By Peter Fish, on 16-Jun-2010

What do you call a chap who owns at least 28 antique dining tables, four of them around 4 metres long? Greedy? Not if you’re an antique dealer , you call him Sir. At least, that’s the sort of respect – perhaps even awe – the West Australian high-flier Warren Anderson must have inspired in the trade in London’s Mayfair or the Sydney and Melbourne antiques precincts during his big-spending heyday.

The collection of the feisty developer - furniture, paintings, prints, furnishings, carpets, decorative art of all sorts, clocks, curios, carvings, castings and miscellaneous collectables - goes under the hammer on June 25 and 26 at Sydney’s Overseas Passenger Terminal at a sale held by Bonhams Australia, an arm of the British-based international auctioneer.

The material offered here under the title “The Owston Collection”  is from the wind-up of just one of Anderson’s companies, Owston Nominees No 2. As well as the 1300 lots estimated to fetch up to $8 million to be sold locally, the auctioneers will also offer two of the Owston paintings at its old masters sale in London next month with expectations of up to $1million.

The sumptuous catalogue includes not just an array of convivial-size tables but  more than 30 bookcases or secretaire-bookcases and almost as many chests of drawers - plus myriad occasional tables, sofa tables, desks and chairs.

The selloff, which has been strongly opposed by the litigious Anderson, has become necessary because of the developer’s separation from his wife Cheryl.

But it’s doubtful that the Anderson properties – which as well as a mansion in Perth’s pricey Peppermint Grove have at one time or another included the historic Fern Hill property near Mulgoa west of Sydney and the huge Tipperary Station in the Northern Territory – will be completely denuded.

Indicative of the full scale of Anderson’s collecting appetite is the $15 million he was granted by a court last year after fire destroyed other artworks from the Owston collection. He has also recently faced litigation over the controversial Firepower company and a little matter of not seeing eye-to-eye with the Missus.

A one-time confidant of ex prime minister Paul Keating and business associate of the late Kerry Packer before the relationship soured, Anderson bought antiques and art on a herculean scale over a period of several decades. Many of the lots in the catalogues are provenanced to respected London dealers like Mallett and Partridge. Only a couple of Australian dealers get a guernsey. Notable is John Hawkins, now trading from Mole Creek in Tasmania, who is listed as the source of one of the major items, Lot 591, the unique set of 12 cedar collectors cabinets that once belonged to Sir Joseph Banks.  Along with the eminent Woollahra dealer Martyn Cook, Hawkins - a noted Australiana specialist - is known to have advised Anderson on several of his purchases.

But perhaps unusually among big spenders  Anderson is also widely regarded as a highly knowledgeable art enthusiast in his own right. That’s evident in the strengths of the Owston collection – the exceptionally fine furniture, much of it with lengthily documented provenance, the massive collection of taxidermy which includes near unique specimens, the paintings, clocks and prints.

Less explicable in terms of Anderson’s obvious passions are the interesting but relatively minor artifacts from Aboriginal Australia, Papua New Guinea, South-East Asia and even early America.

What could have motivated a man with Anderson’s millions to bother accumulating several hundred boomerangs, mostly of fair-to-average quality, a dozen bog standard Japanese suits of armour, pieces of Japanese Arita porcelain, or an assemblage of walking sticks? Were these enthusiasms yet to fully develop or simply trinkets acquired as decoration?

James Hendy, the Bonhams decorative art chief who has spent many hours cataloguing the sale and fielding inquiries from Australia and overseas, says the sale has attracted phenomenal interest across the board, not just for top end items.

The taxidermy has been a major focus, he says, notably the rhinoceros heads (Lots 922,923,924) and special rarities such as the display of the extinct paradise and ground parrots (Lot 815) of which only four specimens are known.

Among the paintings, he says, there has been institutional interest  in “An Incident in the Revolutionary War . . .” by Ronald Mcian (Lot 779) and in Will Longstaff’s ethereal Anzac oil “The Rearguard...”  (Lot 444). The pair of paintings of Sir Charles Blunt hunting (Lot 780) should also sell well, he says.

Among the outstanding major lots he cites the following:

  • Lot 1233, a portrait of Colonel Thornton, Marquess Dupont, roebuck shooting in the forest of Glenmore with his treasured 12-barrel volley rifle, by Philip Reinagle and Sawrey Gilpin circa 1800 (estimate $150,000 to $200,000).
  • Lot 1254, a rare early 19th century Russian neo-classical ormolu 42-light chandelier with a figure of Mercury, similar to an example in the Russian Museum in St Petersburg ($150,000 to $200,000).
  • Lot 639, an imposing George IV double breakfront mahogany library bookcase in the gothic manner richly adorned with delicate tracery, finials and windows, attributed to the great English cabinetmaker Gillows ($70,000 to $100,000).
  • Lot 145, an Irish Regency mahogany four pedestal dining table with a reeded edge in the manner of the Dublin firm of Williams Mack and Gibton ($60,000 to $100,000).

Hendy says some of  the carpets – which include large Kirmans (Lot 488, 605), Heriz (Lot 519) and Donegal (Lot 705) ­- have drawn interest from as far away as New York, Los Angeles and London, while several pieces from the Faberge cased silver and gilt table service for 24 (Lot 1195) have been sent overseas for inspection by bidders.

A gem at the tail end of the sale is the modestly proportioned North European satinwood and gilt brass mounted double pedestal desk in the Directoire style (Lot 1222). Taste-meister Paul Keating will surely be eyeing that one off, or I’m a . . . North European.




Sale Referenced:

About The Author

Peter Fish has been writing on art and collectables for 30 years in an array of publications. With extensive experience in Australia and South-Eat Asia, he was until 2008 a senior business journalist and arts columnist with the Sydney Morning Herald.