Former Christie’s Australia chairman and managing director Roger McIlroy, who had sold much of Mr Schaeffer’s artworks including the contents of his historic mansion Rona in Bellevue Hill, described him as a “passionate collector”.
“He was also incredibly generous as a patron, even at times when he probably shouldn’t have been, given his various financial issues,” Mr McIlroy said. “John was passionate about art and passionate about sharing it, he wasn’t interested in the money, he was interested in the art.”
Mr Schaeffer’s first major art purchase was a Norman Lindsay painting he bought in the mid 1970s for a then record-setting $200,000.
He was a member of the National Gallery of Australia Foundation board as well as a life governor of the Art Gallery of NSW, which is home to the John Schaeffer wing that houses some of his collection.
“John’s support over 20 years came from a deep love and knowledge of our historical collections. His many major gifts of art to the gallery were all made with the intelligent eye of a great collector,” Art Gallery of NSW’s director Michael Brand said.
He is survived by his partner, film producer Bettina Dalton and his daughter Jo Schaeffer.
Mr Schaeffer died on Tuesday after being struck by a Ford Ranger utility vehicle on Macquarie Street, near St James Road before 5pm on Monday.
A spokesperson for St Vincent’s Hospital said Mr Schaeffer “passed away peacefully at 8.50pm on Tuesday 14 July, with his family by his side”.
The driver of the vehicle was granted conditional bail and will appear in court in August, where police will allege he reversed into the elderly man.
Mr Schaeffer mortgaged his house in 1971 to buy a small contract cleaning business called Tempo Services, which he built into a vast corporation until falling on hard times in the mid-2000s, resulting in him having to sell off much of his artwork and real estate to pay back millions of dollars to creditors.
Over the years, his collection has included 22 pieces from the Forbes family, including the Il Dolce far niente by one of Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood founders William Holman Hunt, which he sold in 2016 for more than £5 million.
In addition to his art, Mr Schaeffer was also known for his property portfolio.
He set the Australian record for the most expensive residential sale when he bought Boomerang, his Elizabeth Bay estate, for $20.7 million in 2002 after selling 10 million of his shares in Tempo.
In 2004, the sale of his Bellevue Hill estate Rona – which, when purchased, was Sydney’s most expensive home – for $20 million was Sydney’s fourth-highest residential property sale.
Thirteen years later he bought the F. Glynn Gilling-designed mansion Bonnington in Bellevue Hill for $20.5 million, which took in some of the original Rona property. It was Sydney’s second-highest auction sale.
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An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Mr Schaeffer had established Tempo Services.
Mary Ward is a reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Andrew Hornery is a senior journalist and Private Sydney columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald.