“A former trustee and Foundation trustee, his many major gifts of art to the Gallery were all made with the intelligent eye of a great collector,” Mr Brand said. “He will be deeply missed by the Australian arts community.”
Among Schaeffer’s gifts to the AGNSW are the Lord Frederic Leighton marble sculpture, An athlete wrestling with a python (1888-1891), donated to the gallery in 2017.
Schaeffer migrated to Australia from Holland in 1960 and his first job was in a Woolworths store. When the store’s cleaner resigned, Schaeffer took on the business, developing it into a leading cleaning and security company, Tempo, which at its height employed about 23,000 people. By 2000 he debuted on the BRW Rich List, worth $110 million. But in the early 2000s his business hit troubled waters.
He rode the ups and downs of the business, and was known too as a serial buyer of Sydney’s trophy homes, and while debt and divorce at times whittled away his beloved art collection, as soon as he was financially able, he would start collecting again. His particular passion was for the art of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood which he began to collect in the mid 1980s. He wore a gold signet ring from circa 1834 that had belonged to the English painter William Holman Hunt, a founder of the Pre-Raphaelites. Schaeffer paid £37,000 (AU$67,532) for the ring at a Bonhams’ auction in 2013, bidding way above the estimate of £1000 to £1500.
“He is going to be missed on so many levels,” said Brisbane-based art dealer Philip Bacon, who is also deputy chairman of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation Board, of which Schaeffer was a member. “He collected so widely and so well, and art was so much a part of his life. Those kind of people come around so rarely.”
Geoffrey Smith, the chairman of Smith & Singer auction house, described Schaeffer as “intense, passionate, focussed and articulate … our very own Antipodean Renaissance man”.
“His collecting was legendary and he haunted the auction rooms, commercial and public galleries of the world in search of the nourishment that great art has the possibility of providing the mind and soul,” Smith said. “He has shaped Australian culture and reignited our interest in the enduring and unique qualities of Pre-Raphaelite Art. The list of masterpieces by Australian and international artists were once cared for by John is truly astounding.”
Hamish Clark, head of Leonard Joel’s Sydney office, who had known Schaeffer for 30 years and had been working closely with him over the past few months in preparation for an upcoming of auction of his collection, said that his ““zest for life and his knowledge was amazing”.
He will be missed by Sydney property agents, too. In 2002 he set a national record when he bought the Spanish mission-style trophy home Boomerang in Elizabeth Bay for $20.7 million. In 1989 he bought the neo-Gothic estate Rona in Bellevue Hill, ending more than a century of Knox family ownership, and, more recently, his briefly owned the F. Glynn Gilling-designed mansion Bonnington.
Schaeffer is survived by his partner, film producer Bettina Dalton, his daughter from his first marriage, Joanne Schaeffer, and three grandchildren.