Behind the scenes
Museum of Brisbane opened in City Hall in 2003. After moving out for renovations in 2010, MoB reopened in a purpose built space on the third floor of City Hall in 2013. The abiding mission statement of MoB is to share Brisbane's stories through exhibitions, public programs and through its collection. Its exhibition program seeks to illustrate the many strands of Brisbane's identity through time. While MoB does not hold a fashion collection, it does have a number of items that reveal various perspectives on how people have dressed in Brisbane in different eras. The Fashion Archives visited the MoB's collection store and selected five of the most compelling fashion-related images for our inaugural Pieced Together feature...
A portrait uncovered
This image of Alice Green (in Wynnum, 1896) was taken by Alfred Henry Elliott, a Brisbane photographer who we know little about. A collection of his striking body of work is housed in the Museum of Brisbane. This collection contains 285 glass plate negatives that capture life in Brisbane from 1890 - 1921.Elliott was clearly an avid photographer in his day, but it was not until decades later that his contribution was discovered.
This photograph is a staged portrait, which was very common at the time. Many portrait photographs were taken by studios whose main business was to capture families and individuals, usually in their best dress, in front of elaborately staged sets. Elliott's portrait of Alice Green is slightly less formal, with what appears to be a makeshift backdrop of some patterned fabric, and was likely taken outdoors for maximum light. In her hands she grasps a fan, perhaps a treasured item, and she is dressed in a fairly typical formal dress of the period, with elaborate sleeves and a corseted silhouette.
The collection of Elliott negatives was discovered in an unlikely scenario in the 1980s, many years after his photographs were originally taken.These remarkable images ended up beneath a house in Brisbane suburb Red Hill, packed in cigar boxes, where they seemingly languished for decades before being discovered.
George Street gets the royal treatment
Another of Elliott's photographs, this image shows the scene on George Street during a royal visit by the Duke of York in 1901. While the previous photograph of Alice Green was a contained and staged image of an individual, here Elliott presents the dynamism of the street scene before him. We see women in the foreground in quite formal dresses and elaborate hats. Close by there are children and men in three-piece suits. A man, less formally dressed, crosses the wide and largely empty street. Carriages are visible and people line the footpath underneath awnings. The central focus, however, is the grand arch decoration spanning across George Street, welcoming the Duke of York to Brisbane.
This image is in a stereoscopic format, which was common at the time. In stereoscopic photographs two images are offset separately to the left and right eye of the viewer. The brain combines these two-dimensional images which approximates a sense of three-dimensional depth. Various means were used to view stereoscopic images, including hand-held devices which allowed people to look through a viewfinder to replicate the 3D effect. This was a popular way of viewing images in the 19th century.
The green gown
This portrait is by Richard Randall, a prominent Brisbane painter and teacher in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Born in South Brisbane, Randall studied painting abroad in London before returning to Brisbane where he lived and worked until his death (at the young age of 37) in 1906.
Randall worked across a number of mediums, including watercolours, oils, pastels, drawings, wood carvings and plaster reliefs. Despite his short life, Randall was prolific, producing in excess of 1000 works. Of these, the Museum of Brisbane currently houses 217.
This image of Miss May Marshall is a large-scale portrait of pastel on linen. While we have no real information about who Miss Marshall was, Randall's painting does provide information about the kind of clothing that was fashionable among upper-class women at the time. Miss Marshall is dressed in an Edwardian style green gown that appears to be made from a light fabric. Her hair is pulled to one side, she holds a fan, a silver belt emphasises her waist, and she wears a long strand of what appears to be pearls. The shape of Miss Marshall's silhouette also suggests that she is likely wearing an S-bend, or swan-bill corset; a style which was popular from roughly the turn of the century until around 1910. This type of corset shifted the torso forward and pushed the hips back.
The artist's fiancé
This second Randall portrait is another pastel on linen dating from 1904. Here Randall depicts his fiancé Miss Mina Wirth. She wears a long white Edwardian dress with green trimmings. It sits off her shoulders with two green straps, long sheer sleeves, and a large frill. We can see the beginnings of a bustle detail, and the dress has a small train that has been arranged to one side. Again, Randall captures the lightness of the fabric. As with the previous image, Miss Wirth appears to be wearing an S-bend corset. Her hair is also arranged in a typically Edwardian style. Her skin is very pale (a sign of wealth) and she wears a single strand of pearls.
We know that Miss Wirth was engaged to be married to Richard Randall in 1904. We also know that Randall died unexpectedly of a cerebral tumour in 1906, aged only 37. This knowledge casts a different light over this portrait. As viewers we are aware that there is a sad fate that will soon befall Miss Worth, and Randall's family.
Miss Wirth was the daughter of L.W.K Wirth, who co-founded the Queensland Art Society.
The Queen's ball
This photograph depicts a royal ball held in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's visit to Brisbane in 1954. This was a significant tour due to the fact that Queen Elizabeth II was the first reigning monarch to touch down on Australian soil. During the Queen's time in Australia she and Prince Philip spent six days in Queensland, visiting Bundaberg, Toowoomba, Oakey, Mackay, Rockhampton, Townsville, Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. In each location the royals were met by enormous crowds and decorated and illuminated buildings and streets. It was the first royal tour to utilise air travel.
This sepia tinted photograph was taken by the Dorothy Coleman Studio and shows the Lord Mayor's Ball, held in honour of Queen Elizabeth II, at City Hall. Here the Queen and Prince Phillip sit onstage beneath an elaborate setting of plants and flowers that also appears to be decorated with images of Indigenous people. The initials 'ER' are visible, referring to 'Elizabeth Regina' the latin form of Queen Elizabeth.
In the foreground we see a large crowd of couples dancing in evening attire. The men wear tuxedos or military uniforms, while the women wear long evening gowns and long gloves.
Published in Issue 1, on August 27, 2013.