Montsalvat – Eltham, Australia - Atlas Obscura

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Eltham, Australia

Australia's oldest artists' colony. 


In the northeast Melbourne suburb of Eltham is a collection of historic buildings, including houses, halls, art studios, and even stables. Artists designed and built every one of them, while living on-site.  

Montsalvat is the creation of Justus Jorgensen, an Australian painter who initially trained as an architect before enrolling at the National Gallery School of Art in Melbourne. In 1934, Jorgensen was designing a studio in Eltham for painter Percy Leason when he decided he wanted to live in the same neighborhood. The dream of creating his own artists’ colony began.

Jorgensen gathered many students and friends, who joined together to design and construct many of the buildings which remain to this day. There was a bohemian feel to the design. Many of the materials came from demolished buildings, such as the much-loved, newly razed Bijou Theatre. Montsalvat soon became self-sufficient with crops and a poultry farm to provide for the artists and students.

The most impressive of the many buildings on the site is the Great Hall, a three-story construction with gothic balconies and limestone windows salvaged from the Royal Insurance Building in Melbourne’s city center. Students at the time were tasked with carving sculptures such as gargoyles onto the walls of the hall.

While the site remains a dynamic collection of artist studios, creating innovative pieces of art and design work, it also functions as a venue for weddings, festivals and many other interesting events. Classes and exhibitions take place all year round, hosted by the resident artists. 

Know Before You Go

Montsalvat is open to visitors Thursday through Sunday. The yearly Montsalvat Arts Festival gives visitors the unique opportunity to walk around the historic buildings, entering the studios of current artists and taking a step through time to fully explore the remarkable setting.

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