Thursday, December 30, 2010



Van Gogh's 'Bedroom at Arles'
In 1888 Vincent Van Gogh moved to the town of Arles, and after a short while he took a lease on a house there, called The Yellow House. Paul Gaugin was to move in with him, and Van Gogh envisioned a studio where they could exhibit their paintings. He worked on 'Decorations for the Yellow House at Arles', a collection of thirty of some of his now most well-known paintings, including his 'Sunflowers' series. What has all this to do with lunching alfresco in Sydney's Potts Point on a warm day between Christmas and New Year? Well, lunch was at a bistro in a yellow-painted terrace house in Macleay Street named, appropriately enough, 'Yellow'.

The vivid yellow painted bricks of the house catch your attention, as do the unusual wrought images of birds, plants and animals which form the balconies. Investigation reveals that the building was given the sobriquet 'The Yellow House' (and presumably its colour) by a group of Sydney artists, in memory of Van Gogh and his Yellow House at Arles.

The Yellow House, Potts Point
The house is a Queen Anne terrace built in the 1890s, although it's Roman-style arches and distinctive balconies were architecturally unusual for the time. In the 1950s it began its life as an artists' haven. In 1959 it became a gallery, showing work by John Olsen and Robert Hughes. The house was owned by the Clune family, who had artists to stay, including Russell Drysdale. In 1969, things hotted up. Martin Sharp - who had worked as an illustrator in London with Richard Neville and the Oz magazine project - returned to Sydney looking for an alternative to the traditional gallery scene. Sharp negotiated with the owner and used the old Clune gallery space as an exhibition venue firstly for his own work,and then for work by other artists in the contemporary art scene of the times. This was the era of Christie's 'wrappings' and art 'happenings'. The Yellow House became the centre of Sydney's 'Underground' scene of the 60s. One show there was described by the press as  .."the wildest, most way out happening of the week...the guests wore really wild gear, and many looked as though they had come from a performance of Hair".  

The Yellow House became a multi-media art and performance space with different rooms dedicated to different art movements, the Surrealists being popular. Artists involved with the house included Brett Whitely, Aggy Read, Philip Noyce, Little Nell Campbell (later in 'Rocky Horror Show'), Bruce Goold (designs for Mambo), and film makers Peter Weir and Jim Sharman. The house also expanded into a performance space and saw acts like The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band. 

This wild heyday came to quite an early end, in late 1971, but was remembered in a retrospective exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW in 1990. And also by three friends having lunch today at the excellent bistro that now occupies the ground floor of The Yellow House.

A bit of Sydney trivia for you. I actually remember The Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, but perhaps I shouldn't admit to that. Hey man, really wild. Way out.


'Yellow' - now more Neutral Bay than Underground

Thanks to this site for the history of The Yellow House.

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