LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Bold as Broadhurst


Wallpaper makes a revival in daring retro designs, as we look back at the iconic archives and enigmatic tale of Australian wallpaper designer, Florence Broadhurst.

Art imitates life as a revival of the archive of Australia's illustrious wallpaper designer, Florence Broadhurst, offers compeling insight into a lifelong journey that is as alluring as each distinct design.

Wallpaper has once again become a design perennial. An effortless element of decoration, it creates depth and texture, vivifying and enhancing a room. This spectacular revival of pattern marks a backlash to the stark severity of the nineties, embracing a return to form for the new century. Florence Broadhurst, an innovative proponents of the 20th century wall-based print application, is one of the many artists enjoying the decorative renaissance.

Enigmatic, flamboyant and supremely talented - just some of the adjectives often associated with Australia's celebrated wallpaper designer. Throughout almost two decades, Florence Broadhurst went against convention, transforming drab living spaces into bold, decorative scapes or, as she extolled "vigorous designs for modern living" which, over four decades later, continue to take the interiors world by storm.

Florence Broadhurst's life was enshrouded in mystery, from the romanticized narrative of her humble beginnings in Mungy Station in the wilderness of south-east Queensland, to the events surrounding her brutal murder in 1977, which still remains unsolved. One thing however, is clear, this talented print artist lived an extraordinary and diverse life, built on fact and fiction, which is gloriously depicted and beautifully upheld within her iconic work.

From a stage performer in 1920's Asia, which informed her theatrical sensibility, to a sojourn in London where Broadhurst sought reinvention as Madame Pellier - a successful couturier among the celebrated boutiques of London's Bond Street - and back again to Australia where she was to reinvent herself once again, this time as a British painter, her creativity and desire for celebrity knew no boundaries. However, it was in the late fifties that she finally came into her own with her famed wallpaper business, which was, without doubt, the making of Florence Broadhurst.

Creating bold, graphic patterns that were as exotic as her past and as arresting as her gregarious persona, by the 1970s she had become a celebrated symbol of Australian chic. With creative dexterity the designer imagined rich, complex patterns, drawn from her audacious past. Employing artisanal silk screen printing techniques, exotic birds of paradise set in a flora wilderness and large scale florals evoking an Arts & Crafts feel, Chinoiserie and Asian geometric forms recreated in dynamic shades and harmonies and experimentation with new techniques, such a metal papers and gloss foils made her a pioneer within Australia's conservative design scene.

David Lennie of Sydney-based Signature Prints, an Australian hand printing company specializing in high-end fabrics and wallpapers from the designer's impressive archive, is responsible for the complex creative's recent comeback. Lennie acquired an overlooked, long-forgotten pile of wooden silk-printing screens and film positives belonging to the designer when he purchased the library from her estate in 1978, just one year after her death. Today, after years of obscurity classics such as Solar, Turnabouts and Japanese Floral have once again achieved acclaim worldwide. More recently the company has extended Florence Broadhurst's legacy beyond the four walls, into the home with lifestyle and fashion accessories, luggage and more recently a range of rugs, produced by London-based Knots Interiors.

Between 1967 up until her death in 1977 Broadhurst's impressive portfolio of prints totaled more than 530 designs, although in Helen O'Neill's Florence Broadhurst, Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives, no notebooks or papers alluding to rough designs, or illustrating the creative process have ever been unearthed, questioning their artistic origin. It is also suggested that some of the designs to come out of the illustrious studio resemble adaptations of the work of Van Luit or William Morris. Like many aspects of her life, Broadhurst takes the truth beyond the grave, but nevertheless, befriended by royalty, loved by society, and revered by all for her ebullient outlook on design, Florence Broadhurst remains a remarkable icon of her time.

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