Vale Martyn Cook

Remembered for his encyclopedic knowledge, impeccable style and wit, Martyn Cook is a great loss to the international fraternity of decorative arts and antiques.
Vale Martyn Cook

Martyn Cook. Image supplied.

The visual arts and museum decorative arts sector, along with an international collegiate of antique dealers, have been saddened by news of the early death of Martyn Cook this week (Tuesday, 2 April). Cook was just 60.

Cook was the inaugural Director / Curator of The David Roche Foundation (TDRF) private Adelaide museum. Prior to moving to Adelaide, he had a successful career as an antique dealer in Sydney for over 30 years.


It was in Adelaide that he met David Roche who he described as spending ‘his life on a quest to find the perfect object’, a journey largely shared by Cook.

Read: Adelaide gets a new private museum

A formal statement posted on the Foundation’s website this week, described Cook: ‘His role in creating the Foundation has been critical. The collection that forms the Foundation, and that David Roche put together over his lifetime, was very largely guided by Martyn. They invariably travelled together on buying trips and David relied immensely on Martyn’s knowledge, network and eye for detail.

‘Upon David’s death in 2013, Martyn played the lead role in conceiving and guiding the creation of the critically acclaimed house museum and gallery in North Adelaide from which the Foundation now operates.’

Robert Reason, Assistant Museum Director / Senior Curator at TDRF alongside Cook, told ArtsHub: ‘Antiques wasn’t a career he was thinking of following, and when he left school he became a hairdresser. He always laughed about meeting some of his best clients then.

‘He was always quick to say that he didn’t go to university; that he learnt on the job. He was one of those men who never put a bio together. He did, however, meet some important people at a young age and they steered him into collecting antiques, people like Paul Keating, and of course, David Roche.’

Reason told ArtsHub in an earlier interview that Roche was also self-taught: ‘He was the old fashion idea of a connoisseur, self-taught from a young age.’ 

Cook started his journey with antiques, working at Paul Kenny’s antiques emporium in Paddington (Sydney) as a young man.

‘What impressed me at the time was how across his subject he was and, at such a youthful age. His passion for his subject and gathering knowledge about art and antiques has never known any boundaries, and his many wonderful anecdotes and stories captivate everyone, wrote Carolyn McDowell in 2013, reflecting on Cook at that juncture when he moved to Adelaide to take up the role at TDRF.

By 1982 Cook had established his own business, trading as Martyn Cook Antiques. His first gallery on Bohemian Victoria Street Darlinghurst, quickly gave way to Red Lion laundry factory on Jersey road in Paddington a stepping stone to Queen Street Woollahra, until May 2010 when he acquired the Redfern Municipal Electric light station in the heart of Redfern.

Cook had an encyclopedic knowledge. Over the years he lectured extensively for institutions, private and public museums and collections. He had long-established clients all over the world.

McDowell described Cook: ‘Martyn Cook has an innate sense of style, an understanding and recognition of good qualities in design and art, which has been refined during a lifetime of learning and working in the field.’

Reason added: ‘He joined the antique business in the boom time of the ‘80s. Obviously, he was an incredibly clever man, and he gained so much from the people around him, but he was also an avid reader books and catalogues – he had an incredible library.

‘The last few years, despite his illness, he worked tirelessly – he didn’t chuck in the towel. I spoke to him Monday afternoon and he was telling me what he was planning to do on Tuesday. He died that morning.’

Reason concluded: ‘He has been an incredible mentor for me … I learnt so much from him, but also about being an ambassador of David’s collection – telling me what David had wanted to achieve. Having that relationship with Martyn was fantastic.’

Julian Bickersteth, CEO, International Conservation Services, remembered Cook: ‘Martyn made an indelible impression on all who met him, and was much loved by his friends and colleagues.'

Bickersteth words echo that of many others on social media channels over the past two days – sentiments such as ‘A man who defined great taste and exemplary client service. He was focused. He had vision. He was charming & very funny (Michael Reid, gallerist) and ‘A passionate purveyor of really good things’ (Roger McIlroy).

The Chair of the Foundation added: ‘Marytn made an indelible impression on all who met him and was much loved by his friends and colleagues.’

Cook is survived by sisters Michelle, Janeanne and Debra.

A memorial event to mark Martyn’s life will be hosted by the Foundation at a date to be advised.

No image supplied

Gina Fairley

Thursday 4 April, 2019

About the author

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW.

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