• Mathias suite

    Mathias suite (1906-1907)

    Robert PRENZEL

    Full details
    Notes

    Robert Prenzel’s Mathias Suite comprises two beds, a gentleman’s wardrobe, a dressing table and a wash-stand. It was commissioned by Mrs Mathias of Montreal following a trip to Victoria to visit her relatives.  She ordered a virtual duplicate of Prenzel’s Glenormiston suite but with Australian floral and faunal motifs substituted for the Glenormiston suite’s waterlillies. Prenzel responded to the challenge and made the suite a showcase of Australian birds, animals and plants. The faunal motifs were depicted fairly directly, but the floral motifs were transposed, without great loss of botanical accuracy, into delightful Art Nouveau patterns.

    The idea of grafting Australian motifs on to the freely flowing forms of the international Art Nouveau style was a winning one in newly federated Australia and led immediately to other orders.

  • Stenocarpus - wheel flower

    Stenocarpus - wheel flower (c. 1929)

    Margaret PRESTON

    Full details
    Notes

    Margaret Preston was a prominent and vocal figure within the contemporary art world of 1920s Australia and contributed significantly to the development of an Australian tradition of relief printmaking.

    First recorded in a solo exhibition at the Grosvenor Galleries in Sydney, in 1929, Wheelflower was regarded by the artist as one of her finest prints. Striking in scale, the extant block is composed of nine joined pieces of huon pine. Boldly coloured and displaying strong asymmetrical design, some known impressions of this print are inscribed with a reference to the flower’s botanical name. For this reason and due to the nature of its depiction – shown in the various stages of growth in the manner traditionally associated with the work of botanical artists – this work is distinguished with Preston’s oeuvre. In contrast to Preston’s well-known still-lifes of cut flowers arranged in vases, the wheelflower is depicted as if in its natural environment, the stems, leaves and flower petals extending beyond the print’s border.

  • Blinky

    Blinky (1977)

    FLAMINGO PARK, Sydney (manufacturer); Jenny KEE (designer); Jan AYRES (knitter)

    Full details
    Notes

    This ‘Blinky’ Koala, a hand-knitted jumper in natural, red, green and yellow on a black ground with a Koala, gum leaves, wattle motif and the map of Australia was first designed by Jenny Kee in 1974.

    Kee's Blinky, Kooka and Kanga knit series form an important part of the distinctly Australian hand-knit revival that took place in the 1970s and 1980s. By combining bold colours and key emblems of Australian identity, Kee produced garments that derived their inspiration from within Australia and reflected an explicitly homegrown approach to fashion design.

    These distinctive hand-knits attracted attention in Australia and overseas, gaining significant publicity in May 1982 when a picture was published around the world of Her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales wearing a ‘Blinky’ jumper. The jumper was one of a pair given to the Royal couple for their wedding by actress Kim Wran, daughter of former NSW Premier Neville Wran.

  • Rainbow parrot costume

    Rainbow parrot costume 1977

    FLAMINGO PARK, Sydney (manufacturer); Linda JACKSON (designer)

    Full details
    Notes

    Linda Jackson’s collaboration with Jenny Kee through their fashion business Flamingo Park, located in Sydney, produced some of the most original styles of garments ever produced in Australia. The garments were based on Australian themes especially from the Australian bush and featured beautiful printed appliqué or embroidered textiles designed by Kee or Jackson in natural fibres, silk or cotton.

    In 1982, Jackson opened her own fashion business and shop Bush Couture, which closed in 1991. Jackson continued to produce garments inspired by the Australian bush and experiment with a range of fabric printing techniques, from fluorescent colours to the ochre coloured batiks from Utopia Station.

    The many hued colour palette and simplified, layered construction of her Rainbow parrot costume is typical of the designer's unconventional approach to creating fashion.

  • Black gum 1

    Black gum 1 (2007)

    Christian Bumbarra Thompson Bidjara

    Full details
    Notes

Artists have long been inspired by the Australian landscape but they have also shown an interest in other aspects of the natural environment, including native plants and animals.

  • Colonial curios

    In the nineteenth century, Australian silversmiths often incorporated emu eggs into elaborate settings that sometimes had a functional purpose, such as an inkwell. This pair of vertically mounted emu eggs presents an interesting variation on this tradition, the original eggs having been replaced during the 1920s by Gordon Mitchell, an Indigenous stockman. Mitchell’s carved frieze depicts a lively scene of bush life, including an image of a figure with a dead emu slung over his back.

  • A ‘national’ Australian art

    By the time of Federation (1901), a strong spirit of nationalistic pride had emerged, heightening interest in Australian fauna and flora, both here and abroad.

    Robert Prenzel’s wardrobe reflects this interest in Australian plants and animals. The wardrobe is part of the ‘Mathias Suite’ that was commissioned by Mrs Mathias of Montreal who wanted Australian motifs to be incorporated into the design. Prenzel responded to the challenge and made the suite a showcase of Australian birds, animals and plants.12

    Reflecting her aspirations for a ‘national’ art, Margaret Preston’s subject matter also frequently incorporated native fauna and flora. This 1928 woodcut, Wheelflower, was regarded by the artist as one of her finest prints. The wheelflower is depicted as if in its natural environment, the stems, leaves and flower petals extending beyond the print’s border.13

  • Flora and fauna … and fashion

    Australian fauna and flora have also been a source of inspiration for Australian fashion designers, and experienced a particular revival in the designs of Linda Jackson and Jenny Kee in the 1970s and 1980s. Through their Flamingo Park boutique, the pair became known for their distinctive clothing range characterised by bold colours and iconic Australian symbols.

    This ‘Blinky’ koala hand-knitted jumper featuring a koala, gum leaves, wattle motif and map of Australia, was first designed by Jenny Kee in 1974.14

    Linda Jackson played an equally pivotal role in popularising Australian motifs. The many-hued colour palette and simplified, layered construction of her Rainbow parrot costume 1977 is typical of the designer's unconventional approach to creating distinctive Australian fashion.15

    Australian native flowers are central protagonists in Christian Bumbarra Thompson’s Australian Graffiti series 2007, in which he photographs himself wearing sculptural headdresses and wreaths, handmade from Australian flora.

    In his ‘Black Gum’ triptych from this series, he photographs himself in a sombre black hoodie. His poses recall police identity photographs and anthropological images of Aboriginal people who were forced to submit their faces and bodies to the photographer’s scrutiny from every angle.

Endnotes



  • 12 Terence Lane, Robert Prenzel 1866–1941: his Life and Work, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1994, p. 18.

    13 Kirsty Grant, In Relief, Australian wood engravings, woodcuts and linocuts, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1997

  • 12 Twister: the celebrated ingenious and exotic in fashion, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002.

    13 Twister: the celebrated ingenious and exotic in fashion, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2002.