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Art and history on show at Melbourne’s Tolarno Hotel

With Tolarno Hotel on the market to be sold, the art that lies within takes centre stage at the launch of a new book, ‘Art in Residence’.

Art and history on show at Melbourne’s Tolarno Hotel

On a warm summer’s evening in Melbourne, it was time for the Tolarno Hotel, an icon of the city, to shine. As the property is to be sold, memories of its history and the many art works that grace the walls were re-visited at an event where, Art in Residence a book of the hotel’s collection was launched.

Art in Residence is a comprehensive survey of the Tolarno Hotel’s art collection including works by the renowned Mirka Mora. As the original ‘art hotel’, the Tolarno boasts a proud history and 165 works of art in-situ. The idea to fill the hotel with art was conceived by the present owners, James Fagan and Bernard Corser OAM. Together they instituted an annual art prize where the winner’s work is bought and hung in the hotel. The art prize began in 2002 and has now become a must enter competition by art students from RMIT, Monash and VCA. As the hotel is for sale with all art works, the next owner becomes the custodian of an astounding collection.

Re-visiting history, the building was bought by Georges Mora in 1965 and along with Mirka his wife, they established a venue that became the beating heart of art, culture and a European way of life in Melbourne. Georges and Mirka lived there, above the bistro and café and Mirka established her studio, while the ground floor showcased an art gallery and provided the best French food in Melbourne.

The art of Mirka Mora is distinctive and celebrated. Colour and movement abound and the murals in the bistro are a testament to her artistic prowess. The art featured at Tolarno Hotel provides a snapshot of Mirka Mora’s stellar career, as the many murals that adorn the walls evolve from the early work of the artist in in the 1960s to her last mural painted in 2007.

Related: NGV Triennial

While the hotel today is boutique, with 37 individually styled rooms the famous bistro and a bar, it was built in 1884 as a Boom house before being converted to a guesthouse in 1886. In 1928 a Moderne rear wing designed by G.G Cronin comprising 29 bedrooms, a larger dining room and kitchen were added (Buildings of St Kilda and Their People).

Throughout its many lives, the Tolarno Hotel has always made a statement – prominent as it is on Fitzroy Street in St. Kilda. With art as a central focus, it became the place to be in the 60s and 70s and brought an air of sophistication to Melbourne society. Today, it still flourishes and the art that has been painted and hangs on the walls ensures that fine dining and great art co-exist perfectly.

To capture the moment when Tolarno Hotel is to be sold, a book is the ideal way in which to honour the memory of Georges and Mirka Mora and their special place that has contributed so much to the history, art and cuisine of Melbourne.

Tolarno Hotel

Darren Keane

Next up: Sullian+Strumpf and Tony Albert in Sydney 2024.

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