Georges Mora

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Georges Mora
Gunter Morawski

(1913-06-26)26 June 1913
Leipzig, German Empire
Died7 June 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 (26 June 1913 – 7 June 1992) was a German-born Australian entrepreneur, art dealer, patron, connoisseur and restaurateur.

Early life[edit]

Mora was born Gunter Morawski on 26 June 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'). Sons William Mora, born in 1953, and Tiriel Mora (1958), are respectively an art dealer and an actor.

Mirka Café[edit]

Recognising that their hospitality and cuisine were marketable, the Moras opened a coffee lounge. Mirka Café was opened by Jean Sablon in December 1954[3] at 183 Exhibition Street and was the venue for the first major solo exhibition by Joy Hester. It 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.[4][5] Patrons ate from Expressionist crockery by Arthur Boyd and John Perceval,[6] were seated on surrealist furniture, and surrounded by murals and sculptures by Clifford Last, Ian Sime and Julius Kane.

Contemporary Art Society and MOMAA[edit]

In 1956, Georges Mora was elected President of the Contemporary Art Society and declared at a CAS meeting that: "We must break down this prejudice in the world that Australia is an artistically backward country. There is only one solution: that is, the pushing of Australian artistic achievements into the world and to bring the world’s artistic achievements into this country."[7] Artists donated paintings towards an inaugural fundraising exhibition in 1957. In 1958 Mora helped John and Sunday Reed transform the Contemporary Art Society gallery, where George's wife Mirka had exhibited in August the year before into the 'Museum of Modern Art (and Design) of Australia' (MOMAA), modelled on MoMA in New York, with John as its director and located in Tavistock Place, a lane-way off 376 Flinders Street, Melbourne.[8]

Café Balzac[edit]

In 1958 Mora established Café Balzac in East Melbourne gaining a reputation as a restaurateur serving classic French cuisine to an eager clientele,[9] which included a gathering of the most significant contemporary Australian artists, to whom he proffered the walls of his establishment. A mural commissioned by Mora in 1962 was painted as individual panels by three Sydney-based 'Annandale Imitation Realists'; Colin Lanceley, Mike Brown and Ross Crothall in exchange for meals and accommodation. It survives as the largest, and one of the best known, examples of the Australian Pop Movement of the early 1960s. Ross Crothall's panel has an inscription "To George(sic) Mora, with love."[10]


The Moras' modernist house at bayside Aspendale was designed in 1961 by architect Peter Burns.[11] The house[12] opened onto a common courtyard[13] shared by the Moras' close friends Sunday and John Reed art patrons and founders of the Heide Circle[14] and 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.[15] They were joined by prominent journalists and writers Barrett Reid, Brian McArdle and Philip Jones,[16] who found company amongst the likes of French mime Marcel Marceau,[17] Barry Humphries, photographers such as Robert Whitaker[18] and Mark Strizic, and filmmaker Nigel Buesst.

Tolarno Galleries[edit]

Georges and Mirka relocated their business, opening in 1965 the Tolarno Restaurant and Galleries[19] in Melbourne's bohemian St Kilda. Mirka created a bas-relief behind the bar and painted murals on walls and windows of the restaurant and bistro, hallway and toilets, over the period 1965 to 1978.[20] The rear of the building became a venue for exhibitions of avant-garde art and was soon surrounded by other galleries. 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.[1]

In 1979, Mora sold the restaurant to Leon Massoni and relocated the Tolarno Galleries to River Street, South Yarra.[21] 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[22] 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,[23] lending work for a very significant Bonnard exhibition touring Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide and Perth state museums in 1971.[24] 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,[25] including eight shows of highly-charged politico-sexual imagery by Juan Davila.[26]

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.

Death and legacy[edit]

On 7 June 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, not far from the site of Mirka Café of the 1950s. George and Mirka's son William has continued the family line of dealer for many decades and his William Mora Galleries is at 60 Tanner St. Richmond.

Monsieur Mayonnaise, the 2016 documentary directed by Trevor Graham and named for Mora's nickname given him by the Resistance, features as interviewee and narrator his son Philippe Mora.[1]

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.[27] In May 2006, the foundation was officially launched by Baillieu Myer with inaugural patron, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch. The Foundation awards a fellowship each year through the State Library of Victoria to a contemporary artist whose work conveys a sense of gravitas. Georges Mora Foundation Fellowships have been awarded to Ruth Höflich (2019), Jude Walton (2018), Catherine Evans (2017), Inez de Vega (2015), Brook Andrew & Trent Walter (2013), Linda Tegg (2012), Ross Coulter (2010), Philip Brophy (2009), Cyrus Tang (2008), and Trinh Vu (2007).


  • 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


  1. ^ a b c Harding, Lesley; Morgan, Kendrah (2019). Mirka & Georges : A Culinary Affair. Carlton, Victoria: Miegunyah Press. p. 212. ISBN 9780522876840. OCLC 1183730843.
  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. ^ "Woman's Page 1 Carols... by Candlelight". The Argus (Melbourne). Victoria, Australia. 9 December 1954. p. 12 – via National Library of Australia.
  4. ^ Daniel Thomas. 'Creative Displacements: Georges Mora, Rudy Komon, Joseph Brown', in Art and Australia, Vol 30 No 4 Winter 1993, p. 481
  5. ^ Toby Creswell, Samantha Trenoweth (2006) 1001 Australians You Should Know. Australia: Pluto Press. p. 362-3
  6. ^ "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.
  7. ^ State Library of Victoria, MS 8246 Contemporary Art Society of Australia; Victorian Branch, CAS meeting minutes, 29 August, 1957.
  8. ^ Palmer, Sheridan (2008), Centre of the periphery : three European art historians in Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing, ISBN 978-1-74097-165-2
  9. ^ Stephen Downes (2003). Advanced Australian Fare: How Australian Cooking Became the World's Best. Allen & Unwin. p.28-32
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ "McGlashan Everist - projects". Retrieved 24 November 2019.
  12. ^ see catalogue of Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery [1] exhibition curated by Rodney James Aspendale Beach: an artists' haven 12 December 2007 – 10 March 2008
  13. ^ Perkin, Corrie (9 December 2007), "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
  14. ^ Janine Burke (2004). The heart garden: Sunday Reed and Heide. Knopf. see Pages 321, 348, 435.
  15. ^ Mora, Mirka (1984). "Mirka Mora interviewed by Barbara Blackman" (Interview). Interviewed by Barbara Blackman. National Library of Australia. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  16. ^ 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.)
  17. ^ "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, 13 November 2003, retrieved 23 November 2014
  18. ^ "Snapper to pop stars and artists learnt skills in war.", The Age, Melbourne: 18, 3 October 2011, ISSN 0312-6307
  19. ^ 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, 22 May 2009, ISSN 0312-6307
  20. ^ "Victorian Heritage Database Report". Victorian Heritage Database.
  21. ^ 14 July 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
  22. ^ 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
  23. ^ The art of the collection, Issue 94 of Miegunyah Press series (2007). State Library of Victoria, Miegunyah Press. Pages 128-30
  24. ^ National Gallery of Victoria (1971). Pierre Bonnard, 1867-1947. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria
  25. ^ Bernard Smith, Terry E. Smith and Christopher Robin Heathcote (Editor) Australian painting, 1788-2000, 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2001. Page 395
  26. ^ National Library of Australia. Juan Davila (1971–1994) Manuscript Book and Archival Material. OCLC Number: 225809387. Manuscript reference no.: NLA MS 9578.
  27. ^ "Georges Mora Foundation". Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission. 3 August 2019. Retrieved 23 November 2019.

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