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The Real Deal

2022 THE REAL DEAL | WILLIAM JOHNSTON: His Residence and Collection


Wednesday 16 March 2022 – Sunday 11 September 2022

William Johnston was a ‘dealer, collector, decorator, enthusiast, property investor, landlord, and story-teller’.

This annual WILLIAM JOHNSTON: His Residence & Collection exhibition will consider, through Johnston’s character as a dealer & trader, and through his collection, how he sourced and made things attractive for the market and for himself.

From an early age, William Johnston (1911-1986) had an untrained but natural ability to pick out ‘good pieces’ from auction houses and homes he visited in Melbourne.

He had an obvious passion for collecting. Encouraged by his mother, Johnston developed his talent as a dealer that led to a lifetime of buying and selling to an enthusiastic market and creating his own collection.

Johnston’s life as an entrepreneurial antique dealer enabled him to travel the world to seek out stock in other parts of the world: England, Europe, Asia, and America. Fuelled by demand, and as stock grew scarce, Johnston could furnish clients houses with the right, sometimes fabricated, pieces.

You will discover that William Johnston changed the name of his house Fairhall and with a few relatively simple changes to the windows turned it from a Victorian house to one with the appearance of an 18th century English Georgian home.

Inside Fairhall THE REAL DEAL highlights work that were acquired in Johnston’s early days as a dealer in Melbourne and London, as well as objects that were left behind in his antique shop, Kent Antiques in Armadale.

You will be enthralled by Throne chairs and sofa purchased by Johnston in India which were part of an extensive suite of Neoclassical drawing room furniture once in Government House, Calcutta, and now referred to as the Calcutta suite. It is definitely from Government House as each piece is stamped “GHC”. The furniture was made in India to match some existing English-made furniture in Government House, Calcutta. Several photos show the chairs in situ, one is a full-length portrait of Lady Casey, Johnston’s neighbour in East Melbourne, taken during the time when her husband was Governor of Bengal (1944-1946).

Equally, a magnificent Bureau Plat (writing desk), circa 1745, was reputedly the desk on which King Farouk of Egypt signed his abdication in 1952

You can also enjoy the story of the famous Willow pattern used on ceramic housewares around the world. The Willow pattern became immensely popular at the end of the 18th century in England when it was invented by English potteries combining and adapting motifs inspired by desirable hand-painted blue-and-white wares imported from China. You will learn of its creation at a time when mass-production of decorative tableware at Stoke on Trent and elsewhere, was already making use of engraved and printed glaze transfers, rather than hand-painting, for the application of ornament to standardised vessels.

We are also enormously thrilled to welcome visitors with our new opening hours.

Starting with this exhibition we look forward to sharing all our exhibitions and events with you all from Wednesday – Sunday’s, marking the fulfilment of the vision that William Johnston had dreamed in the early 1970s.

Opening on weekends has allowed us to continue to ensure The Johnston Collection is accessible for visitors, whether visiting in a group or individually.

“We want people to know that they don’t have to be part of a Probus Club, a group, or the like to visit. We want people to know that they can visit as groups or as individuals” says director and CEO Louis Le Vaillant.

Enjoy a visually enticing display of over 400 years of art history and share William Johnston’s lifetime passion for collecting. Rare items will adorn each room of Fairhall exhibition-house as you immerse yourself in otherworldly treasures and luscious interiors, filled with stories of travel and tales of the past. Experience objects gathered by William Johnston unfettered by ropes or barriers.

THE REAL DEAL | WILLIAM JOHNSTON: His Residence & Collection offers a traditional interpretation of the Collection.


Fairhall is one of the few exhibition-houses in Australia to be unfettered by ropes and barriers, visitors will be guided through the exhibition-house, enjoying remarkable stories of desire and affection from the past and of the present from nearly 1,500 objects, paintings, ceramics, furniture, and objet d’art.

Johnston intended that Fairhall be regularly rearranged. Past rearrangements have included those by fashion designer Akira Isogawa, architect Pascale Gomes-McNabb, fashion-house RomanceWasBorn, artist Rosslynd Piggott, Artistic Director of The Australian Ballet David McAllister AO, milliner and artist Richard Nylon, and design studio Hecker Guthrie.

The experience of TJC begins at The Pullman on The Park hotel, East Melbourne where visitors are picked up by courtesy bus and travel a few short minutes to the museum to begin their tour.


This exhibition is supported by The Friends of The Johnston Collection.


MEDIA ENQUIRIES: Kathryn Pappas | p 03 9416 2515

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