Where would the world be now without larger than life people, who have impacted on what would happen in the future by leaving behind a contribution to the development of our society and culture that can make a difference? Art and antiques collector, great dog lover and breeder David J.K. Roche (1930 – 2013) who died in Adelaide on March 27, has left an important legacy for all Australians.
During his lifetime Roche formed one of the greatest collections of English Regency and French Empire furniture and objects outside England. In 1999 he established the David Roche Foundation to provide the funds to maintain and preserve the collection, which he has bequeathed to the people of South Australia and, for the future of our Australian nation.
Many of David Roche’s finest pieces went on display at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2008 in an exhibition entitled Empires and Splendour, which was a great success. A number of works in the collection boasted connections to some of the most famous figures in history, including Napoleon Bonaparte and Empress Josephine. As first Consul of France Napoleon supported the proposal explorer Nicolas Baudin put forward to mount an expedition to antipodean shores in 1800 on the ships Le Geographe and Naturaliste. His scientific and cartographic achievements would add enormously to the sum of knowledge of Terres Australes.
Interior design, architectural and garden historical style experts Ann and Alan Gore (The History of English Interiors, The English Garden), when visiting Australia in May 2001 were quite overcome when they first saw the David Roche Foundation collection. Ann said…‘this is the best collection of 18th and 19th century fine and decorative arts in the southern hemisphere’.
They then both expressed their joy that someone cared enough about their heritage in design history and the decorative arts to establish such a fine collection, which has up until now been open regularly in Adelaide for display to the public in a purpose built display and lecture venue completed next to David’s House.
David Roche was also a great dog lover and breeder of many different dog types, and his ability to judge and make instant decisions in the dog world flowed over into the collector’s world, because it’s only by knowing your own mind that you are able to seize the moment and perhaps garner something extraordinary.
As a child, David Roche benefited from the finest education and regular trips to Europe, where his family would enjoy private tours of the great art museums.
His parents had a great appreciation for art and design and saw that their young son was well versed in both the history of his heritage and also the practical (business) skills needed to hunt down and acquire things at the very best price.
Patience was a waiting game he knew how to play well from very early on. If at first you don’t succeed try and try again was a concept he well understood. In latter years, he was able to acquire wonderful pieces, that had first grabbed his attention years ago, that had come on the market again. He didn’t hesitate to ‘trade’ up to ensure he had the very best of what was on offer.
He began purchasing antiques as a teenager and continued to refine and add to his excellent collection over the years, with the advice of experts he met on the many side trips and journeys he made while on business. This included Sydney antiques dealer Martyn Cook, who became Mr Roche’s principal collection consultant and, as David would acknowledge, very dear friend.
Martyn Cook has an appreciation; the sensitive recognition of good qualities in design and art, honed from a lifetime of learning and working in the field. It is also acknowledged that dealers often turn up items that challenge many accepted theories. Cook has an innate understanding and gift that has helped him reveal some amazing treasures over the years.
David Roche and Martyn Cook’s trips overseas together were considerable forays in style. From St Petersburg to Paris from London to New York they went annually, foraging for quality works of furniture, ceramics, glass, metalwork, clocks and paintings made by leading cabinetmakers and ébénistes.
They also included objects that were quirky and playful, which said a lot about the personality of this extraordinary collector.
Before his interest in beautiful objects David honed his eye with his interest in beautiful dogs, another aspect of his life. He bred dogs, showed dogs, and judged dogs, including a wide range of breeds from poodles to German shepherds and over his lifetime his own dogs won more awards than any other exhibitor in Australia.
They lived very well, as he did, on Melbourne Street in North Adelaide, in kennels on a property adjoining his own. They also traveled in style.
David Roche was all about being the very best that he could be on ever level of his life.
His success in the dog world was also on an international level, having been a judge in some 25 countries including England and at the most prestigious and largest show in the world Crufts, the dog show every breeder, owner and judge wants to see and be seen at.
Collecting antiques and art was a career that David Roche was entirely devoted to, as set out to learn every intricate detail of the period he collected in, loved and passionately pursued.
He particularly admired the age of ‘romantics and revolutionaries’, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in England, Europe and America, the era when Australia was discovered in 1770 by Captain Cook (1728-1779) and later established by the English as a convict settlement (1788). It was a period of extraordinary political change, of revolution, scientific discovery, dazzling artistry, literary excellence, military milestones, and political and social scandal.
From the dandyism of Beau Brummell to the romantic exploits of Don Juan from the abolition of the slave trade to Catholic emancipation, from revolution to the romantics, this was an age with an engaging cast of characters.
These eighteenth century gurus of taste considered the fine arts, painting and sculpture addressed the so-called ‘Pleasures of the Imagination’ individually, collectively and corporately. Like their modern day counterpart David Roche, they wanted to experience great emotions of taste.
This meant that the interiors of their houses were arranged to suit such a purpose, as was David’s in Adelaide. It was crammed to the gunnel’s with the great and glorious collection that gave him great pleasure over his lifetime, and which he was always keen to share with others.
The era in which David Roche collected was all about progressive design, strongly influenced by ornament and design from antiquity – that of ancient Greece, Rome and Egypt.
The Collection’s greatest strength is that its decorative arts are of truly superb quality, with a focus on European ‘enlightened’ neoclassical design, exquisite craftsmanship and luxurious materials.
Looking back from our own time in retrospect it is very easy to think generally of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century European culture, and perhaps English culture in particular, as just a fabulous collection of wonderful objects, outstanding artefacts and beautiful country houses with glorious gardens. ‘
And indeed it was all of that, but it was also more.
Here was a social group of very influential people who earnestly believed that ‘correct aesthetics’ were necessary outward signs for how their society worked socially within.
They wanted to convince each other that their view of nature, in particular, was directly associated with the virtuous lifestyle they led. It was however only one aspect of an intellectual pursuit that included expanding knowledge of the sciences, as well as mastering and appreciating the techniques associated with the performance and enjoyment of music.
The English house was all about providing an environment in which a display of human perspectives on the worlds of art and nature, which in turn enabled the mind, the spirit and senses to be equally stimulated, could be displayed.
David Roche certainly embraced that ideal. He purpose built a classically inspired gallery next to his large rambling house to hold lectures and educate those with an interest in the evolution of design and the decorative arts.
Now David Roche is no longer available to guide the future of the collection the Board of the foundation he established will carry out that role, planning for the future display of the collection and making sure its accessibility to the Australian public as an educational force is secure.
It is a fitting tribute to a man whose focus was always on gathering the very best and finest examples of the period of history that drew both his attention and admiration.
Like all ‘visual arts’ the world of antiques and art requires some study to gain an appreciation for its forms, with an emphasis on intellectual ideas and social and aesthetic considerations.
A display of fine antiques and art (decorative arts) enhances our built environment and immortalize the persona of the people who designed and made them.
Design and the decorative arts represent the very essence of our culture, its attitudes and philosophies, its fashions and passions.
They reflect our beliefs, religious or otherwise, express our fantasies, stimulate the intellect, fire up the emotions, record and commemorate experiences and events, elevate the commonplace, meet the needs of both artist and viewer and finally, reflect the social and cultural context in which they were developed.
We all have an opportunity in life to make a difference and to change and expand lives. David Roche has certainly done that. He was a man of intellect with high aspirations who, by asserting his independence, achieved international success. He constantly flew in the face of conventions as he fulfilled the promise of his earliest years, and the faith of his father in his abilities.
Vale David J.K. Roche.
Those who loved, admired and respected you and your many achievements will long remember your contribution to making the considerations of beauty accessible to all.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2013