I had all but forgotten about Montsalvat until I was invited there on my recent trip to Melbourne. Australian artist Rick Amor’s description of Montsalvat as ‘a fantasy of beards, berets, sturdy women, big stews and free love’ is in line with my own recollection of Montsalvat as a back-to-the-land, hippy enclave miles outside Melbourne’s city center.
Today, tourists and locals are beating a well-worn path to this quaint artist colony founded by artist Justus Jörgensen in 1934.
Monsalvat is Australia’s oldest artists’ community, ‘set amid unique grounds and buildings, a place where art is made, taught, exhibited, performed and celebrated’ (Montsalvat website). It still houses working artists but caters to the public equally well as a wedding venue, a lovely spot for a family picnic or a day’s outing to soak up the unique grounds.
Montsalvat founder, Justus Jörgensen, was born in Melbourne in 1893 of Norwegian ancestry. He originally qualified as an architect, but after spending several years in Europe visiting the great museums with his wife, he took up painting as a profession. He developed a keen interest in Impressionism and eventually went on to exhibit at the Paris salons.
When he returned to Australia in 1928 he set up a school of painting. However his views on art differed radically from those of his peers. Jörgensen became increasingly hostile to the commercial aspects of painting and mistrusted the input of both critics and public. His desire to experiment with all aspects of creative pursuit led him to establish Montsalvat, and his legacy lives on to this day providing inspiration to artists as well as art appreciators.