15 April 2014

Fairy Hills

Surrounded by her beloved airedales, Baldur, Undine and Siren-at first glance Christian Waller looks like a fairy princess. Her life -less so. An artist in her own right, she married fellow student Napier Waller, and both studied at Melbourne's National Gallery School.

 "Christian Waller with Baldur, Undine and Siren at Fairy Hills" 1932 by husband Napier Waller
oil and tempera on canvas mounted on composition board 121.5 x 205.5 cm 
She was 38 at the time.

Hanging over a massive fireplace in the Waller's Melbourne dining room, the painting is her husband's only major canvas work and mural size (4 feet x almost 7 feet wide). Experts interpret the painting's composition in hindsight, noting five years after the portrait was completed Christian had a breakdown and the couple's marriage suffered estrangement though the pair remained married til Christian's death in 1954.

There must have been moments of sweetness though when Christian was sitting on the lawn of her Arts and Crafts bungalow, fashionably dressed in white, amongst her dogs and some of her own illustrated books. She fidgets with her coral beads -a habit or a possible response to Baldur's barking. The other two airedales are at rest and at attention-completing the framework of the portrait. A heavy draping of willow leaves cools the scene-perhaps casting a shadow on unnamed auguries .

A Study of Christian Waller for the painting

"There is often greater martyrdom to live for the love of, whether man or an ideal, than to die" 

 Christian Waller's "Destiny", 1916

Christian's own work was influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite and Art Nouveau in the early 1920's. She studied both Classical and Medieval works as a student- all contributors to her maturing style. In the 1930's Art Deco dominated her work-her prints, book designs and stained glass. After her breakdown, she turned deeper into Theosophy-shutting herself off from the world at large.  

Napier Waller was a World War I war hero -giving his right arm on the Western Front to the cause. Self taught afterwards-with his left hand, the city of Melbourne has been described as "a gallery of Napier Waller’s work." Working in stained glass and mosaics, Waller completed works for the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, completed in 1958. Along with these compelling works there are eleven monumental Waller murals in the central business district in Melbourne and at the University.

Mosaic and Stained Glass at the War Memorial by Napier Waller

From the naming of their dogs-to Christian's deeply personal work, she devoted herself to Theosophy for the most part her doctrine held to its turn of the century spiritual leader Helena Blavatsky.  Blavatsky's basic tenets are: 

There is an omnipresent, eternal, boundless, and immutable reality of which spirit and matter are complementary aspects.

There is a universal law of periodicity or evolution through cyclic change.

All souls are identical with the universal oversoul which is itself an aspect of the unknown reality.

While critics have proven Blavatsky was part a charlatan and her supposed experiences with the paranormal faked- in the world Christian Waller inhabited they were real.

Christian's book The great breath; A Book of Seven Designs (1932), is testament to her beliefs.

the entire book can be viewed here

"Everything lives and perishes through magnetism; one thing affects another one, even at great distances, and its "congenitals" may be influenced to health and disease by the power of this sympathy, at any time, and notwithstanding the intervening space." Helena Blavatsky

The charms of the Waller bungalow are only hinted at in Waller's portrait of Christian, but we can imagine it must be so-and are compelled to wander just beyond the willows inside the house...

Designed by the Wallers as home and studio, Napier Waller lived in the house fifty years and examples of his art and work, Christian's work, that of his second wife, and Christian's niece, famous studio potter Klytie Pate, remain suspended in time-just as Napier left them. Today the house is a private residence maintained and lived in by a Melbourne antique dealer.

detail of Waller's airedale's from his portrait of Christian

From Steven Miller's book Dogs in Australian Art, we are told visitors to the Waller home remember the first thing they heard was 'Baldur's deep bark and the scuttering of claws on the polished wood floor.' Napier Waller would feature his Airedale in several allegorical murals- the breed seemed to lend itself to Waller's Art Deco palette-so with the Waller's home.

 "Pastoral Pursuits of Australia"
 Mural was originally commissioned for the Menzies Hotel, Melbourne (now demolished). 
 (more here)

Waller's "The Labours of Hercules" a mural with a self portrait of the artist
in The Blue Room of the Waller House, a guest room with built in glass topped furniture. 

Study for “The Five Lamps of Learning" by Napier Waller

Once acting as their Studio when the house was built, the living room holds Waller's Study for “The Five Lamps of Learning" and  "Peace After Victory." The room is panelled and floored in Tasmanian hardwood, the walls are plastered and finished in a combed wood pattern, and the raftered ceiling is in a marble pattern of gold leaf. There is a musician's gallery overlooking the whole. A coolness pervades in the house-the dark timbers, well worn leather and simple crewelwork curtains echo the Art Deco palette of both Napier and Christian.

"Peace After Victory"- A Study by Napier Waller

(interior photographs for the most part from an extensive tour of the house linked below)

Christian Waller's Morgan Le Fay
colour linocut on brown card

Like Christian's Morgan Le Fay, her life is veiled in conjecture. That they were alike-not so much, but today both remain fixed by the artist in magical worlds unlikely to be disturbed by the hand of humankind.

Resources and interesting articles.
There are extensive and detailed photographs of the Waller home and an in depth bio of the couple and the house-highly recommended HERE. Several of the images of the interiors can be found there.
more about the house HERE
Steven Miller's Dogs in Australian Art HERE
Christian Waller bio HERE
Napier Waller bio HERE
Napier Waller's mural HERE
The Australian War Memorial HERE
Napier Waller's murals on Pinterest HERE

10 April 2014

Baudelaire, Maillol, Brassai & Beauty


 Profile of a Young Woman, 1890.
 Aristide Maillol

 “All forms of beauty, like all possible phenomena, 
have within them something eternal and something transitory.” 
Charles Baudelaire 

  Aristide Maillol’s atelier, Marly-le-Roi, 1936 
-by Brassaï

08 April 2014

KENTINO & The Duchess

"The Duchess" (Pathé Productions) filmed in 2007-at a number of grand locations: Chatsworth, Bath, Clandon Park, Kedleston Hall, Somerset House, the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich and Holkham Hall. The film starred Keira Knightley as Georgiana, The Duchess of Devonshire and Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Devonshire.

Holkham Hall's Marble Hall and the Saloon served in many scenes as the interior of Devonshire House, the London residence of the Duke of Devonshire, no longer in existence. An eighteenth-century country house on the north coast in the county of Norfolk, Holkham Hall's Thomas Coke-"architect earl" met William Kent in Italy & Coke's Hall  would become Kent's masterpiece of the Anglo-Palladian ideal.

a scene from The Duchess, played out in Holkham Hall's Marble Hall

Constructed from 1734 to 1764, the 1st Earl of Leicester (Coke) commissioned Kentino-as he was called, to reach for phantasmagorical proportions in the Marble Hall.

to the heights-the ceiling of the Marble Hall

Ceiling & Coiffure-both the Height of Fashion

Kiera Knightley as Georgiana, at left, and right a stipple engraving of Her Grace the Dutchess of Devonshire (Georgiana) after a drawing by her cousin Lady Diana Beauclerk circa 1779.  The full engraving measures, plate size, 9 x 7 inches.

Devonshire House was the setting of many brilliant social and political maneuvers involving Lady Georgiana Spencer, William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire and the Whig supporters of statesman Charles James Fox.
In "The Duchess"-Holkham Hall becomes Devonshire House.

 Kentino by William Aikman
Britain’s leading architect, furniture designer, theatrical designer and landscape gardener of the second quarter of the 18th century

When a fire destroyed the original house along Picadilly, Cavendish sought an architect to build his new Devonshire House-
Enter, Kentino.
Holkham Hall  was under construction at the time-and Devonshire House would be Kent's first London commission. Rising to the occasion, Kentino created an austere facade for the Duke in the Palladian style-the epitome of  sophistication and style, while the interiors were in Kent's flamboyant zest for several period styles. Kent envisioned rooms that would equal the Devonshire art collections, rare books and portfolios. In the Duke's private sitting room his collection of engraved gems, Renaissance and Baroque medallions were housed in a glass case over the chimney piece.

 The Ballroom at Devonshire House before the house was destroyed to make way for progress in 1920. Highlighted pieces are associated with Georgiana (here) , from the Attic Sale at Chatsworth in 2010.

 William Kent's Saloon at Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall's Saloon in scenes from The Duchess

Why Kent? Why now? There is a major exhibition about his influence at the V&A “William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain” March 22 until July 13. The V&A site is teeming with Kentino- here for an in depth look, and if that's not enough- there is a book (688 pages) accompaning the exhibit. It's interesting to note the show is the result of a major research collaboration between the V&A and the Bard Graduate Center.

and Yes-Kentino has a twitter page, join him here

The movie was adapted from the book by Amanda Foreman “Georgiana the Duchess of Devonshire”, 2001. Foreman served as advisor to the movie. other sources for photographs and text not noted in the body of this story
Holkham Hall


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