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Australia's oldest artists' colony, Montsalvat was founded on 12 acres (5 ha) of parkland in Eltham in 1934. The site was chosen because it is situated at the gateway of the Yarra Valley, an area that has inspired artists since the Heidelberg School set up an artists' camp in the area to paint the surrounding landscape in the manner of the French Impressionists.

In keeping with this historical tradition, Justus Jörgensen, a protégé of renowned artist Max Meldrum, led a team of people in constructing a rustic collection of buildings that are classic examples of French provincial gothic style architecture. Jörgensen named the complex Montsalvat after the castle of the knights of the Holy Grail in German mythology. This aesthetic is encapsulated in the Great Hall with its polished floorboards and stained glass windows and the monastic design of the Long Gallery.

Montsalvat is interesting for its innovative use of adobe and rammed-earth building techniques that emphasised an awareness of the landscape and an appreciation of natural materials in home building. This influenced mud-brick house construction and the use of recycled materials among local architects.

Today Montsalvat is run as a trust under the leadership of Sigmund Jörgensen. It continues as an artists' colony, but has also expanded into arts promotion with permanent and temporary exhibitions. The utopian spirit of the colony helped shape the character of the Eltham community, and Montsalvat remains culturally significant not just for its history and Justus Jörgensen's unified architectural vision, but also as a place of enduring creativity.

Keir Reeves

Jörgensen, Sigmund, Montsalvat, Sigmund Jörgensen, Melbourne, 1975. Details
Roland, Betty, The eye of the beholder, Hale & Iremonger, Sydney, 1984. Details