Montsalvat, Eltham

4.2
#2 of 14 in Classes in Greater Melbourne
Montsalvat, founded by Justus Jörgensen, is Australia’s oldest artists’ colony and home to practising artists. It remains to this day a working not-for-profit arts centre administered by a board of trustees. Set in 12 acres of established gardens, the historic buildings include charming mudbrick cottages and the impressive Great Hall.

In 1934 the Jörgensens purchased the land that would later become Montsalvat. Justus Jörgensen was a trained architect and student of the artist Max Meldrum. He married a medical student, Lillian Smith, in 1924 and their subsequent travels around Europe had a profound influence on the architecture of Montsalvat.

Whilst the inspiration for Montsalvat came from one man, its creation was the work of many hands. Among those who followed Jörgensen to Montsalvat were Mervyn Skipper, his wife Lena and their children, Helen, Sonia and Matcham. Arthur Munday, Lesley Sinclair, Sue Vanderkelen, George Chalmers, Ian Roberston, Helen Lempriere, John Smith, John Busst and Myra Skipper also lived and worked at Montsalvat in those early years. For a more detailed history of who has lived and worked at Montsalvat please click here.

Many of the buildings at Montsalvat are made via a process called pisé de terre, or rammed earth, using soil from the site. However the iconic Great Hall is built from a reef of mudstone which was uncovered in the grounds during excavation. Many of the other building materials used were sourced from wreckers’ and builders’ yards across Melbourne.

With the outbreak of World War Two, the collective energies at Montsalvat were redirected and Montsalvat became largely self-sufficient, with a market garden, poultry farm and small dairy. Several more buildings were hastily built for the farm – the dairy, stables, silos and storehouses belong to this period. In the late 1990’s the Barn studio was burnt down, leaving only the fireplace standing. The Barn Gallery, which now serves as the main entrance to Montsalvat was built in its place.

Today Montsalvat is a thriving arts community with members of the Jörgensen and Skipper families still living and working in the grounds. Montsalvat also enjoys an active exhibitions, concert and artists in residence program.

What’s in a name?

The name Montsalvat features in both German and English mythology. Richard Wagner, the famous German composer, tells of a distant land called ‘Montsalvat’ in his opera Lohengrin. Montsalvat also features in the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In both of these stories Montsalvat is the location of the fabled Holy Grail.

Montsalvat’s own legend has it that Sue Vanderkelen first called this place Montsalvat, declaring that it meant “mount of salvation”.
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Montsalvat Reviews
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TripAdvisor Traveler Rating
TripAdvisor Traveler Rating 4.5
155 reviews
Google
4.4
TripAdvisor
  • The Great Hall was closed for a memorial service and it was cold and raining when we went, but it was still easy to spend a couple of hours viewing the exhibitions and getting lost in the many and var...  more »
  • Although built in the 1930's walking through this artists retreat you could almost be walking though medieval Britain. As a photographer you will behave endless photographic possibilities. One can onl...  more »
Google
  • This place is the bomb!! I have come here the last 2 years to celebrate my best friends birthday. We came again in January and set up a couple of tables for a picnic...there were staff setting up for a wedding. They were so lovely and worked around us as long as they could before we told them we would move so they could finish setting up. Everyone one was helpful and so lovely!!!!
  • Quite disappointing.. waited 1.5 hours for eggs on toast. We were forgotten and they noticed as we received ‘complimentary’ coffees. The staff definitely need to alter their attitude - disgruntle welcome and service. Seems like it could be a nice place but had a negative experience.

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