Dr Will Twycross and his mother Mary Twycross, with collection objects in the background. Mary was the last custodian and curator of the collection.
Image: Christine Lopez
Source: Christine Lopez
The recent gift of exquisite objects bought at the 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition has greatly enriched the museum’s collection of Royal Exhibition Building material. Dr Will Twycross donated over 175 objects purchased by his great-grandparents, wealthy wool merchant John Twycross and his wife Charlotte.
The John Twycross 1880 Melbourne International Exhibition Collection comprises an eclectic and wonderful range of decorative, functional and novelty objects that carry a remarkable provenance. Dr Charlotte Smith curates the Royal Exhibition Building Collection and its interpretation. She is particularly thrilled by the Twycross objects, not just for their beauty and quality, but because of the way the collection illustrates how Melburnians approached the exhibitions.
“These objects are a representative sample from a much larger collection,” said Charlotte. “There’s no way that it was all bought on one day. John Twycross – and I like to think his wife, and maybe his children – went back on numerous occasions.” For wealthy Melburnians, the exhibitions were a unique chance to acquire fine objects otherwise scarce in the young colony. “It was like an emporium or a candy store,” said Charlotte. It allowed people to buy the most fashionable, modern items directly from their international sources.
The Twycross’ purchases furnished and decorated their Elsternwick mansion, ‘Emmarine’, which included an art wing. Following John Twycross’ death in 1889, most of the art collection was sold, but many pieces remained in the family and were used as everyday items. “The vases have been used as vases, for example,” said Charlotte, “and signs of use and repair increase the cultural value. It allows us to tell the story of the four generations who cared for the collection.”
Charlotte spoke about several objects that she considers especially wonderful. The first is an etched glass epergne - an ornamental table centrepiece – that was probably made in England. It is a tall, fluted vase that emerges from two tiers of bowls, each etched with a simple Grecian key pattern, and may have held flowers or candied fruit. Another favourite is an amphora, which Charlotte described as “an unbelievably beautiful piece of Italian majolica” with a parrot and wisteria pattern.
Some of the objects were created for export; an example of this is a Japanese ivory and lacquer paperweight. “It’s a complete novelty, purely for foreigners, and a bit fussy for Japanese tastes,” explained Charlotte. Outside, it is beautifully decorated with birds and leaves, while inside are a pair of tiny carved tortoises with articulated limbs. “It’s amazing that whole towns developed styles for the Western market to meet international demand.”
Made through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, the family’s generosity has provided an invaluable gift to Victoria and to the Royal Exhibition Building Collection, which comprises several thousand objects, images, documents and oral histories about the building and its many uses.
A pair of Twycross vases will go on display in The Melbourne Story exhibition from early December 2009.