History



Montsalvat, founded by Justus Jörgensen, is Australia’s oldest artists’ colony and home to practising artists. It remains to this day a working not-for-profit arts centre administered by a board of trustees. Set in 12 acres of established gardens, the historic buildings include charming mudbrick cottages and the impressive Great Hall.

In 1934 the Jörgensens purchased the land that would later become Montsalvat. Justus Jörgensen was a trained architect and student of the artist Max Meldrum. He married a medical student, Lillian Smith, in 1924 and their subsequent travels around Europe had a profound influence on the architecture of Montsalvat.

Whilst the inspiration for Montsalvat came from one man, its creation was the work of many hands. Among those who followed Jörgensen to Montsalvat were Mervyn Skipper, his wife Lena and their children, Helen, Sonia and Matcham. Arthur Munday, Lesley Sinclair, Sue Vanderkelen, George Chalmers, Ian Roberston, Helen Lempriere, John Smith, John Busst and Myra Skipper also lived and worked at Montsalvat in those early years. For a more detailed history of who has lived and worked at Montsalvat please click here.

Many of the buildings at Montsalvat are made via a process called pisé de terre, or rammed earth, using soil from the site. However the iconic Great Hall is built from a reef of mudstone which was uncovered in the grounds during excavation. Many of the other building materials used were sourced from wreckers’ and builders’ yards across Melbourne.

With the outbreak of World War Two, the collective energies at Montsalvat were redirected and Montsalvat became largely self-sufficient, with a market garden, poultry farm and small dairy. Several more buildings were hastily built for the farm – the dairy, stables, silos and storehouses belong to this period. In the late 1990’s the Barn studio was burnt down, leaving only the fireplace standing. The Barn Gallery, which now serves as the main entrance to Montsalvat was built in its place.

Today Montsalvat is a thriving arts community with members of the Jörgensen and Skipper families still living and working in the grounds. Montsalvat also enjoys an active Arts Program which includes exhibitions, concerts, arts education, literary events, festivals and an artist in residence program.

What’s in a name?
The name Montsalvat features in both German and English mythology. Richard Wagner, the famous German composer, tells of a distant land called ‘Montsalvat’ in his opera Lohengrin. Montsalvat also features in the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In both of these stories Montsalvat is the location of the fabled Holy Grail.

Montsalvat’s own legend has it that Sue Vanderkelen first called this place Montsalvat, declaring that it meant “mount of salvation”.



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