Which should I pick anyway?

Rashmi Rajgopal turns to well-known architect and interior designer Ashiesh Shah for his take on the lots featuring in Elegant Design, Saffronart’s upcoming auction

This is not a living room

Disclaimer: This is not a dining room

If not for that disclaimer, you’d probably be conjuring a very skewed image of someone’s dining room. Probably suggested by the juxtaposition of the drinks cabinet with the James Dixon & Sons tea service on the Art Deco dining table. And those Chinese ginger jars…?

But rest assured, it’s our Saffronart gallery all spruced up for the Elegant Design auction set to take place in four days.

You’re now thinking how lovely some of these would look in your home. But how are you going to pick and choose? Will the Art Deco table go with your existing set of chairs, or should you pick up our set of six European Lacquer chairs as well? You’re loving that Chinese canopy bed, but it’s pretty much a home in itself. Should you move in there instead? Don’t fret, we’ve got Ashiesh Shah to share his thoughts on some of our pieces.

Pictured: Ashiesh Shah Source: http://www.ashieshshah.com/profile.html

Pictured: Ashiesh Shah
Source: http://www.ashieshshah.com/profile.html

Me: I’m going straight for the kill. Which of the lots did you fancy?

Ashiesh: I believe the set of ten art deco dining chairs are a great find. One could design a metal or marble-top table to go with these chairs. Very contemporary and chic.

Me: Now, getting specific with regards to one of our furniture pieces. Most people tend to go for sleek, compact designs when it comes to furniture, rather than the more ornate, bulky ones. How do you picture something like the Chinese bed fitting into a contemporary setting?

Ashiesh: Something as large and ornate as the daybed could very easily turn into the focal point of any home. In a traditional space, it would add an architectural scale. In a more contemporary setting though, it would become an interesting talking point. This bed could be placed in a manner that it faces a specific direction, perhaps overlooking a turf, or even a loch.

Me: How about in a city like Mumbai? How does someone negotiate around spatial constraints?

Ashiesh: It need not be in a small apartment in Mumbai. While talking about homes we often forget about larger apartments and the spacious bungalows one would find not just in the city, but in Alibaug and other vicinities. It’s very easy to achieve a de-cluttered look by placing it right in the centre of a room. But having said that, one has to obviously consider if the furniture they are choosing goes with the look and feel of their space.

Kutch silver tea cups. Yay or nay?

Kutch silver tea cups. Yay or nay?

Me: Moving on to the silverware. What would you consider when it comes to silverware?

Ashiesh: The provenance is important. I would enquire about the kind of ownership the object might have gone through before buying it. It is an affirmation for its value and appeal. Something with a premium.

Me: How important do you think polishing any piece of  silverware is? Would you prefer an aged look as testament to its appeal, or would you prefer it brand new and sparkling?

Ashiesh: If I were to speak of silverware, a patina-look would imbibe a higher sense of value and appeal.

Me: Clearly the selection process of lots in an auction is a completely different ball game for a discerning client. Thank you for chatting with me.

Wynyard Wilkinson on ‘Silver from the Indian Sub-Continent 1858-1947’ at Saffronart

Emily Jane Cushing shares a note on a talk given by Wynyard Wilkinson at Saffronart in London

Wynyard Wilkinson introducing the evenings event.

London: On Wednesday 15 May, before the preview of the new Saffronart exhibition ‘Silver From the Indian Sub-Continent 1858-1947’ author and Antique silver specialist Wynyard Wilkinson held an informative discussion on the decorative nature of the silver articles on display.

Wynyard Wilkinson describing ‘Cutch’ style silverware.

Despite the many aspects of silver production during the colonial period in India, given the diverse nature of decorative designs varying from region to region, Wilkinson touched on all the key styles. He noted the aesthetic features and purposes of various pieces, and underlined the relationships between geographical areas and designs, also noting that various regional designs often inter-link.

Wynyard Wilkinson discussing Kashmiri style silverware.

First, Madras “Swami Ware” was taken in to account. Wilkinson noted that despite the fact that ‘swami’ designs exhibited fine and intricately detailed ornamentation of Hindu deities and mythological figures, the style was a huge success in Europe and Great Britain. The most frequently depicted deities in this genre are Vishnu and Brahma riding their vahanas, or associated animals.

Bangalore Silver 'Swami-ware' Three Piece Tea-set by Krishniah Chetty c. 1900. http://www.saffronart.com/fixedjewelry/PieceDetails.aspx?iid=35977&a=

Bangalore Silver ‘Swami-ware’ Three Piece Tea-set by Krishniah Chetty
c. 1900. http://www.saffronart.com/fixedjewelry/PieceDetails.aspx?iid=35977&a=

After the Madras region, the discussion turned to Cutch silver, known for its attractive patterns of scrolling foliage intertwined with animals, birds and hunting scenes. The Cutch style was the most venerated Indian silverware in the late 19th century. Wilkinson particularly noted the resemblances to 17th century Portuguese pottery decorations, and distinctive similarities in the depiction of animal and bird figures with Persian decoration.

Next, Wilkinson focused on Kashmiri silver, highlighting the shawl pattern in particular. Taking inspiration from the prevalent Kashmiri weaving industry, this pattern illustrates vines of blossoms and leaves amid and between flowing scrolls; these scrolls sometimes lack detailing as to accentuate the distinction between the floral and the scroll aspects of the pattern.

Kashmir Parcel Gilt Set of Four Finger Bowls and Plates in 'Shawl' Pattern c. 1900. http://www.saffronart.com/fixedjewelry/PieceDetails.aspx?iid=35971&a=

Kashmir Parcel Gilt Set of Four Finger Bowls and Plates in ‘Shawl’ Pattern c. 1900. http://www.saffronart.com/fixedjewelry/PieceDetails.aspx?iid=35971&a=

Wilkinson then moved on to silverware produced in Lucknow. Designs from this region are most commonly recognized for their use of two patterns, the ‘jungle’ and the ‘hunting’ pattern. These patterns feature, although not to scale, forests of palm trees containing both animal and male figures, and bold male figures on elephant back pursuing wild animals or competing in sporting activities.

Lucknow Silver Swing-handle Basket in 'Hunting' Pattern c. 1890.  http://www.saffronart.com/fixedjewelry/PieceDetails.aspx?iid=35991&a=

Lucknow Silver Swing-handle Basket in ‘Hunting’ Pattern c. 1890. http://www.saffronart.com/fixedjewelry/PieceDetails.aspx?iid=35991&a=

The eclectic diversity of the silversmithing in Bombay, as a result of immigrant artisans from many regions of India who brought with them a wide range of design and decorative influences, was also discussed. Wilkinson noted, when discussing specific pieces, the use of domestic picture design by Bombay artisans, as a conscious move away from Cutch style foliage designs.

To conclude his informative talk, Wynyard Wilkinson drew the audience’s attention to two unique oversize examples of Indian colonial silverware on display. First, a large hand-rinsing fountain produced in Cutch in 1910, and, second, a voluminous two-handled vase crafted in Madras in 1890.

The exhibition will be on view till May 31, 2013, from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm Monday to Friday, and Saturday by appointment at Saffronart, London.

The catalogue may also be viewed online.

Art Deco and India’s Royal Families

Nishad Avari of Saffronart on the status of Art Deco in India’s royal collections 

Mumbai: In the nineteenth century, first under the East India Company and then as part of the British Empire when Queen Victoria assumed the title of Empress of India, not only did the Indian princes find themselves “…increasingly having to accommodate and entertain Europeans on equal terms,” but they also started developing a taste for the Western luxury goods and standards of living they now had a chance to experience.

By the 1920s, “Within one generation of western education the lifestyle of India’s princes were transformed and they began to wear western clothes, engage in western games and eat western food…those princes who could afford it abandoned their traditional residences for new, substantial palaces principally designed by western architects…[and] were built to accommodate western-style living, with its specific rooms for dining, sleeping, socializing, sport and recreation. The western-style elevated furniture and domestic articles needed to outfit these new vast palaces were readily supplied by British firms such as Maple & Co. and Waring & Gillow, both of which had showrooms in India… For Western firms making luxury goods, be it F & C Osler, Baccarat, Cartier, Boucheron, Louis Vuitton, Holland & Holland or Rolls Royce, Indian princes proved to be substantial clients and at certain times, such as during the Great Depression, were the mainstay of business” (Amin Jaffar, Made for Maharajas, Lustre Press/Roli Books, Mumbai, 2007, p. 15. 18).

Many of the items created by these firms for Indian royals between the 1920s and 1940s were crafted in the Art Deco style that had taken Europe by storm at the time. As a result, members of India’s royal families came to be regarded as some of the greatest patrons of Art Deco architecture, interiors, jewelry and accessories were.

From entire palaces constructed in the style, most notably in Morvi, Jodhpur and Indore, to highly customised jewelry, furniture and accessories purchased from European firms like Cartier, Boucheron and Louis Vuitton, India’s maharajas were captivated by the glamour, elegance and modernity that Art Deco represented as these were all principles central to their lifestyles.

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To read more about the history of the Art Deco movement, click here.

Learn more about our Art Deco Auction auction.

An Introduction to Kashmiri Art and Craft

Sneha Sikand of Saffronart explores some of the the arts and crafts of Kashmir featured in The Story by Saffronart

New Delhi: Kashmir is considered to be a treasure trove of arts and crafts. While every region tends to have its own distinct specialty, Kashmiri carpets, shawls, papier-mâché objects and silverware are recognized worldwide for their fine quality and craftsmanship.

A Bakhtiari Carpet
Image credit: http://www.saffronart.com

Carpet weaving is not indigenous to Kashmir and is thought to have been introduced there by Persian settlers. These settlers brought with them the knowledge of patterns and designs distinct to their communities, which is why many Kashmiri carpets carry motifs that are distinctly Persian, with some local variations. The Bakhtiari design, also known as the ‘paneled-garden design’ is named after a region in Iran called Bakhtiar. The field of the Bakhtiari carpet is divided into compartments or panels, containing individual motifs or patterns. Often a set of 3-4 compartments is repeated throughout the field. While the design may have originated in Bakhtiar, it is an often identified design in Kashmiri carpets.

A Paisley woven wool and silk shawl with typical all over design, circa 1860
Image credit: http://www.meg-andrews.com

The paisley design is said to have got its name from the shawl manufacturing town, Paisley in England. Also known as the Boteh or pine motif, it is believed that it first used in Kashmir during the seventeenth century.

Paisley motif development
Image credit: http://www.meg-andrews.com

The pattern can be traced back to ancient Babylon, where a tear-drop shape was used as a symbol to represent the growing shoot of a date palm. The palm provided food, drink, clothing (woven fibres) and shelter, and so became regarded as the ‘Tree of Life’. Other theories state that the motif is a stylized depiction of a mango, a fruit commonly found in India. Shawls from Kashmir have always been the most sought after for being woven from hair, and being lighter and smooth with a natural sheen.

Silverware and papier-mâché are two other equally popular items that Kashmir is known for. Local silversmiths incorporated the Chinar-leaf design into silver objects. Called booune in Kashmiri, the chinar tree came to Kashmir in the sixteenth century when Emperor Akbar arranged for the planting of several hundreds near the Hazratbal shrine. It is said that when the leaves on the trees turned red, the emperor saw them from a distance and exclaimed, “Chin-nar!” which means blazing colour.

Sugar bowl with Chinar Decoration, circa. 1890
Image credit: http://www.silverfromindia1850-1920.blogspot.in

Papier-mâché was also introduced to Kashmiri craftsmen by Persian settlers. Initially used to make boxes to transport expensive shawls to Europe, Kashmiri papier-mâché was so loved in countries such as France, that it started selling on its own. Today, it has become highly stylized with the use of real gold and silver paint, and by adding intricate decorations. The designs and decorations still have a strong Persian influence. Some items like bowls and vases are lined with brass, while some exquisitely carved items are ornamented with gold and silver leaf and depict beautiful landscapes and objects like house boats, that are an integral part of Kashmiri life.

A Walk Through of Exhibitions of Indian Silverware Worldwide from the 1850s to the Present

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart on some of the main exhibitions of Indian silverware that have taken place around the world

Sugar Bowl and cover, Oomersi Mawji, Bhuj, ca. 1880

Tea Set, Oomersi Mawji, Bhuj, ca. 1880; Image credit: Victoria & Albert Museum, http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O140168/sugar-bowl-and-mawji-oomersi/

In conjunction with the Silver exhibit at Saffronart Delhi, the Saffronart blog is publishing articles on the history of silver and its international popularity. Similar pieces can be viewed on our website.

London: Indian silverware is renowned worldwide for its beauty, design and quality. The first time Indian silverware and other artifacts from the subcontinent were exhibited in Europe was in 1851, at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, London, in the “Indian court” space. The great success of this exhibition and the popularity of Indian silver led Liberty and Co. of Regent Street and Proctor and Co. of Oxford Street to create their own workshops in India. The response to the exhibition also prompted the construction of a space where these objects could be displayed permanently. Thus, the Museum of Manufactures was built in Marlborough House, London, especially designed to educate people in art and design. Later it became known as the South Kensington Museum, and today, is named the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Some years later, in 1883, the Calcutta International Exhibition was held in the Indian Museum. It was the first exhibition of this genre, dedicated to arts and crafts from India. The show was opened by H.E. Lord Ripon, the Viceroy of India, in the presence of Queen Victoria and the Duke and Duchess of Connaught. More information about this exhibition can be found here.

In 1903, on the occasion of the Grand Durbar celebrating the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra as Emperor and Empress of India, the assembly waiting for the royals to arrive in Delhi organized an incredible exhibition of jewelry and every Indian prince present at the ceremony was adorned with magnificent gems.

Claret jug made by Oomersee Mawjee, Kutch, c. 1890

Claret jug made by Oomersee Mawjee, Kutch, c. 1890; Image Credit: http://www.themagazine
antiques.com/articles/indian-silve
r-for-the-raj/

Much more recently, in July 2007, Wynard Wilkinson, a British specialist in antique Indian silverware, organized an exhibition displaying more than 400 items. These were made during the three ruling regimes in India (Mughal, neoclassical Georgian and British Raj) and reflected the taste of their patrons.

According to Wilkinson “India’s long and tumultuous history is arguably nowhere better reflected than in silver objects produced to the order of those who once ruled the vast subcontinent. My July exhibition began with items designed to appeal to the sybaritic tastes of the Mughal emperors who controlled India from the sixteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. The next group of objects reflected the neoclassical ‘Georgian’ restraint that was favored by the first generations of European merchants and soldiers who arrived under the auspices of the East India Company. The last group consisted of objects produced during the British Raj, the style of which is truly indigenous.”

Wilkinson in this exhibition mainly focused on functional objects and tableware. Look here for more information.

The following year, Vidya Dehejia curated an exhibition at Columbia University’s Miriam & Ira D. Wallach Art Gallery titled “Delight in Design, Indian Silver from the Raj”, focusing only on Indian silverware produced during the Raj period (1858-1947).

Detail of Water jug featuring the Descent of the Ganges, Calcutta, ca 1885

Detail of Water jug featuring the Descent of the Ganges, Calcutta, ca 1885; Image Credit: http://www.columbia.edu/cu/wallach/exhibitions/
Delight-in-Design/credits.html

Raj silverware is characterized by the adoption of European shapes and purposes, but retains innate Indian patterns and decorations. In fact, Indian silversmiths had to satisfy the increasing demand for silver objects from European customers. Some of the most common objects produced during the period were tea sets, goblets, beer mugs, claret jugs and so on. Interestingly, every part of the country was characterized by a different decorative style that mirrored local tastes and traditions. For example, silverware from Kutch would often be quite heavily decorated. Some of the recurrent designs were snake-shaped handles and elephant trunk-shaped spouts. On the other hand figures of Gods and Swamis are often present as decorative elements in silver objects from Madras. This is why the silver from this region is often referred to as Swami.  Lastly Calcutta’s silverware usually bears rural scenes decorations.

The most refined works of silver were made during the Raj Period, and some of the most popular firms were P. Orr and Sons of Madras and Oomersee Mawjee of Kutch. More information about this exhibition and the different local styles of the Raj period can be found here.

Finally, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts is currently hosting (until February 2013) the exhibition, ‘Indian Silver for the Raj’. This show presents the VMFA’s latest Indian silver acquisitions. The exhibition is divided in two parts.

Five Piece Tea Service, P. Orr & Sons, Madras, 1876

Five Piece Tea Service, P. Orr & Sons, Madras, 1876, Image Credits: http://www.vmfa.state.va.us/indian-silver/

The first part focuses on the fusion of Indian and British culture through silver making. Thus, as a material example of this blending, calling card-cases, rosewater sprinklers and tea sets are exhibited. The second part of the exhibition focuses on the different regional styles of Raj silver.

This showcase aims to highlight the similarities yet originality within the Raj period silver, perhaps the most successful era of silver making.

Tours of the exhibition will be organized twice in October. More information on the exhibition and associated events

Apart from temporary exhibition, pieces of Indian silver can also be appreciated in the permanent collections of several museums around the globe. Some of the best works can be viewed at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Musee Guimet in Paris, and at Harvard University’s Arthur M. Sackler Museum in Boston. If you happen to be in any of these locations I would highly recommend a visit to these institutions to view and enjoy these extraordinary objects.

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