Media baron auctions collection for charity

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 22nd August, 2017

A director of the media empire founded in 1841 by his grandfather John Fairfax, the late James Fairfax (who died in January this year aged 83) was a passionate collector, philanthropist and supporter of the arts.

Although the family publishing business played an important role, it also was his extensive business travels and visits to his United Kingdom residence, when he often stopped for extended periods in Asia, that influenced and informed Fairfax’s decorative arts collection.

Featuring superb Asian works of art and textiles, European furniture, porcelain, silver and photography, Leonard Joel will auction the collection in two parts from 6.30pm Thursday August 31 at the National Arts School in Forbes Street, Sydney and continue from 10am the following day.

Valued at more than $1 million, James Fairfax selected the pieces in this auction and the proceeds will benefit his foundation and the charities it supports including The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, The Children’s Medical Research Foundation and World Wildlife Fund.  

Fairfax’s former home Retford Park in Bowral New South Wales, from where many of the auction pieces originate, has recently been bequeathed to the National Trust – again at his express wishes.

Leading the auction is an exquisitely carved Chinese jade mythical horse from the Qing Dynasty.

According to the Liji (Book of Rites), it was the vision of this mythical creature (part horse, part dragon) and the scales on its back that inspired the legendary Chinese ruler Fuxi to create the eight trigrams, which led to the invention of the written word.

The Asian section also features several magnificent imperial Chinese robes including a rare 1820s Empress Dragon garment.

Elaborately embroidered with the finest silk and couched gold-wrapped thread, the robe depicts five-clawed dragons clasping the flaming pearl of wisdom and longevity, believed to have provided the wearer with eternal power.

Other highlights in this section include several museum quality Japanese works of art and a particularly impressive selection of lacquer furniture.

The auction contains a fine Louis XVI tulipwood bureau which once belonged to English photographer, writer and painter Sir Cecil Beaton.

Other interesting highlights include an 1856 novelty set of silver kangaroo salt dispensers by John Samuel Hunt for Hunt & Roskell.

Unusual is a tobacco jar depicting a painted caricature reading the Sydney Morning Herald. Made by German company Conta & Boehme in the late 19th century, according to family legend it was modelled on John Fairfax.

This decorative arts auction is preceded by a sale of important Australian art works from the estate on Wednesday August 30 in Sydney through Deutscher and Hackett (see separate website story).

Viewing Leonard Joel 39 Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney. 

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