Wed, Oct 7, 2015

Art & Auctions
Rare wood tray fetches record $1.46m

A unique mother-of-pearl and black lac overlaid wood tray has set a new world record of £962,500 ($1.46 million) for a piece of this type, selling to a bidder in the room for well over ten times its estimate at a Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale yesterday. 

The auction at Bonhams’ flagship salesroom in New Bond Street in London, which saw bidders competing across the world, also featured a fine gem-set enamelled gold turban ornament (jigha), from 18th century northern India, which sold for £68,500 ($104,416), smashing its pre-sale estimate of £30,000-40,000 ($45,729-60,973).

Originally estimated at £60,000-80,000 ($91,459-121,946), the 16th century tray is one of a very small number of surviving examples of mother-of-pearl objects from Gujarat. Its design, which depicts winged figures carrying birds or vessels, has never been seen before on an object of its type.

“It has been amazing to work on such an extraordinary piece,” says Oliver White, head of Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art Department. “Mother-of-pearl overlaid objects of this type are incredibly rare, but the presence of winged figures makes our tray rarer still. There are no other recorded examples which feature angels and the fine quality of work and the exceptional condition of the tray make it a unique survivor outside museum collections.”

The angels suggest Persian, Indian and European influences. Strikingly similar imagery – of a winged figure in Persian dress holding a peacock – can be seen adorning the pavilions of Nur Jahan in the Ram Bagh at Agra. These paintings provide an approximate date for this tray and imply that the circumstances of its production may have been somewhat unusual. It seems the decorative scheme was intended for an Indian patron rather than for export to European or Turkish patrons, the general destination for most mother-of-pearl inlaid items.

Gujarat has been recognised as the centre of mother-of-pearl work since the beginning of the 16th century, when the King of Melinde presented Vasco de Gama with a gold and mother-of-pearl bedstead. This particular tray can be attributed to Northern Gujarat because of its characteristic mastic-inset and mother-of-pearl decorated domed cenotaph canopies.

Mother-of-pearl trays are listed among the spoils of the Lodi Sultans of Delhi, when they were captured by Emperor Babur in 1526, and are specifically mentioned as being delivered to ladies at Kabul.

Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. Today, the auction house offers more sales than any of its rivals. The main salerooms are in London, New York and Hong Kong. 

Sales are also held in the UK in Knightsbridge, Oxford and Edinburgh; in the US, in San Francisco and Los Angeles; in Europe, in Paris and Stuttgart, and in Sydney, Australia. Bonhams also has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and valuation services in 60 specialist areas.

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