The Federation Tapestry: The Heidelberg School

This panel forms the seventh in the suite of tapestries which make up the Federation Tapestry.

The Federation Tapestry: The Heidelberg School

The Heidelberg School

The Heidelberg School was researched, conceived and designed by Murray Walker, principal artist/designer of the Federation Tapestry. This panel celebrates the important role of Australia’s artists in the Federation process. It represents ways that Australians in the last two decades of the 19th century used literature and art to create and express a unique national identity.

The designer wished to draw attention to the beautiful illuminated works that were used at the time of Federation to celebrate and commemorate significant occasions. He invited cartoonist Bruce Petty to contribute to the design. Petty also drew an impression of the artists’ camp at Heidelberg where a group of Australian artists developed a distinctive nationalistic style during the 1880s.


Work on the loom showing the artists’ camp at Heidelberg

Work on the loom showing the artists’ camp at Heidelberg.

Botanical artist Celia Rosser contributed botanical studies, showing the floral emblems of each Australian state and territory. Celia’s work also draws attention to the tradition of decorative embroidery depicting Australian flora and fauna that was created by many women in late 19th century Australia.

>Work in progress on the Tom Roberts portrait.

Work in progress showing Celia Rosser’s artwork.

Walker researched and selected portraits of artists Tom Roberts and Arthur Streeton as young men. He included the cover of the catalogue for the 9 x 5 Impressionist Exhibition of 1889, the most controversial exhibition in early Australian art history. He also included in the panel an extract from Joseph Furphy’s Such is Life (1903) which was Australia’s first nationalist novel.

Work in progress on the Tom Roberts portrait

Work in progress on the Tom Roberts portrait.

The different elements in the design: Rosser’s delicate botanical watercolours, Petty’s vigorous pen and ink cartooning, Furphy’s text, and the artists’ portrait photographs, were unified by weaving the background in one colour. Rosser’s flowers were given a strong presence within the tapestry panel when her colours were strengthened, and DMC cotton was added to the weaving wool to give lustre to the flowers in the botanical illustrations.

The interpretation of the photographic portraits was a feat of weaving skill. The tonal range was reduced to a minimum while the weavers ensured that facial features and expressions were retained so they could be easily recognised.

The Heidelberg School

Designer: Murray Walker with contributing artists Bruce Petty and Celia Rosser, text by Joseph Furphy (Such is Life) and the cover of the 9 x 5 exhibition catalogue held at Buxton’s Rooms, Melbourne 1889.

Size: 200 x 389 cm

The Federation Tapestry was supported by the Commonwealth Government through the Federation Fund.

Further Reading

Latreille, Anne and Walker, Murray 2001. The Federation Tapestry: one people united in peace. Catalogue available from the Victorian Tapestry Workshop and the Melbourne Museum Shop

Walker, Sue (Ed.) 2000. Modern Australian Tapestries from the Victorian Tapestry. Workshop. The Beagle Press.

1995. Australian Tapestries from the Victorian Tapestry Workshop.

Brochures: Victorian Tapestry Workshop, Melbourne’s Marvellous Tapestries

Video: 1997 Contemporary Australian Tapestries from the Victorian Tapestry Workshop.

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