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troublemag | June 25, 2024

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The David Roche Legacy

The David Roche Legacy

by Inga Walton

On an unassuming street in North Adelaide can be found one of Australia’s more recent, and arguably most lavish, house museums. The David Roche Foundation is the first private museum in Adelaide established without public funding, and was opened by former Prime Minister Paul Keating on 3 June, 2016. The Foundation was recognised with the award for ‘Best Attraction or Experience’ (2018) as part of The City Awards, supported by Adelaide City Council and voted on by the general public.

The compound is based around Fermoy House, the home of David Jerome Roche, AM (1930-2013), and stands as a monument to one man’s consuming passion for the finer things in life. Roche bought the Australian Federation sandstone villa from the Bevan sisters in January, 1954 and named it in reference to Fermoy Court, the large Tudor-style house in suburban Tranmere in which he lived as a child. Roche remodelled the exterior of the property to make it more ‘Georgian’ in appearance, and had it extended by architect Dudley Campbell Smith in the 1970s to include a ‘Roman Room’ for his sculptures by Charles Francis Summers (1858-1945). The $5 million museum wing is connected to the house via the new entry hall, reflecting Roche’s wish to display the house as he lived in it, and his preferred manner of exhibiting his collection to the public with a single level floor all the way through. 

The extension was designed by David Burton of the Adelaide firm Williams Burton Leopardi Architects & Interior Design to provide a three-room exhibition space for curated and thematic presentations associated with the collection. Considerations of space, storage and practicality meant that Roche’s swimming pool and dog kennels were excised: the former making way for a small garden and the administration block, the latter being replaced by the gallery wing and the carpark. Roche enjoyed the neoclassical style of the Prussian architect and painter Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841), whose work graces the collection in the form of a Pair of Girondoles (c.1805) and a Garden Bench (c.1890). This interest in ‘classical rigour’ influenced both the physical additions to Fermoy House, and the planning and silhouette of the museum extension. 

(Rex) Thomas Percy Reginald Wood (1908-70), Geelong Grammar Graduation Portrait of David J. Roche (c.1948), oil on panel, 75 x 60 cm. (Collection, The David Roche Foundation, Adelaide). 

The fourth of six children born to wealthy businessman J.D.K. (Jack) Roche (1901-58), and his wife Dorinda Elfreda Thomas (1904-86), young David acquired his first antique aged seventeen. In 1922, Roche senior founded the real estate and property development business the Adelaide Development Company (ADC), which is still family owned with offices in Adelaide and Nedlands, Western Australia (as Estates Development Company). The family moved to Perth for a while after Roche senior decided the region was ideal for long-term real estate investment. David Roche was born there in 1930, later attending Geelong Grammar School for his secondary schooling. There, Roche encountered the Bauhaus artist Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack (1893-1965) who had been appointed as art teacher in 1942 by the Headmaster Sir James Darling (1899-95). As Nat Williams, the James and Bettison Treasures Curator at the National Library, Canberra, has observed, 

The groundbreaking artist and educational pioneer was a ‘Dunera Boy’ [those considered to be ‘enemy aliens’] who arrived in Australia, having escaped the Nazis in 1940, only to be interned in a series of camps in New South Wales and Victoria. As a young student David Roche learned pottery and woodcarving from his inspirational teacher and he sent some of the figures he made back to his family in Adelaide. No doubt the experience of being taught by such a charismatic individual influenced him in his life choices and in his passionate interest in the arts.1

After completing school, Roche was sent to work on the family property on the Frankland River in WA but the isolation convinced him he was not suited to a farming life. He worked briefly in the Perth outpost of the ADC, before joining his older brother John in the Adelaide office. At this time, the head office was situated in Grenfell Street, opposite the auction firm Theodore Bruce & Co. Roche began to attend sales there and gained experience in appraising and bidding on items. The proximity of his workplace to the auction rooms was the beginning of a long self-education in art, particularly in the decorative arts, with an emphasis on furniture and ceramics. 

Roche spent the rest of his life developing a collection encompassing more than 3,600 works, predominantly from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, with a focus on French Empire and English Regency from 1750 to 1850. Remarkable in its quality and range, the collection contains magnificent pieces by leading firms and designers across the areas of fine and decorative art, furniture, sculpture, objets d’art, horology, metalwork, and glass, alongside craft and novelty items produced in Europe and North America during the nineteenth century. Roche had no great interest in Australian art, but occasionally acquired works that took his eye including panels by Rupert Bunny (1864-1947), James Gleeson, AO (1915-2008), Harley Cameron Griffiths (1908-81), and Sir John William Ashton (1881-1963). 

One of Roche’s more unusual purchases is the marble headstone (c.1909) of Mary MacKillop (1842-1909), now known as St. Mary of the Cross, Australia’s only Catholic saint. This was included in the 1972 estate sale of another prominent Adelaide family, the Barr Smiths of Glen Osmond. Although Presbyterian, Joanna Barr Smith (1835-1919) was a close friend of MacKillop and provided financial support for the Sisters of St. Joseph over many years. When MacKillop’s remains were transferred from Gore Hill cemetery, North Sydney, to the Mary MacKillop Memorial Chapel at Mount Street in 1914, Barr Smith funded the vault and the marble tablet. MacKillop’s original headstone is assumed to have been retained by Barr Smith as a memento, and was sent to Adelaide. When Joanna’s great-grandson Tom Barr Smith sold the contents of the family home Birksgate, Roche (a Catholic) bought the unique relic. He offered the headstone to the Sisters of St. Joseph in perpetuity, but it was declined.

Roche amassed a particularly fine collection of prestige porcelain, around 1,500 pieces drawn from the major European manufacturers, including Wedgwood & Bentley, Pierre Neppel Factory, Barr Flight & Barr, Tournai, Bow China Works, Paris Porcelain, Derby, Sèvres, Coalport, Fürstenberg, Worcester, and Vienna Porcelain. Roche bought for beauty, colour, shape and provenance. The collection was always subject to renewal and upgrade, but he preferred to focus on items around 200 years old. Among Roche’s most prized pieces are The Carpenter (c.1755), a porcelain and polychrome enamel figurine by Chelsea, acquired from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Collection, and the Ludwigsburg Porcelain Factory Tray, from the Pavlovsk Palace Egyptian breakfast service (c.1813). Gifted by King Frederick I of Württemberg (1754-1816) to his sister Sophie Dorothea, the second wife of Tsar Paul I (1754-1801), known as Empress Maria Feodorovna (1759-1828), this piece of the wider service gives some indication of the sumptuousness of the gilding (by Christoph Heinrich Toberer) and the refinement of the painting (by Carl Heinrich Kuchelbecker) achieved by the Ludwigsburg artisans. The four children depicted playing in the palace gardens are those of Prince Paul of Württemberg (1785-52), nephew of the Dowager Empress, and Frederick’s grandchildren.

Pride-of-place is given to a rare Plate, from the Swan service (c.1738) made by the Meissen Porcelain Manufactory for Count Heinrich von Brühl (1700-63). In the high baroque style, and with lavish sculptural elements, the service consisted of over 2,200 individual pieces produced between 1737 and 1742. Already the First Minister of the Electorate of Saxony, von Brühl was appointed first as Supervisor (1733), and then Director (1739) of the Meissen works by Augustus III of Poland (1696-1763). The Schwanenservice was supervised by the distinguished technical and aesthetic modeller Johann Joachim Kändler (1706-75), regarded as the “greatest modeller in the history of Western ceramics”.2 Unprecedented in its scale, and produced in the relatively new medium of hard-paste porcelain, this once sprawling Meisen creation is regarded as, “a triumph of modelling and firing, which was clearly designed to show off the capability of the factory at its highest level”.3 At least half of this remarkable service was destroyed by Soviet troops in 1945 at the end of World War II. They occupied Schloss Pförten in Poland where much of it was stored, and are said to have used pieces for target practice. 

David Roche’s ‘Green sitting room’ at Fermoy House displaying his collection of Staffordshire and other ceramics in a Breakfront library bookcase (c.1825). Various dog portraits by Maud Earl, John Emms, Frederick Thomas Daws, Henry Barraud, and Arthur Wardle. A Six-arm colza oil dish light (c.1835) attributed to Thomas Messenger & Sons, and a Greek revival Regency settee (c.1815). (Installation photograph: Inga Walton).

In contrast, a large and rather boisterous collection of Staffordshire ceramics from the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries attests to Roche’s enjoyment of the medium. He remarked,

It is interesting to observe that my ‘toys’ – mechanical banks and Staffordshire pieces – still bring me as much pleasure as do new stellar objects, possibly because they did not cause the same degree of stress and worry that some of the big-ticket antiques did. There are no sleepless nights worrying where the money is going to come from. It is amazing how much anxiety a major purchase can generate.4 

The David Roche Foundation was established in 1999 to facilitate Roche’s desire to leave his vast collection, rumoured to be worth in the region of A$70-80 million, intact for the enjoyment of future generations. An exhibition, Empires Of Splendour: The David Roche Foundation, was held at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) in 2008 and allowed the wider public its first look at some 150 diverse works from the collection. Writing at the time of that event, Roche explained his wider rationale, 

At the beginning, I was very hesitant about setting up a Foundation. It took much persuasion for me to believe that my little collection was good enough to do more than give me pleasure. It was visits to small, now famous, collections such as the Mario Praz Collection in Rome that made me think it might be possible.5 Eventually convinced, I set out as never before to upgrade the collection to the point where I was happy and not reticent about sharing what I had assembled. The joy I have experienced could now be shared with many people… It is my greatest wish that one day my small Foundation be known internationally for its diversity and great quality, which we have strived so hard to achieve.6 

Roche found inspiration from other similar institutions such as Sir John Soane’s Museum (est.1837), London, the legacy of the neoclassical architect Sir John Soane, RA (1753-1837). Soane had his collection of paintings, drawings and antiquities protected by a private Act of Parliament (1833) for the nation, owing to his estrangement from his surviving son George (1790-1860). Roche declared that the Musée Nissim de Camondo in Paris was “marvellous”. Designed by René Sergent (1865-1927), the gracious property and its collection of eighteenth-century French furniture and art objects, was bequeathed to Les Arts Décoratifs by the banker Count Moïse de Camondo (1860-1935), in memory of his son Lieutenant Nissim de Camondo (1892-1917), who died during aerial combat in World War I.

An otherwise rather shy and reticent person, Roche was in his element within the rarefied milieu of his other life-long enthusiasm: dog breeding, and the world of competition at both national and international level. He attended his first dog show at the age of nine, and bred Afghan hounds, Smooth Fox Terriers, and Kerry (Irish) Blue Terriers, winning nineteen Best In Show ribbons at Royal shows throughout Australia, more than any other national exhibitor. An international judge from 1952, for many years Roche was the nation’s most renowned authority on dog breeding, judging and exhibiting. An accredited All Breeds judge, Roche judged dogs in twenty-five countries over the course of his career. Roche was invited to judge Best In Show (1969) at the prestigious Crufts dog show, administered by the Kennel Club, London; the first non-British resident to do so. 

His many overseas visits allowed Roche to combine the ‘dog world’ with his collecting interests, 

I have been very fortunate throughout my life to be able to indulge my two great passions: dogs and antiques. Both have taken me around the world many times and have introduced me to many and varied people who have added much colour to my life. The most surprising and flattering thing I have found is that people have accepted me on a one-to-one basis, even when their knowledge far outweighed mine… Through my travels I have come to realise that my two great passions have much in common. The ‘eye’ that is required to be a top dog judge can be equally applied to antiques. With the eye comes the ability to assess things quickly and easily.7

Numerous works in Roche’s collection attest to his love of all things canine, including those by noted specialist painters such as John Emms (1844-1912), Maud Earl (1864-1943), Charles Towne (1763-1840), and Arthur Wardle (1860-1949). Many of these pieces are displayed in the ‘Green sitting room’ or ‘The Den’, Roche’s every-day and evening room. Here, he enjoyed Border Terrier With A Rabbit (c.1825) by one of Queen Victoria’s favourite artists Sir Edwin Henry Landseer, RA (1802-73), and was particularly fond of the painting Champions All (1927), depicting nine dogs from one kennel, by Frederick Thomas Daws (1878-1956). The inaugural exhibition at the Foundation, David Roche: Kennels and Collecting, paid tribute to Roche’s outstanding achievements in both fields. 

It was also through the annual Royal dog shows in Sydney that Roche met his long-term advisor and buyer Martyn Cook (1958-2019) in 1974. Cook’s uncle Robert Curtis was a fellow luminary in the dog world, and introduced him to Roche. The two discovered a common interest in English Regency and French Empire furniture. Roche kept a Sydney house in Rosemont Avenue, and Cook would also visit him when in Adelaide. Cook founded his eponymous antiques business in 1983, moving to new premises in Rushcutters Bay in 2013. Throughout that time he also worked closely with Roche, and they would plan what was to be purchased on various buying trips. “Whenever seeking to acquire an item, David had a number of sources and always did copious amounts of research. He would read every single catalogue that appeared front to back and he’d mark each page. Prior to any trip, David would send me ‘Big Dave’s Shopping List’, the list of items he wanted”, Cook recalls. 

(attributed to) François-Honoré Georges Jacob-Desmalter, (1770-1841), manufacturer, Charles Percier (1764-1838) & Pierre-Francois Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853), designers, Clemente Ciuli, mosaicist, Bacchant Centre Table (Guéridon) (c.1810), mosaic, marble, gilt bronze, mahogany, gilt wood, 81.5 x 111 cm. (Collection, The David Roche Foundation, Adelaide).

Roche’s visits to England were planned around the Chelsea Flower Show and Wimbledon, after which he and Cook would invariably end up on a road trip somewhere. “In amongst that, David would navigate to go to dealers that he knew of in the country. So I would drive constantly around the UK, and indeed Europe, with and for David in order to buy things. David bought from a lot of country dealers, and he liked to trade items; he often had a suitcase of items he would take to the UK or elsewhere to trade”. Roche would usually visit his favourite dealer in London, Carlton Hobbs, who was also one of his principal art advisors. Roche acquired the superb mahogany Bacchant Centre Table (Guéridon) (c.1810) from Hobbs, attributed to the workshop of François-Honoré-Georges Jacob-Desmalter (1770-1841). 

Jacob-Desmalter and his brother oversaw the transformation of the workshop of their master menuisier father Georges Jacob (1739-1814) into one of the most successful and influential furniture businesses in Napoleonic Paris, from 1796 to 1825. The bronze-encrusted triform base was designed by the duo of Charles Percier (1764-1838) and Pierre-Francois Léonard Fontaine (1762-1853), featuring finely carved swans, an attribute of the Goddess Venus and associated with the Empress Joséphine (1763-1814). The micro-mosaic table top depicting the youthful Bacchus is derived from a print by Giovanni Antonio Lorenzini (1665-1740), after a painting by Guido Reni (1575-1642). Set within a meander motif, it was completed by the Italian Clemente Ciuli, an acknowledged master of this exacting art, and was later adopted as the logo of The David Roche Foundation.

Roche had what we would now consider a bad case of FOMO (Fear of missing out) long before that acronym came into usage. “Many things upset him, in the sense of the tyranny of distance: the fact that your phone line would drop out, or your fax hadn’t gone through correctly, or when you registered for a phone bid and they didn’t call you”, Cook relates. “Often physical items like the Antiques Trade Gazette and catalogues from Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Bonhams and various other entities would turn up late – by which time the sale was already over. So David was very pleased when the internet came into common use in the art collecting field, as he was able to look online to immediately see and bid on items at auctions around the world”. 

Roche senior gave his younger son a sound piece of advice early on in his burgeoning obsession with pursuing fine objects: “Never buy anything just to fill a spot, but wait until you find exactly the right thing. It doesn’t matter if you wait years”.8 Roche was also ‘doggedly’ persistent if he could not secure an item he particularly wanted, “He would often underbid on items and miss out, which frustrated him enormously. David would pursue some items for many years”, Cook concedes. “For example, he attempted to acquire a beautiful painting by Jakob Bogdany [1660-1724] of a Papillon [c.1710] for decades. He tried unsuccessfully to buy it at auction three times over the years, before ultimately acquiring it at Christies in 1996. Now it’s a prized part of his collection”. 

Although Cook wouldn’t be drawn on the most valuable pieces in the Foundation, he agreed that Roche was preoccupied with achieving the highest standards. “Certainly David always feared that no matter what he had, that someone, somewhere would have a far better example. In reality, the collection which he amassed is one of the finest of its type; the furniture, porcelain, clocks and textiles all reflect his prerequisite for quality, notable makers and if possible a provenance to royalty and aristocracy”. Cook shepherded the development of The David Roche Foundation and its premises according to Roche’s instructions, and served as the inaugural Director from 2015 until his untimely death in April this year. 

Despite his family’s wealth and prominence, and his own renown in the dog show world, it was Roche’s inclination to remain essentially a private individual; nonetheless he was a generous (and often anonymous) benefactor to a number of national institutions. He donated the painting Portrait of Captain Matthew Flinders, RN, 1774-1814 (1807-07) by the Mauritian planter and artist Toussaint-Antoine de Chazal de Chamarel (1770-1882) to the Art Gallery of South Australia in memory of Jack Roche in 2000. The Powerhouse Museum received a significant Regency-style Australian Colonial Sideboard (1815-20) in memory of Dorinda Roche in 2004. Just prior to his death, Roche donated a Mens Dressing Gown (Banyan), possibly worn by King George IV (1800-30) he had loaned for the Museum’s previous exhibition Inspired! Design Across Time (2006). 

Roche acquired the HMS Resolution Ceremonial Table (c.1810) by the British cabinetmaker Richard Goodman in 2003. Apart from its inclusion in the Empires Of Splendour exhibition (6 June-27 July, 2008) at AGSA, it has been on loan to the National Library, Canberra since 2004. Named after the final ship of Captain James Cook (1728-79), it was made to honour the most successful mariner of his age while asserting British supremacy as a great international power. A central inlaid round panel of English oak (souvenired from the vessel) depicts an urn with an ivory disc and the inscription ‘Part of HMS Resolution/Sacred to the Memory of Captn. Cook’. A plaque below reads, ‘Deriving worth from Cook’s illustrious name/This ship shall live in rolls of endless fame’. 

The complex marquetry surface features twenty exotic timbers from regions visited by the explorer, among them rosewood and kingwood (Brazil), Macassar ebony (Sulawesi), casuarina, blackwood and blackbean (Australia), yew and maple (Europe), satinwood (India), walnut (Africa), sassasfras (Americas), teak (South-East Asia), and palm tree (New Zealand, Tahiti or Hawai’i). The rest of the table is veneered in rosewood; the drawers and legs are beautifully finished with neoclassical scrolling designs featuring acorns, oak and acanthus leaves, anthemion and honeysuckle. The Resolution Table was previously displayed in the Library foyer, but after the designated ‘Treasures Gallery’ opened in October, 2011 it was moved there. As per Roche’s wishes, it remains on permanent loan from the Foundation; he visited Canberra to view it only once, in April, 2012.9 

Roche sustained a deep cut to his wrist from a rose while gardening, and when it did not heal his personal assistant Lorraine Felix (now a DRF Trustee) insisted that he go to hospital. An infection had developed throughout his arm, and subsequent operations to remove the dead tissue caused his kidneys to fail. Three weeks later Roche died as a result of septic arthritis on 27 March, 2013. He was posthumously admitted as a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, “for significant service to the community, particularly as a benefactor to cultural institutions”. Roche was an ardent monarchist who asserted that, “the Republican Movement should restrict itself to that pub in Ireland”, and would have greatly enjoyed such a distinction. His ashes and death mask are housed in an imposing Russian Malachite vase and cover (c.1890) that stands on a faux lapis lazuli (scagliola) pedestal by Arek Werstak. This is positioned in the entrance vestibule to the exhibition gallery between an Italian Pair of marble obelisks (c.1835) also on pedestals.

(attributed to) Johann Baptist Lampi, the Elder (1751-1830), Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia (c.1791), oil on canvas, 81 x 62 cm. (Collection, The David Roche Foundation, Adelaide). 

Fascinated by the great European royal houses and their courts, Roche was also interested in the function of patronage, particularly under the Prince Regent (later George IV, 1762-1830) and Napoléon Bonaparte (1769-1821), in the building of the great royal and state collections. Roche contended that to be born into such a family would be to live, “a life on a tightrope above a league of biographers and intimate strangers”.10 Two previous exhibitions at the Foundation, Royal & Imperial Clocks: Romantic and Scientific (2018) and Kings, Queen & Courtiers (2017), have drawn on this compelling aspect of Roche’s collection. The current exhibition, Triumph & Tragedy: Catherine, the Romanovs & Fabergé (until 21 December, 2019), is the most ambitious the Foundation has staged to date, and reflects Roche’s passion for collecting Russian art. He first travelled to Russia in 1994, and was dazzled by the Hermitage Museum, and the legacy of Imperial opulence he encountered throughout the great buildings and palaces. 

For nearly twenty years thereafter, Roche pursued rare objects and valuable artefacts with Russian provenance, amassing a singularly unique collection of them in Australia. For his ‘Russian Room’ in Fermoy House, Roche hung elaborate blue, yellow and white fringed drapery, and ordered blue wallpaper with gold stars and an ear-of-wheat motif. A matching bespoke carpet with the crest of Empress Catherine II, the Great (1729-96) references an official court portrait of the Empress (c.1791), attributed to Johann Baptist Lampi, the Elder (1751-1830). Lampi was invited to Russia by Catherine’s favourite Prince Grigory Aleksandrovich Potemkin (1739-91), and earned a considerable fortune painting court officials and members of the aristocracy. The portrait was once in the collection of the Spanish Ambassador to St. Petersburg Mariano Miguel Maldonado y Davalos, 7th Count of Villagonzalo (1851-1901). 

Allegorical portrayals of Catherine as a ‘Russian Minerva’ (Roman goddess of learning and intellectual activity) are common on a variety of objects and across a variety of materials. Wedgwood, whose plaques were popular with the Empress, took up the theme and produced medallion portraits of Catherine in the guise of Minerva from 1789.11 Roche acquired a small glass Cameo, Empress Catherine the Great as Minerva (c.1789), made to celebrate her name day. The original hardstone cameo, carved by her daughter-in-law Maria Feodorovna, is held by the Hermitage Museum. Replicas like this one in layered glass were made by the Imperial Glass Factory, and later by the Scottish gem engraver and modeller James Tassie (1735-99). Maria Feodorovna was an outstanding student of Tassie, and Catheine commissioned numerous cameos and intaglios from him to present as court gifts. Catherine was passionate about cameos, and made her first purchase in 1763, describing their attraction as ‘gluttony’ or ‘cameo fever’.12 

(attributed to) The Imperial Glass Factory, Russia (est.1777), manufacturer, Cameo, Empress Catherine the Great as Minerva (c.1789), glass, metal, 6.3 x 4.7 cm. (Collection, The David Roche Foundation, Adelaide).

She ordered specialised cabinets by the renowned German cabinet-maker David Roentgen (1743-1807) to house the ‘bottomless pit’ of her collection, which consisted of 10,000 engraved gems and 34,000 casts and pastes by the time of Catherine’s death in 1796.13 Writing to Friedrich Melchior, Baron von Grimm (1723-1807), who acted as Catherine’s Paris agent, she admitted, “God knows how much pleasure there is in touching all this every day; they contain an endless source of all kinds of knowledge”.14 Catherine’s cameo obsession extended to porcelain when she commissioned the Cameo service (1778-79) from Sèvres. A gift for Prince Potemkin, it consisted of 797-pieces, to serve dinner, dessert and coffee for sixty guests. The principal decorative motif, imitation cameos copied from antique originals, takes the form of oval cartouches or round medallions. The largest pieces (such as ice-cream and wine-bottle coolers) had hard-paste ‘cameos’ made of polished biscuit set into hollows to resemble real agate or onyx cameos. It was the most expensive service ever made by Sèvres, involving virtually all its employees. With the majority of forms devised specially for this project, arranged around a centrepiece bust of Catherine as Minerva, it stretched the technical and artistic resources of the Sèvres craftsmen to the limit.15 

Robert Reason, the Foundation’s new Director, worked with Roche on the Empires Of Splendour exhibition over a decade ago in his capacity as Curator of European and Australian Decorative Arts at AGSA. For Triumph & Tragedy Reason has secured the loan of some 100 items from organisations such as The Royal Geographical Society of South Australia, Rare Books & Special Collections at the University of Adelaide Library, Greene & Greene Antiques, AGSA, and various private collections, to join a selection of seventy Russian works from the Roche Foundation. Foremost among them is a magnificent ormolu mounted Vase on pedestal (c.1830) attributed to the Russian Imperial Glass Factory, and considered by Roche to be one of his greatest acquisitions. With delicately cut edges trimmed by frosted neoclassical garlands, and a base designed to imitate flowing water, it is usually displayed in the Drawing Room of Fermoy House, decorated by leading Adelaide interior designer Angus Foulds (1929-2016). 

Another selection with royal provenance, Two plates (from the Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich service) (1825-55) was commissioned by Tsar Nicholas I (1796-1855) as a gift to his brother, the Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich (1798-1849) and his wife Princess Charlotte of Württemberg (1807-73), known as the Grand Duchess Elena Pavlovna. Made by the Imperial Porcelain Manufactory (est.1744), the plates are decorated with sprays of summer flowers at the centre, with borders variously depicting fruit, a shepherdess, hunting dogs, and woodland animals. The service was given to the couple’s daughter Grand Duchess Ekaterina Mikhailovna (1827-94) when she married Georg August, Duke of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1824-76), and was thus transferred to Germany.

Imperial Porcelain Manufactory, Russia (est.1744), manufacturer, Two plates (from the Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich service) (1825-55), hard-paste porcelain, polychrome enamel, gilt, 2 x 25 cm (diam.). (Collection, The David Roche Foundation, Adelaide).

The English banker and entrepreneur Francis Gardner established the first private porcelain factory in Russia at Verbilki (now in the Taldomsky District), Moscow Province in 1766.16 The great achievement of the Gardner Porcelain Factory was the production of services ‘with insignia’ for the annual ceremonial banquets for the four most important orders of Imperial decoration. Russia’s highest order (for outstanding civilian or military merit) is that of its patron saint, St. Andrew the Apostle, the First-Called, established in 1698 by Tsar Peter I, the Great (1672-1725). Peter’s second wife and successor, Empress Catherine I (1684-1727), established the second highest honour in 1725, the chivalric Order of St. Alexander Nevsky, patron saint of St. Petersburg. Empress Catherine II established the Order of St. George in 1769 as the nation’s highest military decoration, and the dynastic Order of St. (Grand Prince) Vladimir in 1782, to mark the twentieth anniversary of her reign, for continuous civil and/or military service. 

Catherine II’s patronage of the Gardner Porcelain Factory was significant: no other private factory received an Imperial commission (ukase) as important as the production of the Imperial Order Services: St. George (1777-78) St. Andrew (1780), St. Alexander Nevsky (1780), and St.Vladimir (1783-85).17 These were used at the Winter Palace when the knights of the particular Order were invited to dine following the religious service held on the feast day of their respective saints, a tradition maintained until the reign of Tsar Nicholas I. Stylistically, the ‘Order Services’ were influenced by the Meissen Order of St. Andrew First Called service (1743) presented by Augustus III of Poland in 1743 to Empress Elizabeth Petrovna (1709-62), and the Berlin Service, presented by King Frederick II of Prussia, the Great (1712-86), in 1772 to Catherine II.18 As Dr. Catherine Walworth, curator at the Columbia Museum of Art, has commented, “Imperial dining services were painted to look as though the Orders’ ribbons had been casually draped around the plate’s circular rim and its jewelled regalia set in the dish’s centre”.19 Gavriil I. Kozlov, a professor at the Academy of Arts, designed the ‘Order Services’, each consisting of up to 1,500 objects of different uses, dimensions and forms.20

The Roche collection has a Plate (from the Order of St. George service/Georgiyevsky service) (1778), which covered eighty guests, and has at its centre the star of the regalia with the motto ‘Za sluzhbu i khrabrost (For service and bravery’). In 1783, Catherine ordered the largest setting of the four, the Order of St. Vladimir service, covering 140 guests, from which Roche also bought a Plate (1783-85), bearing the Order’s motto ‘Pol’za, chest’ i slava (Benefit, Honour and Glory)’. Nicholas I retired the Gardner services to the Hermitage Museum, and used replacement vessels made to the original design by the Imperial Porcelain Factory. Both of these plates were formerly in the collection of Joseph E. Davies (1876-1958), the second American Ambassador to the Soviet Union (from 1936 to 1938), and his second wife, the General Foods heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post (1887-1973). They were kept at Post’s former home, Hillwood Estate in Washington DC, which now operates as a decorative arts museum. 

Since the 1920s the Soviet Government had been selling artworks confiscated from the Imperial regime to western art dealers, diplomats and through auction houses overseas, albeit in a somewhat disorganised fashion. These works could be purchased firstly through Commission shops, and then Torgsin stores (Trade with Foreigners), as a fund-raising exercise. Under Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) this process became more concerted in order to rapidly generate hard capital for the First Five Year Plan (1927/28-33) of industrialisation and military armament. Davies and Post acquired several Russian art treasures during the Ambassador’s tenure under very favourable terms from the Soviet authorities; this attracted some later controversy as to the provenance and circumstances of sale of certain purchases.21 

Catherine II also commissioned the Moscow Service (or Own Service) from Gardner Porcelain for the new residence of her son Tsesarevich Paul Petrovich (1754-1801) at Pavlovsk Palace in 1782. As the reputation of Gardner grew, the firm established a retail store in Moscow from which it sold a range of figured vessels, Toby jugs, and romanticised folk and genre figurines (referred to as ‘dolls’). The figures were particularly popular after the victory over Napoléon in the Patriotic War of 1812, demonstrating how quickly the factory reacted to changing public tastes. A Teapot (c.1780) was originally from the collection of Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna (1875-1960), fourth child of Tsar Alexander III. Such an item reflects the popularity of Gardner Porcelain for everyday use, the excellence of their painted works, and the factory’s reputation for crisp and charming designs.

Roche also collected many smaller items of Russian manufacture, particularly those by the visionary artist-jeweller Peter Carl (Karl Gustavovich) Fabergé (1846-1920) and his workshop. The Baltic German master goldsmith Gustav Fabergé (1814-93) established the family business in St. Petersburg in 1842. When he retired in 1860, and with Peter Carl still studying abroad, Fabergé senior left the firm in the capable hands of his Finnish-born workmaster Hiskias Magnusson Pendin (1823-81). When Pendin also retired, Peter Carl assumed full control of the House of Fabergé in 1870, turning it into one of the most renowned jewellery and decorative art firms in the world. 

The House of Fabergé eventually employed some 500 craftsmen and designers with each workshop headed by a recognised and semi-autonomous workmaster. The firm opened further branches in Moscow (1887), Odessa (1900), London (1903), and Kiev (1906). The Moscow branch specialised in silver in the Neo-Russian style for table and commemorative ware, trophies, diplomatic gifts and folk items. Fabergé Moscow was favoured by the Orthodox Church for liturgical objects and decorative pieces for veneration, and by the Russian military for regimental commissions. A short-lived Fabergé sculpture factory in the recently renamed Petrograd was opened in 1915, but had closed by November, 1918 due to the untenable political situation.

As well as supplying élite clients with distinctive jewellery, the company revived the unfashionable art of enamelling, and went on to invent more than 145 new shades. Fabergé soon attracted a devoted clientele for its objects deluxe in gold and fine jewels, including seals, icon rizas and photo frames, clocks and desk accessories. The Roche collection holds seven examples of Fabergé manufacture, including accoutrements for smoking: an amber, gold and enamel Cigarette holder (1903-17), a gold Cigarette case (Samorodok) (c.1890) with the Imperial crest in diamonds, and the gold Vesta case of Count Mouravieff (1897-1900), a vesta being a small box for keeping matches dry. A gentleman might also wear an attractive gold Tie pin (c.1899-1908), featuring a round ruby set within a two-row stylised knot of diamonds and iridescent white enamel. 

A Royal parasol handle (c.1903-17) bears the initials of workmaster Henrik Emanuel Wigström (1862-1923), and was previously owned by Anne of Bourbon-Parma, Queen-consort of Romania (1923-2016). Of neoclassical form, the tip of green bowenite sits on a gold band set with diamonds joining a rose-pink guilloché enamel collar applied with swags of ribbon-tied leaf tips, with diamond-set borders. Fabergé made these pieces in great variety using different shapes and colours, as a lady might have more than one to suit multiple outfits and interchangeable sunshades. Since parasols were carried to a range of outdoor functions, such decorative handles were the ideal opportunity to demonstrate the wealth, taste and refinement of the owner.22 

Fabergé (est.1842), manufacturer, Henrik Emanuel Wigström (1862-1923), workmaster,
Royal parasol handle (c.1903-17), bowenite, 14c gold, guilloché enamel, diamonds, karelian birch, 9.5 cm (h). (Collection, The David Roche Foundation, Adelaide).

Fabergé achieved lasting fame for creating objects de fantaisie, initiated by Peter Carl’s younger brother Agathon (1862-95), including miniature models, hardstone animal, flower and fruit studies, and particularly the ornate Easter eggs produced for the Imperial family. The First Hen Egg (1885), attributed to chief jeweller Erik August Kollin (1836-1901), was given by Tsar Alexander III (1845-94) to his wife (Marie) Dagmar, known as Maria Feodorovna (1847-1928), for Orthodox Easter. She was so delighted with the gift that the Tsar instigated a standing order for Fabergé to produce one every year, and gave the firm complete creative freedom to design whatever might appeal. The same year Tsar Alexander granted the company the distinction of ‘Goldsmith by special appointment to the Imperial Court’, with the right to display the Imperial coat-of-arms on its premises, and add the Imperial warrant to his hallmark.23 Fabergé perfected the extremely challenging technique of enamelling en ronde bosse (in the round), which can be seen on the firm’s most impressive eggs as they grew in size and ambition. Alexander’s son, (Saint) Nicholas II (1868-1918), ostensibly the last Russian Tsar, continued the Imperial Easter egg tradition by ordering two eggs each year; one for his mother (who eventually had a collection of thirty), and one for his wife, Alix of Hesse and by Rhine, known as Alexandra Feodorovna (1872-1918), who received twenty.

Political unrest in Russia, which led to the forced abdication of Tsar Nicholas in March, 1917, and the execution of himself, his immediate family, and four of their devoted retinue at Ekaterinburg in July, 1918, effectively ended Peter Carl Fabergé’s storied career. As a precaution, Fabergé had already formed a shareholder company in November, 1916 with joint stock, but that did not delay the inevitable and the firm was nationalised in 1918. Ties with the Imperial family and their court, which had taken so long to establish and cultivate, were now a liability for the company that had achieved such fame by the association. Fabergé, who had received numerous personal honours from both Alexander III and Nicholas II, found it difficult to disentangle the business, “from the Romanovs and the élite Russian society that had both represented it and funded its success”.24 

Fabergé left Russia, via Riga, with the collusion of the British Embassy that designated him as a courier. Arriving in Germany, Fabergé then travelled on to Lausanne, Switzerland, where he died in 1920. The company was revived in 1924 as Fabergé et Cie in Paris by his sons Eugène (1874-1960) and Alexander (1877-1952), with designer Andreas Marchetti (who had worked in the London store). The Paris store continued until 2001, but the Fabergé name had been embroiled in an increasingly complex branding and licensing dispute since 1937. In 2009, Fabergé Limited was restored as a jewellery firm and opened a boutique in Geneva, but the glory days of le style Fabergé were long over.

One of Fabergé’s main competitors was the Austrian-born jeweller Karl August Ferdinand Hahn (Ghan in Russian) (1836-c.1903), who founded his company in 1873. Hahn became an important supplier of jewellery and objet de vertu to the royal family, and received an Imperial warrant as ‘Purveyor to the Court’ during the reign of Tsar Alexander III. Hahn was the supplier of choice for gold boxes, presentation cases (gifts with the royal cypher or portrait miniature given to counsellors, ambassadors, and other dignitaries), and other jewelled items during Alexander’s reign. Alexander Adolfovich Treiden and Carl Blank served as Hahn’s primary workmasters and were responsible for producing most of the firm’s important Imperial presentation cases. 

Hahn was entrusted with some of the Imperial court’s most prestigious commissions, including the miniature coronation crown worn by Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna for her son’s coronation in 1896, the commemorative Romanov Tercentenary triptych (1913), as well as the insignia of the Imperial orders. Hahn’s work is more traditional and ostentatious than that of Fabergé, and the firm’s colour palette and juxtaposition of hues are quite distinctive.25 Nicholas II favoured Hahn’s work ahead of Fabergé, and an oval rhodonite (orletz in Russian) Snuff-box (Tabakerka) (c.1900) is typical of the work the firm produced. The opulent use of precious stones, with diamonds for the crown on the lid and for the closure, was characteristic of Hahn’s production. 

An Imperial Hand seal (c.1825) featuring a gold-mounted amethyst matrix has a large ivory handle of baluster form. Belonging to Tsar Alexander I (1777-1825), it features the double-headed eagle of the Russian Imperial coat-of-arms, and the monogram of the Emperor, incised into the large stone. The gem was undoubtedly mined in the Urals and cut in Ekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth-largest city, where a factory for processing coloured stones of this sort had been established in 1774 under Catherine II. Russia had vast mineral resources: the Peterhof Lapidary Works was founded in 1724 by Peter I, and the establishment of another lapidary works at Kolyvan in 1802 led to the widespread use of such precious stones.26 The highest grade of amethyst is referred to as ‘Deep Russian’ and exceptionally rare; Siberian amethysts are renowned for their vivid purple saturation with red secondary hues, and those mined near Mursinka are also of particularly fine quality. 

Tsar Alexander seems to have enjoyed his nation’s reputation for fine gems, both for his personal use and to give as gifts. Lady Frances Anne Vane-Tempest (1800-65), an immensely wealthy heiress and the second wife of Charles Stewart, 3rd Marquess of Londonderry (1778-1854), caught the eye of the Tsar when he happened to see her engagement portrait (1818) by Sir Thomas Lawrence, PRA (1769-1830), and expressed a wish to buy it.27 When the Marquess was appointed Ambassador to Austria (from 1814 to 1823), the Tsar finally met the object of his fascination in Vienna. The Marchioness revealed afterwards, “I can only rejoice and wonder that we came out of the ordeal free of guilt”. Frances Anne also came away from the dalliance with a cache of Russian treasures, still owned by her descendents, “he gave her jewels to remember him by, enormous purple Siberian amethysts to wear Russian-fashion as a chain across her dress…”28 Alexander I also stood godfather to the Londonderry’s third child who was named in his honour, Lady Alexandrina Octavia Maria Vane (1823-74), who married Henry John Reuben Dawson-Damer, 3rd Earl of Portarlington (1822-89).

Russia is also renowned for its malachite, mined in the Ural mountains, of which Roche collected several fine examples. These are usually grouped in his ‘Russian Room’, on a mahogany Egyptian-style secretaire (1814) by the Swedish designer Noach Sorman (1789-1822). A Malachite cigar humidor (c.1890) was acquired by Jack Roche in the 1950s from the famous London luxury emporium Asprey (est. 1781), which David later received from his mother. An Ink Stand (c.1815), a Bear on malachite base (c.1850), and a Bear inkwell (c.1900) in ormolu and gilt bronze attest to the popularity of this versatile stone for decorative desk accessories, as paper weights, ashtrays and novelty items. 

Although not terribly hard, malachite is brittle and difficult to work with; it relies on the quality and expertise of the stone carving in order to reveal the depth and variance of its characteristic rich green pigments. The technique for cutting malachite plaques so that they could be used to form a pattern was not developed until about 1845.29 The Foundation also holds a small and beautifully articulated Eagle tazza (c.1840), and an elegant Pair of tazze (c.1815), each flanked by two winged water-bearers, that demonstrate how exquisite gold work was regarded as a perfect foil for the dense polished stone. 

Russia, Eagle tazza (c.1840), malachite, ormolu, 15.2 x 14.6 cm. 
(Collection, The David Roche Foundation, Adelaide).

Fermoy House tours by confirmed booking only. Triumph & Tragedy by separate access, check terms and opening times. The David Roche Foundation: 241 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide (SA) –

In memory of Martyn Cook (1958-2019), a knowledgeable, respected and convivial colleague. Generous with his time, he was a raconteur, a gentleman, and a dear friend to many. Martyn is widely missedAve atque vale.

ENDNOTES: 1 Nat Williams, “The Resolution Table and the David Roche Collection”, The National Library of Australia Magazine, September, 2013, p.9 & Christopher Menz & Robert Reason, Empires Of Splendour: The David Roche Foundation, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, 2008, p.14. | 2 Howard Coutts, The Art of Ceramics: European Ceramic Design, 1500-1830, Yale University Press, New York, 2001, p.94. | 3 Ibid, p.95. | 4 David Roche quoted in Christopher Menz & Robert Reason, op cit, p.6. | 5 Museo Mario Praz is housed on the third floor of Palazzo Primoli in Rome, and was inaugurated in June, 1995. Dr. Mario Praz, KBE (1896-1982) was an influential writer, anglicist, art critic and scholar. Among his works are The Romantic Agony (1933), Studies in Seventeenth-Century Imagery (1939), An Illustrated History of Interior Decoration from Pompeii to Art Nouveau (1964), and Mnemosyne: The Parallel Between Literature and the Visual Arts (1975). Unlike the DRF, the Italian Government acquired Praz’s collection outright from his heirs in 1986. Palazzo Primoli, on Via Zanardelli, was left to the municipality of Rome by its former owner Count Giuseppe Primoli (1851-1927), himself a Bonaparte descendent. | 6 Christopher Menz & Robert Reason, op cit, p.6-8. | 7 Ibid, p.6. | 8 Ibid, p.16. | 9 Nat Williams, op cit, p.7. | 10 Martyn Cook (Ed.), Kings, Queen & Courtiers, exhibition catalogue, The David Roche Foundation House Museum, Adelaide, 2017. [unpaginated] | 11 Lydia Liackhova, “Plaque: Catherine II Rewarding Art and Protecting Commerce”, in Mikhail B. Piotrovski (Ed.), Treasures of Catherine the Great, Thames & Hudson, London, 2000, p.130. | 12 Yulia Kagan & Oleg Neverov, “An Imperial Affair”, in Ibid, p.94. | 13 Ibid. | 14 Ibid, p.98. | 15 Jan Vilensky, “Cameo Service, 1778-79”, in Ibid, p.128. | 16 The Gardner Factory was acquired by Matvei Sidorovich Kuznetsov in 1892, and subsequently became the Dulevo Factory in the Soviet era. It is still in business as the Dmitrov Porcelain Factory. | 17 Howard Coutts, op cit, p.199-200 & Anne Odom & Liana Paredes Arend, A Taste for Splendor: Russian Imperial and European Treasures from the Hillwood Museum, Art Services International, Alexandria, 1998, p.154. | 18 Marvin C. Ross, Russian Porcelains: The Collections of Marjorie Merriweather Post, Oklahoma University Press, Norman, 1968, p.39. | 19 Catherine Walworth, Soviet Salvage: Imperial Debris, Revolutionary Reuse, and Russian Constructivism, Chapter 2, Pennsylvania State University Press, University Park, 2017. [online] | 20 Anne Odom & Liana Paredes Arend, op cit, p.154. | 21 Anne Odom, “The Selling of Russian Art and the Origins of the Hillwood Collection”, in Ibid, p.28, 45-52. | 22 Margaret Kelly Trombly (Ed.), Fabergé and the Russian Crafts Tradition: An Empire’s Legacy, Thames & Hudson/The Walter’s Art Museum, New York, 2017, p.157. | 23 A. Kenneth Snowman, Carl Fabergé: Goldsmith To the Imperial Court of Russia, Debrett’s Peerage Ltd, London, Second printing, (1979) 1980, p.141-43. | 24 Margaret Kelly Trombly (Ed.), op cit, p.11. | 25 Géza von Habsburg-Lothringen [Archduke of Austria] & Alexander von Solodkoff, Fabergé: Court Jeweler to the Tsars, (trans. J.A. Underwood), Rizzoli, New York, 1979, p.120. | 26 Alice Milica Ilich in Christopher Menz & Robert Reason, op cit, p.206 & Mikhail B. Piotrovski (Ed.), op cit, p.161-62. | 27 Edith Vane-Tempest-Stewart [Marchioness of Londonderry], Frances Anne: The Life and Times of Frances Anne, Marchioness of Londonderry, and Her Husband Charles, Third Marquess of Londonderry, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1958, p.42. | 28 Anne de Courcy, Society’s Queen: The Life of Edith, Marchioness of Londonderry, Phoenix, London, 1992, p.176. | 29 Anne Odom & Liana Paredes Arend, op cit, p.252.