Lucien Henry (1850-1896) was a French-Australian artist who spent over ten years in Sydney after studying at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris, and being exiled to New Caledonia in the South Pacific (1873-1879) for his involvement in the the Paris Commune of 1871. Lucien Henry arrived in Sydney after the communards were given amnesty in 1879, just months before the Sydney International Exhibition opened at the Garden Palace in Sydney's Domain. He returned to France in 1891 and travelled to London, where he made several unsuccessful attempts to publish his major work, 'Australian decorative arts: one hundred studies and designs'. He died at the commune of St Léonard, Haute-Vienne, France in 1896.
"Henry's unpublished work 'Australian decorative arts: one hundred studies and designs', has a long and fascinating history within our collection. His work became a significant part of the Museum's identity when championed by one of my illustrious predecessors Richard Thomas Baker, the curator/director in the years before and after Federation (1896-1921). In one of the Museum's early publications, Baker heralded Henry as a pioneer of an Australian school of decorative arts." (Kevin Fewster, Preface, Visions of a Republic: the work of Lucien Henry (Ann Stephen (Ed), Powerhouse Publishing, 2001).
This unpublished, beautifully illustrated seminal work by Lucien Henry featured his designs - showing how Australian flora and fauna could be used in architecture and design (ironwork, wallpapers, stained glass windows, table ornaments, jewellery, ceramics, light fittings and chandeleirs, fountains and other adornments). It demonstrates his role as one of the earliest promoters of the use of Australian flora and fauna in applied arts. As he was producing the designs, Henry was also successfully arguing for state involvement in art education. By the end of the 1880s he had become a widely respected teacher and artist at Sydney Technical College, where he'd been appointed first lecturer in art in 1884. Henry's training under Jean-Léon Gerôme at the École des Beaux Arts in Paris encouraged inter-disciplinary work between the arts and industry, and it is clear from his many designs that Lucien Henry continued to ardently champion a similar approach in Australia. He created a compelling pre-Federation Australia national design style, by combining a sophisticated sense of antipodean pride with democratic ideals.
Henry's entusiasm for stylised versions of Australian flora and fauna in applied arts and design continued to be promoted by art and craft students and by Richard Thomas Baker, who became Director of the Technological Museum, the forerunner of the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences (Powerhouse Museum), in 1896 - the year Henry died. Baker was a keen promoter of Henry's work and established the Museum's first Australian Flora in Applied Art display in 1906.
A collection of Lucien Henry's 'Australian decorative arts: one hundred studies and designs' entered the Museum in 1911 and several of the designs were published in R T Baker's book 'Australian flora in applied art' of 1915. The collection includes around one hundred watercolours made between 1889 and 1891, all exploring the potential of Australian motifs in architecture and design. The Museum had earlier acquired a Lucien Henry carved coconut water bottle (1892), and carved beechwood box with lyrebird design by Lucien Henry (1890), and subsequently continued to build on the Lucien Henry collection, acquiring further works as they became available - a lead alloy wall vase (1912), Australian flora plaster decorations used by Lucien Henry to teach apprentices in building trades and art students at Sydney Technical College (1921), plaster decorations with flannel flowers (1922), decorative panel featuring woman's head (1982), photographs (1996 and 1999) and terracotta sculpture (2001). To commemorate the Centenary of Federation in 2001, MAAS mounted a major Lucien Henry exhibition and produced a lavish publication titled Visions of a Republic: the work of Lucien Henry (Ann Stephen (Ed), Powerhouse Publishing).
Anne-Marie Van de Ven, Curator 2017