MUSING ABOUT ART
At Federation Square a new centre for the Arts opened in the City of Melbourne, Australia. The population watched the progress of this uniquely designed complex being built, the structure looking rather like a child’s meccano set with assorted triangle shapes slotting into place. Most of the public were horrified as it continued to grow. Comments abounded like, “How awful, it does nothing for the area, so grey looking, and imagine building something like that opposite the lovely old St. Paul’s Church building.” However, now the building is completed and people are adjusting to the change they cannot help but be impressed by the innovative architecture. The interior is ideal for the painting, photographic galleries and the Moving Image Centre it houses.
I visited Federation Square and strolled through the gallery dedicated to early Australian Art. I was made very conscious of the importance of the artist as I looked at work after work which had been diligently painted so that I now had the benefit of viewing it over a hundred years later. I was very moved by these paintings which depicted scenes around Melbourne which gave me a glimpse of the era of my great grandparents and made me conscious of my Australian Heritage.
Among the paintings was a full length study of a woman. She wore gloves and stood very erect in a fashionable long dress; a good looking woman whose strong character was reflected in her face. She looked very correct. It was a superb portrait and I wasn’t surprised to see the artist who painted it was Tom Roberts, one of Australia’s greatest artists. It was painted in 1887 and was a study of “Madame Pfund” whom I learned was the Headmistress of Oberwyl Ladies College.
I was elated to find I was standing in front of the very lady who would have known my own grandmother as she had attended Oberwyl College. I was suddenly getting insight into my grandmother’s world. She would have known this woman in the painting before me.
Later, when I returned home, I thought about the possibilities. Did the artist, Tom Roberts, have an association with the school? A friend or lover of Madame Pfund perhaps? Or was Tom Roberts just commissioned for the painting? Or did he teach art at the school? Maybe he taught my grandmother!
These questions crossed my mind as I have two very special paintings which were painted by my grandmother when she attended Oberwyl when she was seventeen years of age. They were painted in 1899. One is a portrait of an Indian Princess and the other a portrait of an old salt with a pipe in his mouth. Both paintings are exceptionally good works of art even though my grandmother was only seventeen when she painted them. She didn’t continue painting as she married young and brought up a family as women did in those days. I am sure had she continued she would be famous today.
The sight of “Madame Pfund” had such a dramatic effect on me, it sparked off an intense desire to further my genealogical pursuits. As I pursue dates and places, internet sites and engage in conversations with older family members, I weave a pattern of events which take me into an intriguing world of my ancestors.
Now, when people tell me they don’t like the look of the exterior of the Federation Square Arts Complex, I tell them, “Don’t worry, you will be amazed, there is magic inside.”