Florence Broadhurst by Anne-Marie Van de Ven

Excerpted from the Know My Name publication (2020).

Japanese floral 1965–75 was created in the Sydney studio of Florence Broadhurst—the ‘high priestess of printed paper’, the ‘flame headed prima donna of the printing table’.(1) It is as enigmatic as its creator, a rare one‑colour design amid a kaleidoscope of bold, multi‑colour designs. Broadhurst loved colour, including lime green, chartreuse, orange and turquoise. ‘I mix all the color ... I do it in three minutes! You’re either a colorist or you’re not.’(2)

When printed in gold or silver on a dark metallic ground, Japanese floral comes alive—glistening lustrously like pyrotechnics at Hanabi, a Japanese festival—the motifs exploding upwards and downwards all over the paper. Apart from its title though, there’s nothing particularly ‘Japanese’ about the design; stylistically it is pure late ‘Orientalism’. Broadhurst travelled to Asia during the 1920s (including Japan) performing as ‘Bobby’ Broadhurst with the Globe Trotters, Broadcasters and other vaudeville troupes. A car accident in 1927 ended her early stage career, but experiences abroad left a lasting impression on her career as an entrepreneur: ‘World travel from an early age helped me become acquainted with all spheres of design.’(3) She’d energetically reinvent herself for each new enterprise—the Broadhurst Academy, a school of performing arts in Shanghai from 1926–27; the Madame Pellier dress salon in London in the 1930s; and as a landscape painter in Australia during the 1950s.

Her final, most long‑lasting and successful venture was the establishment in 1959 of Australian (Hand Printed) Wallpapers (renamed Florence Broadhurst Wallpapers in 1969) for which she coined a precocious strapline: ‘The only studio of its kind in the world.’(4) She designed a vigorously modern range of up to 800 luxurious handcrafted wallpapers using over 80 colours, the patterns featuring alluring titles like Arabian birds and Persian floral. As Helen O’Neill noted, ‘There were other wallpaper‑makers about, but none had her attitude or her energy. She worked as if she was on a mission, to destroy the drab and revolutionise the nation’s palate’.(5)

The light went out on Florence Broadhurst designs in 1977 when she was tragically murdered in her studio. Two decades later a global resurgence of interest in her life and work began. The Powerhouse Museum in Sydney acquired a Broadhurst archive and Signature Prints re‑introduced her designs to the market around 1997, with Japanese floral re‑emerging in 2002. It immediately became popular—the design applied to Sunbeam mixmasters, Cadry carpets and Matthew Butler’s Zaishu slot together seat/table launched at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art in 2004. The deluxe edition of Helen O’Neill’s award–winning biography, Florence Broadhurst: Her secret and extraordinary lives, featured Japanese floral as a vivid fuschia and black cover design, as did the ‘Florence Broadhurst for Kate Spade’ range sold around the world during 2013. Broadhurst and her designs had resurfaced like ‘a painted red headed butterfly emerging from a purple chiffon cocoon—always colourful!’(6)

(1) ‘Palm trees and psychedelics’, undated and unsourced newspaper clipping, Florence Broadhurst papers, Mitchell Library, Sydney.

(2) Jude Ainsworth, ‘Wallaby wallpaper goes to America’, Australian Women’s Weekly, 25 August 1965, p 9.

(3) Florence Broadhurst, ‘Personalization pays off: Florence Broadhurst Wallpapers Pty Ltd’, unpublished manuscript, c 1976, p 1, Florence Broadhurst papers, Mitchell Library, Sydney.

(4) Florence Broadhurst Wallpapers advertisements, Australian House and Garden, October 1971, p 98; Australian House and Garden, May 1973, p 82.

(5) Helen O’Neill, Florence Broadhurst: Her secret and extraordinary lives, Hardie Grant Books, Sydney, 2006, p 93.

(6) ‘Touch of style’, undated and unsourced newspaper clipping, Florence Broadhurst papers, Mitchell Library, Sydney.

Citation: Cite this excerpt as: Van de Ven, Anne-Marie. "Florence Broadhurst" in N Bullock, K Cole, D Hart & E Pitt (eds), Know My Name, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2020, pp 60–61.

ANNE-MARIE VAN DE VEN is a freelance curator and former curator (art, design and photography), Powerhouse Museum, Sydney.

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