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The Johnston Collection
The Kitchen, The Johnston Collection.jpg
The kitchen
Established 1990
Location East Melbourne
Founder William Robert Johnston
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Minton Potteries, cup, circa 1811, The Johnston Collection. The first object acquired by William Johnston

The Johnston Collection (TJC) is a multi award-winning and critically acclaimed museum situated in leafy East Melbourne that invites creatives from the broader visual arts and design communities to re-interpret the Collection through a regular program of re-installation and interventions of the permanent collection.  

The museum has a superb collection of English Georgian, Regency, and Louis XV fine and decorative arts, and objet d’art which was a gift from William Robert Johnston (1911-1986) to the people of Victoria.  Johnston was a prominent Melbourne-born antique dealer, real estate investor and collector. The Collection is displayed in a constantly changing domestic setting, in his former residence, Fairhall, an historic East Melbourne townhouse.

Since it first opened to the public in 1990, The Johnston Collection has been inviting creatives from contemporary art and design communities to create dialogues with its collection. In keeping with William Johnston's wish that Fairhall be rearranged, the Collection is guest-curated and re-imagined regularly. So, like a public art gallery, its interior rooms are dedicated to regular rehangs and reinterpretations.The museum also offers special exhibitions, study days, lectures and workshops throughout the year, sharing stories and inspiring communities.

TJC encourages challenges to traditional making, thinking and practice through contemporary responses to the Collection, along with more customary responses that reflect historical techniques, materials and making. As such, the permanent collection is not static - with commissioned projects from invited contemporary creatives who draw on this collection, as well as creating new works based on their own practices for their installations, their reinterpretations.


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The Green Room

As a leader and innovator in the arts The Johnston Collection has been awarded for supporting studio artists and curators. The Johnston Collection has been honoured to receive awards and accolades recognising our important work in supporting artists and exhibitions.

Interpretation Australia Award for Excellence 2019  (Winner)

Projects Between $50,000-$150,000  

HOUSE OF DREAMS with Barking Spider Visual Theatre (12 Jul 2016 - 20 Sep 2016)

Museums & Galleries National Awards (MAGNA) 2017 (Shortlisted)

Temporary or Travelling Exhibition (Level 1)

WILLIAM JOHNSTON’S EMPORIUM | Hecker Guthrie rearranges William Johnston’s Collection  with guest curators Paul Hecker and Hamish Guthrie (11 March 2016 - 28 June 2016)

Museums & Galleries National Awards (MAGNA) 2017 (Shortlisted)

Interpretation, Learning & Audience Engagement

HOUSE OF DREAMS with Barking Spider Visual Theatre (12 July 2016 - 20 September 2016)

Museums Australia (Victoria) Awards 2017 (Highly Commended)

Small Museum category

HOUSE OF DREAMS with Barking Spider Visual Theatre (12 July 2016 - 20 September 2016)

Museums & Galleries National Awards (MAGNA) 2016 (WINNER)

Temporary or Travelling Exhibition (Level 1)

FEATHERING THE NEST | Richard Nylon Meets William Johnston (7 July 2015 - 20 October 2015)

Museums & Galleries National Awards (MAGNA) 2015 (Highly Commended)

Interpretation, Learning & Audience Engagement


with guest curator David McAllister AM (14 March 2014 - 25 June 2014)

Museums Australia (Victoria) Awards 2015 (Highly Commended) Small Museum category

AN ENGLISHMAN ABROAD | At Home in British India with guest curator Dr James Broadbent (18 July 2014 - 21 October 2014)

Museums Australia (Victoria) Award for Small Museums 2014 (WINNER)

Small Museum category

DAVID McALLISTER REARRANGES MR JOHNSTON’S COLLECTION with guest curator David McAllister AM (14 March 2014 - 25 June 2014)


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The Blue Room

Fairhall is a two storey brick house constructed in 1860, which now houses The Johnston Collection of fine and decorative art. Constructed in 1860, and originally named Cadzow, the house was purchased by William Johnston in 1952. Johnston occupied the house from 1972, until his death in 1986. Internally the structure of Fairhall remains essentially as Johnston left it. Under his ownership, the house was remodelled to simulate the appearance of a Georgian townhouse. These alterations included changes to the fenestration, the replacement of the front door and the insertion of a semicircular fanlight. The house and its collection were bequeathed to the people of Victoria by Johnston shortly before his death.

Fairhall was converted into the house museum, and a courtyard garden was designed by John Patrick in the English manner to highlight Johnston’s love of gardening. In accordance with Johnston’s wishes, the Collection is displayed in a domestic setting within Fairhall, without labels, ropes or barriers. All visitors are conducted through the house by volunteer guides. There is an established tradition of re-dressing and decorating Fairhall, initiated by Johnston himself. Johnston often brought his decorating skills to the fore, rearranging the furniture, not only in Fairhall but also his country property Chandpara and his shop Kent Antiques, to make little vignettes within the spaces.

Today, the Collection is rearranged for three themed tours per year, with guest curators invited to interpret the space. These have included Lynne Landy and Lady Potter, fashion designer Akira Isogawa, decorator Robert Thomson, and antique dealers Jamie Allpress and Francis Dunn.

Explore TJC's exhibition program, lecture series and upcoming special events.

TJC Online Collection

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Visitors enjoy viewing the 2019 Summer Exhibition at TJC

Featuring a world of over 400 years of art and objects, the permanent collection includes over 1,400 items including ceramics, furniture, glass, horology, metalwork, paintings, textiles, and objets d’art of English origin, as well as items from Europe, India, China and Japan.

TJC Collection Online highlights not only our benefactor William Johnston’s foundation collection but also introduces further acquisitions that have added to the spirit of his original gift to the people of Victoria.

TJC's extensive Reference Library is also online. Be inspired and browse a world of learning in our Reference Library, with over 2,000 books now available online to the general public and accessible by researchers and students.

The public is encouraged to explore, research and enjoy art, antiques and objects of both historical and social significance in the comfort of your own home.

The Friends

The Friends of The Johnston Collection are part of a social network of people who support the world of visual art and design and  play an important role in the life of The Johnston Collection since they were first established in 1999.

The Friends support the museum in practical ways – raising funds for new acquisitions for both the Collection and the Reference Library, for conservation projects in Fairhall, for museum equipment, and for support of TJC’s programs, including exhibitions and lectures.

As well as supporting The Johnston Collection, The Friends receive a range of benefits including invitations to exclusive events and activities, previews of exhibitions, discounts on purchases in the Shop – and much more.

Collection highlights

Scouler Miss Mary Jolly
James Scouler, Miss Mary Jolly, circa 1783,watercolour on ivory, The Johnston Collection
  • Peter Archambo I
  • Hester Bateman
  • Mary Beale
  • Bow Porcelain Factory
  • Adam Buck
  • Richard Cosway
  • Derby Porcelain
  • Gainsborough Dupont
  • Joseph Highmore
  • Henry Hindley
  • Utagawa Hiroshige
  • William Hogarth
  • William John Huggins
  • Thomas Luny
  • Jean David Maillardet
  • Minton
  • Jean-Baptiste Monnoyer
  • Robert Peake
  • Giovanni Battista Piranesi
  • Salvator Rosa
  • Jacob Sang
  • James Scouler
  • Sèvres porcelain
  • John Smart
  • Abraham Storck
  • Staffordshire Potteries
  • Wedgwood
  • Royal Worcester
  • Anthony Knight, The Johnston Collection, The W.R. Johnston Trust, 1997

Coordinates: 37°48′50″S 144°59′06″E / 37.81385°S 144.98507°E / -37.81385; 144.98507

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