Explore The Collection

Areas of the Collection

The David Roche Foundation was established in 1999 by David J Roche AM (1930–2013) to administer his estate and collection and after his death open his house and collection to the public. Some 3,000 items are on display throughout Fermoy House and the adjoining galleries. The focus of the collection is decorative arts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Explore the strengths of the collection through Furniture, Ceramics, Paintings, Sculpture, Clocks, Textiles and Objects of Virtue primarily from Britain, Russia and France.


Superb furniture is a feature of the collection and was often acquired with a specific room in mind by David Roche. French, British and Russian eighteenth and early nineteenth century furniture in the Rococo, Neoclassic, Empire and Regency styles were particularly favoured.

Amongst many noteworthy items are Pierre-Antoine Foullet’s Commode, c. 1765; Giacomo Quarenghi’s Pair of Hercules armchairs, c. 1790; attributed to Thomas Chippendale the Younger, Pair of armchairs, c. 1810; Thomas Hope designed Pair of pole firescreens, c.1807, and Stool, c.1810; Percier and Fontaine Centre table, c. 1810, with Ciuli mosaic top; attributed Robert Hume Jnr. Writing table, c.1815; as well as lighting and furniture by George Bullock, including a unique hardstone top Table, c. 1815.

Image: attributed to Giacomo Quarenghi, designer, Pair of ‘Hercules’ armchairs, c. 1790, Russia, gilt-wood, woven silk upholstery (replacement).


David spent many decades collecting European porcelain, faïence and Staffordshire wares. In his later years, he consulted with international experts, purging many lesser items from the collection and upgrading his pieces. Rare models, pieces from significant services, those with fascinating provenances, and the most exquisitely painted porcelains are now found in historical vitrines throughout Fermoy House.

Outstanding pieces include Meissen porcelain from the Swan service, c.1738; Chelsea Porcelain Factory’s The carpenter, c. 1754, and The music lesson, c. 1760; a Sevres porcelain Teapot, 1760, decorated by Armand; Worcester porcelain Plate, 1770–1775, Duke of Gloucester pattern; Gardner porcelain Plates from the St George service, 1778, and the St Vladimir service, 1785, commissioned by Catherine the Great of Russia; and Ludwigsburg porcelain, Tray from the Egyptian service for Pavlovsk Palace, c. 1813.   

Image: Chelsea Porcelain Factory (Britain c. 1745–1770), Joseph Willems (Britain 1716–1766), modeller, The music lesson, c. 1760–1765, Britain, soft-paste porcelain, polychrome enamel, gilt.


Acquiring paintings, like much of what David collected, was subject to a set of criteria that covered content – mainly portraits, military, horses, dogs, antiquity – artist, condition, and importantly, it had to have a defined room and wall that could accommodate it.

Focussing on the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, David bought things he loved, such as Niels Simonsen’s An Algerian Spahi (Bao), c. 1840, and Robert-Jacques Francois Lefèvre’s Anatole Demidoff, 1820. Another favourite was Jean-Baptiste Santerre’s Adam and Eve (duc d’Orléans and Madame De Parabère), c. 1716, not just because of the beauty of the human form, but also the marvellous story behind the sitters and of course the artist’s inclusion of hounds.

From the grand to the humble, folk art also found a place in David’s kitchen ranging from foil, shell, hair and sand pictures of animals and flowers.

Image: Niels Simonsen, Portrait of Bao, an Algerian Spahi, c. 1860, Denmark, oil on canvas.


Marble, bronze, gilded, cast-iron and terracotta sculptures acquired either for the garden, or the interiors of Fermoy House, played an important role in defining David’s preference for the classical style of antiquity, the human form and Animalia. Amongst the collection are eighteenth and nineteenth century representations of gods – Mars, Venus, Diana, Minerva, and Apollo; figures of history – Caesar, Antinous; urns and vases, including those designed by English luminaries William Kent and Robert Adam; as well as massive terracottas by Doulton and the German factory of Charlottenburg.

Numerous bronzes of dogs and horses hold a special place in the collection while of singular note are an impressive pair of eighteenth-century Italian marble Borghese vases.

Image: Italy, Medusa, 1840, carrara marble.


David amassed an outstanding collection of thirty-four clocks. Luminous in the collection is a rare French eight-day skeleton clock by the famous Geneva-born enameller, Joseph Coteau, dated 1796. David ‘circled’ this clock in 1983 as being of great interest when it was catalogued and exhibited in French Clocks in North American Collections at The Frick Collection, New York. David remained mesmerised by the painted and jewelled techniques, the complex mixture of pearls, polychrome enamels, marble and ormolu. Twenty seven years later, he acquired the clock for his bedroom and admired it daily for its sheer beauty and exquisiteness.

A second clock, that David was determined to acquire, saw his buying agent attend the 2005 sale of The Royal House of Hanover at the Schloss Marienburg, in Germany. Successful, this horological French masterpiece by Louis Moinet, c. 1805, now resides in Adelaide. In the form of a monumental bronze, neoclassic vase, flanked by ormolu female ‘Gossip’ figures, this clock found many places in Fermoy House. Further research has revealed that two identical-shaped porcelain urns reside in Russian royal collections.

Image: Joseph Coteau, Mantel clock, 1796, France, enamelled bronze, gilt, marble.


David enjoyed using sumptuous new fabrics created after traditional patterns and materials. Reupholstering chairs, chaises longues and creating bedding, enhanced his period furniture and when coupled with extravagant curtains, made rooms look incredibly glamorous.

Two books provided David with enduring inspiration for proposed curtain treatments – Analysis of Drapery printed by Winterthur Library and George Smith’s Collection of Designs for Household Furniture and Interior Decoration, London, 1808. 

Of note are the curtain treatments in the Main bedroom, Chinoiserie bedroom and Drawing room. The Main bedroom is hung with elegant Regency-style swag and tail curtains. The silk taffeta drops are ‘Faille du Barry’ with bespoke trims by De Clerc. The Lelievre faux-cheetah, French silk, bedcover was a favourite of David’s. The Chinoiserie bedroom curtains with ivory-ground drops are ‘Moire Penelope’ by Le Manac and trims are again from De Clerc. The bedcover, valance and bolster on the Louis XVI bed is ‘Lampas Moire’ by Bevilaqua. The extravagant drawing room curtains are Louis XVI inspired, with drops and pelmet fabric ‘Favourite’ by Verel de Belval, with praline and tobago coloured taffeta under-curtains, the trims also by De Clerc.  

Objects of Virtue

The diversity and concentration of David’s collecting surprises many people; minimalism was never his thing. Every aspect of his interiors was deliberately collected, right down to hat-pins, walking canes, small boxes, money banks, miniatures, intaglios and Staffordshire figures. All held a fascination for David and a singular place within its microcosm.

Objects by the finest makers were acquired from Cartier to Faberge. Candelabra were given special attention – ormolu and bronze examples from France, Russia and Britain were acquired in the Neoclassic and Egyptian taste from the petit to the grand. Of the most extravagant, is a Pair of candelabra by the celebrated French designer, Pierre-Philippe Thomire, created c. 1815.


David Roche, like so many Australians, held a romanticised view of Britain. For David it was a garden of delights from Scotland to England, Ireland to Wales; whether on foot, by car, train or plane, he sought out the decorative arts for over sixty-years. British antiques form the heart of his collection of Georgian and Regency items.

A London hotel room would be booked as a base during May and June to attend the Chelsea Flower Show, The Antiques Fairs at Grosvenor House, Olympia, Chelsea, the auction houses Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams, to name a few. All were paid a visit, as were the antique dealers from Portobello Road to Bond Street.

Prominent items are the British ebony and gilt-brass mounted Writing table, c. 1815 attributed to Robert Hulme the Younger; also an English Regency gilt-wood and rosewood four-door Breakfront cabinet, c. 1815, with porcelain panels and mounted with gouache Herculaneum paper panels below a scagliola top. A marble bust of George IV, c. 1830, attributed to Samuel Joseph, and Francis Cotes’ painting of Mrs George Reynolds, 1768, are two amongst many fascinating portraits in the collection.


From ‘Boyar to Bolshevik’ Russian history and decorative arts caught David’s attention and testament to this are the number of books and auction catalogues on the subject. The Romanoff Tsars, their families and patronage of the arts, as well as Faberge and the Imperial Court Jewellers, fascinated him. Few would not be overwhelmed by the myriad of Russian State Museums brimming with miraculous items, supreme in scale and of mind-blowing craftsmanship.

Catherine the Great’s gift of Pavlovsk Palace to her son Paul I and his wife Maria Feodorovna provided inspiration for David’s ‘Russian bedroom’ with its Neoclassical furniture, a superb Secretaire and portraits of the Tsars. Catherine’s furnishing taste at the Chinese Palace at Oranienbaum and Tsarskoye Selo are reflected in a Russian ormolu-mounted glass Vase on pedestal, c. 1830 that David acquired in London. Interested in semi-precious stones, many exquisite objects made of Russian malachite were collected by David and a magnificent Vase with cover, c. 1890, is his final resting place.


From Animalia bronzes to Boulle, from Sevres to Vincennes, and from paintings to ormolu, a French theme runs through the David Roche collection. Two rooms at Fermoy House started life as ‘French’ – the drawing room and a guest bedroom. They have since changed, but French antiques remained of abiding interest to David, even though buying genuine eighteenth- and nineteenth-century furniture and objets d’art in Australia was not an easy task. Collecting Napoleonic items was possible in Australia, especially from the ilk of W.F (Bill) Bradshaw, in Sydney.

France was a vital destination to David, who visited every venue from the flea markets to the upmarket Rue du Faubourg, Saint Honoré. Bois de Boulogne exhibitions and the Biennale des Antiquaires at the Grande Palais, were a regular fixture. He developed a preference for the First Empire period, spanning Consulate to Charles X and a visit to Napoleon’s death mask at Les Invalides, became something of a ritual. At Versailles, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Malmaison, Fontainebleau and Vaux-le-Vicomte, David immersed himself in art. Acquisitions were also plentiful – classical-inspired paintings by Girodet de Roucy-Trioson, sculpture after Martin van den Bogaert, eighteenth-century ormolu torchères and candelabras, as well as the finest furniture from François-Honoré Georges Jacob-Desmalter, supplier to Napoleon and nobility.

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