Inside the Collection

Dahl and Geoffrey Collings and Moholy- Nagy

New Year's card, graphic black and white minimalist design with a red strike through it with the text "1937"
2007/30/1-29/5 New Year’s card, Laszlo and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy to Dahl and Geoffrey Collings designed by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, paper, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Killcare Heights, New South Wales, Australia, 1937. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

This is the third our series based on the cataloguing of 2007/30/1, the archive of Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, specifically on the Christmas and New Year’s cards sent to them by family, friends and professional colleagues.

After moving to London in 1935 the Collings’ lived in a small flat at 158 Clifford’s Inn, Fetter Lane, just off Fleet Street. In February 1936 Dahl Collings met Professor Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, formerly of the Bauhaus School in Berlin which had been forced to close by the Nazis in July 1933, when applying for a job with his Pallas Studio to assist with the interior design and presentation of Simpson’s Department Store in Piccadilly, coincidentally some decades later the model for Grace Brothers in the British television sitcom ‘Are you being Served?’. She always described Moholy-Nagy as the greatest influence on her career but initially neither she nor Geoffery Collings grasped the significance of this first meeting. In Geoffrey Caban’s book A Fine Line – A History of Australian Commercial Art, Dahl Collings reminisced that it was only through her friend, the Australian journalist Leicester Cotton, that she learnt of Moholy-Nagy’s reputation and that Cotton “couldn’t believe my luck”. Later she discovered that Moholy-Nagy had been impressed with her portfolio of work which showed “that I had used watercolour, fabrics and other materials in a way he hadn’t seen before.” In Caban’s book Dahl Collings also described her time with Moholy-Nagy as “absolutely stunning” because of the creative possibilities he encouraged her to explore and the team environment which he had he established. Through Dahl Collings, Alistair Morrison was employed on the project and he also found it to be a rewarding experience as “Moholy-Nagy introduced him to the potentialities and subtleties of design.” (Geoffrey Caban, A Fine Line – A History of Australian Commercial Art. Sydney: Hale and Iremonger, 1983, pp71-73)

Dahl and Geoffrey Collings quickly became friends with Laszlo Moholy-Nagy and his wife Sibyl (1903 – 1971) as well as with Gyorgy Kepes (1906 – 2001) and his English girlfriend, Juliet Appleby (1919–1999), an artist and illustrator who married Kepes in 1937. These friendships continued well after the Moholy-Nagys and Kepes’ had left England to help establish the ‘New Bauhaus’ in Chicago, Illinois, in 1937 and the Collings’ had returned to live in Australia.

Laszlo Moholy-Nagy died from leukemia in Chicago on 24 November 1946 and we hold a card within the archive from Sibyl Moholy-Nagy thanking the Collings’ for their condolences. The card reads, “To Dahl and Geoffrey Collings with much love and admiration and in memory of Moholy-Nagy who was the teacher of us all.” (2007/30/1-22/1/6)

Today Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s name is commemorated through such institutions as the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design in Budapest, Hungary, and the Moholy-Nagy Foundation, Inc. which is based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

2007/30/1-29/6 New Year's card, Sibyl and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Dahl and Geoffrey Collings designed by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, paper, Dahl and Geoffre...
2007/30/1-29/6 New Year’s card, Sibyl and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy to Dahl and Geoffrey Collings designed by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, paper, Dahl and Geoffrey Collings, Killcare Heights, New South Wales, Australia, 1938. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The two cards we have selected for this post feature images created by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy using the photogram process. Photo-sensitive materials including photographic paper were exposed to light without the aid of a camera which allowed Moholy-Nagy to create interesting shapes, lines, angles etc often by placing objects on the paper or by moving them during exposure. Moholy-Nagy first experimented with this process in Berlin in 1922 working with his first wife Lucia Schulz as well as with Man Ray who termed his works ‘Rayographs’. The 1937 card includes a photogram entitled ‘Selbstbild’, a self portrait of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, which is dated 1925. A print from the collection of Sybil Moholy-Nagy is held by George Eastman House in Rochester, New York, while another print of this photogram is in the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. The photogram on the 1938 card is reproduced in a book we hold on Moholy-Nagy and is dated 1923 but at this stage we don’t have any other details about it. It is similar to other photograms made by Moholy-Nagy around the same time including this one at George Eastman House.

Paul Wilson, Project Archivist and Curator, Anne- Marie Van de Ven

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