Photo of the Day

photos and stories from the Powerhouse Museum

Spirit of ecstasy

October 2nd, 2014 by


This photograph of a winged figurine floating through the clouds shows the bonnet ornament on the 1963  Rolls-Royce Phantom V  currently on display in Recollect: Cars Auto Obsession. The Rolls-Royce icon has  a fascinating history, with its origins in a love affair which has since been the subject of at least two books and a forthcoming film.

The Spirit of Ecstasy, also known as The Silver Lady, Emily or The Flying Lady was created by English sculptor Charles Robinson Sykes who was commissioned by his friend John Walter Edward Douglas-Scott-Montagu, second Baron Montagu of Beaulieu after 1905,  pioneer of the automobile movement and editor of The Car Illustrated magazine from 1902. Montagu wanted to add a personal touch to his 1910 Rollls-Royce Silver Ghost. Sykes chose Eleanor Velasco Thornton, Montagu’s secretary and lover, as his model. Sykes originally crafted a figurine of her in fluttering robes, having placed one forefinger against her lips – to symbolize the secret of their affair. The figurine was named The Whisper and is on display at the National Motor Museum in Beaulieu with other Spirit of Ecstasy figurines.

The first Rolls-Royce motorcars did not have radiator mascots; they simply carried the Rolls-Royce emblem, however, by 1910 personal mascots had become fashionable and Rolls-Royce were concerned that some owners were affixing inappropriate ornaments to their cars. Claude Johnson, then managing director of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars turned to Sykes to design something that expressed:

the spirit of the Rolls-Royce, namely, speed with silence, absence of vibration, the mysterious harnessing of great energy and a beautiful living organism of superb grace…

Sykes chose to modify The Whisper, calling it first The Spirit of Speed and later the Spirit of Ecstasy.

Henry Royce did not believe the figurine enhanced the cars, asserting that it impaired the driver’s view, and was rarely seen driving one of his company’s vehicles adorned with the mascot. The Spirit of Ecstasy has, however, endured and is now designed to be retractable, adding a magical quality to its ethereal appeal.

Auto Obsession, part of our Re-Collect project to ensure greater public access to the Museum’s rich collection features over 25 restored and original historic cars.


Photography by Sotha Bourn

© All rights reserved



Wikipedia The Spirit of Ecstasy

The Spirit of Ecstasy – Part Four, Barry RD Gillings, The Rolls-Royce Owners’ Club of Australia

The Spirit of Ecstasy, Edwardian Promenade

Parasol fashion

October 1st, 2014 by


Florence Broadhurst, above, who was to become one of Australia’s best known designers, was photographed several times carrying an oil paper parasol during her travels through Asia in the 1920s. Parasols were popular fashion accessories at the time and the image above is not dissimilar to one published in fashion pages of The Sydney Morning Herald, in August 1926, with a caption predicting that parasols would be very fashionable in the spring. The Herald published a further update on the parasol just a week later.

Born in Mt Perry, Queensland, Florence exhibited musical talent from an early age and performed regularly for family and friends. Later she joined a troupe called The Globe Trotters and, in her early twenties, travelled with them fifteenth month tour, departing from Brisbane in 1922 and stopping in Singapore, Bali and Manchuria, (where the parasol may have been of some practical use as well). After the tour, Broadhurst and some other performers returned to Shanghai, the commercial centre of colonial Asia, where ‘Bobby’ opened The Broadhurst Academy.

The Broadhurst Academy Incorporated School of the Arts, a finishing school created to attract clients from the wealthy British and American expatriate communities, was Florence Broadhurt’s first business venture. The Academy offered classes in a range of disciplines including dancing, elocution, deportment and short-story writing.

Florence Broadhurst’s time in Shanghai was brief, a little over twelve months, but she made her mark and publicised the Academy whenever possible. Today, Broadhurst is best-remembered for her striking wallpaper designs. Some of these designs, along with other photographs from the album that includes this image, can be viewed in the Powerhouse Museum online collection database.

Post by Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian

Collection, Powerhouse Museum. Photographer unknown. 97/98/1-4/3/1

Dick Smith’s EH Holden Premier sedan

September 30th, 2014 by

Eh Holden

This EH Holden is currently on display in the Museum as part of our Auto Obsession Recollect Series .  We have brought out a range of cars out from display at the  Powerhouse Discovery Centre and into the Museum.

‘Bashing’ was initiated in June 1985 by businessman, adventurer and philanthropist, Dick Smith, who wanted to “take a few mates on a drive in the outback”. The drive was eventually called The Bourke to Burketown Bash and went from Sydney to Bourke in Far West New South Wales and on to Burketown in Northern Queensland.

The idea was to relive the fun and adventure of the Redex car trials of the 1950s and to raise money for the Variety Club. Dick drove this car, a 1964 EH Holden, in the first Bash of 1985 with a surfboard on the roof-rack. The car went on to participate in and complete every Bash event up to and including 2001, raising $2 million over its career.

Photography by Kate Pollard

© All rights reserved



September 29th, 2014 by


The portrait photograph is an opportunity to display proud possessions and fashion consciousness. This unknown young woman was photographed in a three-quarter view, possibly a decision made to display her pearl choker to its best advantage and to include a glimpse of the ribbon tie at the back. Jewellery, an age-old signifier of wealth, status and style, features strongly in many photographic portraits such as this one from the Tyrrell collection.

The current MAAS exhibition, A fine possession: jewellery & identity, celebrates the central place of jewellery in our lives, from antiquity to the present day, through a sumptuous selection of jewellery made, worn and collected in Australia.

Photography by unattributed studio, Tyrrell collection c.1884

No known copyright restrictions

Jewels on Queen: Anne Schofield book launch

September 26th, 2014 by

A Fine Possession

These are the hands of Anne Schofield AM holding an oval sardonyx brooch/pendant carved with a neo-classical female bust that we were able to photograph whilst shooting interviews with her for our upcoming jewellery exhibition ‘A Fine Possession’.  Anne’s story about being a collector will be featured in a digital experience at the entry to our exhibition.

This Sunday Anne will be launching her book ‘Jewels on Queen’. Anne unlocks the cabinets in her exclusive Sydney Shop in Queen Street Woollahra and reveals the favourite jewellery she has bought and sold, and collected over 50 years.  World famous designers, flamboyant aristocrats and eccentric collectors all make an appearance in this book providing insights behind the stunning array of Jewellery.

Photography by Marinco Kojdanovski

© All rights reserved

The launch is in the Target theatre at 2:30pm, this is a free event but please book online here.

The following short video is a sneak peek into Anne’s ‘Collector Stories’ interview that we have created for ‘A Fine Possession: jewellery & identiy’.  Stay tuned for the longer version we will be putting up online soon.

Video by Leonie Jones AV Program Producer

‘A Fine Possession: jewellery & identity’ exhibition is now open

September 25th, 2014 by

Jewellery exhibition

Our latest exhibition ‘A Fine Possession: jewellery & identity’  is now officially open to the public.  This exhibition explores the central place of jewellery in our lives, from antiquity to the present-day, through a sumptuous selection of jewellery made, worn and collected in Australia.  The exhibition features nine different sections including: belief and magic, love and death, nature and culture, style and revival, gold and identity, status and wealth, men and adornment, modernity and change and evolution and revolution.  There are hundreds of items of jewellery to explore including the Canturi replica necklace worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge, that you can see in the background of this photo.

Photography by Paula Bray

© All rights reserved

Man with umbrella

September 24th, 2014 by

Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Tyrrell Collection, glass plate negative

This photograph from the Tyrrell collection shows Richmond flats in flood. A man with an umbrella stands on the right hand side, looking quite comfortable carrying his very practical accessory, but the umbrella was not always so unproblematic.

Louis Philippe (6 October 1773 – 26 August 1850), King of the French from 1830 to 1848 was laughed at for carrying a big umbrella, considered at the time a bourgeois accessory. A contemporary Parisien advised:

Those who do not wish to be taken as belonging to the vulgar herd prefer to risk wetting rather than be looked upon as pedestrians in the street , for an umbrella is a sure sign that one possesses no carriage.1


1. Quoted in Alison Gernsheim, Victorian and Edwardian Fashion: A Photographic Survey, Dover, New York, 1989.


Photography by Kerry & Co., Tyrrell Collection

No known copyright restrictions

Parasol performance

September 23rd, 2014 by

Photo Nº: 00z19684

The umbrella can evoke the idea of sunshine or rain, bringing the outdoors inside to the stage or studio. The light and decorative paper parasol brings a touch of the exotic East to Western audiences. Perhaps the Chinese Umbrella Dance (see one on YouTube) has something to do with the popularity of the umbrella or parasol on stage and screen. Umbrellas of the wet weather variety also appear in some contemporary dance performances, such as the Anna Karins Dansstudio, also on YouTube.

Umbrellas and parasols are light and easy to manoeuvre, concealing or revealing the performer and forming interesting shapes alone or in groups.  The photograph above shows a parasol as part of a performance by the Flying Fruit Fly Circus at the Museum in 2007.

Photography by Marinco Kojdanovski

© All rights reserved.

The parasol

September 22nd, 2014 by

Document from the Powerhouse Museum Collection

The decorative qualities of umbrellas and parasols, as well as their relative lightness and maneuverability make them a popular prop for the stage and studio. So popular is the geometry of the umbrella with artists and photographers that the Library of Congress has dedicated a subject heading for umbrellas and parasols in art. In the image above the parasol, held at a diagonal angle, breaks up the space and forms an interesting elliptical shape to complement the smaller rounded shape of the little girl’s face.

According to Wikipedia, the Chinese character for umbrella is  (sǎn) and is a pictograph resembling the modern umbrella in design.Chinese parasol design was brought to Japan via Korea and also introduced to Persia and the West via the Silk Road. 

This photographic postcard is part of a collection made by Amy and Lindy Hall of West Maitland, New South Wales, between 1905 and 1925. More postcards from this collection can be viewed on the Powerhouse Museum online collection database.

Postcard by S. Hildesheimer & Co., London and Manchester

Post by Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian

The little shadow

September 19th, 2014 by

Buddhist Monks closing ceremony and Mandela destruction

Because of the simplicity of the umbrella, the nothingness of the umbrella, the tension of the umbrella, which make it the object I’d have liked to design most of all. Vico Magistretti.

The photograph above shows Buddhist monk Geshe Tenzin Demchok sheltering from the sun under an umbrella, in this case used as a parasol, on Camp Cove beach in 2009. Geshe Tenzin Demchok was one of three Tibetan Monks from the Dakpa Khangsten Drepung Loseling Monastery in southern India who visited the Museum in 2009. In the foyer the monks built a sand mandala for healing the sick – Buddha Amitayus (Tsepa-Mey). Photographs of this event have been posted previously on Photo of the Day.

A Tibetan sand mandala is a tool for gaining wisdom and compassion. Monks meditate upon the mandala, imagining it as a three dimensional palace with a principal deity housed in the centre.  According to Buddhist scripture, sand mandalas transmit positive energies to the environment as well as the people who view them. A mandala’s healing power extends to the whole world even before it is swept up and dispersed in water, a further expression of sharing the mandala’s blessings with all. The monks travelled to Camp Cove for the closing ceremony of the cleansing of the sand following the destruction of the mandala they made at the Museum.

According to Wikipedia, an umbrella or parasol is a canopy designed to protect against rain or sunlight. The word parasol usually refers to an item designed to protect from the sun and umbrella refers to a device more suited to protect from the rain, although both words make reference to the effect of sun.  The word “umbrella” evolved from the Latin umbella (an umbel is a flat-topped rounded flower) or umbra, meaning shaded or shadow (the Latin word. The suffix -elle is used in French to denote “little”, thus an umbrelle (umbrella) is a “little shadow”.

The parasol is also one of the Eight Auspicious Symbols of Tibetan Buddhism, representing royal dignity and protection from the heat of the sun. By extension, it also represents protection from suffering.

Photography by Emma Bjorndahl

© All rights reserved

Post by Kathy Hackett, Photo Librarian

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