Flora, Motifs from Nature – The David Roche Foundation Show

Adelaide based collector, renowned dog judge and exhibitor David Roche AM  (1930 – 2013) left his wonderful fine and decorative arts collection as a legacy in trust for the nation.

Formed during his lifetime, the collection is a tribute to his fine eye and great appreciation for the design and decorative arts of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in Europe, England and America.

The David Roche Foundation manages the collection and it is offering wonderful exhibitions based around a theme in their truly delightful Viewing Gallery.

Flora – Motifs from Nature commenced Tuesday December 10th, 2013 and finishes Thursday April 10th, 2014. It is a wonderful homage to David Roche’s love of flowers and floral ornament.

In the main the works have been gleaned from that period in European history when the flower garden finally emerged as a distinct entity and flora and foliage began appearing across all disciplines of the visual arts.

During the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries fabulous flora all around the world became a passionate pursuit for plant hunters. They braved the wilds of foreign climes and jungles to bring home new specimens, which meant instant social success and great wealth.

The dahlia’s route to England was through ‘high society’ while the fuschia arrived in a sailor’s bag, brought home from the West Indies to his wife in 1792.

Nurseryman James Lee propagated it with great skill, having spotted it in the window of a poor abode, purchasing it from its occupant.

By the end of the next year he had 300 flowering fuschia plants for sale. ‘Chariots flew to the gates of old Lee’s nursery grounds’ and in no time all the plants were sold.

At that time such success could come at a high price. The Scotsman David Douglas made several journeys to the Americas in 1823 and 1832 and the robust and attractive Douglas Fir was named for him. He also introduced the California Poppy to England before meeting an untimely end in Hawaii, falling into a trap already inhabited by a wild bull.

David Roche shared his passion for cultivating flowers with his counterparts of the 17th to the 20th century, as well as with the well-known South Australian horticulturist Adam Krompkamp, who has endless energy and enthusiasm for the garden he created to surround David Roche’s collection in Adelaide.

Adam has assisted inaugural curator of the collection Martyn Cook and Manager Anne Preston-Flint, to identify all the many and varied types of flora and foliage showcased.

It has been a challenging task, because some are factual and others are just pure fantasy.

David Roche enjoyed art with naïve delightful references to those working the land, just as much as he admired sophisticated pieces depicting notable patrons, aristocrats and royalty.

He was constantly fascinated by how and why designs and styles ebbed and flowed from east to west and from west to east.

Some of the items in his collection feature influences from more than one culture, which only added to the fun of the chase and his enjoyment when he managed to secure them.

A fabulous French fall front desk known as a ‘Secrétaire á Abbatant’ made around 1780 was a great favourite. It features a splendid array of carnations, which are symbolic of endearment, love and beauty.

Highly ornamented with both flowers and foliage, this tall French writing desk is a most suitable and highly decorative piece of furniture for any man of means, who could also use it to house his private correspondence.

Made around 1780 it is constructed from Kingwood and Boxwood with gilt bronze mounts, lacquer work and a top of Breche d’Alep marble.

The front panel is covered profusely with carnations in a style of painted decoration known as Vernis, originally carried out by the Martin Brothers.

For centuries now in both east and the west gardening has been one of the most consistent signs of a great civilisation and the most visually absorbing expression of any culture.

In England the quest for nature was integral to the development of what was known as the ‘cult of the picturesque’, which gradually came to fruition with beauty as its main focus as a battle between art and nature raged.

The picturesque achieved its fullest expression in the late 18th century when it was associated with a search for Arcady (Arcadia), that pleasant land idealized by the ancient Greeks, where shepherds and shepherdesses frolicked about without a care in the world.

The designs of renowned landscape artist Lancelot ‘Capability ‘Brown (1716-1783) complimented the neoclassical design in architecture and the Arcadian vision, especially when it was produced by Scottish born London based architect Robert Adam (1728-1792) and his contemporaries during the second half of the eighteenth century.

They were reflecting the ‘correct taste’ of their clients as they transposed references to it on a fabulous visual display of design and decorative arts that inspired other artists and artisans for over a century.

An exotic English Console table c1815 in the David Roche Collection at Adelaide abounds with foliate and classical references; legs are made like columns straight and true, imitating sturdy palm trees, which were an emblem of sleep, peace, fertility and victory.

They also symbolize ideas of paradise on an impressive piece that celebrates the nineteenth centuries fascination with the ‘grammar of ornament’.

On the apron supporting its marble top alternating with acanthus leaves are anthemion, which consist of a number of radiating petals developed by the ancient Greeks from the Egyptian and Asiatic forms known as the honeysuckle or lotus. The acanthus is another great plant survivor from ancient Greece and Rome, stylistically used to decorate the capitals of Roman Corinthian columns.

The period Mr Roche collected in was at a point when plants became a passionate pursuit for great and noble men of the world in Europe, England and America, who were politically, professionally and socially very influential people.

Men like Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington, Sir Robert Walpole (England’s 1st Prime Minister) at Houghton Hall,  his son Horace Walpole at his house Strawberry Hill and Sir Roger Newdigate (1719-1806) seventh son of Sir Richard Newdigate at Arbury Hall in Warwickshire, all gathered together a vast knowledge, especially of classical antiquities, which were inspiring creativity.

They earnestly believed ‘correct aesthetics’ were an outward sign for how society worked socially within and took up gardening and landscaping with great alacrity.

They debated each other on the merits or successes of art and nature, the battle of the ancients and moderns or, of their preference for classical or Gothic architecture, especially when enjoying a Grand Tour of Europe.

By the end of second half of the eighteenth century noble patrons in England were all disporting themselves as informed rulers of taste.

Over at Paris the careers of award winning French architects Charles Percier and Pierre Leonard Fontaine culminated in the climax of neoclassical design with the Empire style of Napoleon 1 and his first wife Josephine (1799 – 1810) in the first years of the nineteenth century.

Josephine championed the art of botany at her chateau Malmaison, where she cultivated material being brought back by the plant hunters from all around the world.

The David Roche Collection, includes a fashionable group of wares featuring Australian flora and fauna, which was given as part of a dinner service by Empress Josephine and Napoleon, to his sister Pauline on her marriage to Prince Camillo Borghese.

The collection represents many of the European and English factories that had emerged during the 18th century. The images used, especially the flora were all brilliantly executed.

Their colours are vibrant and are presented in a vast array of tones and hues.

A panoply of plates will be on show, some produced by the early English European factories of soft and hard paste porcelain wares, some from Europe and those that were part of the great 18th and 19th century China Trade.

Roche admired white flowers, however it was coloured flowers that he loved best and planted lavishly in his own very stylish Adelaide garden.

From the mid 18th to the mid 19th century as the love of the flora continued to be cultivated across Europe it was reflected in a myriad of decorative ways.

Favourite flowers were recorded on vases so beautiful they can quite take your breath away, even in today’s refined aesthetic climate.

One of the finest factories making porcelain wares was the Vienna Porcelain Manufactory.

Konrad von Sorghental was in charge between 1784 to 1805 and this was its finest period.

He was a progressive manager and guided their direction towards the Neoclassical taste with resounding success, developing new background colours and using gilding superbly refined to giving a jewellike appearance.

As well as Vienna Porcelain the ceramics factories represented in the Roche collection include; Bow, Chelsea, Coalport, Worcester, Nantgarw, Derby, Staffordshire, Spode, Swansea, Wedgwood, Worcester; and Meissen, Ludwigsburg, Sevres, Tournai, Zurich and Paris Porcelain, like this superb Darte Paris Porcelain Dessert Plate c1810.

The manufacture of European porcelain differed from the Chinese by its relatively high proportion of kaolin. About 50% against the Chinese of 30%. The main ingredients for hard paste porcelain wares produced in China was kaolinite (Al 2[Si 2O5][OH] 4), silica and feldspar elements, which occurred naturally in soil and sedimentary rock.

When he was 26 years of age French Huguenot silversmith in 1741 Nicholas Sprimont immigrated to England from Liege, registering his mark at London. His mark was the cursive letters NS beneath a star. One of his early financial backers was Sir Edward Fawkener, secretary to the Duke of Cumberland a son of George 11.

Sprimont was silversmith to Frederick, Prince of Wales and many of his pieces are still in the royal collection. His enterprise would see the establishment of a factory in the ancient settlement of Chelsea c1744, where soft-paste porcelain wares of immense charm were produced at the same time hard paste products were being made at Meissen in Germany.

Chelsea was a village of about 1000 people famous for its plant nurseries and market gardens, notably the Physick Garden, which was the first public botanic garden established in England. It had been founded on land leased from Sir Hans Sloane in 1673 by the Apothecaries’ Company ‘for the cultivation of useful medicinal herbs and trees’.

The earliest botanical painting on English porcelain is that of Chelsea. A wide variety of subjects were used ranging from exotic flowers to such mundane vegetables as turnips and swede. Many plant drawings have been attributed to George Ehret, a German botanical artist whose works are much admired.

Establishing a commercial factory in a residential area may seem strange to us, however at the time the considerations were mainly those of commercial convenience.

Sprimont was the man in the right place at the right time with a burgeoning interest in producing wares and ornamental pieces with an aura of the exotic.

His marketing efforts were directed at the rich, fashionable and aristocratic. Mrs. Papendiek, Assistant Keeper of the Wardrobe to Queen Charlotte recorded in 1783’ Our tea and coffee set were of common India china (ie Nankin porcelain) our dinner service of earthenware, to which, for our rank, there was nothing superior, Chelsea porcelain and fine India china being only for the wealthy. Pewter and Delft ware could also be had, but were considred inferior.

The growth of the tea drinking custom in England and Europe during the first fifty years of the eighteenth century opened up the market for tea wares.

In the Red Anchor period c1753-57 chargers with decoration of melon, tulip and swallowtail butterfly in “Hans Sloane style’ first appeared.

The body and standard of naturalistic painting and gilding at this time is of supreme quality and this period is considered the apogee of Sprimont’s manufacture.

Mixing cultural symbols and references in an eclectic display became the norm throughout the nineteenth century as archaeologists around the world revealed exciting finds, which only added to the burgeoning decorative ornament data base.

This superb Monteith, a vessel used for suspending wine glasses by the foot through its notched rim in iced water to cool them, was actually made in China of porcelain to a design first produced in silver by London silversmiths in the 1680’s and then shipped to England as part of the massive China Trade.

The ball and claw feet supporting the Monteith derive from Dutch delftwares, rather than an English source. It features flowering peony, chrysanthemum and other floral sprays, with an imagined stylized flowering tree standing on a small mound.

Native to tropical and warm temperate regions, ancient Greek architects used the stylized acanthus in a myriad of ways. Its handsome, deeply cut dark green leaves were almost indestructible and its long spires of purple and white flowers very dramatic.

In the Roche collection it has been used to wonderful effect on a number of items, including a pair of pylon shaped pedestal cabinets made of mahogany dating from 1810.

The pylon shape had been a favourite in ancient Egypt, with pairs flanking temple precincts as a monumental entrance feature.

Napoleons’ expedition to Egypt included 300 artists, poets, talented scientists, scholars and linguists. They included Baron Dominique Vivant Denon (1745-1825) a gifted young draughtsman and engraver with a taste for adventure.

Also along for the ride was Pierre Joseph Redoute (1759-1840), flower painter to Empress Josephine. They roamed the entire country, cataloguing and drawing everything they came across, completing more than 3000 drawings, which had an enormous impact on arts and sciences for a century or more.

On the ‘Pylon’ cabinets gilded ‘Greek’ acanthus leaves grip and highlight the four corners of the base with a great flourish, while palm ornament is detailed under the top edge. The rest of the ornament is also Greco-Roman, and the naturalistic animal feet provide sturdy support.

According to David Roche’s friend and curator of the collection Martyn Cook,  David Roche would have loved this exhibition because of its focus.

It’s really all about celebration of Roche’s life. All his trips around the world for years included significant botanical events and destinations.

Essential was the famous Chelsea Flower show at London, which was always a focal point for ideas going forward at home.

The use of flora in ornament, whether carved, painted, lacquered or implied as on this delightful Louis XV Sevres and Mennecy Inkstand from France made around 1750, was always great cause for comment now, “what flower is that meant to be?”

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2014

All images supplied courtesy David Roche Foundation, Adelaide, South Australia


10th December, 2010 – May 2014

Presented by The David Roche Foundation


(08) 8267 1755
237 Melbourne Street,
North Adelaide SA 5006


Tuesday to Thursday: 10am to 3pm
Entry by gold coin donation: $2 each

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2014

Next Exhibition
Art From The Hearth
29th April 2014 -16th October 2014


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