection
Gift of Department of Human Services, Victoria 2001

 

 

One of the most visible and lasting effects of the Great Depression was the housing crisis in the poor working class areas of Melbourne and Sydney. Many of the nineteenth-century houses had fallen into disrepair, overcrowding was endemic and a great number of families lived in squalid and unhealthy conditions. Throughout the decade ‘slum’ abolition movements in Melbourne and Sydney ran public campaigns to place public housing on the political agenda, leading to the creation of the first state Housing Commissions.

In Melbourne, Methodist layman F. Oswald Barnett led a campaign calling for slum demolition and the rehousing of residents in government-financed housing. He took hundreds of photographs that were used in public lectures and to illustrate the 1937 report of the Housing Investigation and Slum Abolition Board. This led to the creation of the Housing Commission of Victoria in 1938, with its first major project being the Garden City estate at Fishermans Bend. In Sydney a similar campaign led to the Housing Improvement Act of 1936 and the construction of the first fifty-six home units at Erskineville. (NGV)

The photographs in the F. Oswald Barnett Collection were taken by Barnett and other unidentified photographers in the 1930s. Many of them were used to illustrate a government report on slum housing and/or made into lantern slides for lectures in a public campaign.  F. Oswald Barnett was born in Brunswick, Victoria. A committed Methodist and housing reformer, he led a crusade against Melbourne’s inner city slums. In 1936 he was appointed to the Slum Abolition Board and from 1938-1948 he was the vice-chair of the Housing Commission. In this position he attempted to shape compassionate public housing policy. He later protested vigorously against proposed high-rise housing (Monash Biographical Dictionary of 20th century Australia).

 

 

Scenes from Melbourne during the depression (extract)
c. 1935
Black and white film transferred to media player
1 min. 51 sec. silent (looped)
Courtesy of National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, Canberra

 

 

While there is an abundance of newspaper and documentary photographs which document the 1930s shanty towns, slums, relief and charity works, there is very little moving image recordings available. Instead, the moving image medium at the time was primarily focused on providing entertainment that would allow the audience temporary relief from the Depression. This rare footage depicts slum areas of inner Melbourne, and provides great insight into the horrible living conditions that many Australian families experienced.

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30) 'The sundowner' 1932

 

Ola Cohn (Australia 1892-1964, England 1926-30)
The sundowner
1932
Painted plaster
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Jack and Zena Cohn, 2016

 

 

Ola Cohn studied sculpture with Henry Moore at the Royal College of Art in London in the 1920s. She returned to Melbourne in 1930, where the following year her solo exhibition established her as a leading proponent of modern sculpture. During the Depression the sight of ‘swagmen’ or ‘sundowners’ became commonplace as unemployed men travelled across the country in order to find work. In 1932 Cohn submitted this maquette of a sundowner to a competition for a full-scale sculpture to be erected in Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne: unsurprisingly it was not chosen as the winning entry.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren at centre and Albert Tucker’s The futile city at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith's 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Bernard Smith’s The advance of Lot and his Brethren from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51) 'The advance of Lot and his Brethren' 1940

 

Bernard Smith (Australia 1916-2011, England and Europe 1948-51)
The advance of Lot and his Brethren
1940
Oil on canvas
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
Gift of the artist, 2008

 

 

In the early 1930s, artists depicted the city as a modern utopia, a place of triumphant progress and aspiration later in the decades, a new radical iconography of the city as a place of moral decay and corruption appeared. Painted at the start of the Second World War, Lot and his brethren expresses Bernard Smith’s despair at the conflagration that the world had been plunged into. Based on the biblical story of Lot, who fled from God’s destruction of Sodom, Smith depicts Karl Marx as the saviour who leads his people from the burning city.

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60) 'The futile city' 1940

 

Albert Tucker (Australia 1914-99, Europe and United States 1947-60)
The futile city
1940
Oil on cardboard
Heide Museum of Modern Art, Bulleen, Melbourne
Purchased from John and Sunday Reed, 1980

 

 

At the start of the Second World War Surrealism was an important influence upon Albert Tucker, as were the writings of T. S. Eliot. The futile city was inspired by Eliot’s epic poem The Waste Land (1922): ‘I came on T. S. Eliot, and instantly I recognised a twin soul because here was horror, outrage, despair, futility, and all the images that went with them. He confirmed my own feelings and also became a source … because of the images that would involuntarily form while I was reading the poetry’.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) at left
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner's 'Citizen' from the exhibition 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Yosl Bergner’s Citizen (c. 1940) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Yosl Bergner was one of approximately 7000-8000 Jewish people, mainly from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia, who arrived in Australia between 1933 and 1939 fleeing Nazi persecution. This number included many artists, musicians, architects, writers and intellectuals who were to contribute greatly to Australia’s cultural life. However, government policy remained opposed to large-scale intake of Jewish refugees, and some were met with anti-Semitic sentiments upon their arrival.

 

Yvonne Atkinson (Australia 1918-99) 'The tram stop' 1937

 

Installation view of Yvonne Atkinson The tram stop (1937) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92) 'Brave New World' 1938

 

Max Dupain (Australia 1911-92)
Brave New World
1938
Gelatin silver photograph
29.0 x 20.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
William Kimpton Bequest, 2017

 

 

In 1935 Max Dupain referred to Aldous Huxley’s book Brave New World (1932) in his photograph of a woman trapped by technology. Dupain was attracted to this biting satire on the ethical dilemmas of social engineering because it appeared to endorse his own fervently held ideas of how modernity was affecting the individual and national body. At the time his choice to directly reference this book was surprisingly provocative: Brave New World had been banned by the Australian customs department, with existing copies rounded up and burned. Dupain returned again to the theme in 1938, producing this variant version.

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA with Max Dupain’s Brave New World (wall print) at centre rear with Sideboard and Chest of drawers at right
Photo: Eugene Hyland

 

Installation view of 'Brave New World: Australia 1930s' at NGVA

 

Installation view of Sideboard and Chest of drawers from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Eugene Hyland

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Sideboard' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Sideboard
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

Unknown, Australia. 'Chest of drawers' 1920s-40s

 

Unknown, Australia
Chest of drawers
1920s-40s
Painted wood, wood, tin
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2013

 

 

Working-class people were the most affected by the high levels of unemployment during the Depression. By 1932 more than 60,000 men, women and children were dependent on the susso, a state-based sustenance payment that enabled families to buy only the bare minimum of food. Many families unable to pay their rent were evicted from their homes. For those suffering economic hardship, ‘making do’ became a way of life, and furniture would be constructed from found items such as kerosene tins and packing crates.

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer) John Long (publisher) 'Upsurge' 1934

 

J. M. Harcourt (writer)
John Long (publisher)
Upsurge
1934
London, March 1934
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Censorship of books was vigorously pursued by federal and state governments during the 1930s. Australia was one of only two countries in the world to ban Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World when it was first published in 1932. Australian author J. M. Harcourt’s novel Upsurge (1934) was the first book to be banned following a recommendation by the newly established Book Censorship Board in 1934. Portraying the lives of Western Australia’s working class during the Depression, it was described by one customs official as ‘thinly disguised propaganda on behalf of Communism and social revolution’.

 

Activism

During the 1930s a small number of artists became active in the militant working-class struggle through their involvement in social and cultural organisations affiliated with the Communist Party, such as the Friends of the Soviet Union, the Workers’ Art Club and the Workers’ Theatre Group, which were formed in Sydney, Melbourne and other metropolitan centres. A number of these artists were also involved with a variety of mostly short-lived radical magazines, helping with their production, as well as providing covers and illustrations. Linocuts were a preferred medium for these artists, as the materials were inexpensive and the images reproduced well.

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980) 'Masses' 1932

 

Jack Maughan illustrator (Australia 1897-1980)
Masses
Cover illustration for Masses, vol. 1, no. 1, printed by Bright Printing Services, published by the Workers’ Art Club, Melbourne, November 1932
1932
Linocut printed in red and black ink
State Library Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock's cover illustration for 'Strife', vol. 1, no. 1

 

Installation view of Herbert McClintock’s cover illustration for Strife, vol. 1, no. 1 (1930) from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Edited by eighteen-year-old communist Judah Waten, with Herbert McClintock as art editor, Strife declared itself ‘an organ of the new culture, destructive and constructive’. The first issue was due for release in October 1930; however, a blasphemous poem by Brian Fitzpatrick published in the magazine prompted a police raid on the Strife office and the editor’s hasty destruction of (most) copies of the issue.

 

Installation view of cover illustration for 'Proletariat', vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator

 

Installation view of cover illustration for Proletariat, vol. 2, no. 1 (1933) by an unknown illustrator from the exhibition Brave New World: Australia 1930s at NGVA
Photo: Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia
Federation Square
Corner of Russell and 
Flinders Streets, Melbourne

Opening hours:
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Closed Mondays

National Gallery of Victoria website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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