Philanthropist David Roche AM (1930-2013) formed during his lifetime, an extraordinary collection of fine art and antiques of the highest quality in both terms of materials and craftsmanship.
It is one of the greatest decorative arts collections in Australia, which is stylishly presented for public viewing by The David Roche Foundation (TDRF).
Located on Melbourne Street, North Adelaide, access is only made available by booking a private tour Online.
Scattered throughout the collection, which consists of 3000 + items, are individually important works that previously belonged to people of substance, by either birth or by decree.
Appreciation education is part and parcel of the experience, with a wonderful group of volunteer guides on hand to guide you around this very stylish house museum with its attached purpose built modern gallery and provide you with wonderful anecdotes.
David Roche in 2013 left to posterity a collection that is all about the passionate pursuit for beauty of form he enjoyed from when he was a teenager until the end of his life.
He actively sought out and secured items that once belonged to members of the royal houses of Europe and their courtiers, focusing on those in the so-called Regency and Empire styles best associated with England’s King George IV (1762-1830) and his contemporary, France’s Napoleon Bonaparte (1769 – 1821).
On the last day of January I, 3027 was fortunate enough to preview the all-new exhibition Kings Queens & Courtiers, which is now showing at TDRF House Museum & Gallery. All the objects on display in Gallery 3 were previously owned by those elite people in society whose adventures in taste David Roche admired.
Exhibitions such as this virtuoso display serves to inspire the whole new generation now discovering the extraordinary examples of design and decorative arts made centuries ago.
Adding the dressing gown that once belonged to George IV, to a large portrait bust of him, reveals that humour and humanity is very important in Adelaide. Its certainly an amusing panacea for all ills in our own difficult times.
TDRF Director Martyn Cook, who walked me through the display believes the dressing gown gives more than a tangible link to the extraordinary and inimitable Prince Regent of England.
“This was acquired at the sensational ten day Hanover auction sale I attended in Germany at Schloss Marienburg by British auction house Sotheby’s” said Mr Cook.
“I felt privileged to have seen so many items stored following the accession of Queen Victoria, a time capsule personal items of George IV with a dash of shinkel amongst many German treasures heaped and piled for the general public to acquire – Sotheby’s, combined with German efficiency, made it truly unique and memorable sale” Martyn Cook said.
Selected for presentation by TDRF Senior Curator Robert Reason, fine portraits, porcelains and very fine furniture from famous cabinetmakers, with gilded mounts and very fine detailing abounds.
For portraits that did not come in their original frames, David Roche had them fashioned anew by talented artisans Attila and Cecilia from Inhof Restoration and Frames in Sydney.
When I asked Senior Curator of the collection Robert Reason what his favourite work in this particular display would be, he pointed out the lovely mannered portrait of Louis XV’s mother, the Princess Marie Adélaïde of Savoy (1685-1712).
“Remote, as monarchical absolutism is from Australia, Kings, Queens & Courtiers conjures up something of the social and political times of 18th and 19th century Europe. The glamour of the royal portrait can often belie the truth behind a sitter’s life! Perhaps, this is why I’m particularly drawn to the enchanting painting of Marie Adelaide of Savoy, c.1704, attributed to Pierre Gobert. Standing in a sumptuous riding habit, she gestures to her equally grand setting – the gardens at Versailles. Born a Princess of Savoy, she was betrothed at the age of eleven to Louis, Duke of Burgundy, and later married at the Palace of Versailles. Described as ‘like a breath of fresh air’ by the court of Louis XIV, she is depicted here as a striking young woman. Yet, fate dealt her a cruel blow, dead at 26, along with her husband, and two of her children. The vagaries of history would then have it, that her only remaining child, would become King Louis XV. One of the most famous monarchs of France. I guess the immediacy of the portrait draws you in and her life-story makes it even more enthralling! Robert said.
Wife of King Louis XIV’s heir apparent Louis, Dauphin of France, Duke of Burgundy, they had three sons before they both tragically died of measles, which she contracted first. Not wanting to leave her side while she was suffering, he also contracted the disease and died six days later, marking the end of their love story.
The youngest child Louis was kept isolated and locked away until the crisis passed. And so it was the future King of France, known in his day as the well-beloved survived.
The whole chapter was a devastating event for the ageing King Louis XIV who questioned his faith after much of his family had been taken away from him. The events decidedly impacted on the future of the Bourbon Kings as well.
Looking at this wondrous painting of Marie Adélaïde de Savoie, Duchesse de Bourgogne attributed to Pierre Gobert (1662-1744) up close and personally, it is not hard to feel sad that this vital young woman was taken so early in life.
Capturing her essence, that of a young woman Louis XIV is believed to have also admired and loved dearly before she was struck down, it reveals her as a young woman of style and influence on the threshold of life.
Just loved the detailing of the deep green soles on her golden shoes. And look how tiny her feet were, dainty has a new meaning.
It is also wonderful to observe the fine detailing of the stunning textile used to make Marie Adelaide’s riding costume, which is heavily embellished with gold braiding, mimicking the military uniforms the men wore at that time.
You can almost hear the swish of the luscious crimson fabric as she pauses in the garden mid walk to pose hand outstretched with her hound and a statue of a sphinx on a pedestal nearby.
A Sagittarius by birth, Marie Adélaïde would have been sure to have had a twinkle in her eye and a sense of adventure, as it is reported that during her short time at the French court she indeed endeared herself to everyone, such was her vivacity and charm.
There is no doubt David Roche had an eye, as they say in the trade, for the unique the, rare and the beautiful. There are so many awesome objects in his collection that they dazzle in their sheer diversity and it is often hard to know where to start looking first.
He loved women of substance, and one of my favourite paintings in the exhibition is Therese, Queen Consort of Bavaria whose oval half-length portrait is copied from the life size version created during the Beidermeier style period by Europe’s favourite artist, Joseph Karl Steiler (1781-1858), who was court painter to the Bavarian Kings 1820 – 1855. His famed ‘gallery of beauties’ at Nymphenburg Palace are breathtaking.
This painting once adorned the walls of the Schloss Marienburg in Lower Saxony where the great Sotheby’s Hanoverian sale was held, and gives us a close up of the spectacular tiara made by Marie-Étienne Nitot of Paris, who was the official French Jeweller to the Emperor Napoleon 1.
Truly there is so much to take in when visiting The David Roche Foundation House Museum in Adelaide. It is a paradise for those who like to immerse themselves in history, those who admire beauty and those who enjoy up close and personal encounters with the visual arts. The quality, the materials and the craftsmanship are at a pinnacle of excellence.
When you are planning to go next you should also enquire about the ‘hands on’ initiative when visitors are invited to ‘handle’ precious objects, giving you an opportunity to learn so much more.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2017
241 Melbourne Street, Adelaide, South Australia
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Images for this story taken by the writer.