Montsalvat, Eltham

4.1
#1 of 34 in Classes in Victoria
Montsalvat, founded by Justus Jörgensen, is Australia’s oldest artists’ colony and home to practising artists. It remains to this day a working not-for-profit arts centre administered by a board of trustees. Set in 12 acres of established gardens, the historic buildings include charming mudbrick cottages and the impressive Great Hall.

In 1934 the Jörgensens purchased the land that would later become Montsalvat. Justus Jörgensen was a trained architect and student of the artist Max Meldrum. He married a medical student, Lillian Smith, in 1924 and their subsequent travels around Europe had a profound influence on the architecture of Montsalvat.

Whilst the inspiration for Montsalvat came from one man, its creation was the work of many hands. Among those who followed Jörgensen to Montsalvat were Mervyn Skipper, his wife Lena and their children, Helen, Sonia and Matcham. Arthur Munday, Lesley Sinclair, Sue Vanderkelen, George Chalmers, Ian Roberston, Helen Lempriere, John Smith, John Busst and Myra Skipper also lived and worked at Montsalvat in those early years. For a more detailed history of who has lived and worked at Montsalvat please click here.

Many of the buildings at Montsalvat are made via a process called pisé de terre, or rammed earth, using soil from the site. However the iconic Great Hall is built from a reef of mudstone which was uncovered in the grounds during excavation. Many of the other building materials used were sourced from wreckers’ and builders’ yards across Melbourne.

With the outbreak of World War Two, the collective energies at Montsalvat were redirected and Montsalvat became largely self-sufficient, with a market garden, poultry farm and small dairy. Several more buildings were hastily built for the farm – the dairy, stables, silos and storehouses belong to this period. In the late 1990’s the Barn studio was burnt down, leaving only the fireplace standing. The Barn Gallery, which now serves as the main entrance to Montsalvat was built in its place.

Today Montsalvat is a thriving arts community with members of the Jörgensen and Skipper families still living and working in the grounds. Montsalvat also enjoys an active exhibitions, concert and artists in residence program.

What’s in a name?

The name Montsalvat features in both German and English mythology. Richard Wagner, the famous German composer, tells of a distant land called ‘Montsalvat’ in his opera Lohengrin. Montsalvat also features in the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. In both of these stories Montsalvat is the location of the fabled Holy Grail.

Montsalvat’s own legend has it that Sue Vanderkelen first called this place Montsalvat, declaring that it meant “mount of salvation”.
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Montsalvat Reviews
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130 reviews
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  • This is a must see. We didn’t expect to find such a treasure. Very interesting history and seems much older than it is. A touch of Europe in Victoria. Beautiful venue for wedding or other special occa...  more »
  • It’s definitely one of my favourite places within one hour’s drive from Melbourne. It is very artistic, has lots of beautiful corners, and is a lovely combination of nature and architecture.  more »
  • We visited this place when spring, and many spring flowers which add to the beauty of this building complex. Enter our building complex seemed to be in Europe. There are beautiful peacocks roam freely around the complex. Basically many art exhibitions, galleries, and crafts which opened here, but for those who are not fans of art can still enjoy the beauty of buildings and atmosphere of this place. When we came, coincidentally the ongoing wedding so we were given a discount entrance fee to $4 per person. Children under 5 years free
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  • Our second visit was a year ago. We had a walk in the park, the cemetery and around the galleries. Great if you love art and self-reflection and very adult oriented. It was around 2:30pm when we returned to the cafe half-filled with visitors having lunch. We were hungry and tried to order some food but were refused by the staff. Apparently everybody at the cafe had their lunch pre-booked. Our further attempts to order anything, even a cookie to go with a coffee were met with a lot of unfriendliness. Kids couldn't understand why we were only allowed drinks while being surrounded by eating people.
  • An artist colony and gallery of the past and present. Monsalvat offers an artist a tranquil haven. The cafe is a lovely place to eat even if you skip paying to visit the gallery, church and grounds.
  • Really cool place with old castles and churches. Awesome for photographers. I have been here numerous times when in high school and in my adult life. Hasn't changed in years. Truly lovely.
  • Go on a hot blue sky day. Amazing surroundings and history. Make a day of it and restaurant is great too. Really enjoyed it. It's a adult orientated location for walking and taking in the sights and history.
  • Attended a wedding here. Such a beautiful setting. Amazing reception and food.

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