Every November for the past 16 years, Asian Art in London has brought more than sixty of the world’s top dealers, major auction houses and museums together for a ten-day celebration of the finest Asian art. Visitors converge on London for this prestigious international event which combines gallery shows, selling exhibitions, auctions, receptions, lectures and seminars. The Antiques Trade Gazette sponsors a prize for the most outstanding work of art for sale during the week, as decided by a panel of independent judges. This year Celebrating Asian Art in London – a champagne reception – was held at the Victoria and Albert Museum and provided a glorious social occasion to support the artworks on display during the rest of the week.
We were delighted to attend the Asian Art Week as representatives of the Indian Art Centre Gallery and want to give a flavour of this fascinating experience in this article. Among the talks given during the event was a fascinating lecture by Arthur Milner (25 Blythe Road) on the subject of Arts and Crafts of India under the Raj, as part the Olympia Art Fair. He explored the influence of the West on decorative objects and furniture made in India in the late 19th and early 20th century. He pointed out that if India’s art patrons were originally indigenous rulers and noblemen, during the European colonial period this pattern of patronage changed, with expatriate foreigners becoming increasingly important. During the Victorian period, industrialisation in the west and an increasing preference for European imported goods amongst the country’s rulers led to a concerted effort to revive traditional Indian crafts and open up an export market, a move that was very much in tune with the western Arts and Crafts Movement, which itself drew much inspiration from India and the Islamic world.
We felt inspired by the subject which confirmed our intention to offer more Anglo-Indian furniture and decorative objects. As a result, expect to see more stock in our online gallery in the weeks ahead.
We found much to enjoy at the Indian Art exhibitions organised for the occasion, and we only have space to highlight a few of the exquisite pieces we saw and comment on some unusual and amusing ones.
At the exhibition Nature organised by Alexis Renard we loved the unique catalogue, presented in a transparent film, which opened to reveal series of postcards with zoomed views and the catalogue description of each item. Among the pieces presented, we liked a miniature called Round of Horses, (Bikaner, 18th–19th century) which had already sold by the time we visited the gallery.
We also paid a visit to Joost van den Bergh where we fell in love with this small and delicate ivory carving of the infant Krishna (North India, 18th-19th century) which was already sold too! It was no surprise to discover that the winner of the 2013 outstanding work of art for sale, announced during the Gala Party, was Joost van den Bergh, this time for an elegant ivory Head of the Virgin Mary (Hispano-Philippines 17th-18th century).
On to Sam Fogg who showed a number of good quality pieces. We had a closer look at a really charming small manuscript of the Gita from the 19th century and were intrigued by an unusual and rare piece, a set of twenty-eight very fine and rare mica transformation paintings in a black lacquer oval box. We were told the set was rare because of its date (late 18th century) as most of the surviving examples are 19th century. The subject matter of the paintings is also highly unusual in that it depicts a ragamala (musical mode series), more usual subject being sets of illustrations of Indian castes, trades, deities and customs.
We then went to Pralhad Bubbar’s gallery in Mayfair where we were warmly welcomed by its owner We saw some striking and large miniature paintings as part of the curated exhibition The Surreal in Indian Painting: Select works from the Arturo Schwarz & other Private Collections.
Finally we ended our tour at Francesca Galloway’s gallery and among the stunning pieces an amusing object made us smile; a brass betel nut cutter in the form of an amorous couple (South India, first half of the 19th century). When you open the nut cutter the man’s hands are moving away from the woman’s breast and approaching it when you close the cutter, an amusing piece yet exhibiting the high quality of craftsmanship we’ve come to expect from this prestigious art event.