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Opulence: luxury in early Bendigo homes

3 July - 4 October 2015

Opulence: luxury in early Bendigo homes provides a snapshot of the eclectic and lavish aesthetic of the Victorian era. With a zealous enthusiasm, domestic interiors of the Victorian era were adorned with a variety of embellishments. Inspired by a range of sources including historic revivals and orientalism, the eclectic style of the time was defined by a passion for ornamentation and a decisive overlapping of colour, texture and pattern. In a Victorian home, every available surface was filled with objects, curiosities, pictures and furnishings reflecting the inhabitant’s interests and social aspirations.

The Industrial Revolution stimulated the proliferation of the Victorian aesthetic. Industrial processes facilitated mass-production and enabled even the most elaborate pieces to be affordable. With their new-found wealth and keeness for machine-made objects, the expanding Victorian middle classes were significant consumers of decorative items and luxury goods. They spent up big, keen to emulate the houses of the wealthy, elevate their social status and boast their material success.

The aesthetic reached its most extravagant in the 1880s, a time when many Bendigo citizens were rapidly building their fortunes and establishing the city. It is unsurprising then, that hallmarks of Victorian design are present on the exteriors and interiors of many civic and domestic buildings in Bendigo. Without a doubt the most impressive domestic example is Fortuna Villa located on Chum Street, Bendigo. Mining magnate George Lansell purchased the property in 1871 and spared no expense in its expansion and decoration. Interior photographs of Fortuna included in the exhibition show lavish decoration with an eclectic mix of influences and a flamboyant personal style. In the exhibition, these photographs provide a context for furniture, decorative objects and other fashionable luxury items including jewellery.

 

Louis XV chair, c1850, gilt bronze mounted Fauteuils carved wooden armrests and legs with ormolu embellishments and brass castors on front two legs. RHS Abbott Bequest Fund 1997. Collection Bendigo Art Gallery. Photo: Ian Hill