This piano, made in 1830 by the Zurich-based piano maker Heinrich Hüni (1798–1866), belonged to a Swedish family who emigrated to Australia during World War II. When they returned to their home country in 1946, renowned Sydney antiques dealer William Bradshaw acquired the piano at auction.
Known to his friends as Bill, William Bradshaw was considered to be ‘the father of the Sydney antiques world’. He sold to the Packers and the Fairfaxes, was a mentor to former Prime Minister Paul Keating, and was chosen by then- NSW-Premier Neville Wran to refurbish Elizabeth Bay House. When Bradshaw died in 2009, aged 87, Keating described him as ‘simply the most knowledgeable antiques dealer Australia has known’.
Bradshaw kept his Huni piano in the firstfloor drawing room of his home at 96 Queen Street, Woollahra. With its gorgeous cabinetwork of olivewood veneer, the instrument made an attractive side table – and that’s exactly what Bradshaw used it for. Atop the piano sat a statue of Hebe, the Greek goddess of youth, which has its own fascinating history.
In 1924 the Parianware statue was displayed in Elliot’s antiques shop near Wynyard in Sydney. Mr Elliot was a friend of Dame Nellie Melba, so when the great Australian opera singer was in Sydney on a concert tour in June of that year, she visited his shop. An anecdote relates how Elliot greeted Melba with a flamboyant arm waving bow. Dame Nellie, forgetting that she was holding a furled parasol, responded to Elliot’s theatrical gesture with an even deeper and more flamboyant bow. In the process, she accidentally knocked the statue of Hebe to the floor. The statue’s left arm broke off near the shoulder, and Hebe’s pitcher shattered into a multitude of unmendable fragments.
Elliot refused Dame Nellie’s offer to pay for the damage, insisting that he would instead keep and treasure the statue as a memento of her visit. He glued the arm back onto the statue, and for many years ‘dined out’ on the story of Melba’s visit to his shop. When Elliot went out of business, William Bradshaw – fully aware of the statue’s connection with the illustrious diva – bought the piece with the intention that it should function as his shop mascot.
So it sat in pride of place on the Hüni square piano at the entrance to his drawing room for many years.
Maintaining the tradition set up by Bradshaw, Stewart Symonds bought both the Hebe statue and the Hüni square piano for his collection. The piano promises an exquisite sound.