Student flute with case, wood / metal / fabric, made by Clewin Harcourt, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, [1940-1960]
Making of European instruments in Australia appears only to have began in the early nineteenth century judging by surviving letters and the few surviving examples of instruments such as the cottage piano by John Benham dating from about 1835 in the museum's collection. However, the nineteenth century saw a number of makers of pianos, violins and other bowed string instruments but it is rare to find makers of woodwinds. The earliest flute maker at this stage seems to be Jordan Wainwright of Sydney who made older style simple system instruments. Wainwright died in 1884 and it was not for another thirty years before another flutemaker appeared in Australia. Clewin Harcourt was born in Victoria and trained as an artist having studied with Frederick McCubbin at the National Gallery Art School in Melbourne at the same time as fellow student, Arthur Streeton. In 1901 he left Australia for Europe enrolling in the Academie des Beaux Arts in Antwerp and winning a medal for figure drawing.
By 1903 he went on to live in England for a number of years. It was during this time that he discovered the flute and developed a great passion for playing it and for its music. In 1913 he returned to Australia, and having acquired a variety of skills both in Australia prior to his going overseas and whilst in Europe he appears to have been technically adept enough to begin making a Boehm system flute during this year. Over the next forty years he only made around a dozen instruments but many of them were of a high quality. His surviving instruments in the museum's collection are significant as they are the earliest known Boehm system instruments to be made in Australia.
It is unclear whether Harcourt ever sold any of his instruments apart from one or two, although he seems to have made attempts to sell them and display them through a local shop. The degree of expertise and craftsmanship in the instruments is remarkable given he seems to have been self taught. His papers, now held in the National Library, Canberra, give some insight into how he made his instruments and some of the changes he made to traditional design. It seems that he is likely to have used Rudall Carte flutes as his model but the turning work of the barrels as well as all the keywork appears to be his own work. The only other maker working in woodwind instruments during this early period was Bill White, also of Melbourne, who specialised in oboes and cor anglais.
Curator, music & musical instruments
Hand made by artist and self taught maker Clewin Harcourt. All wood turning and keywork done by the maker. Made as a student sized flute for his pupils with smaller scaling to allow for smaller hands. One of a total output of about a dozen instruments. Possibly made for Jenny and Nicola Wilson in the 1940s, students of Clewin Harcourt.
Clewin Simon Vernon Harcourt was born in Dunolly, Victoria in 1870 and died in Heidelberg, Victoria in July 1965. Although originally trained as an artist and winning several awards and accolades in both Australia and Europe he discovered in his early 30s a new passion for the flute. From 1913 he made his first instrument made of ebonite. It is difficult to date this instrument within his output as he made at least a dozen flutes over the next forty years including two or three ebonite instruments. His notes do not specifically record when his flutes were made apart from the flute in 1913. The flutes were inherited by the donor direct from Harcourt. The donor had been a flute student of Harcourt who, in later life was supported by the donor's family.