Section of ceiling and cornice, based on Lucien Henry's designs for the Hotel Australia in Sydney, aluminium/ fibreglass/ plaster/ vacuum formed polyurethane/ paint/ gold leaf, designed by Lucien Henry, 1891, made by T W Ingham & Sons Pty Ltd, South Australia, 2000, painted by the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia, 2000.
Lucien Felix Henry was born in 1850 in Provence, in the south of France. He arrived in Paris to study art in 1867 and was accepted into Gerome's studio at the Ecoles des Beaux Arts. His studies were disrupted by the Franco-Prussian War and the siege of Paris. He played a leading role in the popular movement to defend the Paris Commune in 1871 as Chef de la Legion, responsible for the defence of the 14th arrondissement. After their defeat, Henry, along with some 4000 other Communards, was incarcerated in the French penal colony of New Caledonia for seven years. In 1879 the Communards were given amnesty and Henry arrived in Sydney.
That year the International Exhibition was held in Sydney, ushering in a decade of prosperous growth for the colony. Henry successfully argued for state involvement in art education and by the end of the decade he had become a widely respected teacher and artist at Sydney Technical College. His Parisian art education had encouraged interdisciplinary work between the arts and industry which he sought to foster locally. Coinciding with the movement towards federation, Henry expressed a strong desire to see the development of an 'Australian Style'. Henry proposed to reinvigorate the classical language of decoration with stylised versions of Australian flora and fauna as 'motives for the decoration of any construction from a cottage to a public building'.
The reproduction ceiling and cornice were made by T W Ingham & Sons Pty Ltd, based on Lucien Henry's designs for the Hotel Australia. The reproduction is a significant illustration of Lucien Henry's project to create an Australian school of decorative arts and desing. Unlike most of Henry's designs, those prepared for the Hotel Australia were realised in a prominent public space, achieving Henry's ambition for a decorative arts which was legible and available to the Australian public.
Although Henry is best known for his uncompleted Australian decorative arts publication, his friendships with Ernest Wunderlih and the engineer Norman Selfe enabled his work to be incorporated in some significant Sydney buildings including the Hote Australia, Anthony Hordern's Palace Emporium and the Sydney Town Hall. Unfortunately, only his Town Hall windows are still extant.
Completed in 1891, the Hotel Australia set a new standard for Sydney commercial architecture. An internal structure of wrought iron columns and beams allowed it to tower above Castlereach Street, dominating a city skyline from which only a few clock towers and steeples reached similar heights. Until its demolition in 1970, the 'Australia' was Sydney's leading accommodation hotel and a centre of its social life.
Among Henry's drawings held by the Museum is P3009, inscribed 'Australia Hotel - Designs for Zinc Ceilings - Dining Hall'. Also held are drawings of square waratah and stenocarpus ceiling panel designs. According to Ernest Wunderlich 'both were executed by us to L. Henry's full size details' for the public bar of the Hotel Australia.
Henry also designed cornices based on starfish and emu egg and fern and starpatterns. Along with his designs for electric light fittings, Henry's ceilings were a feature of a lavishly decorated interior.The Sydney Morning Herald was among those praising this interior as 'a bold attempt to introduce Australian subjects as decorations'.
Charles Pickett, curator
The ceiling of the Hotel Australia public bar is depicted in a photograph held by the State Library of New South Wales. Henry's designs for the waratah and stenocarpus panels are held by the Museum, as P3005(overleaf) 'Square stenocarpus panel for ceiling' and P3012(overleaf), 'Square waratah panel for ceiling'. (These descriptions are those assigned by Henry in his prospectus for Australian decorative arts).
In slightly altered form, the ceiling panels became patterns 0162 and 0163 in Wunderlich's first (1895) catalogue. A ceiling of these 'Australian Panels' was installed that year in the new building later known as George Patterson House,at 252 George Street (largely destroyed by fire in 1996). These patterns lack the indented border of the Hotel Australia panels, while the floral patterns are not as sharply defined as in Henry's drawings. However it would have been difficult to produce such sharp definition in pressed zinc, a fact confirmed by surviving examples from George Patterson House. These patterns did not appear in later Wunderlich catalogues or, apparently, in any other building.
P3010, Elevation, 'Waratah electrolier' includes a detail of a starfish and emu egg frieze designed for the Hotel Australia. There is no extant Lucien Henry design of the fern and star cornice frieze. However elements of this design are featured in Henry's work.
The reproduction ceiling and cornice was manufactured by T.W. Ingham & Sons Pty Ltd. The company also designed and produced the pattern moulds.
2000, based on the original ceiling designed and installed 1890-1891.