We visited pianist, composer, natural history enthusiast, and internationally renowned shell collector Jason Earle-Sprague at his Melbourne home, where he spends his time when he’s not working on a musical project in London. A Leonard Joel client since our St Kilda days, Sprague also collects early Chinese ceramics, antiquarian books, fine art, and European furniture. With a wealth of knowledge and a truly fascinating, curated collection, we asked him to share with us some insights into his world.
How did your passion for natural history and shells begin?
It was via a combination of my mother’s encouragement in this direction; my kindergarten teacher, who furnished the students with natural materials instead of plastic for play; and via regular holidays at the seaside.
What is your most memorable purchase from Leonard Joel?
A nineteenth century landscape painting of a Scottish highland scene. Aesthetically, it is of great beauty, and I often pause to admire the workmanship of its execution, which is first-rate.
Is there anything you are on the lookout for that you’d love to add to your collection?
The ‘right’ Elizabethan portrait. Whether male or female, it will be about the facial features, the quality of the painting, the frame, and above all, the colours. I will recognise them when we meet.
How has your collecting changed over the years?
Discernment is the principal factor which has altered across the years, always in an upwards direction. Specialisation has also come more into play, itself a result of discernment.
What is one piece in your collection that would be difficult to part with?
There are several pieces for which I have great fondness, although, preeminent in this respect would be my large, amber-glazed mei-p’ing (cherry blossom vase), from the Liao dynasty (907-1125). The piece was formerly in a renowned US collection, and is of exceptional quality and considerable rarity, although it is for aesthetic considerations that I would find it difficult to part with. It possesses two criteria which are the hallmarks of what I look for in Chinese ceramics: supreme beauty in simplicity with regards to design, and the colour of its glaze, as I have always had a predilection for warm autumnal tones of amber, ochre and russet.
Is there a piece you wish you had won, but lost at auction, that you still think about?
No. If I miss a piece I like at auction, I remain philosophical. I believe that the pieces destined to be yours are those which come to you.
Who, or what inspires you?
The greatest music of the Western canon is my greatest inspiration… for everything.
Do you have a favourite place to visit in London that you have discovered from spending so much time there?
My great passion for fine cuisine has provided me with several favourite places: Darroze at The Connaught, J. Sheekey, and La Petite Maison. For the visual arts – the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the seat at the grand pianoforte in the ballroom of my London club on Brook Street.