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Lectures & Workshops 

We begin our 2017 lecture series in February when we return with an exciting  new series of Talks, Study Series and Workshops. Lectures are now available for booking (with descriptions further below). In 2017 our What's On brochure will only be available in digital form.


Please use the bar on the right-hand side of the booking calendar below to see the full list of lectures programmed for each month.

HAUTE COUTURE HOUSES with Paola Di Trocchio
Wednesday 3 May 2017 | 10.00 am 11.30 am

The history of haute couture will be traced from its beginnings in the 19th century to its contemporary manifestation.  The construction of garments often engages interdisciplinary innovation along with often performative presentation. Currently at the forefront of design and experimentation, haute couture bridges an evocative intersection between past and future.  

PAOLA DI TROCCHIO is Curator, Fashion and Textiles at the NGV, Melbourne. She has curated  numerous exhibitions that have recently included 200 Years of Australian Fashion and Italian Jewels:  Bulgari Style.


UNLOCKING INTERNATIONAL TREASURES | Furniture in the National Trust of England Houses with Wolf Burchard
Tuesday 21 March 2017 | 6.30 for 7.00 pm until 8.00 pm

The lecture is kindly presented in conjunction with The Furniture History Society (Victoria).

Taken as a whole, The National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland is looking after one of the largest furniture collections in the World. This lecture will give an overview of the highlights in that collection – such as the royal chairs at Knole, the Congress of Vienna desk at Mount Stewart and the Italian suite at Attingham Park – and discuss the numerous new discoveries we are making with our research.

WOLF BURCHARD is the Furniture Research Curator at the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland overseeing the research and cataloguing of the Trust’s vast furniture collection. He was Curatorial Assistant at the Royal Collection Trust from 2009 to 2014 where he co-curated The First Georgians: Art & Monarchy, 1714-1760 at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace. In 2016 he published The Sovereign Artist on the artistic relationship between Louis XIV and his principal painter Charles Le Brun. Dr Burchard publishes and regularly lectures on the art and architectural patronage at the British, French and German courts.

PLEASE NOTE: The lecture will be held in the upstairs Meeting Room at the East Melbourne Library, 122 George St, East Melbourne. Attendees are able to go directly to this venue.

image caption:A Louis XIV ebony, marble and marquetry cabinet-on-stand, circa 1670, Nostell Priory, West Yorkshire (Creative Commons)

WILLIAM MORRIS and the interiors of Adelaide’s most fashionable houses 1880-1929 with Rebecca Evans 
Tuesday 21 March 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

The Art Gallery of South Australia holds the most comprehensive collection of Morris & Co. furnishing outside of the United Kingdom. This collection is due to Adelaide’s wealthy Barr Smith family, who furnished their large houses with Morris designs. This lecture will examine the interiors of these houses and how they signified the taste, status and identity of the Barr Smith family and by extension proclaimed Adelaide as cosmopolitan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

REBECCA EVANS is the Curator of Decorative Arts, Art Gallery of South Australia. In 2016 she curated an exhibition on South Australian artist Catherine Truman and a display celebrating 50 years of the Guildhouse organisation. She is currently preparing for an exhibition featuring Linda Jackson’s creative collaborations with Utopia and Santa Teresa. 
Her previous lecture at the Collection was Scottish Migration and the Wool Industry in Colonial Australia (2016).

This lecture is generously supported by The Friends of The Johnston Collection.

image caption:  designed by William Morris (English, 1834-1896) for MORRIS & COMPANY, London, specimen of Wreath wallpaper, wood-block print on paper, collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia, 20032D1, (used with permission)

NATURE AS MODEL: The Italian Renaissance Garden with Luke Morgan 
Tuesday 28 March 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

This lecture will survey Italian garden design of the 15th and 16th centuries. Most villa gardens of the 15th century, even those of the Medici family in Tuscany, were essentially orti (orchards). Their main function was productive rather the provision of pleasure. The lecture will propose that what we are accustomed to think of as the Italian Renaissance garden does not genuinely emerge until the 16th century when three key concepts begin to inform its layout: first, the demonstrable application of a design process; second, a new humanist understanding of the garden as a 'third nature' (terza natura); and, third, the development of the idea of villeggiatura (the withdrawal to the country).

LUKE MORGAN is Associate Professor of Art History & Theory at Monash University. His books include The Monster in the Garden: The Grotesque the Gigantic in Renaissance Landscape Design (2015) and Nature as Model: Salomon de Caus and Early Seventeenth-Century Landscape Design (2007), both published by the University of Pennsylvania Press. His current research, which focuses on the theme of enchantment in early modern landscape experience, is funded by the Australian Research Council.

image caption: Giusto Utens (Justus Utens) (Flemish, died 1609), Lunette of Villa di Castello (as it appeared in 1599), (Creative Commons)

AT TABLE with Sophia Errey 
Tuesday 4 April 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

The "setting" of tables, those sites intimately associated with our daily nourishment and family and social lives has provided abundant opportunities for crafting objects in metal, ceramic, textiles and wood. We will explore a rich variety of these objects and their meanings within personal and cultural contexts.

SOPHIA ERREY is an artist, art educator and writer. She has lectured widely in the visual arts both historical and contemporary. She is particularly interested in objects, and the ways in which we craft and use them. Her most recent lecture at The Johnston Collection was CHINOISERIE | A Dream of Cathay.

image caption: Jean-Étienne Liotard (Swiss, 1702 - 1789), Still Life: Tea Set (circa 1781 – 1783), oil on canvas mounted on board | 378 x 516 mm, The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (Open Content Image)

WHY DO WE COLLECT? with Padraic Fisher
Tuesday 11 April 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

Come on a psycho-emotional romp through the compulsive pathology of ‘collector personality archetypes’ and the covetous urge to gather, assemble, accumulate and jealously protect. Through humour (and perhaps a touch of naivety), you will be taken on the ponderous journey from first teacup to all consuming obsession. Together we will explore questions such as: collector vs hoarder and ‘If an object falls into a collection, and no one ever sees it again, does it still make a sound? 

PADRAIC FISHER is Director, National Wool Museum in Geelong. A New York native, his background in arts, culture and heritage includes roles as producer, artist, curator, collector and educator. A decorative arts generalist his personal collection exceeds 2,000 objects of art and artefacts from the 11th century to the present. 

image caption: bowerbird (Open Content Image)

Thursday 25 May 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

Where do colours come from and how do they get their names? What was the “Venetian secret” of the 18th century? Were the Impressionists more than seekers after transitory sensations-to what extent were they exploring the optical science of perception according to the colour theories of Michel Eugène Chevreul (1786-1889)? Do artist’s select their colours or do the colours choose themselves as Matisse suggests?

Ian George helps us look at recent studies showing us how observant (or unobservant) we are: what are our favourite colours and why: where our colours come from: and asking how much colour there is in our lives

DR IAN GEORGE AO has been an art critic and historian since the 1960's. 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. 

image caption: Michel Eugène Chevreul (French, 1786-1889), Colour wheel, Paris, 1861 (Public Domain)

SHERLOCK HOLMES | A collection or an obsession? with John Byrne
Thursday 6 April 2017 | 12 noon to 1.30pm

What, if any, is the connection between Samuel Johnson & James Boswell and Sherlock Holmes & Dr Watson?

Both pairs of men are forever linked in our minds and appear alive to us through and by their friendship. But Johnson and Boswell were actual historical figures who lived in 18th century England whilst Holmes and Watson sprang, fully formed, from the fertile imagination of Arthur Conan Doyle a century later. Holmes & Watson are currently the subject of two high ranking television programmes whilst Johnson`s last appearance was as a figure of fun in an episode of "Blackadder". Why is this so and is it a just treatment of two towering figures of 18th century literature? Is Watson a "Boswell" to Holmes?

John Byrne is known to you as a collector of Johnson & Boswell but he is also an avid Sherlockian (as are many Johnsonians). He will tell you why this is so and will display treasures from his library to illustrate his lecture. Those attending are encouraged to wear "deer stalkers"!

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. His most recent lecture at The Johnston Collection was DREAM LIBRARIES | My own & those I have visited.

Please note: this lecture runs from 12 noon to 1.30 pm

image: Illustration by Frederic Dorr Steele (American, 1873-1944), “Sherlock Holmes Act 4”, as published in William Hooker Gillette (American, 1853-1937), Sherlock Holmes - A Play, Doubleday, New York, 1935 edition

COLOURING THE CARIBBEAN| representing a new world with Trevor Burnard
Tuesday 23 May 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

When the English ventured overseas in the late 16th  and early 17th centuries, they established a variety of colonial settlements that, especially in the 17th century, were bewildering in their political and social diversity.

Artists, writers and historians recorded these new lands, people and places so as to see English settlement as an encounter with peoples, alongside the representations of the effects colonisation, endeavour and enterprise.

This lecture will revisit plantations in the Americas, consider the Haitian Revolution and other representations of African in European art, as well considering works held in The Johnston Collection.

TREVOR BURNARD is professor and head of the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. He is the author of Mastery, Tyranny, and Desire and Creole Gentlemen, as well as coeditor of The Routledge History of Slavery.

after Agostino Brunias (1728 - 1796) (Italian, active in Britain (1758-1770; 1777-1780s))
The Linen Market at St Domingo engraved print on paper published by John P. Thompson (London), 6 October 1804 (Creative Commons)

A PRINCESS FOR SCOTLAND: Marie Duchess of Hamilton with Eugene Barilo von Reisberg 
Tuesday 30 May 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

Her birth spelled the end of a German princely dynasty; her marriage resulted in the partial loss of her social position; the wayward lives of her children ended the long line of Scottish dukes and ultimately led to the dispersal of family fortunes. The lecture traces the highs and lows in the life and times of Marie, Princess of Baden, Duchess of Hamilton. 

EUGENE BARILO VON REISBERG is a Melbourne-based lecturer, researcher, and art consultant with a passion for 19th century art, history, and culture. He is currently completing a doctoral dissertation on Franz Xaver Winterhalter, the 19th century elite portrait specialist, at the University of Melbourne. 

See also the Eugene Barilo von Reisberg Study Series NAPOLEON'S CHILDREN

image caption: Richard Buckner (English, 1812-83), Marie Duchess of Hamilton (1818-88), with her son, Lord William Douglas-Hamilton (1845-1895), oil on canvas, Private Collection



This series will investigate the ideas behind collecting in 17th and 18th century Italy and their political and cultural influence on the English aristocracy undertaking the Grand Tour.

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.

Lecture 1 | THE ENGLISH OF THE 18th CENTURY GRAND TOUR: The politics of display
Thursday 27 April 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am

In the 18th century the Grand Tour became a rite of passage for young English Protestant aristocrats destined to assume their rightful place in government with an increased appreciation of the solidity and uprightness of English institutions. The art they brought back testified to refinement as well as familiarity with the decadence and sensuality of Catholic Europe. Portraits encoded reference to the sitter as inheritor of the wisdom of ancient Rome and survivor of the sinful vices of Venice. Canaletto's veduta would fill private collections as testimony that taste was not just a virtue but a duty to one's country.

image caption: Johan Zoffany (German, 1733 –1810), The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 1772-8, Royal Collection RCIN 406983

Lecture 2 | THE BORGHESE COLLECTION, ROME |"An Elysium of Delight"
Thursday 4 May 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am

Cardinal Scipio Borghese, used the immense wealth and influence he wielded as Papal Nephew in 17th century Rome to assemble one of the largest and most impressive private collections in Europe. Based on the idea of the teatrum mundi, he placed prize pieces from the ancient world next to contemporary art by Caravaggio, Raphael and Titian in order to stimulate conversation and reflection on art and life. Although a ruthless collector who would seize works commissioned for churches and other patrons, it was his keen eye which first recognised the talent of Gian Lorenzo Bernini whose masterpieces are still on display in the magnificent villa surrounded by landscaped gardens.

image caption: Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italian, 1598 – 1680), David, 1623–24, Galleria Borghese, Rome

Lecture 3 | THE CA REZZONICO COLLECTION IN VENICE | The last glory days of the Serenissima
Thursday 11 May 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am

The Ca Rezzonico on the Grand Canal, dedicated to exploring 18th century Venice, is one of the lesser known museums of the city offering a glimpse behind the scenes of life in Venice's great days. The chequered history of the Ca Rezzonico, passing from hand to hand as families grew wealthy then fell from power, is a micro history of Venice itself.

The Rezzonico bought their way into the aristocracy and commissioned Tiepolo and Guarana to create ceiling frescos and trompe l'oeil decorations for their magnificent reception rooms and chapel. By the 19th century the palazzo was home to Robert Browning and Singer Sargent before an eccentric Count went bankrupt adding to the lush furnishings and art collection. It now houses entire rooms salvaged from distressed Venetian palazzi that have crumbled beyond repair.

image caption: Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal), (Italy, 1697 – 1768), The Return of the Bucintoro to the Molo on Ascension Day, 1732, The Royal Collection, England, RCIN 404417



EUGENE BARILO VON REISBERG is a Melbourne-based lecturer, researcher, and art consultant with a passion for 19th century art, history, and culture. He is currently completing a doctoral dissertation on Franz Xaver Winterhalter, the 19th century elite portrait specialist, at the University of Melbourne. 

PART I | THE ADOPTED - Eugene, Duke of Leuchtenberg; Hortense, Queen of Holland; and Stephanie, Grand Duchess of Baden;
Tuesday 2 May 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am

Upon proclaiming himself Emperor, Napoleon wanted desperately to ally himself with the reigning dynasties of Europe. The lack of unmarried siblings did not stop him. After placing his brothers and sisters on the thrones of conquered nations, he formally adopted Eugène, Hortense, and Stéphanie de Beauharnais - the children and a niece of his wife, Empress Josephine - to use them as pawns in his Game of Thrones.

image caption: Jean-Baptiste Isabey (French, 1767-1855), Portrait of Hortense, Queen of Holland (1783-1837), 1813, watercolor on cardboard | 130 × 95 mm, collection of the Musée National du Château de Malmaison (Creative Commons)


PART II | THE LEGITIMATE - the King of Rome (also will talk about Empress Marie-Louise Napoleon's little-known second wife)
Tuesday 9 May 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am

Napoleon’s second marriage in 1810 to the Archduchess Marie Louise, daughter of the Emperor Franz I of Austria, satisfied his ultimate ambition - to ally himself with a reigning European dynasty. His longing to establish his own dynasty was realised when the new Empress was delivered of a son. However, Napoleon’s relentless military ambition soon led to his downfall which turned his trophy wife and the cherished child into fugitives.

image caption: 

PART III | THE BASTARDS - Princesse de Chimay, Comte Walewski, Comte de Leon ... and assorted others.
Tuesday 16 May 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am

Napoleon’s alleged sexual conquests were said to rival his military achievements, and throughout the 19th century there was no shortage of those who proudly claimed their descent from the Emperor. The lecture focuses on three of the people with the most reputable claim to Napoleon’s DNA - Charles Leon, Alexandre Walewski, and Emilie Pellapra.

image caption: Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1805-73), Portrait of Emilie, Princesse de Chimay (1808-71), 1849, oil on canvas, private collection, (Creative Commons)


DRESSING FOR THE CAMERA: photography and the colonial portrait with Laura Jocic 
Wednesday 17 May 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am  

The invention of photography allowed a wide range of people, who previously could not afford to commission a painter, to have their portraits taken. Surviving images of 19th century Australian settlers provide an insight into changing styles of dress and the nuances in the way garments and accessories were worn. Dressed for the camera, many of these portraits also unlock stories of emigration and the role photography played in maintaining ties with families who had been divided through emigration. 

LAURA JOCIC is undertaking a PhD at the University of Melbourne, researching dress and its role in Australian colonial society. She was formerly a curator in the department of Australian Fashion and Textiles at the National Gallery of Victoria where she curated a number of exhibitions including Australian Made: 100 Years of Fashion. In 2016 Laura curated the exhibition LOUIS KAHAN: art, theatre, fashion for the Town Hall Gallery, Hawthorn. 

image caption: Paterson Bros., Melbourne (photographer), Young woman wearing a crinoline, circa 1862, albumen print, Private collection

It is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death on 18 July 1817 and to commemorate this significant event we begin a year-long programme of activities honoring the ongoing interpretation and influence of Jane Austen’s life and works.

Wednesday 22 March 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

Jane Austen’s novels have become synonymous with early 19th century fashion, especially through filmed adaptations of her work. But what did people in this period really wear? How would Austen, her family and her characters have dressed as they moved through the countryside, villages and cities of late Georgian England? This lecture explores the world of Regency clothing to bring to life the fashionable world behind Austen’s immortal words.

HILARY DAVIDSON is a dress and textile historian & curator who was formerly curator of fashion and decorative art at the Museum of London. She has researched Austen-age fashion for a decade and is currently completing a major book on dress in the British Regency world for Yale (2018). Her most recent lecture at The Johnston Collection was DREAMS OF RED SHOES | Magic and Escape in 2016.

image caption: Cassandra Austen (English, 1773–1845), portrait of Jane Austen (1775-1817), circa 1804, watercolour on paper, private collection, (Creative Commons)

“MY EMMA” with Lise Rodgers 
Thursday 27 April 2017 | 2.00 pm to 3.30 pm

… for my next, I have taken a heroine whom no one but myself will much like
Jane Austen, 1814

To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the publication of Emma in 1816, this new production reveals a more mature Jane, confident in her abilities as a novelist and for the first time taking an active role in managing her own affairs. 

Based on her letters of the period and of course the novel itself, here is the opportunity to celebrate the folk of Highbury and none more fascinating than Miss Emma Woodhouse herself. 

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. 

image caption: Sir William Beechey RA (English, 1753-1839), Portrait of Marcia Fox, circa 1810, (Public Domain)


2016 marked the 300th anniversary of the birth of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown who changed the face of 18th century England, designing country estates and mansions, moving hills and making serpentine lakes and flowing rivers, a magical world of green.

‘Capability’ Brown (1716 – 1783) is best remembered for landscape on an immense scale, constructing not only gardens and parkland, but planting woods and building farms linked by carriage drives, or `ridings’, many miles from the main house.

Although his work is continually reassessed, every landscape gardener and landscape architect since, both in Britain and around the world, has been influenced in one way or another by Brown.

image caption: after Nathaniel Dance, (later Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland, Bt) (1735 – 1811), Lancelot (‘Capability’) Brown, (circa 1773), oil on canvas, 610 mm x 508 mm (oval), collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London, NPG 1490, purchased 1908

BLENHEIM & PETWORTH with Ian George 
Thursday 23 March 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

We celebrated the 300th anniversary of the birth of ‘Capability’ Brown in 2016. Brown was the key genius behind the development of the English landscape garden style which swept over Europe and the USA and continues to dominate a great deal of Western garden design today. It brought the "sublime and the beautiful" from painting into the landscape in a revolutionary way. He was involved in no less than 140 different British gardens.

In our first lecture we look at Brown's life and art, and especially the great gardens of Blenheim and Petworth, perhaps his greatest achievements.

DR IAN GEORGE AO has been an art critic and historian since the 1960's. 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. 

image caption: Pieter Tillemans (1684-1734), A panoramic view of Petworth House and Park, turn of the 17th / 18th century, oil on canvas, 663 x 1731 mm, Public Domain

PAINSHILL PARK with Ian George 
Thursday 30 March 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

In the second lecture we look at the recently restored and reopened eighteenth century Surrey garden at Painshill designed by the Hon. Charles Hamilton between 1738 and 1773 which breathes much of the same unique British spirit. John Wilkes wrote to his daughter in 1772: "I … sauntered through the elysium of Mr Hamilton's gardens till eight in the evening, like the first solitary man through Paradise." 

DR IAN GEORGE AO has been an art critic and historian since the 1960's. 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. 

image caption: A peaceful view across the water of Painshill's ruined abbey, courtesy of Fred Holmes, Painshill


Adrian Dickens continues his series on famous jewellery and those who wore it.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR’S GREATEST LOVE AFFAIR – with jewels with Adrian Dickens 
Wednesday 19 April 2017 | 10.00 am to 11.30 am 

Hollywood legend Elizabeth Taylor has long been associated with jewels – diamonds in particular, but the true extent of her staggering collection is not so well known. Said to be worth over $200 million at the star’s death, her collection has only gained in stature. Many pieces have become as legendary as the star who wore them, and the man who bought most of them – Richard Burton. Adrian Dickens has compiled a fascinating talk on the stories behind such jewels as the great Bulgari Sapphires, La Peregrina Pearl, the Mike Todd tiara, the Taj Mahal pendant and the unforgettable Taylor-Burton Diamond.

ADRIAN DICKENS trained in the United Kingdom for six years and has been a fixture on the Melbourne and Sydney fine jewellery scene for over 30 years. Dickens’ knowledge of historical and recent jewellery trends are insightful. He regularly gives talks and presentations nationally and internationally. He has managed some of Australia’s fine jewellery houses and now runs Circa AD Jewels. Dickens’ most recent lecture at the Collection was Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis | The Jewels of Camelot 

image caption: Elizabeth Taylor on the set of The V.I.P.s (film, 1963) © Photofest