An interior life

An exhibition on the fringe of the CBD is offering a glimpse into one of the country’s best collections of “beautiful things” hidden inside an old house-museum. 

Fairhall is a two-storey brick house built in East Melbourne in 1860. It’s been open to the public as the home of The Johnston Collection since 1990.

William Robert Johnston, the 20th century collector, died in 1986 and gifted his accumulated belongings to “the people of Victoria”.

Since then, the tucked-away museum has invited artists to re-interpret the collection through a regular program of re-installation and interventions of the permanent collection.

But until September the museum will offer a glimpse into the permanent collection and over 400 years of art history with An Interior Life | William Johnston and his collection.

The exhibition includes works on paper by one of the greatest printmakers of the 18th-century Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 – 1778), and paintings by the acclaimed 18th century miniaturist James Scouler.

Fairhouse is one of the few exhibition-houses in Australia unfettered by ropes and barriers. Visitors will be guided through the museum, enjoying stories of travel and historical tales drawn from over 1400 objects, paintings, ceramics, furniture and objet d’art. 

In the past the collection has been rearranged by fashion designer Akira Isogawa, architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb, fashion house Romance Was Born, artist Rosslynd Piggot and the artistic director of the Australian Ballet David McAllister AO – among many others.

Dorothy Morgan exhibited at the museum when she was president of the Embroidery Guild of Victoria.

She’s spent 15 years there since then as a curatorial volunteer. 

“I enjoy the intellectual challenge, the people, the objects. I was a librarian as a profession and curatorial work is quite similar,” she said.

“It’s the same logical and consistent approach. And knowing where things come from and what they mean. It’s both creative and methodical.”

The collection is celebrating 30 years of public show this year, and more than 150,000 visitors to Fairhall during that time.

An Interior Life runs from Feb 17 – Sep 22.

Book here:

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