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Lectures & Workshops 

Details of the full program of lectures for the period February to June 2015 will be up on our webpage in mid January.

The Johnston Collection is administered as an independent not-for-profit museum by The W R Johnston Trust.

PLEASE NOTE:    A $3.50 booking fee applies for online bookings. This covers banking costs and fees charged to us by our ticketing provider for online sales.  An $8.00 booking and administration fee applies for telephone bookings.  Thank you for your understanding.


Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival Cultural Program Project Series 2015

We are delighted to announce that we are a participant in the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival's Cultural Program Project Series 2015 with two special lectures at The Johnston Collection in February. Fashion in Literature - Out Loud with Lise Rodgers is on Thursday 19 February and 1980s Fashion | From the Street to the Museum with Dr Peter McNeil on Tuesday 24 February 2015.

The Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival is an annual celebration of fashion, beauty, business and creative endeavour for everyone to enjoy.


FASHION IN LITERATURE - OUT LOUD | 3 ladies of style: 3 authors, 3 eras, 3 continents
Thursday 19 February 2015, 10.15 am to 11.45 am $20 / $18

Descriptions of what a character is wearing can be so evocative of their personality and lifestyle, so rich with information about times gone by. At the mention of silks and chiffons, exotic colours or haute couture we sigh with admiration, imagining, as we turn the page, a world of perfect beauty. But life is not always what it seems behind a beautifully dressed façade.

LISE RODGERS is an accomplished Melbourne actress whose career has spanned stage, screen and radio. Widely known for her ongoing Jane Austen series of performances, it is her passion for the spoken word that has inspired this new venture – Literature Out Loud.

1980s FASHION | From the Street to the Museum
Tuesday 24 February 2015, 10.15 am to 11.45 am $20 / $18

This lecture considers the role of historicism and the reworking of 'classics' or fashion types as a means to generate new meanings for fashion. Vivienne Westwood is the focus, a designer whose process is informed by surviving artefacts, representations of dress, and allusion to history, zeitgeist (mood), and socio-cultural change. The clothes that emerge are never copies but fantasies of fashion moments that are mythical and romantic. The unity of pre-war dressing is replaced by the fragmentation of the body. The shoes no longer have to match the bag.

DR PETER McNEIL is Professor of Design History at the University of Technology Sydney and Distinguished Professor, Aalto University, Finland. He is the author of numerous publications including ten works on fashion, including the best-selling Shoes, also translated into Italian (with Giorgio Riello 2006; 2011). Current book projects include the ‘long’ history of luxury, supported by the UK Leverhulme Trust and fashion writing from the 17th century to the present day.

Vivienne Westwood, 1994 S/S Collection: Cafe Society


In 19th century Paris bankers and the new class of bourgeois businessmen thronged the boulevards flaunting their new but unstable notoriety. However, the real sophistication they craved was not based on money alone but on the ability to show they understood the old aristocratic code of conspicuous leisure.

The boom in industrial progress and the invention of the railroad meant they could upstage the old sojourns at the spas and develop the first seaside resorts. A new style of mistress emerged to accommodate the need for conspicuous consumption paraded on the Cote d ‘Azur.

While the expensive courtesans strutted the boulevards, the bourgeois wives developed the cult of the household pet, whose fidelity replaced the distant publicity-seeking husband. This lecture series will look at these images of modernity created by the artists of the time.

SYLVIA SAGONA is an internationally recognised specialist on 19th century French society. She retired from the French Department at The University of Melbourne to work on historical documentaries for French and Australian television and is currently researching a book on the invention of the restaurant in Paris in the 18th century.

The Beast In The Boudoir with Sylvia Sagona
Thursday 16 April 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

Aristocrats had always kept hunting dogs but in the 19th century a new category of animal companion was created; the household pet. These non-working animals mirrored the situation of their boudoir-bound bourgeois owners; faithful, decorative and affectionate. This new way of perceiving animals had a parallel in the anti-vivisectionist movement .Impressionist canvases in particular show dogs, cats and parrots and their close ties with humans.

Discovering The Seaside with Sylvia Sagona
Thursday 23 April 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

The Duc de Morny, Napoleon III’s half brother established Deauville as a resort where balls and promenades could continue during summer and as a centre for the fashionable pursuit of horse racing he had established in France. Meanwhile, the French had annexed Nice and so began frequenting the Cote d’Ázur which the British had made popular to escape their damp climate. New industries sprang up in the wake of the popularity of travel; railway restaurants such as the Train bleu, luggage such as Louis Vuitton and new fashions for women. Artists from Renoir to Matisse depicted this new idea of leisure.

Courtesans And Conspicuous Consumption with Sylvia Sagona
Thursday 7 May 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

The middle of the 19th century saw the rise of an aristocracy of prostitutes who swept across the city and resorts in a cloud of diamonds leaving destruction in their wake. These Grandes Horizontales, immortalised in the literature, art and opera of the time, were so expensive that men spent their daughters’ dowries on them, fought duels for their favours and shared them with other men desperate to be seen as so successful that they could afford these fabulous creatures. It was less about sex than sensationalism.


Two Jane Austen milestones occur in 2015. It is 200 years since the first publication of Jane Austen’s Emma by John Murray in December 1815 and it is also the 20th anniversary since Colin Firth, as ‘Mr Darcy’, walked out of the pond in a clinging white shirt in the TV adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.

The Johnston Collection is celebrating with a year-long programme of activities coinciding with these anniversaries and honouring of the ongoing interpretation of her works.

The Fortunes Of The Enigmatic Mr Darcy with John Wiltshire
Thursday 4 June 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

Every one today knows Mr Darcy.  But it was a long time before even readers of Pride and Prejudice, fascinated by Elizabeth Bennet, gave him a second glance.  This talk will explore some of the many different conceptions of the figure, and especially focus on his most recent visual incarnations. Is he rude and pompous, or shy and sexy - or both?

JOHN WILTSHIRE is Emeritus Professor at La Trobe University. He is the author of four books about Jane Austen, and has edited Mansfield Park for the authoritative Cambridge edition. Among his recent publications are The Cinematic Jane Austen (2009) and The Making of Dr Johnson (2009). The Hidden Jane Austen was published in May 2014.

Getting Dressed With Jane Austen with Lise Rodgers 
Thursday 11 June 2015, 2.00 pm to 3.30 pm $20 / $18

“I cannot determine what to do about my new gown … am so tired and ashamed of my present stock, that I even blush at the sight of the wardrobe which contains them” Jane Austen 1798

Using the letters of Jane Austen, some historical background and opinions of the day, let’s throw open the doors of a Georgian wardrobe, and spend an hour or so getting dressed with Jane - from the underwear to the outerwear and beyond!

LISE RODGERS is an accomplished Melbourne actress whose career has spanned stage, screen and radio. An interest in the world and characters of Jane Austen is the inspiration behind her series of Jane performances.


'Whelan The Wrecker Was Here' with Robyn Annear
Thursday 14 May 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

The demolition firm of Whelan the Wrecker was a Melbourne institution for a hundred years (1892-1992). Its famous sign – 'Whelan the Wrecker is Here' on a pile of shifting rubble - was a laconic masterpiece and served as a vital sign of the city's progress.

Using demolition sites as portals, Robyn Annear explores layers of the city laid bare by Whelan’s, bringing to light stories about the making – and remaking – of a city.

ROBYN ANNEAR lives and works in Castlemaine, writing when she finds time, otherwise collecting dust.


Remembering Georges with Annette Cooper
Wednesday 17 June 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

When Georges closed its doors on 5 October 1995, it had been trading for 115 years. Yet this famous department store, situated in the ‘Paris End’ of Collins Street, still lingers in the minds of many today. Remembering Georges brings together the memories of these people in a richly illustrated book, reflecting the style and elegance of the store itself.

In her talk, Annette Cooper will give a brief overview of Georges’ history, how she came to write the book, the people she interviewed, and some of the ‘gems’ she came across during the process of research. The talk will be accompanied by a selection of images from her book.

ANNETTE COOPER has Bachelor Degrees in Arts and Science, and has worked at the National Gallery of Victoria and the ABC. She has had a lifelong interest in Melbourne’s social and architectural history, especially the landscape of the city, as well as being a devoted client of Georges. Her book, Remembering Georges, was published by Melbourne Books in 2014.


In The Writer's House Museum | Victor Hugo’s Hauteville House with Bertrand Bourgeois
Thursday 26 March 2015, 10.00 am tyo 11.30 am $20 / $18

This illustrated lecture on Victor Hugo’s Hauteville House will showcase this fascinating writer’s house, a place that he bought with Juliette Drouet on 16 May 1856 and where he lived until 1870. 

A less known fact is that he designed and decorated the entire house according to his own imagination. Bourgeois will claim that Hauteville House can be seen as one more work of art, almost a living novel, of the multifarious writer.

BERTRAND BOURGEOIS is a lecturer at The University of Melbourne and is an expert in house-museums, having written a book entitled Poétique de la maison-musée (1847-1898) (Paris, L’Harmattan, 2007) focusing on real and fictional 19th century French house-museums. 

The Spirituality Of Modern Art with Ian George
Wednesday 8 April 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am

Art Historians and critics tend to ignore the powerful currents of religious and theological thought so prevalent from 1860 – 1960 which we regard as the period of the modernists. 

Almost every major artist of this period was involved in these currents of thought and this is reflected in their work. We shall look at this process in some of the major modernists.

DR IAN GEORGE has been an art critic since the 1960. His postgraduate work was in aesthetics. Since then he has served on the Visual Arts Committee of the Festival of Perth, as a Trustee of the Queensland Art Gallery and Vice-President of the Queensland Festival, had two terms on the Community Arts Board of the Australia Council and is a regular lecturer at the National Gallery of Australia, the Art Gallery of SA and the National Gallery of Victoria.

“Not To Modern Taste” | The Pleasures and Problems of Defining Decoration with Sophia Errey
Wednesday 29 April 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

Is Grinling Gibbon’s Cravat “a tasteless exercise in superhuman skill”? How has 'modern' taste encouraged us to regard ornament and decoration as relegated to an inferior role as ‘craft’ rather than ‘art’? Why is ornament feared as inappropriately seductive? By exploring some of the debates around these issues we can come to better appreciate the role crafted objects play in our lives.

SOPHIA ERREY is an artist, art educator and writer. Her first doctorate (The University of Melbourne) on architectural ornament, and her interest in the field of ornamentation has continued and expanded with studies in metalwork, ceramics and fashion.

The Enchanted Garden In Renaissance England with Luke Morgan
Tuesday 5 May 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

This lecture focuses on key examples of landscape design in Elizabeth and Jacobean England.  It will compare actual gardens with literary ones such as Spenser’s ‘Bower of Bliss’  in The Faerie Queene and Prospero’s island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. In English Renaissance literature, gardens are often depicted as seductive lairs of fatal enchantresses.  This lecture will explore the possibility that similar ideas informed the responses of visitors to actual gardens of the period.

DR LUKE MORGAN is a Senior Lecturer in Art History & Theory at Monash University.  His books include Nature as Model: Design (2007) and The Monster in the Garden: The Grotesque  and the Gigantic in Renaissance Landscape Design (2015), both published by the University of Pennsylvania Press.  His current research on English Renaissance gardens is funded by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant.

Fanny Burney| Her family, her fame, her fortitude with John Bryne
Tuesday 12 May 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am

Fanny Burney (1752-1840) came from a famous family. Her father was a renown musician and author, her brother James accompanied. Cook on his third voyage and witnessed his death. Her novels were the sensation of the age, praised by Dr. Johnson and deeply influenced Jane Austen. She married a French general, was at the Battle of Waterloo and survived a mastectomy. Throughout her long life she kept a journal which gives us an unrivaled picture of her age. John Byrne will tell you her story and display books, letters and etchings from his collection.

JOHN BYRNE is a retired solicitor and founding member of the Johnson Society of Australia. He is currently a Governor of Dr Johnson's House, London, former President of The Johnson Society, Lichfield, England (2008-9), and former President of The Samuel Johnson Society of The West USA (2008-9). He has been a Johnson collector for over four decades and lectured widely in USA, UK and Australia.

Road Skates And A History Of The World with Valerie Krips
Wednesday 20 May 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

When Neil MacGregor and the BBC produced a series of programmes about the history of the world told through 100 museum objects, radio was, rather surprisingly, their chosen medium. 

The result was an astonishing success. Many thousands of objects were uploaded to the website, including these road skates. This talk discusses the choice of radio as a medium, and the objects chosen to provide a history of the world, and of individual lives. 

VALERIE KRIPS, who lives in Melbourne, retired from the University of Pittsburgh in 2006. She is a Fellow in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. Her book Perfect Charity, written with Mary Clark and Heather O’Conner, was published by Morning Star Publishing in 2013.

Discovering Australian Flora | The Audience For Botanical illustrations with Jennifer Jones-O’Neill
Tuesday 26 May 2015, 10.00 am to 11.30 am $20 / $18

The international interest in the wonderfully exotic flora of Australia during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century led to numerous publications that traversed the scientific to the popular. This illustrated lecture looks at the role of, and demand for, botanical illustrations of Australian plants. The publication, translation and distribution of these images inspired rich growth and diversity in many European gardens.

JENNIFER JONES-O’NEILL is Head, School of Arts at Federation University and her research is in the area of visual culture and the history of ideas with a particular focus on the eighteenth century. Her research has resulted in publications and presentations on the visual representation of sensibility, melancholy and genius. 

Chocolate, Women & Empire | A Social History of Chocolate with Emma Robertson
Thursday 28 May 2015, 10.00 to 11.30 am $20 / $18

From Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Chocolat, from romantic gift to guilty indulgence, chocolate has a special place in Western popular culture. But what are the hidden histories behind this luxurious commodity? This illustrated lecture examines chocolate production from cocoa bean to chocolate box, illuminating the dynamics of gender, race and empire which have structured the cocoa chain.

Using a varied range of sources, and drawing on the author’s own relationship to the industry, this talk reconnects the people and places at different stages of chocolate production. Emma Robertson stresses the need to recognise the complex histories of empire and labour which have made such pleasurable consumption possible.

DR EMMA ROBERTSON is Lecturer in History at La Trobe University. Her book Chocolate, Women and Empire: A Social and Cultural History was published by Manchester University Press in 2009. Dr Robertson has worked as a researcher at the Universities of Leeds Metropolitan and Loughborough in the United Kingdom and is a regular contributor to CocoaReworks, a website dedicated to the experiences of women who worked at the Rowntree confectionery factory in York, England.