Nowadays, with relentless advertising and a seemingly endless number of choices to confuse our every purchase, often only a click away from gratification, it might be tempting to imagine a time when things were simplerand retailing less pressured and more genteel. However, one would have to go a long way back in time to find an Australia without shops; indeed, to before 1790, when Sydney’s first recorded shop appeared. Indigenous Australians had traded commodities for thousands of years, but the European settlers brought thenotion of a cash transaction to the continent, even if, in the early days of settlement, a lack of liquidity led to bartering goods.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Christopher Menz reviews 'Emporium' by Edwin Barnard
  • Contents Category Australian History
  • Book Title Emporium: Selling the Dream in Colonial Australia
  • Book Author by Edwin Barnard
  • Biblio National Library of Australia, $49.99 pb, 192 pp, 9780642278685
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 11:42

The English and Australian Cookery Book

Given the deluge of cookery books and unrelenting television programs, it is hard to imagine a time when there wasn’t a single Australian cookery book. This year marks the sesquicentenary of the first: The English and Australian Cookery Book, a volume published anonymously in London, and compiled by ‘An Australian Aristologist’, Edward Abbott. Abbott (1801–69) was born in Sydney and by 1818 was working in Hobart. He became a newspaper proprietor, establishing the Hobart Town Advertiser in 1839, and a member of the Tasmanian House of Assembly (1864–65) and the Legislative Council (1864–86). It was during his political career that he prepared and published this volume.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Christopher Menz reviews 'The English and Australian Cookery Book' by Edward Abbott
  • Contents Category Cookery Books
  • Book Title The English and Australian Cookery Book
  • Book Author Edward Abbott
  • Biblio The Culinary Historians of Tasmania $75 hb for pair, 9780646907017
  • Book Title 2 The English and Australian Cookery Book Companion: 1864–2014 Sesquicentenary Edition
  • Book Author 2 Edward Abbott
  • Biblio 2 The Culinary Historians of Tasmania $75 hb for pair, 9780646907017
  • Author Type 2 Editor
Wednesday, 26 November 2014 09:45

Grand designs

The Bard Graduate Center, long known for its ground-breaking studies in the decorative arts, has taken the ambitious leap of presenting a comprehensive history of decorative arts and design from 1400 to 2000, covering Asia, the Islamic world, Africa, Europe, and the Americas. (Coverage of Australia and Oceania is planned for future editions.) At over 700 pages, this is a most impressive achievement. For once, instead of being relegated to occasional paragraphs in major survey texts of art history, the decorative arts are presented centre stage. I wish it had been around when I was a student. Weber has assembled a team of scholars to cover this vast territory and it is not surprising to read that the book was almost ten years in the making. This volume does for the decorative arts what those standard university textbooks, Gardner’s Art through the Ages and Janson’s History of Art, did for the fine arts.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Christopher Menz reviews 'History of Design', edited by Pat Kirkham and Susan Weber
  • Contents Category Art
  • Book Title History of Design
  • Book Author Pat Kirkham and Susan Weber
  • Book Subtitle Decorative Arts and Material Culture, 1400–2000
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Yale University Press, (Footprint) $129 hb, 711 pp, 9780300196146

Not many substantial private collections of art and decorative arts in Australia have remained intact from the nineteenth century. John Twycross (1819–89) was one of Melbourne’s early art collectors, and his collection has proved to be an exception. Twycross, lured there by the gold rush, made his money as a merchant in Melbourne in the middle of the nineteenth century. He began collecting art during the 1860s and became a major lender to the National Gallery of Victoria’s historic 1869 loan exhibition. He also spent heavily at the Melbourne International Exhibition of 1880 and even made a few purchases from the Melbourne Centennial Exhibition of 1888, the year before he died. He was also a lender to the 1888 exhibition. Some 200 of the works that Twycross purchased at these exhibitions have remained together. In 2009 a descendant donated them to Museum Victoria, which is custodian of the Royal Exhibition Building.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Christopher Menz reviews 'Visions of Colonial Grandeur' by Charlotte Smith and Benjamin Thomas
  • Contents Category Art
  • Book Author Charlotte Smith and Benjamin Thomas
  • Biblio Museum Victoria, $39.95 pb, 168 pp, 9781921833236
Tuesday, 26 August 2014 11:05

Aussie gâteaux

The Australian sweet tooth and ongoing love of cakes and desserts is evident in two recent publications. Both cover the basics as well as offering more ambitious fare; they are good places to start if this is your thing.

Phillippa Grogan’s eponymous pâtisserie in Melbourne, established in 1994, offers the type of baked goods presented in this publication: breads, cakes and biscuits, quiches and tarts, superbly made and flavoured and stylishly presented. Novel at the time, the business rapidly became a success and has since expanded considerably. As is de rigueur nowadays for cooks, the book of the shop has followed: Phillippa’s Home Baking (Lantern, $49.95 hb, 313 pp, 9781921383311), co-written with Richard Cornish. Baking, more than any other type of cookery except confectionery, requires precision and accuracy, and this is reflected in the succinct, no-nonsense style of the clearly set out recipes and introductions.

phillipas - colour

Phillippa’s style is straightforward: good ingredients prepared and presented simply. This is very much a book that can introduce the novice to cooking. As well as a helpful section covering basic implements, materials, techniques, and ingredients, there are useful comments and tips. (I now know why I have had no success with Angel Cakes: eliminate any skerrick of fat from the baking pan and probably have a dedicated pan for this cake.) Phillippa has basic Australian favourites of the CWA style – slices, lamingtons, scones, Anzac biscuits, cupcakes, rock cakes. If I want recipes for these and other nostalgic Australian staples, I know that I will turn to Phillippa’s Home Baking and not bother to resurrect the battered and distinctly unglamorous 1936 edition of the South Australian School of Mines Cookery Book I grew up learning to bake with. After the basic recipes more interesting ones follow. I had great success with the Catalan Tea Cake, the Pistachio and Lemon Cake, and the Indonesian Spice Layer Cake. In the latter, the layers are cooked successively under a grill, rather than baked whole in the oven. Interestingly, this is the same technique recommended for a traditional German cake, Baumkuchen (Tree Cake), which appears in Cakes (1982) by Barbara Maher, an indispensable book for cakes with a central European flavour. The Pistachio and Lemon Cake, in which the combination of the ground nuts mixed with eggs and butter fuse to form a marvellous soft texture, is similar in concept to the superlative and equally unusual Chestnut Cake in La Bonne Cuisine de Madame E. Saint-Ange (1927, English edition 2005). I also made the fine Chicken and Tarragon Pie. There is a good section on yeast cookery – the Hot Cross Buns were delicious – with an excellent introduction to this rewarding area of baking. Anyone wanting to gain further expertise and knowledge in this area should of course consult Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery (1977).

You will not go to Phillippa’s Home Baking for elaborate gâteaux or meretricious cake decorating techniques. What you will learn from this attractive volume is a fresh view on Australian domestic baking, including many childhood favourites. There are so many delicious things to try in emulation of the shop that one wonders if the business might decline now that the secrets are out.

Sweet (Lantern, $49.99 hb, 231 pp, 9781921383540) by Alison Thompson, who runs a cake business in the Yarra Valley, covers a range of desserts, pastries, and cakes, including elaborate gateaux. I dived in head first and started with one of the more complex offerings, ‘Gâteau Opéra’, a lamination of thin sheets of almond sponge soaked in coffee syrup, alternating with chocolate ganache and coffee buttercream, all covered in ganache. This immensely rich confection was very successful: the directions were clear, as are those for all the recipes in the volume.


This book also commences with a section on equipment and techniques – including a practical entry on tempering chocolate – before leading into the recipes proper. There are interesting takes on pavlovas (one with brown sugar and spiced plums, another with cherries and chocolate curls), custards (coffee, rosewater) and bavarois (mango with coconut macaroon), followed by chapters on ices, pancakes, pastries, puddings, cakes, and confectionery, giving a balanced range of sweet food for home entertaining. There is a fine-sounding sour cherry pie and a summer pudding, also with cherries, to try next summer. Sweet will not supplant Lindsey Remolif Shere’s Chez Panisse Desserts (1985) – the best of all in this genre – but it certainly offers new things to try.

Specialist cookery publications such as these attest to the popularity of, and demand for, books by Australian cooks that reflect our tastes and ingredients. They also reflect the expertise of the chefs and professional cooks who write them. With such an investment by authors, editors, designers, publishers, and printers, it always seems a pity that at least a couple of pages of the glamorous photographs could not be dispensed with and replaced with a select bibliography. Culinary influences are important and reveal a great deal about the taste of the author. And the literature is so vast that a sound guiding hand is invaluable.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Christopher Menz reviews two new Australian baking titles
  • Contents Category Food
Tuesday, 24 June 2014 11:44

Mid-Century Modern

The last time the National Gallery of Victoria devoted an exhibition to furniture was in 1988 (Featherston Chairs), and only the most dedicated design aficionados will remember the gallery’s most recent group show of furniture design: One Hundred Chairs, back in 1974. Mid-Century Modern, broad in its ambition, covers Australian furniture design in the thirty-year immediate postwar period. It forms an interesting comparison to the recent touring exhibition from the Los Angeles County Museum, California Design, 1930–65, shown at Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane last summer and reviewed here in December 2013–January 2014.

While essentially a furniture exhibition, Mid-Century Modern explores other avenues of interior design and architecture, and includes furnishing textiles and lighting. It commences with a chair by Douglas Snelling created in 1946 and ends with one by Grant Featherston (1974). In between we see the development of Australian furniture through the work of twenty designers, several of whom are already well known, largely through their representation in public collections and the prices realised in auction houses. Others, who deserve to be better known, are only now receiving due public recognition.

For designers working just after the war, sourcing supplies of materials demanded ingenuity. Originally, the webbing for the interwoven seat and back support in Douglas Snelling’s first chairs had been created for parachutes in the war; the plywood in Roger McLay’s Kone chairs (1948) was left over from the production of wartime air craft. Similarly, the technology available in Australia to designers was limited. This is reflected in the simplicity of construction in furniture from the immediate postwar period until the early 1950s.

As the economy recovered and the building industry boomed, demand for furnishings increased dramatically. Local furniture designers, greatly aided by the high tariffs on imported furniture, were in an ideal position to create new designs and expand their business. Some furniture makers, notably Schulim Krimper in Melbourne, continued the tradition of fine bespoke cabinet making, albeit in a modern idiom. However, the period really belongs to the designer who worked with manufacturers to supply mass-produced furniture for a large audience at an affordable price. Here, the relationship between the designer and the manufacturer was an important one. Designers needed to accept technical possibilities, while manufactures had to fulfil the designers’ aim. Indeed, many of the innovations made by designers led to technical advances by sympathetic manufacturers.

Age Dream HomeWolfgang Sievers: Age Dream Home, Union Road, Balwyn, 1955 (demolished). (State Library of Victoria, Melbourne)


The most renowned designer of the period was Grant Featherston, whose work spans 1947 to 1974. In addition to his furniture designs, he also worked on several large commissions, many with his wife, Mary, from 1965. These included numerous prestigious commissions, such as the Expo ‘67 Talking Chairs (with concealed speakers) for the Australian Pavilion at the Montreal Expo ’67 and furnishings for Roy Grounds’s National Gallery of Victoria (1968). It is interesting to observe the evolution of Featherston’s art as he strived to produce ever simpler forms and adapted his designs to more informal ways of sitting and lounging in chairs. From the beginning, Featherston conceived a chair as a form in space readily adaptable to the shape of the sitter. The chair legs almost become invisible, being merely support for the body of the chair. From the late 1960s the legs disappeared altogether or were reduced to one, such as in the Stem dining chair (1967) – similar in concept to Eero Saarinen’s mid-1950s Tulip chair. In the Featherstons’ final series of seating furniture, being fully upholstered, legs are dispensed with entirely. Featherston’s last chair, designed in 1974, is indeed the simplest of forms: an upholstered sphere.

Meadmore dining suiteClement Meadmore: Dining suite 1952 (National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne)

Other designers represented in the exhibition include Gordon Andrews, Michael Hirst, Fred Lowen, Clement Meadmore, and Fred Ward. Andrews also designed Australia’s first decimal currency banknotes; Hirst worked for a time with Meadmore and also created wire-framed chairs; Fred Lowen started the well-known furniture business Fler in 1946; Meadmore’s design work in Melbourne preceded his career as a sculptor, and his best-known furniture are the cord chairs made of black tubular steel and woven cord; Ward’s furniture relies on traditional cabinet making and the beauty of timber, and his most prominent commissions include furniture for University House, Canberra (1954) and for the National Library of Australia (1968) – both still in use. Several other designers are represented; there is even furniture by artists Janet Dawson and Robert Klippel.

The exhibition is displayed most sympathetically, an understated design that allows the chronological display to flow coherently and give a real sense of changing styles and fashions in furniture and furnishings over thirty years. Works are displayed singly, in groups, or period settings that give a refreshing variety to the presentation. The focus is on furniture, with essential context given by the addition of original designs, vintage photographs of interiors and buildings, magazine coverage, and a range of furnishing textiles. The richness of colour and textural variety so important in twentieth-century modernist interiors, and so evident in the furnishings on display, form a strong counterpoint to the earnest monochromatic quality of modernism implied in the elegant black-and-white photographs.

Featherston Living roomGrant Featherston: Living room setting at Hotel Federal exhibition 1953 (Featherston Archive, Melbourne)


Mid-Century Modern is accompanied by a book of the same name (NGV, $39.95 hb, 216 pp, 9780724103874), edited by exhibition curator Kirsty Grant, who deftly covers the period in an informative text that provides new insights and information. The book is enriched with contributions by a range of diverse authors, including two of the period’s leading figures, designer Mary Featherston and architect Neil Clerehan. Other authors provide focus essays on key designers, architecture, collecting Australian modernist furniture, and conservation. This is a most elegantly designed production, beautifully photographed and abundantly illustrated.

Mid-Century Modern is well worth a visit to the NGV. The publication is the best general text available on the subject.

Mid-Century Modern: Australian Furniture Design is on display at The Ian Potter Centre: NGV Australia at Federation Square until 19 October 2014.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Christopher Menz visits the 'Mid-Century Modern' exhibition at NGV
  • Contents Category Art
  • Non-review Thumbnail Non-review Thumbnail
Friday, 28 February 2014 12:17

Heterodox peas

Two quite different books from two very different chefs illustrate some major trends in cookery writing and publishing in Australia. One is by a city chef who runs a restaurant, and the other by a country chef who runs a cookery school.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Christopher Menz visits 'The Agrarian Kitchen'
  • Contents Category Food
  • Book Title The Agrarian Kitchen
  • Book Author Rodney Dunn
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Lantern, $59.99 hb, 273 pp, 9781921382451
  • Book Title 2 New Classics
  • Book Author 2 Philippa Sibley
  • Biblio 2 Hardie Grant Books, $49.95 hb, 272 pp, 9781742705408
  • Book Cover 2 Small Book Cover 2 Small
  • Author Type 2 Author
  • Book Cover 2 Book Cover 2
Thursday, 28 November 2013 14:12

Living in a Modern Way

Living in a Modern Way:California Design 1930–1965 is the catalogue accompanying an exhibition of the same name at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2011–12. The exhibition is now showing at Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art, after a stint in Seoul.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Christopher Menz visits 'Living in a Modern Way'
  • Subheading California Design 1930–1965
  • Contents Category Art
  • Book Title Living in a Modern Way
  • Book Author Wendy Kaplan
  • Book Subtitle California Design 1930–1965
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio MIT Press (Footprint), $114 hb, 360 pp, 9780262010670
Tuesday, 17 September 2013 10:07

Stephen Benwell: Virtuoso in Clay

Entering the current Heide exhibition Stephen Benwell: Beauty, Anarchy, Desire – A Retrospective for the first time is quite an experience. Dispersed left and right on two enormous rectangular tables is a chronological survey of the work of one of Australia’s finest ceramic artists. The overview of a remarkable career can be examined in detail as the viewer moves from work to work up and down the tables and back again. Further rooms in the exhibition enrich and amplify the experience, with the presentation of a wider range of the artist’s oeuvre, arranged to make connections between works rather than to show the strict ceramic timeline in the first room. For once, most works are on open display; there is no glass or Perspex, normally de rigueur in such exhibitions, to hinder the viewer.

Athlete-1Statue, Athlete (2011). Earthenware. Courtesy the artist and Niagara Galleries, Melbourne © the artist.

Benwell’s sculptural ceramics involve vessels and figures. He delights in the expressive possibilities of clay and creates highly original forms for vases, bowls, and containers, often richly decorated in a painterly manner. He uses pure design motifs combined with the expressive qualities of line and colour, as well as figurative imagery to create what almost become three-dimensional sculptural paintings in a perfect marriage of form and decoration. His small and surprisingly exposed, expressive figurative sculptures – or ‘statues’, as they are titled – build on his interest in anthropomorphic figuration, which is evident in his earliest work from the 1970s. However, these derive more directly from ancient Mediterranean and European traditions of depicting the male nude in sculpture and painting. In them he also shows more than a passing knowledge of the delightful porcelain figures made in European during the eighteenth century.

The first pots in the exhibition are from 1971, when Benwell was an art student; the most recent is from earlier this year. They range from small boxes and miniatures to large vases over half a metre tall. Despite the changes in scale, the effect is surprisingly harmonious. Viewing the work en masse demonstrates the consistent quality of Benwell’s work over four decades and his virtuosic ability to find new forms in clay and to reinvigorate modes of decoration.

NGV Vase-1Large Vase I (2004). Earthenware. National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Kenneth Hood Bequest Fund, 2007 © the artist

Benwell’s ceramics are represented in all the major public collections in Australia, many of which have lent to the show. His work is is avidly sought by private collectors, many of whom are lenders. Benwell’s work has been included in numerous major exhibitions, both in Australia and overseas. It is to Heide’s credit that it – not a state or national gallery – has staged this important retrospective. This large exhibition – there are 132 works – is supported by a handsome, informative, and well-illustrated catalogue.

Stephen Benwell is well worth the trip to Heide.

Stephen Benwell: Beauty, Anarchy, Desire – A Retrospective. Heide Museum of Modern Art, Melbourne. The exhibition closes on 10 November 2013.

Additional Info

  • Free Article Yes
  • Custom Article Title Stephen Benwell: 'Virtuoso in Clay'
  • Contents Category Art
  • Non-review Thumbnail Non-review Thumbnail
Wednesday, 26 June 2013 14:53

Making Melbourne's monuments

When Paul Raphael Montford (1868–1938) settled in Melbourne in 1923, one press report claimed that he was ‘one of England’s best-known sculptors’, but despite having created works for the façade of the Victoria and Albert Museum and for Westminster Abbey, as well as numerous public sculptures in Australia, his work is not well known in either country. His reputation has always been overshadowed by his infinitely more successful and slightly older contemporary and rival, Bertram Mackennal.

Additional Info

  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Christopher Menz reviews 'Making Melbourne’s Monuments'
  • Subheading The Sculpture of Paul Montford
  • Contents Category Cultural Studies
  • Book Title Making Melbourne’s Monuments
  • Book Author Catherine Moriarty
  • Book Subtitle The Sculpture of Paul Montford
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Australian Scholarly Publishing, $49.95 pb, 333 pp, 9781921875595
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