PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
the moulded ebony double domed cornice above a pair of conforming doors each inlaid with a vase containing a flowering tree flanked at the base by trumpet-playing putti, opening to a fitted interior with an arrangement of pigeonholes with engraved ivory arched tops surrounding nine short and two slightly larger drawers with conforming inlay of trailing leafy tendrils with flowers, all divided by vertical folio divisions with a central double pigeonholes above a door inlaid with a flower bedecked vase revealing six tortoiseshell veneered drawers of graduated size all bordered by ivory engraved with stylised leaf scrolls, the insides of the cabinet doors also inlaid with vases filled with flowering trees flanked at each base by small birds above a fall front writing surface similarly inlaid with flowering leafy tendrils, the bureau section stationery compartments comprising thirteen tortoiseshell-veneered drawers and arched pigeonholes centred by a door matching that in the upper section, below are three short drawers above two slightly larger drawers and two long graduated drawers all with similar inlaid flowering tendril decoration above an ebony base moulding with an inlaid leaf pattern border, on bun feet, the cabinet sides to the upper and lower sections further inlaid with vases issuing flowering trees surrounded by birds and animals, the drawers and doors with engraved brass mounts and brass ring handles, the cabinet with ivory mouldings and engraved ivory bandings throughout
D.J. Orde Esq., sold Christie's London, 25 November 1976, lot 120
Thence to the present owner.
Mallet, P.L.C., London, Trade Catalogue, 1994, ill. pp. 15, 16
Lanto Synge, Mallett Millenium, 1999, p. 288. fig. 372
Amin Jaffer, Furniture from British India and Ceylon, 2001, p. 184, fig. 83 ill.
The Magazine Antiques, February, 2001, `Ivory-inlaid and veneered furniture of Vizagapatam, India, 1700-1825, Amin Jaffer, pp. 342-349, p. 349 ill.
Mildred Archer et al, Treasures from India, The Clive Collection at Powis Castle, 1987
Christie’s, New York, October 17, 1997, lot 548
Vizagapatam is situated on the south east coast of India between the Godava River and Nagapatnam, close to the large city of Madras to the South. Since the 17th century it has served as a major port, and has historically been part of the major trading route between Europe and the Far East. Amin Jaffer notes that `Vizagapatam possessed the ingredients necessary for the success of a centre of furniture-making', its fine harbour providing access to many fine timbers including teak, ebony and rosewood which were indigenous to the surrounding Northern Circars region. Other materials, such as ivory from Pegu, padouk and sandalwood were also readily available to the local craftsmen. The area was an old established centre for the manufacture of dyed cottons which had attracted European traders since the 17th century. These included the Dutch who established a trading post at Bimlipatam to the north in 1628, and the English, whose textile factory was founded at Vizagapatam in 1668. In 1768 the whole of the Circars region came under the control of the East India Company, with a subsequent increase in population due to the expanding lucrative coastal trade.
Curiously, although it is evident from the survival of several pieces of furniture dating from the second quarter of the 18th century, the first written reference to ivory inlaid furniture in Vizagapatam was made in 1756 by a Major John Corneille, who noted that the area was known for the quality of its chintz, which is `esteemed the best in India for its brightness of its colours' and that `the place is likewise remarkable for its inlay work, and justly for they do it to the greatest perfection' (A. Jaffer, Furniture from British India and Ceylon, London, 2001, p. 172).
It is obvious from the pieces which survive from the mid-18th century that the native craftsmen were strongly influenced by their European customers. Furniture from Vizagapatam was often based on either Dutch or English examples, or designs made available through contemporary furniture pattern books. Such derivation is best seen in the suite of ivory-inlaid chairs, now in the British Royal Collection, commissioned by Alexander Wynch, Governor of Fort St. George, the design for which was clearly influenced by Chippendale's Director of 1762.
The degree of influence over the various native cabinet makers by resident English Merchants is poorly documented, although Samuel Banks, a merchant who died at Vizagapatam in 1754, was certainly closely involved with them. As Jaffer states `accounts of his estate indicate that he traded in teak, sandalwood and ivory, and held substantial stocks of looking glasses'. He also left a group of `unfinished' inlaid boxes indicating that he had some involvement in their manufacture. Another merchant John Compton, who was a contemporary of Banks, left `half a dozen tea caddies and a total of seventeen "Escrutores inlaid with ivory" which were not fitted with mounts'.
Although the design of the furniture produced by the Indian cabinet maker was heavily influenced by European models, its decoration remains purely Indian in character. The broad bands of engraved ivory depict wonderfully exotic foliage with sinuous branches and luscious flowers and fruit. These motifs, first drawn by Indian artists, were initially used as decoration on the brightly coloured cotton goods, such as palampores, which had proved to be immensely popular in the west since the 17th century. The clear white of the ivory, ornamented with engraving enhanced by black lac, inlaid into the rich native timbers, must have proved particularly exciting to the western eye. Towards the end of the 18th century items of furniture were more commonly totally veneered with sheets of engraved ivory which reduced the overall visual impact, the engraving itself becoming less generous in its subject and more mechanical in its execution.
The following bureau cabinet (lot 330) and dressing or writing table (lot 331) both date from the second quarter of the 18th century and demonstrate the superb inventiveness of the Indian craftsmen who skilfully applied their traditional schemes of decoration to European forms of furniture. Together they show a wonderful sophistication rarely found when attempts are made to combine western taste with oriental design.
A small group of bureau cabinets related to the present lot are recorded, all clearly derived from original English, Dutch and Portuguese examples, a number of these being discussed by Amin Jaffer in Furniture from British India and Ceylon. The earliest documented example appears to the one owned, and presumably commissioned, by Sir Matthew Decker (fig. 4), a Dutch merchant, who was a Director of the East India Company from 1713 to 1743 (Jaffer, op. cit. p. 182, no. 35). This is dated by Jaffer as being between 1720 and 1730 and, although its profile is similar to the present cabinet, the drawers and fall have wide panels of figured rosewood bordered by narrow ivory inlaid bands depicting small trailing leaves and flower heads. The present lot is more closely related in the style and execution of the ivory inlay to two other cabinets dated by Jaffer to c. 1740-1750 (op. cit. figs. 83 and 84). The first of these was formerly in the collection of Lily and Edmond J. Safra and was sold at Sotheby’s, New York, November 3 2005, the second being in the collection of the Marquess of Townshend at Raynham Hall, Norfolk. The decoration of these three examples is remarkably similar, incorporating trees, flowers, foliage, vases, birds and various animals including lions, although the design of the present cabinet includes winged putti with trumpets at the lower corners of the doors. These devices are also found on the doors of another cabinet from the Ananda Ranga Pillai House, Pondicherry, ((Jaffer, op. cit. fig. 82), which dates from 1730-1740, which has a more elaborate moulded cornice more closely to Dutch examples. A rare feature of the offered example which should be noted as it does not appear to be present on any of the comparable cabinets mentioned above is the use of tortoiseshell in veneered form found on the drawer fronts of the bureau section and interior drawers to the central cupboard of the upper section.
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