An Australian socialite auction collection to remember

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 9th August, 2021

Ongoing Victorian COVID-19 lockdown restrictions have not prevented Melbourne-based Gibson’s Auctions from holding its Winter Auction Series which features the collection of leading Melbourne socialite the late Billie Tyrrell, whose former Naval lieutenant husband Harry founded National Can Industries.

Born in 1924 in Malvern, Billie spent most of her early life at Katanga, an elegant home designed by famous architect Harold Desbrowe-Annear for her prominent lawyer father Wesley Armstrong Ince.

Both he and his wife loved to entertain and Billie and her sister Betty grew up surrounded by fine art, furnishings china and silver.

A practising physiotherapist, Billie married Tyrrell in 1957 and they had two children – living in both Toorak and Hawthorn before retiring to an elegant apartment in Clivedon, East Melbourne and also spending time at their Gippsland farming property in Victoria’s east.

Together Billie and Harry amassed a substantial local and international collection of sterling silver and porcelain during extensive travels to Europe, the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The first 168 lots (from a total of 666) are all from Billie’s collection – with the auction taking place from 11am Sunday August 22 at 885-889 High Street, Armadale.

Depending on Victorian Government COVID-19 restrictions at the time live viewing is scheduled to take place from 10am-5pm Thursday August 19 to Saturday August 21. 

A couple of Billie’s collection pieces feature among the more interesting auction items including a set of four 1869 Victorian sterling silver candlesticks by London’s Frederick Brasted (lot 112) and a grand circa 1790 George III mahogany library breakfront bookcase (lot 11).

However, the crowning auction piece is an early 19th century Chinese Qing dynasty embroidered brown silk-ground semi-formal ‘dragon’ court robe (lot 324) with a $30,000-$50,000 catalogue estimate.

Called Jifu, the robe has been worked in couched gold wrapped thread with satin stitch and Peking knot with nine rampant five-clawed dragons in pursuit of flaming pearls.

From a private collection, it was last sold in July 2014 by Sotheby’s Australia.

Of great interest to auction goers will be a pair of russet marble top wrought iron consoles from California’s Gregorius Pineo furniture makers (lot 221) and an 18th century gilt bronze figure of deity Avalokitesvara from the Qing dynasty (lot 302).

The 11-headed Avalokitesvarta is an esoteric form of the Bodhisattva believed to have overcome 11 hardships in order to obtain Buddhahood.

A probable Tang dynasty marble lion figure (lot 312) is another attraction along with a late 19th century/20th century Italian pair of painted and gilded commodes – each featuring a circular panel showing the judgement of Paris (lot 243).

A large cinnabar lacquer style rectangular panel featuring relief figures at a lakeside scene (lot 327) is bound to fascinate auction goers – while a Qing dynasty celadon jade water pot carved in the form of a hollow pine trunk (lot 358) should prove an interesting talking point.

A Yuan/Ming dynasty Longquan celadon dish (lot 362) is another item sure to intrigue collectors.

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