Pompei collection shines a light on early Australiana

by Peter Fish | Australian Financial Review | Saleroom | Wednesday 8 November 2017

Light Station

You would anticipate a few surprises in the collection of a couple who live in a lighthouse keeper's cottage and operate a highly rated seaside pizza and gelato restaurant.

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And you'd certainly find them in the sale of the contents of George and Adisa Pompei's home, part of the historic Macquarie Light Station on the cliffs at Sydney's Vaucluse. The sale will be conducted by auctioneer Shapiro at the Woollahra Hotel on Sunday.

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The couple – who operate the eponymous Pompei's restaurant at Bondi Beach – are moving to Woollahra. The head lighthouse keeper's cottage – in reality a large house set on spacious lawns on the clifftop – has been sold, and the pair are moving to a smaller, more modern home. The collection, including Australiana and Anglo-Indian wares from prominent antique dealers as well as plenty of quirky maritime objects, will go under the hammer. Much of the collection dates from the same era as the lighthouse keeper's cottage itself, which was built in 1837.

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The couple bought the house 12 years ago. "When we took possession of it we were of a mind to buy furniture from that period," George Pompei says, and a key adviser in that process was James Broadbent, author of The Australian Colonial House and former senior adviser to the Historic Houses Trust.

"It was a really enjoyable process. He helped us gain a fantastic appreciation of life in the colony," Pompei says.

"We love every piece we bought. But we're moving to a house that won't accommodate too much."

grecian sofa

Fine Furniture

An important item in the sale is an Australian cedar Grecian sofa from the 1820s with scrolled arms, the back carved with flowers and acanthus leaves, upholstered in traditional black horsehair. The catalogue gives the sofa's provenance as Leppington House (which burned down in the 1940s), near Camden, NSW, and the collection of Mr and Mrs L Oakman of Campbelltown. It is illustrated in Craig, Fahy and Robertson's Early Colonial Furniture in NSW and Van Diemen's Land. Pre-sale estimate is $8000 to $12,000.

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Other furniture includes a cedar chiffonier from NSW, circa 1840, the backboard carved with S-shaped scroll motifs above a cushion-shaped drawer and panelled doors, provenanced to John Hawkins Antiques, Tasmania, with an estimate of $5000 to $7000. Also from Hawkins is a cedar-framed plaster portrait medallion of explorer and politician William Wentworth circa 1870, estimate $2000 to $3000, while from English dealer Christopher Clarke of Gloucestershire, a regular visitor to Australia, is an English padouk wood campaign chest circa 1815 at $3000 to $5000 and a mahogany campaign Pembroke table at $2000 to $4000.

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Among the pottery is a pair of twin-handled stoneware salt-glazed jardinières, each 43cm high with scalloped rim and moulded with native flora and fauna in relief, estimate $1500 to $2500. With a similar estimate is a pair of Australian musk wood candlesticks circa 1834-45, 21cm high on turned wood bases, the wood showing attractive figure and patination, which were also purchased from John Hawkins.

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Art and prints include an 1830s lithograph of Port Jackson by Louis de Sainson and a 19th century Posillipo school gouache of Vesuvius.

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Curiosities

Among many curious items is a Melanesian model coronation spice ship constructed entirely from cloves, in a 56cm-wide ebonised display case, which has a provenance to Sydney's Gowings department store in the 1950s.

There's also an assortment of Australian shellwork – objects decorated with or formed from sea shells. It includes a 19th century Australian coat of arms about 1 metre-wide formerly in the collection of the late Sydney heritage book publisher David Ell, and a lamp in the form of a lighthouse that dates from the 1920s and is wired for electricity, estimate $400 to $600.

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Among the sundries are garden urns and furniture in cast iron, wirework and wicker.

The couple will be keeping a few items, but as Pompei says: "It was put together with this house in mind – we're still young enough to collect again."

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Auction | Sunday 12 November 1pm

Catalogue | Online here.

Enquiries | (02) 9326 1588 or info@shapiro.com.au