Davidoff, who completed his Masters in Fine Arts at RMIT University in 2012, is a functional and conceptual ceramicist based in Melbourne. During the October 2014 school holidays, Davidoff worked at Vaucluse House, both hand building and on a potter’s wheel, to create artworks in response to his experience of the property. It was a delight for visitors to talk with the artist and to question him about his techniques, materials and inspiration. Over the 2014/15 summer holidays, the results of his residency are being exhibited in seven spaces within the walls of Vaucluse House - from the larder to the drawing room.
Vaucluse House began as a stone cottage, built in 1805 by eccentric Irish knight Sir Henry Browne Hayes. In 1827 the cottage was bought by William Charles Wentworth. Explorer, barrister, writer, he was by then a prominent figure in the colony. The illegitimate child of a convict mother and a father tried but acquitted for highway robbery, he and his lover Sarah Cox, herself the daughter of ex-convicts, had had the first two of their ten children before marrying in 1829.
The Wentworths set about improving the estate – constructing outbuildings and extending the core of Hayes’ cottage by adding a dining room, bedrooms and drawing room, along with a two-storey kitchen wing. Further extensions followed – a three-storey bedroom wing and two-storey stairhall to link the bedroom wing to the house.
A verandah and fountain were added in the early 1860s, yet the house remained incomplete. Even the most obvious element – a front door – was still missing. ‘Where did visitors to the house enter?’ is a question still asked by visitors today. Visitors also often comment on the paucity of bedrooms, only three for ten children. While it was always the intention to build more, this never happened, and poor Fitzwilliam remained in his ‘room in the hall’, his only privacy a wardrobe that acted as a screen. Davidoff pays tribute to this in his work of lead and steel in Fitzwilliam’s bedroom.
We were delighted to grant Andrei Davidoff unprecedented access to the house and all its nooks and crannies, including its collection and archival and photographic records.
The drawing room hosts the work timmie willie fanny fitzwilliam joody didy belle laura edith d’arcy. Inspired by two provenanced red and gilt 'venetian' glass lidded vases c 1860-70s from the collection, Davidoff named the work, ten ceramic glazed urns, after the ten Wentworth children. The black vessels are shadows, almost ghostly reminders of the family that once used the room.
In the breakfast room, Davidoff has made a companion piece to an impressive porcelain ‘schneeballen’ or snowball lidded vase, c1870-80 provenanced to the Wentworth’s. The title of the work there are people who go about the world after such odd works of ancient times has been drawn from the family papers. The smooth dark glazed surface and minimal decoration serves as a powerful juxtaposition to the object that served as his inspiration which is heavily encrusted with flowers, birds and twigs.
Andrei immersed himself in the stories of the Wentworth family - his work responding to the architecture, albeit unfinished; the collection, particularly those pieces with a direct provenance to the Wentworth family; and the more general history of the property as a house museum.
Andrei’s interest in architectural spaces and how people interact with and live within them is evident in this exhibition. Some of the works are subtle, others are more robust, and they are displayed in the unique setting that inspired them.
‘I would like to acknowledge the support of SLM and the Australia Council for this opportunity. It has long been a dream of mine to work within an historic house and reinterpret the stories told, and collections contained within them. From throwing pots in the stables to installing the finished works within Vaucluse House, the process could not have been realised without the support of the SLM staff and the grant.’ Andrei Davidoff, 2014
This exhibition celebrates an artist-in-residency undertaken with the assistance of the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts and the support of Sydney Living Museums.
Exhibition runs16 December 2014 – 26 January 2015 at Vaucluse House.