David Roche AM (1930 – 2013) of Adelaide had a magnificent obsession during his lifetime, which he brought to fruition as both recipient and custodian of an exceptional international collection of amazing antiques, paintings and objets d’art.
All hand chosen during decades of travel from London to St Petersburg, from Paris to Rome and all ports in Australia, they document visually over two centuries of European design evolution. Its focus is European neoclassical design of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Today the David Roche Foundation House Museum collection is of national and indeed, international significance and when he died in 2013, David Roche left his treasures to the nation and people of South Australia, to be preserved and presented on the estate surrounding his home, Fermoy House, North Adelaide.
Martyn Cook of Martyn Cook Antiques Gallery, Sydney, having worked hand in hand with David and travelling with him for over three decades, is inaugural curator.
Over the years David Roche established a legacy that is enabling his chosen inaugural curator to build a large purpose-built gallery on his house museum site to showcase the collection.
Together with the board of directors and administrators chosen by David to head up his not for profit foundation from 1999, Martyn Cook is helping to put into place his former client’s visionary plans for the future.
Currently under construction, the all new gallery when it is completed, will be able to offer an ever-changing thematic display for people’s enjoyment, just like any other major institution. The house itself will be set up as at the time of David Roche living there.
Architect David Burton and his colleagues at Williams Burton, Adelaide and the chosen builder Kennett of Adelaide, are adhering to David’s preferred vision of timelessness design, as well as flexibility and sustainability. They are giving David Roche’s treasures every opportunity to survive for a very long time.
The new gallery and its contemporary design will showcase the collection against a backdrop of modernity and in an eco-friendly environment.
While it is being built many of the collection’s exceptional treasures have been taken away to be stored for both their security and safety.
This means the foundation curator Martyn Cook has the time to photograph and catalogue each item professionally, which will assist the future recording, preservation and enhancement of the collection in accordance with David Roche’s will and wishes.
David’s beloved Fermoy Kennels where he bred his renowned award winning Afghan hounds plus his Graeco-Roman Pool complex, the delightful Conservatory, fruit orchards and the gardens, have all been swept away in the demolition, allowing for his much planned dream to be realised.
The show allows an ongoing presence on site so that visitors are able to enjoy some of his wonderful works during this stage of the House Museum’s development. They can also view the all new gallery under construction as it progresses.
Art and antiques, reflect the ‘attitudes and philosophies, fashions and passions’ of society, providing an enriching experience for people from all ages, backgrounds and culture
During the mid 90’s when English interior design and garden historians Ann and Alan Gore were lecturing for me at The Academy in Sydney, we all travelled down to Adelaide to view the David Roche Foundation House Museum collection as it was at that time, and so that they could lecture for David.
They were bowled away by the depth and intelligence of his collection, stating that the English aspect was the greatest example of the Regency period and style outside England they had viewed in their lifetime.
It has been further enhanced since then. To ensure he had the best examples of a period David would often ‘trade’ up.
Over the three decades that I knew David Roche he would happily talk about his choices, both sharing and expanding the knowledge around him.
An enthusiast, part student, part teacher and importantly, part connoisseur all rolled into one, he would come home from abroad and animatedly share his experiences, enabling me to understand first hand just how passionate he was.
He would wax lyrically about a wonderful piece of furniture or a work of art they had found and whether it was humble and small, or a powerhouse of presentation and historic significance, all were important to him.
He particularly loved the quirky and wacky – his wonderful walking sticks, of which there are dozens are such fun.
Some are functional, some phenomenal and yet others are quite useless. They were however a constant source of amusement, as was his marvelous kitchen art and memorabilia.
In the hub of his house he gathered around him many items that made him smile broadly as he started, during and closed his day, just as much as when he viewed his finest pieces of furniture or porcelains by famous makers or manufacturers.
I will always remember David’s excitement and enthusiasm when he re-discovered some wonderful work by a significant maker or designer that had been hidden away and virtually forgotten until rediscovered on one of his forays overseas.
David travelled extensively into Europe and England often over the 30 years plus that I knew him, haunting museums and galleries, attending the very best fairs and dealer’s establishments in places large and small.
His P.A. Lorraine back in Adelaide would be kept busy hunting down things for him as he progressed, entourage in tow.
He always sought the best example of whatever special piece he was chasing at the time because he knew great design works in every age.
The thing I admired about him the most was that while he always wanted his collection to be elite, he did not want it to be elitist; open to the public for a small suggested donation after he had gone.
The collection includes furniture by such luminaries as Dutch born London based Thomas Hope, Chippendale the Younger and the amazing George Bullock as well as the legendary ceramic designer and manufacture Josiah Wedgwood.
Their works are shown alongside works from great English and European ceramic manufacturers such as KPM Berlin, the Royal Porcelain Factory founded in 1763 by Frederick II of Prussia.
From Chelsea in London to the Paris (known familiarly in France as vieux Paris) porcelain works in France and on to the stunning works by the Meissen manufactory in Saxony, as well as mesmerizing object makers like Faberge in Russia, David Roche certainly enjoyed an art filled life.
Urns and Vases were a particular passion. He had many, all different sizes and shapes and it would amuse him to know that in bringing his wishes to fruition, including storing his ashes in one so that he would become integral to his own design and art collection.
One favourite was a spectacular urn by Wedgwood and Sons in ‘Victoria Ware’. This handsome vase and cover was made circa 1875. It has the impressed factory name “WEDGWOOD” and is a baluster shape, decorated with ribbon tied cameo styled medallions on each side featuring portraits of Venus and Cupid.
Modelled by Charles Toft (1832-1909) out of unglazed hard paste porcelain named by their rivals Minton Parian ware for the Greek island Paros that produces a white marble of the same name, they are laid on a spectacular Pompeiian red and salmon coloured ground.
With floral festoons and satyr mask head handles and acanthus leaf borders that were all elements of the decorative style of ancient Greece, the piece has great presence.
As David wished all his guests would leave with a favourite piece to remember after they had visited, this would certainly one of mine – I am partial to the neoclassical style.
Major pieces of the furniture and objects celebrate exquisite craftsmanship and luxurious materials used by designers and makers down the centuries, include his stunning Empire style bed.
Its head-board is surmounted by a bow and flanked by classical heads.
The foot-board is surmounted with urns; the whole is decorated with Graeco-roman ormolu mounts of figures of flora, goddess of flowers as well as trophies-of-war.
This is a time when the elements of the joyous neoclassical style became major components of both the early restrained Directoire style just after the Revolution.
Then there was a pause before the fully-fledged and more monumental style of Napoleon I.
A son of the revolution in France, Napoleon used magnificence and splendor to promote his image and his Olympian power throughout Europe.
One could say it was a combination of the pomp and ceremony of the Bourbons together with the theatricality of the Italians that Napoleon had so admired in Milan.
Many of the era’s designers like architects and designers Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine, who enjoyed both Napoleon and Josephine’s patronage, are today very well known.
The severity and monumental of the design style they preferred was softened by the use of exquisite silks, sheer and opaque fabrics.
There is a superb selection of rare works and subjects of fine art by select and often slightly obscure painters, all of which animate the age and period during which they were painted and reached a standard of excellence.
Who would not like Master Philip of York with his faithful dog gazing faithfully at him, while revealing the sheer delight of a red breasted Robin landing on his arm. In true ‘Sir Joshua Reynold’s style’ he has been captured so charmingly by Bessie Harbutt, c 1900.
Elizabeth Harbutt (neé Cambridge), known as Bessie, was a skilled miniaturist who exhibited at the Royal Academy. She was commissioned by Queen Victoria to paint portraits of the Queen and Prince Albert, which were hung at Frogmore, Windsor.
I should point out that at this time all well-born little boys were still clothed daily in ‘dresses’.
My own family on my father’s side were merchants who must have imagined themselves in a high station in life.
Subsequently, I have a photo of my own father with long ringlet curls to the shoulder and wearing a dress with a sailor’s collar.
It was a favourite saying too that you must not attempt to ‘rise above your station’, one that plagued people wanting to ‘get on’ in the world.
The class system was a useful weapon for some, although as Oscar Wilde apparently quipped “It isn’t where one starts out, it’s where one ends up”.
On one wall of Exhibition 7: TRANSITION there is a selection of wonderful fine art works highlighted against a backdrop of vibrant burnt orange paint.
A pair of decorative panels reveals Zeus and Mercury in chariots, surrounded by grotesque ornament that had its origins in ancient Roman painted decoration.
They come from a London apartment decorated by the renowned American designer Jed Johnson (1948 – July 17, 1996) initially hired by artist Andy Warhol to sweep floors at Warhol’s Factory.
Johnson became Warhol’s lover and went on to have a career as an interior designer and film director. He was killed when TWA Flight 800 exploded shortly after takeoff out of New York in 1996.
The centre highlight of our image is an 18th century portrait of a young English officer portrayed in uniform.
He is wearing a black plumed hat and is disposed within an oval giltwood frame, signed in pencil on the reverse, Lady Frances … (?) of Dorset.
Flanking him are a pair of portraits, one depicting a diaphanous dancer holding aloft a cymbal, the other a girl with a woven basket of flowers.
Her hair is adorned with spring flowers and a dove is resting on her arm. Dating from the early 19th century they were both painted by Scottish painter Francis Gowan (1811-1894).
And we haven’t even started to talk about the clocks!
David Roche Foundation House Museum collection as you have gathered, contains an amazing range of breathtaking antiques and art.
Today it is very hard for us to imagine how dark it was indoors when houses were only lit by candles, a room generally seen in shadows. Good wax candles were very expensive, with tallow candles and rush lights smelly, quickly consumed or both.
Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read Argand Lamp Torcheres signed Robert Shout, 1802, London are among those reassembled to be photographed during transition by Adam Kromkamp and Jeffrey Fischer, allowing us to examine their magnificence in wonderful detail.
Until the invention of the ‘Argand lamp, which burned Colza oil, and later ‘electric’ light, all classes and members of society were placed at a distinct disadvantage in ordering their daily lives.
In antiquity oil lamps had served ancient man well: the profusion discovered in tombs being excavated from the 18th – 21st century indicated that they not only provided illumination for those excavating tombs, but also were meant symbolically to light the way ahead for the deceased.
The Charles and Lavinia Handley-Read Argand Lamp Torchères from England dated 1802 are made of faux bronze, plaster and glass Their tripod form base is decorated with gilt acanthus leaves and leopard mask ring handles, supporting faux-bronze lamps on crouching paw feet.
The three Graces are depicted below bronze twin arm Argand lamps with beautifully etched glass shades, the whole in the Greek Revival tradition; signed “R Shout, 1802, London”.
Martyn Cook tells me this design form can be related to the engravings by Piranesi in his Vasi of 1778. Martyn Cook also notes: ‘Robert Shout (1764-1843) used his trade label (Heal coll. 106.20) to advertise ‘His old established manufactory and spacious shew-rooms’ at 18 High Holborn, where ‘a Figure of Minerva stands over the Door’. He offered ‘Grecian, Roman and Egyptian Figures and Tripods, for holding Lamps or Candles, suitably adapted for Halls, Stair-Cases, Pier-Tables, Side-Boards, Chimney-Pieces.’, together with several hundred figures, busts, vases, medallions etc, from the antique, and ‘Likenesses of distinguished Modern Personages, made to imitate real Bronze, Terra Cotta, Stone, &c’.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2015
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