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Streamline Moderne Mannequin Balcony - Myer Emporium Mural Hall, Bourke Street, Melbourne
In 1931 Sidney Myer (1878 – 1934) Russian emigre turned Melbourne businessman and philanthropist decided to reinvigorate his store the Myer Emporium by redeveloping his flagship Bourke Street store at 314-336 Bourke Street. Part of this included a new facade in the prevailing interwar style of the time – Art Deco and the addition of several more floors to what was already a very large department store. On the sixth floor a chic European style ballroom with soaring ceilings, sweeping stairs and parquet flooring was planned for use by the emporium’s patrons as a dining room by day and in which Myer could host Parisian fashion shows and hold exclusive Melbourne society events by night. The Myer Mural Hall, so called because of an impressive collection of ten murals by Australian artist Napier Waller, was the realisation of Sidney Myer’s dream.
The Mural Hall, a dining hall suitable for a sitting for one thousand people and a venue for fashion parades and performances, was completed in 1933 as part of the sixth floor which was set aside for dining. It is a large rectangular space with a decorative plaster ceiling and balconies and wall panels in a Streamline Moderne style. However, it is the decoration of ten murals by renowned artist Napier Waller (1893-1972) that are the Mural Hall’s claim to fame. The murals took a little over a year to complete and were painted at Napier Waller’s home at Fairy Hills in Ivanhoe before being transported to the department store where they were hung. Completed in 1934, just after Sidney Myer’s death, eight of the murals are almost floor to ceiling, whilst the remaining two are located over the two side entrances. All pay homage to the seasons and to women and their achievements through history in the areas of art, opera, literature, dance, sport and fashion.
The western wall features (running south to north) the full length murals; “Spring – The Dance Through the Centuries”, “Summer – Sports Through the Centuries”, “Autumn – Women in Literature” and the smaller mural “Modes of Transport by Land” above the door. The eastern wall features (running north to south) the full length murals; “Winter – Of Actresses and the Drama from Medieval Times to the Present”, “Pageant of Beautiful Women in History”, “Pageant of Women Famous in History”, “Revelation of Fashion” and the smaller mural “Modes of Transport by Sea” above the door.
At the north end of the hall, a pair of "mannequin stairs" lead down from two balconies and the change rooms to a common landing. A temporary catwalk or stage was installed at this landing level for fashion parades and performances. The balustrading of the stairs is formed from 'Staybrite' stainless steel in an abstract ribbon design and the handrail is polished timber. The original timber flooring was replaced by parquetry in 1960. The hall is lit by three large and elaborate chandeliers from the original decorative scheme which were designed to provide up to ten different lighting effects. The National Trust classified the Myer Mural Hall noting it as “one of the finest Art Deco interiors in Australia and… one of the most impressive with few parallels anywhere in the world”.
Napier Waller (1893 – 1972) was a noted Australian muralist, mosaicist and painter. He served in France from 1916, being so seriously wounded at Bullecourt that he lost his right arm. He was right-handed but learned to use his left hand while recuperating. Back in Australia, he established his reputation by exhibiting more paintings. He is perhaps best known for the mosaics and stained glass for the Hall of Memory at the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, completed in 1958. However, Melbourne has been described as "a gallery of Napier Waller’s work". Pieces of Napier Waller’s works may be found in the Melbourne Town Hall (1927), the State Library of Victoria (1928), the T & G Life Building (1929), Newspaper House (1933), Florentino’s Restaurant (1934), the Wesley Church (1935) and the University of Melbourne (1940) as well as the Myer Mural Hall.
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