Three Generations of Collecting

An Important 17th Century Florentine Pietra Dura Inlaid Cabinet, Circa 1620. The Brans Collection Sydney Auction

As Leonard Joel Sydney prepares to offer an important collection of art, decorative arts and furniture from Brans Antiques and Art, Perth, we spoke to John Brans to discover more about the family business history and his favourite auction finds. 

Tell us about the history of Brans Antiques.

My father Clive started Brans Antiques and Art, originally Clive Brans Antiques, in 1975 in Fremantle. His father was an auctioneer in the UK and his grandmother was also in the trade with a shop in Lillie Road, Fulham. By the 1980s, Dad had moved the shop to Subiaco and then in 1990 he and Mum purchased our current gallery in Mosman Park with a focus on 17th and 18th Century English and
European furniture. 

The Brans Collection Leonard Joel Auctions Sydney
An Important 17th Century Florentine Pietra Dura Inlaid Cabinet, Circa 1620 | $200,000-300,000

I had always been around the business in my childhood, tagging along to view auctions and searching for “finds” at jumble sales, and I joined the business full time in 1993. After some time spent with further university studies and a suitable apprenticeship, I moved to partnering with Dad and upon his retirement in 2013 my wife Clare and I took over the business. Over the years, our tastes have refined, and areas of interest broadened. I still love great English furniture but have developed a passion for Italian Renaissance furniture, sculpture through the ages, Meiji Period works of art, and many other things. 

Now, after more than 30 years in our Glyde St gallery and 46 years in business, we have decided to sell our building and contemplate the next chapter.

A Bronze Medici Lion, Early 19th Century. The Brans Collection
A Bronze Medici Lion, Early 19th Century. $5,000-8,000
The Brans Collection

Over the years, you’ve sourced unique items from auctions all over the world, what are some stand out auction finds for you?

We have sourced items from all over Australia and the world but one of my most exciting auction days included the purchase of the 17th Century Florentine pietra dura cabinet. I travelled to New York specifically to view it at Christie’s where, given the peak of the GFC, it had been put into auction at a low estimate. Everyone was panicking about another Great Depression and the Australian dollar was at parity for the first time. As soon as I saw it, I knew it was my chance to acquire something that would rarely be available to an Australian collector, and I knew I had to have it. On the same day I was also bidding on two other lots at Sotheby’s and the auctions were on simultaneously, so I was rushing back and forth between the two by cab and on foot. I remember being so excited by the end of the day having spent hundreds of thousands of dollars but going home with three truly great pieces. I have never regretted paying more than I wanted for something, but often regretted being the underbidder!

A Pair of Chinese Late Ming Period Porcelain Jars. The Brans Collection Sydney Auction
A Pair of Chinese Late Ming Period Porcelain Jars, Circa 1650 | $8,000-12,000
The Brans Collection
Auction Sunday 21 November, Sydney

What are some of your favourite memories from Brans Antiques in Mosman Park, WA?

I have been reflecting on our time in Mosman Park quite often lately and some of my favourite memories include unpacking containers from overseas with Dad, the family, and staff. Container day is like a giant version of Christmas day, tearing the paper off pieces to see how they look back in the West Australian light, often months after we first saw them. Some of my other favourite memories are from exhibitions and functions we have held, often for other organisations such as Australian Wildlife Conservancy, WA Ballet, Freeze Frame Opera, and Impact 100. Using our beautiful space to help support others has created some of my most valuable memories of the premises. However, it is the interaction and relationships with clients, friends, family, and staff over the years that has provided the true joy of the business. 

We look forward to presenting The Brans Collection at Leonard Joel Sydney on November 21. 

MADELEINE NORTON / Decorative Arts and Fine Art Specialist, Sydney 

September 2021