Aug 22, 2012

Some Beauty: Afternoon at Heide

On Sunday afternoon I went with my friend Pandora to Heide.

Heide is pronounced "Hidey" and is the Heide Museum of Modern Art which you can read about here. If you are a Melburnian or even an Australian of course you will know about Heide, so forgive the exposition for I am supplying this information for the tiny number of people here who are, as I was, ignorant of its existence.

Despite being an art lover (and a modern art lover), loving Sydney Nolan and Albert Tucker and knowing or knowing OF the work of all the famous and influential artists who kept residence at Heide, despite my love of galleries and gardeny places and historical-buildings-you-can-visit, and despite living most of my life in Melbourne - despite all that - I had never heard of the place.

I'll blame it on growing up in New Zealand.

Anyway, the place has stuck in my head in a lovely way since. It is beautiful and serene, and a living monument to what John and Sunday Reed accomplished.  They bought it as an old dairy farm in the 1930's and landscaped it for beauty and self-sustainability AND helped establish the Australian Modern art movement through their patronage and influence.  (The word "patronage" is so patronizing don't you think? It brings to mind wealthy dilletantes and is inadequate for what the Reeds did for Australian art).  Most of the literature and commentary suggests that Sunday was the stronger influence, or perhaps she was just the more charismatic.

It certainly makes a great story. Willowy, artistic and independent-minded young woman from wealthy establishment family marries similarly aristocratic young lawyer; they buy a run-down old dairy farm outside the city [as it was then] and create a working farm and inspirational gardens from a philosophy of beauty and self-sustainability. They take in and nurture the best artists, creating the hub of the Modernist art movement in Australia; they live suitably artistic lives being volatile and smashing crockery, breeding cats and having affairs with the artists who live there - most famously Sidney Nolan, who had a relationship with Sunday for many years and who painted the Ned Kelly series in their dining room.

So here is what Heide looks like now:

As we approached the original house ('Heide I') from the carpark we heard, then saw, two kookaburras flying between tall silver gum trees that flank the path to the house.  It was a lovely welcome into a beautiful landscape.

This house is a weatherboard cottage now painted pale pink with high ceilings, timber floors and white walls. The Reeds bought it in the 1930's and renovated it from Victorian farmhouse to 'French Provincial cottage', and it is gorgeous.  

'Heide I' - the Reeds' first home at Heide. 

I'll admit this house resonated with me far more than 'Heide II', the award-winning late 70's modern minimalist house the Reeds lived in later.  That house, with its narrow brick-walled corridors, open staircase and sunken lounge with built-in furniture AND original nobbly brown cushions and shag carpet, jolted back memories of a couple of swish architect-designed houses I'd admired as a child.  It was built as a house and intended to later be an art gallery, and the design is clever in that way - but it seems very much a building of its time, and feels impersonal and cramped (to me).  But it does fit in well with the landscape and the gardens designed around it.

In Heide I: a fireplace mantel with cat paintings on the tiles - taken before I was told that photography wasn't allowed (oops).

The sign near the 'kitchen garden' showing what's available when.  In my daydreams I plan to have a small kitchen garden (modelled on my mother-in-law's in her Greek village) so this little chart may come in handy for me. When? Oh, you know, never. But I do like the IDEA of it.

The oak tree behind the house - beautifully symmetrical.

Just a view looking through the tangled vines behind the house

In the garden

Hey little fella

Twig sculptures. Pandora who comes from a farming family thought they looked like giant hay bales (as they do). I who come from a watching-TV-in-the-suburbs family found they reminded me of the swirling 'another dimension' image at the beginning of the old black and white Twilight Zone shows.
But more beautiful of course.

This photo also gives an idea of the kind of day it was there - wintry and slightly overcast, lending everything the kind of romantic-in-the-country air that I am partial to. (I'm already composing a soundtrack to this place in my head).

After our little tour we headed to Cafe Vue and met Pandora's friends for lunch, which was a celebration for her birthday. Lunch was lovely, though we all agreed the ridiculously abundant high tea being served to an embarrassed couple at the window looked appealing for next time.

After lunch it was down to the paddock to see the tin cows. I'm always amazed when sculpture captures the manner and movement of a living thing. From the distance these really look real:

Photo by Pandora, used with her permission

And then it was time to go home, not having seen everything but quietly humming with the joy that comes from spending an afternoon in a beautiful place.

Next on my reading list is The Heart Garden, biography of Sunday Reed and her influence at Heide.

I also came across this blog and enjoyed this read - and the photos from Heide in summer:

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