By Neena Bhandari
Fermoy House, the residence of art aficionado David Roche, opened its doors to visitors in June 2016 to enjoy, marvel and learn from more than 3000 works of art the owner collected from around the world and Australia.
The David Roche Foundation House Museum, which includes Fermoy House and a new adjoining neoclassical building, will display his entire collection spanning from 1690 to the 1960s.
“Living well is the best revenge,” was Roche’s refrain.
Works owned by Napoleon on show
He amassed a vast collection of furniture, porcelain, metalware, ceramics, clocks, paintings and textiles from renowned artists and designers, many with a connection to royalty and aristocracy such as France’s Napoleon Bonaparte and Russia’s Catherine the Great.
His first purchase at the age of 17, during a visit to London, was two commemorative pieces – an English bone china statue of a terrier and a figurine of Queen Mary’s pet dog.
Director of the Museum, Martyn Cook says, “He was a dog lover, breeder and a judge at international dog shows, and he loved the royal family, so a dog figure with a British Royal connection was the first thing he bought.”
“His last purchase was a painting of Narcissus gazing at his own reflection in the water by the French artist Adolf Joseph Grass dated 1866.”
Cook says, “One could never, ever convince him to buy something. David would do extensive research prior to a purchase whether it was a chimneypiece, a chandelier or a carpet, and find a definite resting place for it in the house. After a while, if he found a better example, he would send the upgraded item to my antiques gallery to sell.”
Visitors can view the collection in the residence as it was when Roche lived there. His ashes and death mask are kept in a Russian malachite vase on a pedestal in the new building. In direct contrast to the opulent items on display, the new Museum’s walls, ceilings and floors are all black.
“Like most collectors Roche discovered that he had acquired items that turned out to be reproductions. He instructed that these be kept so visitors can learn to distinguish between fake and real objects,” says Cook.
Hailing from a family of property developers, Roche was mostly able to buy objects he desired.
He was inspired by the Johnston Collection Melbourne, The Frick Museum, New York, and Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, and wanted to share his treasures with the people of his hometown and beyond.
The David Roche Foundation House Museum at 237 Melbourne St, North Adelaide, opens on June 7.
The Foundation volunteer guides will conduct three tours a day from Tuesday to Saturday at 10am, 12pm and 2pm comprising two groups of 10 visitors each.