The late David Roche is often described in the media as a businessman. Antiques dealer Martyn Cook, who has become director of the new fine arts museum in North Adelaide that bears Roche’s name and houses his personal collection of decorative and fine art, has a very different take. “He wasn’t a businessman at all,” says Cook. “He was a gentleman who lived a nice life.”
Roche left his entire estate to a foundation, which has overseen completion of the David Roche Foundation House Museum just three years after his 2013 death. The house museum incorporates Roche’s old Edwardian bungalow on Melbourne Street, which he called Fermoy House, and an new $5 million building with walls and ceilings that are painted black, which Cook says is like a simple “jewel box.”
More than 3000 pieces are on display, representing only 75 per cent of Roche’s collection, due to space. The scope of the work is “extraordinary,” says Cook. “David said he always wanted the museum to be, ‘Come into my home and have a look at how I lived.’” The collection features French rococo and Russian Fabergé. Notable ceramics include Meissen, Chelsea, Sevres, Worcester and Gardner porcelain from the 18th century. There is French, British and Russian furniture from the 18th and early 19th centuries in rococo, neoclassical, empire and regency styles. Many of the sculptures on display depict gods and figures from history and, as with his painting collection, horses and dogs. Roche’s ashes are stored in a 1830s Russian green malachite vase, housed in the museum.
Roche, one of six children, was born into a wealthy family. Their Adelaide Development Company provided him with annual dividends for life. Roche straddled two very different and separate worlds. He also produced prize-winning Afghans, Kerry blue terriers and smooth-coat fox terriers in kennels on his property.
Cook first met Roche in the late 1970s because Cook’s uncle was a dog judge. Roche confidently presented dogs in the show ring, flamboyantly wearing a bright yellow jacket, winning 19 “best in show” prizes, says Cook.
Roche’s second quieter passion was antique collecting. He had been collecting since he was a teenager, following in the footsteps of his collector parents. Cook says Roche was never quite so confident in the art realm as he was with dogs. “If you’d asked David what his favourite piece was, he’d say a very simple string box from the regency period. He was always very humble about his collection.”
Former Prime Minister, Paul Keating, will launch the museum on June 3, which will be open for three 90-minute tours daily.
David Roche Foundation House Museum
241 Melbourne Street, North Adelaide