Bonhams Australia offers the collection of Sir Warwick and Lady Fairfax AC OBE

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Bonhams Australia offers the collection of Sir Warwick and Lady Fairfax AC OBE
A Life Sized Steiff Plush Mohair 'Ride On' Growler Bear on Wheels. Circa 1950, 90cm high $400 – 600. Photo: Bonhams.

SYDNEY.- It is with great privilege that Bonhams announces the forthcoming auction of the Collection of Sir Warwick and Lady Fairfax on Sunday 22 September 2019 in Sydney. The sale is entitled Fairwater after the Fairfaxs’ highly distinguished home. One of the most comprehensive private collections ever to be offered at public auction in Australia, the sale will feature important works of Australian art, many of which have never been offered on the open market, along with significant decorative arts and furniture.

With close to 400 lots encompassing fine art, decorative arts, English, French and Italian furniture, the auction details a history of collecting by one of Australia’s great media dynasties. Amassed by the Fairfax family over the last century, the sale will also include pieces from their Harrington Park colonial homestead and the family’s New York penthouse.

Director of Bonhams Australia, Merryn Schriever said: ‘Fairwater is one of Australia’s most distinguished properties. The collection it housed is unique in the Australian market and a celebration of three generations of the Fairfax family. With many rare works of Australian art, sculpture, fine French and English furniture, continental ceramics and important decorative arts, this sale of selected contents will appeal to collectors both locally and internationally.’

Fairwater occupies a unique place in Sydney’s social fabric as one of the most important family homes of the 20th century. From its purchase in 1900 by Sir James Oswald Fairfax, the grandson of John Fairfax who founded The Sydney Morning Herald, Fairwater was the seat of the Fairfax family for three generations until its sale in 2018, when it became the most valuable house sold in Australia. The property was the location of countless fundraising and philanthropic luncheons, dances and fetes from the 1920s onward. Most notably in 1973, Sir Warwick and Lady Fairfax held a ball for 800 people to celebrate
the opening of the Sydney Opera House, with a guest list that included the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, Rudolf Nureyev, Liberace, Imelda Marcos and Rex Harrison.

Capturing distinct periods of collecting, the Australian art in Fairwater - The Fairfax Collection is a roll call of our most celebrated artists and includes important works by Charles Blackman, William Dobell, Charles Edward Peacock, Sali Herman and Justin O’Brien, as well as a monumental painting by Ray Crooke which spans almost five meters. A luminous work by Hans Heysen is included which won the 1926 Wynne Prize for Landscape Painting, as well as paintings by the Blake Prize and the Georges Invitation Prize recipients Leonard French, Eric Smith and Michael Kmit.

In 1934 Sir Warwick acquired both The Home magazine and Art in Australia, the latter having established itself as the leading publication for modern and Australian art. He attended many exhibitions at various commercial galleries such as Macquarie Galleries and the Grosvenor as well as those housed in, and associated with, the great department stores – Anthony Horderns, Farmers, and David Jones. It was probably through the David Jones Art Gallery that Sir Warwick was introduced to artist William Dobell who was a particular friend of the proprietor, Charles Lloyd Jones.

Amongst the sale’s impressive collection of Australian paintings is the study for the nation’s most infamous painting, William Dobell’s controversial Archibald Prize winning portrait of Joshua Smith painted in 1943. Study for Portrait of an Artist (Joshua Smith), 1943 is the best example that we have of the portrait Dobell intended, the finished canvas itself being all but destroyed in a fire in 1958.

The sale features several pieces from the family’s Bondi ‘entertaining pad’, which was designed by Marion Hall Best in the 1960s, and their New York penthouse which was home from 1993 until 1998. Occupying the 41st and 42nd floors of the Pierre Hotel in New York, the hotel proper once belonged to John Paul Getty who famously described it as his ‘only above-ground asset’. Other residents who have called the hotel home include Elizabeth Taylor, Yves Saint Laurent and Mohamed al-Fayed. Decorated by Frank Grill with assistance from Martyn Cook, the apartment incorporates what was once the hotel’s ballroom and continues to be New York’s most exclusive residence. Included in the auction are multiple pieces of French and English furniture, fine Aubusson tapestries and a French empire maple giltwood concert harp by Sebastian Arard.

Highlights of the furniture collection include a number of exceptional early examples of English oak which date to pre-1700 and are rarely found in Australia, and fine English ‘Chinoiserie’ and Italian marble pieces, many of which were acquired from the David Jones Gallery when it was managed by the celebrated curator Robert Haines in the 1960s. Also included are many pieces of fine silver, modern design and an exceptional pair of Italian silver Gondolier Lanterns which have been transformed into magnificent lamps. These date from 1825 and once graced the dining room of Fairwater.

At Fairwater there were dinners that seated scores of guests, fashion parades, luncheons and cocktail parties, at which Australian mining magnates, politicians, artists, opera singers and socialites were drawn together with a seasoning of celebrities and stars. Nicholas Coleridge, now chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum, recalls that at one such party there were ‘elaborate silver salt cellars shaped like carriages pulled by silver-winged Cupids’ which are, in fact, included in the sale.

Merryn Schriever, Director Bonhams Australia comments: ‘The cataloguing process for this important collection has revealed many wonderful stories about collecting in the broadest sense. From beautiful Dutch marquetry to a fabulously quirky 1950s Steiff ride-on mohair children’s toys, this auction brings together an entire collection in a way not previously seen in Australia.’

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