Forty two highly decorated dining tables with 500 guests sitting below artist Leonard French’s stained glass ceiling in the Great Hall at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) – how much better can it get!

This year’s event, with the gala opening on 1 May, will showcase the work of some of Melbourne’s leading creatives, each unique table setting inspired by Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra, a cornerstone painting in the NGV’s collection. This depiction of a lavish banquet, completed by the artist in 1744, is laden with sumptuous food and objects d’art. Fast forward several centuries and the tables on show bring this visual feast to a new audience in a completely new manner. “People will be amazed with these designs. There’s obviously that sense of theatre you can see in Tiepolo’s painting, but the tables have their own ‘voice’, each one being unique,” says Maria Smith, President of the NGV Women’s Association. “Each table will also include a podcast explaining the designer’s inspiration and ideas,” she adds.

Apart from the starting point being The Banquet of Cleopatra, designers were given a free rein to create a truly unique vision. Kay & Burton, a major sponsor of this event, selected interior designer Danielle Brustman, to create a table on its behalf. Working with a number of artisans, including a ceramicist, Brustman will be unveiling a contemporary interpretation of this milestone banquet at the National Gallery of Victoria.

“I wanted to create a sense of joy in the room,” says Brustman, who was pleased that Kay & Burton could easily understand her vision, initially produced as a series of sketches, followed by a model. As with great theatre that captures an audience’s imagination, Brustman and all those who worked on this special table, will derive pleasure from seeing the guests’ reaction on the night as well as the two days after the opening event, when the tables will be viewed by thousands of people.

Interior Designer Danielle Brustman (photo courtesy of Belle Stewart)

Ceramicist Jia Jia Chen

Brustman's table design was inspired by Yves Klein and his now-famous Yves Klein Blue pigment.

Elizabeth Taylor's distinctive blue eye shadow was also a source of inspiration for Brustman's table design.

Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra is a cornerstone painting at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV). It also provided the starting point to work up the table settings for this year’s The Art of Dining- Best of the Best 2019. Although the sumptuous colours in Tiepolo’s painting resonated with Brustman as she was preparing her concept for Kay & Burton, her mind was focused on actress Elizabeth Taylor as Cleopatra in the film of the same name, made in 1963.

The actress’s distinctive blue eye shadow worn for the role started to trigger other thoughts, including the work of artist Yves Klein, working at the same time the film was made. Klein’s coffee table, a perspex box exposing the now famous Yves Klein blue pigments, inspired Brustman’s design. However, rather than perspex, Brustman’s table is made from glass that ‘floats’ above the Yves Klein blue granules scattered below its surface and backlit.

Pivotal to Brustman’s design is a marquette of Cleopatra’s Needle, also a monument in Paris. Illuminated by blue light, it pays homage to what Klein was unable to do in the 1960s: shine blue light on Cleopatra’s Needle. “At the nth hour, Klein received notice from the police commissioner to prevent him bathing this monument in blue,” says Brustman. A round table could have easily been conceived for this project. But not one to take the easiest and quickest path, Brustman worked closely with Mathew Staples from Prosculpt Project Solutions, to fashion a table in the shape of a flower. She also worked closely with ceramist Jia Jia Chen who clearly understands that utensils need not be functional but inspiring and a ‘feast for the eyes’. Chen’s ceramic plates, vessels and cutlery not only evoke the hues of the table, but also the shape of Cleopatra’s Needle (with respect to the knives in the place settings).

Brustman met Chen a few years ago and was immediately drawn to her ceramics. Like Brustman, a graduate from R.M.I.T. University, except graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Art, there’s a synergy between this creative duo. Chen’s work also has a strong sculptural feel, with her primitive hand-pressed spoons creating a strong tactile presence. Chen, like Brustman, understands the need to think ‘outside the square’ in finding solutions. While some of the cutlery is inexpensive, other materials used by Chen are lustrous and precious; such as the lapis lazuli spheres. Other objects d’art on the table include spinning globes, made by metal smith John Hall. As with the Banquet of Cleopatra, Chen, whose family comes from China, enjoys the occasion of dining, with fine food, wine and table settings coming together. “My father used to regularly attend business dinners in China where there was a 10-course meal. Every course came with its own crockery and cutlery,” says Chen.

To coincide with this event, opening with a masquerade gala ball, the guests attending at the invitation of Kay & Burton will be given masks designed by Stella & Co. These blue-tinted vizards will create an azure hue throughout the entire space.

Lifestyle & Design

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