On murdered muses

To celebrate History Week 2013, the History Council of NSW selected five historical muses who attended the famous Artists’ Balls, an event held across Sydney for over five decades. 

The first of the muses showcased is Florence Broadhurst, an artist famed as much for her flamboyant life and brutal murder as her creative designs.

Both the Powerhouse Museum and the Caroline Simpson Library and Research Collection (part of Sydney Living Museums) hold collections of her work, including photographs and examples of some of the 550 wallpaper designs produced between 1961 and 1977.

The Peacocks reproduced seen here became the signature design of Florence Broadhurst’s studio in the 1970s and is one of the most recognisable and popular of her designs. It’s been suggested that it represents the flamboyant style of the woman herself.

This eccentric and talented woman has inspired a number of books including, A life by Design: The Art and Lives of Florence Broadhurst by Siobhan O’Brien (2004) and Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret & Extraordinary Lives, by Helen O’Neill (2007). This excerpt from the inside of the front cover of A Life by Design, gives a taste of the extraordinary life of Florence Broadhurst:

“Late on the afternoon of 15 October 1977, seventy-eight-year-old Florence Broadhurst was brutally murdered. Her killer has never been found."

“But who really died that day?

Was it Bobby Broadhurst, the chanteuse of Shanghai? Or Madame Pellier, London’s Bond Street-salon owner and friend to Churchill and royalty? Perhaps Mrs Kann, married to English gentry. Or was it the world-renown wallpaper designer and socialite?”

The David Jones Art Gallery on Elizabeth Street Sydney was the venue for Florence’s first solo exhibition called Paintings of Australia and as part of their 175 anniversary celebrations, the windows of that venerable institution will feature floral art works inspired by Florence’s work for their Spring flower show.

Broadhurst’s designs are still popular today and examples of their use by interior designers in buildings around the world can be seen at Signature Prints website.


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