Georges Mora

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Georges Mora
Gunter Morawski

(1913-06-26)June 26, 1913
Leipzig, German Empire
DiedJune 7, 1992(1992-06-07) (aged 78)
Melbourne, Australia
Other namesGeorges Morand
OccupationArt Dealer
Years active1954-1992
Known forMentorship of Australian artists, establishment of Tolarno Galleries
Spouse(s)Mirka Mora (m.1947, div.1979), Caroline Williams (m.1985)
ChildrenPhilippe (b.1949), William (b.1953), Tiriel (b.1958), Sam (b.1985)

Georges Mora (June 26, 1913 – June 7, 1992) was a German-born Australian entrepreneur, art dealer, patron, connoisseur and restaurateur.

Early life[edit]

Mora was born Gunter Morawski on June 26, 1913 in Leipzig, Germany, of Jewish Polish heritage. As a young medical student Mora became a member of a communist cell and fled Germany to Paris in 1930. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, Georges left Paris to join the cause. After a plane crash, he was a prisoner of war for a short time. He was active in the French Resistance in World War II, using the alias Georges Morand. After the War, Georges worked as a patent dealer and became the director of a Jewish rehabilitation home for children run by Œuvre de secours aux enfants (OSE) in Paris.[1] Later In 1947 he married Parisian artist and fellow Jewish refugee Mirka Zelik, becoming a French citizen.

New York and Melbourne[edit]

In 1949, after the birth of Georges' and Mirka's first son Philippe Mora (a filmmaker) they joined his family in New York, then in July 1951 moved on to McKinnon, Melbourne[2] where he adopted the name Georges Mora. With characteristic adaptability he took up management of a matzo factory. Seeking more romantic quarters Georges and Mirka moved into Grosvenor Chambers (Ola Cohn's former studio) at 9 Collins Street Melbourne (the so called 'Paris End'). Recognising that their hospitality and cuisine were marketable, the Moras opened a coffee lounge. In 1954, 'Mirka Café' was the first in Melbourne where patrons could eat at tables on the pavement in the Parisian style and the café became the watering-hole of Melbourne's avant-garde.[3][4] Patrons ate from Expressionist crockery by Arthur Boyd and John Perceval,[5] were seated on surrealist furniture, and surrounded by murals and sculptures by Clifford Last, Ian Sime and Julius Kane. In 1956, Georges Mora was elected President of the Contemporary Art Society. Artists donated paintings towards an inaugural fundraising exhibition in 1957. In 1958 he established Café Balzac in East Melbourne gaining a reputation as a restaurateur serving classic French cuisine to an eager clientele,[6] which included a gathering of the most significant contemporary Australian artists, to whom he proffered the walls of his establishment.[7] Georges and Mirka relocated their business, opening in 1965 the Tolarno Restaurant and Galleries[8] in Melbourne's bohemian St Kilda. The rear of the building became a venue for exhibitions of avant-garde art and was soon surrounded by other galleries.


The Moras' modernist house at bayside Aspendale was regularly visited by artists Charles Blackman, Albert Tucker, John Perceval, Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester, John Olsen, Colin Lanceley, Gareth Sansom, Mike Brown, Martin Sharp, Asher Bilu and Ivan Durrant.[9] They were joined by prominent journalists and writers Barrett Reid, Brian McArdle and Philip Jones,[10] who found company amongst the likes of French mime Marcel Marceau,[11] Barry Humphries, photographers such as Robert Whitaker[12] and Mark Strizic, and filmmaker Nigel Buesst. Built by architect Peter Burns, the house[13] opened onto a common courtyard[14] shared by the Moras' close friends Sunday and John Reed art patrons and founders of the Heide Circle.[15]

Sons William Mora, born in 1953, and Tiriel Mora (1958), are respectively an art dealer and an actor.

Tolarno Galleries[edit]

In 1969, to avoid bankruptcy, Mora sold the Tolarno hotel and leased out the restaurant and gallery. In the early 1970s he separated from Mirka. In 1979, Georges sold the restaurant to Leon Massoni and relocated the Tolarno Galleries to River Street, South Yarra.[16] The opening show there included lithographs by Renoir secured through his work as a dealer for Daniel Wildenstein. Georges travelled to the USA and Europe[17] promoting the international reputation of Australian art, and selling European, American and Australian art into his adopted country's national, state, regional and corporate collections,[18] lending work for a very significant Bonnard exhibition touring Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth state museums in 1971.[19] Exhibitions in the first years (1967–69) of the new gallery also presented radical hard-edge abstractions by Dale Hickey and Robert Hunter and sculpture by Ti Parks. William Mora joined his father in running the gallery before setting up his own in the city. Jan Minchin, who came from a position at the National Gallery of Victoria, was Georges co-director from 1989. Throughout its career, Tolarno Galleries supported challenging contemporary art,[20] including eight shows of highly-charged politico-sexual imagery by Juan Davila.[21]

In 1985 Georges married artist Caroline Williams when their son, Sam, was born. Georges was made a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres by the French government in 1989 and he was a strong supporter of the move toward multiculturalism in his adopted country.


On June 7, 1992, at the age of 78, and still energetically running the Tolarno Gallery, Mora died of a brain tumour. He was buried at Cheltenham New Cemetery, where his grave bears the quip 'Out to Lunch'.

Tolarno continues under the directorship of Jan Minchin in new premises at Level 4, 104 Exhibition Street, Melbourne.[22] George and Mirka's son William Mora continues the family tradition as the director of William Mora Galleries at 60 Tanner St.Richmond.

The Georges Mora Foundation[edit]

In Georges' memory The Georges Mora Foundation was established in 2006. It is a not-for-profit cultural foundation dedicated to the promotion of contemporary art and artists in Melbourne and Australia. In May 2006, the foundation was officially launched by Baillieu Myer with inaugural Patron, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. The foundation awards a fellowship each year to a contemporary artist whose work conveys a sense of gravitas. Georges Mora Foundation Fellowships have been awarded to Jude Walton, Catherine Evans, Inez de Vega, Brook Andrew & Trent Walter, Linda Tegg, Ross Coulter, Philip Brophy, Cyrus Tang & Trinh Vu.


  1. ^ unverified account from his biography on the Georges Mora Foundation website [1]
  2. ^ Daniel Thomas, in 'Creative Displacements: Georges Mora, Rudy Komon, Joseph Brown', in Art and Australia, Vol 30 No 4 Winter 1993, p. 481, recounts that they were attracted to Australia; "because his wife, Mirka, had read [in] Murger's Scènes de la Vie de Bohème [of] a character, the photographer Antoine Fauchery, who had been in Melbourne and Mirka declared, 'Melbourne is so attractive to the French'"
  3. ^ Daniel Thomas. 'Creative Displacements: Georges Mora, Rudy Komon, Joseph Brown', in Art and Australia, Vol 30 No 4 Winter 1993, p. 481
  4. ^ Toby Creswell, Samantha Trenoweth (2006) 1001 Australians You Should Know. Australia: Pluto Press. p. 362-3
  5. ^ "Drawings, paintings and pottery by JOHN PERCEVAL are shown at Mirka's Cafe, 183 Exhibition St. The horrific and the playful share in the expressionism of this retrospective display. Color and paint are used freely, the painter's feelings determining what he sets down and how." "Woman honored in art exhibition". The Argus. Melbourne: National Library of Australia. 6 September 1955. p. 9. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  6. ^ Stephen Downes (2003). Advanced Australian Fare: How Australian Cooking Became the World's Best. Allen & Unwin. p.28-32
  7. ^ "The Café Balzac mural is the largest and one of the best known 'survivors' of the Australian Pop Movement of the early 1960's. The work was commissioned in 1962 by Georges Mora, the proprietor of the Café Balzac, East Melbourne. The mural was painted as individual panels by three Sydney based 'Annandale Imitation Realists': Colin "Countdown" Lanceley, Mike "Pancho" Brown and Ross "Pride of Day" Crothall in exchange for meals and accommodation. In the 1960's, The Café Balzac was a key artist meeting and eating place in Melbourne, and Ross Crothall's panel has an inscription "To George(sic) Mora, with love." Anne Carter, 'Cleaning The Café Balzac mural' pp.13-14 in Insights and Intuition: Abstracts of contributions to the 10th AICCM Paintings Group Symposium 4–5 May 2006 Brisbane edited by Gillian Osmond. (2006) Canberra: The Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Materials (AICCM) Inc. Paintings Special Interest Group
  8. ^ The Mora's artistic influence on Melbourne has been recognised with the Heritage Council adding St Kilda's Tolarno Hotel to the Victorian Heritage Register."Tolarno heritage status.", The Age, Melbourne: 3, 2009-05-22, ISSN 0312-6307
  9. ^ Mora, Mirka; Blackman, Barbara, 1928- (Interviewer) (1984), Mirka Mora interviewed by Barbara Blackman, retrieved 23 November 2014CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ Philip Jones (2005). Art & Life. Allen & Unwin. (NOTE: Philip Jones is the former assistant director of the Museum of Modern Art in Tavistock Place, Melbourne, which is now the MOMA at Heide.)
  11. ^ "MIRKA Mora first met Marcel Marceau when she joined his mime classes at a Paris theatre school in 1946." "Painter's truth in a mime of knowledge.(Features)(Column)", The Australian: 012, 2003-11-13, retrieved 23 November 2014
  12. ^ "Snapper to pop stars and artists learnt skills in war.", The Age, Melbourne: 18, 2011-10-03, ISSN 0312-6307
  13. ^ see catalogue of Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery [2] exhibition curated by Rodney James Aspendale Beach: an artists' haven 12 December 2007 – 10 March 2008
  14. ^ Perkin, Corrie (2007-12-09), "Bohemia by the sea [The beach houses of Georges and Mirka Mora and Sunday and John Reed in Aspendale, Melbourne, were a magnet for Australia's most famous artists]", Weekend Australian Magazine (8-9 Dec 2007): 46–49, ISSN 1038-8761
  15. ^ Janine Burke (2004). The heart garden: Sunday Reed and Heide. Knopf. see Pages 321, 348, 435.
  16. ^ July 14, 1982, Ivan Durrant, Asher Bilu and Luba Bilu made an agreement with Leon Massoni, the new owner of Tolarno restaurant, to take over the old Tolarno Gallery, with Ivan Durrant to create United Artists Gallery, as an artist-run co-operative (1982 to 1985) which included Mike Brown, Dale Hickey, Don Laycock and Peter D. Cole amongst others
  17. ^ John Reed, Barrett Reid and Nancy Underhill, Barrett Reid (Editors) (2001). Letters of John Reed: defining Australian cultural life 1920-1981. Viking. Pages 17, 495, 791
  18. ^ The art of the collection, Issue 94 of Miegunyah Press series (2007). State Library of Victoria, Miegunyah Press. Pages 128-30
  19. ^ National Gallery of Victoria (1971). Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria
  20. ^ Bernard Smith, Terry E. Smith and Christopher Robin Heathcote (Editor) Australian painting, 1788-2000, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2001. Page 395
  21. ^ National Library of Australia. Juan Davila (1971–1994) Manuscript Book and Archival Material. OCLC Number: 225809387. Manuscript reference no.: NLA MS 9578.
  22. ^ not far from the site of Mirka Café of the 1950s

External links[edit]


  • Beier, Uli.Mirka. 1980 Melbourne : Macmillan
  • Blackman, Barbara. "The good ship Mora: Melbourne in the 1950s". Meanjin 2.1996 (winter), pp. 293–305
  • de Berg, Hazel [Oral history tape]. 1965 Canberra, ACT : National Library of Australia
  • Burke, Janine. The Heart Garden: Sunday Reed and Heide. 2004. Sydney: Knopf.
  • Harris, Max; & Dutton, Geoffrey. The Vital Decade : ten years of Australian art and letters. 1968 Melbourne : Sun
  • McCulloch, Alan. Encyclopedia of Australian Art. 1984 Melbourne : Hutchinson of Australia (2nd edition)
  • Mora, Mirka. Wicked but Virtuous : My Life (autobiography). 2000 Ringwood, Vic : Viking
  • Reed, John. New Painting 1952-62. 1963 Melbourne : Longmans