Australian dress register ID:610
Owner:Buda Historic Home and Garden
Owner registration number:2130
Date range:1940 - 1945
Place of origin:Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia
This housecoat leads us into the remarkable story of the Leviny family of Castlemaine. Ernest Leviny (1818-1905) was an Hungarian silversmith and jeweller of some repute who in 1853 travelled to the Victorian goldfields and became one of the wealthiest residents in town. In 1864 he married Englishwoman, Bertha Hudson, and they moved into 'Buda', now a historic house museum. The Leviny's had 10 children, 4 boys and 6 girls. Five of their daughters lived at Buda House for most of their lives.
The girls were encouraged to be creative and industrious and followed in their famous father's footsteps. Their creative lives are most evident in the collection of Arts and Crafts objects they made, now on display in the house. Mary was the expert seamstress, Dorothy painted and excelled in ceramics and metalwork, Gertrude in wood carving and Kate in photography. They all did needlework and attended classes at the School of Mines. Dorothy and Mary were taught in the Arts and Crafts style and philosophy by Arthur T. Woodward. As the family were wealthy, the sisters did not have to work but were active in their community. Kate and Mary were involved in establishing the Castlemaine Art Gallery and Historical Museum in 1913.
It is likely that Kate's friend, Lucy Newell, made and gifted the housecoat. The selection of the Frances Burke fabric and unusual matching bedspread illustrates an artistic choice. Using furnishing fabrics for clothing was a new development in the 1940s.
Frances Burke had set up her textile design company Burway Prints in 1937 and as a key Australian modernist designer, is now acknowledged in the Frances Burke Textile Resource Centre at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Her early work in lino prints had a european flavour as in this print, with its classically inspired columns, grapes and birds. in the 1940s Burke graduated to screen printing and featured more Australian motifs. It is possible that the sisters and Lucy Newell knew Burke and certainly her strident work would have appealed to their avant garde aesthetic.
This garment expresses a feminine freedom and dynamism that was part of the new 20th century. With many men lost to the First World War and more fighting in the second, women such as these well-to-do sisters led assertive, independent and productive lives and ventured into artisan trades previously the domain of men. Author: Lindie Ward, 22/8/2016.
The stylish Irish linen housecoat is printed with a Frances Burke furnishing design (Design catalogue no. 427, Moresque II) in bright pink. The printed motifs are classically inspired grapes, leaf spray, birds, lilies, vertical columns and 45' stripes. The garment matches the single frilled bedspread in Kate Leviny's bedroom.
The garment is ankle-length, shortsleeved and fastens with white plastic buttons down the front. It has a V neck and is shaped with shoulder and bust darts. The skirt is gathered onto a low waist seam.
Link to further information about this object
History and Provenance
The Leviny family occupied Buda Historic Home and Garden for 118 years.
Births, deaths, marriages, children or family information
Ernest Leviny (1818-1905) married Mary Isaacs (1831-1860) in 1858. Son Charles died at 6 months.
He then married Bertha Hudson (1844-1923) in 1864.
Louis Ernest (1866-1919); Alfred Eugene (1867-1872); Mary Florence (1869-1939); Ernest Arthur (1871-1954); Francis Herbert (1873-1876); Ilma Edith (1875-1939); Beatrice Kate (1877-1963); Gertrude Olga Louise (1879-1961); Bertha Dorothy (1881-1968); Hilda Geraldine (1883-1981)
Do you have any stories or community information associated with this?
Buda Historic Home and Garden is located at 42 Hunter Street, Castlemaine.
Ernest Leviny created one of the most important surviving 19th century gardens in Victoria at Buda. After he ceased to work, the garden became his passion.
How does this garment relate to the wider historical context?
Buda House was named after the town of Buda which in 1873 became known as Budapest when a bridge was built across the Danube to join the two cities, Buda and Pest.
Ernest Leviny created a gold inkstand 'the most magnificent one in the world' (Mount Alexander Mail, 13th April, 1857). This must have been his finest work as it was made from 2.2 kilos of 22 carat gold with a red gum pedestal. It featured 4 nuggets from Castlemaine, Bendigo, Maryborough and Ballarat, a native figure, 2 figures symbolising 'Commerce and Plenty' and 'Science and Wisdom', an emu, a kangaroo and malachite gum leaves. Its value, put at 600 pounds sterling, precluded it from private purchase and it was suggested at the time that it be presented as a gift to Queen Victoria.
Where did this information come from?
Australian Dictionary of Biography, Obituaries Australia, Leviny, Erno (1818-1905)
Electronic Encyclopaedia of Gold in Australia, Leviny Ernest
Trove, 13th April 1857- Empire (Sydney NSW: 1857-1875)
Buda Historic House and Garden brochure
daao.org.au (Lucy Newell biography)
Buda catalogue archives
Buda Curator notes
emhs.org.au (Frances Burke by Nanette Carter)
This garment has been exhibited
The housecoat has been on rotational display/storage at Buda Historic Home and Garden.
Place of origin:
Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia
Probably belonged to Kate as it matched the bedspread in her bedroom.
Later given to her friend, Lucy Newell in Castlemaine and then returned in 2000 from the Estate of Lucy Newell.
Probably Kate and later her friend Lucy Newell.
The garment may have been made by Lucy Newell then given to Kate Leviny or possibly the other way around.
The fabric design by Frances Burke (1907-1994) was named 'Moresque II'.
Probably made by Kate's friend Lucy Newell (1906-2000) artist, printmaker and textile designer who had studied at Castlemaine Technical School and the National Gallery School, Melbourne, Victoria. Newell taught herself textile printing using lino blocks and vat dyes. Frances Burke also studied at the National Gallery School c1932 so it is conceivable that they were friends.
Probably made for Kate Leviny
Fibre / Weave
Plain weave Irish linen furnishing fabric, printed with a pink Frances Burke design, Moresque II.
- Natural dye
- Synthetic dye
The dress is well made by machine with hand finishing.
Mary was the Leviny sister who was an excellent seamstress but this garment dates too late for Mary to have made it.
She died in 1939.
It is thought that it may have been made by Lucy Newell and given to Kate or the other way around.
Lucy had taught herself fabric printing herself and may have known Frances Burke.
The fabric is printed on the selvedge with 'Frances Burke Designs * REG.'
No apparent alterations have been made.
- Hand sewn
- Machine sewn
The garment is simply cut with a low waist and short sleeves.
It would have been a comfortable housecoat.
The original garment fastened with 9 thick white plastic shanked buttons, 4 now missing, down the front of the garment.
The buttonholes are self bound by hand.
- Hook and eye
Stiffening / Lining / Padding
The fabric is very firm there so was little need for stiffening.
The front opening edges are faced with self fabric which helps to keep the front buttoning bands firm.
|Hem circumference||1573 mm|
|Front neck to hem||1270 mm|
|Front waist to hem||980 mm|
|Back neck to hem||1440 mm|
|Back waist to hem||110 mm|
|Sleeve length||280 mm|
|Neck to sleeve head||120 mm|
|Cross back||340 mm|
|Underarm to underarm||450 mm|
|Fabric width||914 mm|
|Convert to inches|
Note that 36 inches (914mm) was a standard British fabric width before decimalisation.
It was unusual for dresses to be made from furnishing fabric in the 1930s but during, and after, the war garments were made from anything available. Made from stylishly printed linen fabric, this housecoat would have been considered very avant garde.
Articles, publications, diagrams and receipts descriptions
The single bedspread with frill (427) is made from the same fabric.
The bedspread is rather faded.
Other objects in the collection illustrate the family's unique design skills.
Other related objects
In the collection is a bodice, possibly Bertha's wedding bodice, from c1864 in brown silk with black lace and velvet ribbon trim.
The skirt is missing but the bodice is boned and lined in cotton fabric.
It hooks at the front with tiny eyelet holes and covered faux buttons.
Link to collection online
The housecoat is in good condition on account of the very strong linen fabric.
The neckline shows signs of wear at the back and the garment has slight fading.