The 13in (33.5cm) wide ebony and ivory table cabinet offered at Lyon & Turnbull (25% buyer’s premium) in Edinburgh on February 27 was the epitome of what buyers seek.
An early work dated to the 17th century, it featured tortoiseshell panels backed with painted gold leaf depicting scenes of European figures, animals and birds. Further ivory-banded scenes of Europeans and Indian servants decorated the drawers behind the drop front.
Probably made in Gujarat or Sind, they show figures dressed in the early 17th century fashions worn by the Portuguese merchants who were in favour at the Mughal court at the time.
On the few occasions such cabinets come to market they create a stir.
Last September one in need of considerable restoration took £26,000 (plus 22.5% buyer’s premium) from a Portuguese bidder at Cheffins of Cambridge (ATG No 2361) and, a year earlier, a simlarly decorated cabinet also made £26,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) at Sotheby’s Howard Hodgkin sale.
The example at L&T came with a Scottish family provenance to the early 19th century, including the prolific architect and designer Sir Robert Lorimer (1824-1929), and carried a here-to-sell estimate of just £3000-5000.
Online bidding took it to £32,000 “before phone bidders had a chance to get started”, said auctioneer Douglas Girton. When they did so, it was a Continental buyer who won the prize, going to 13 times the top estimate. A look through the record books suggests that £65,000 is, by some way, a new high at auction.
It led the wide-ranging sale of furniture, pictures and works of art sale in which 72% of the 599 lots got away to a total of £540,000.
French cabinet making
The market demand for top-rate 19th century French cabinet making was again evident in the form of a c.1880 marquetry and gilt-metal centre table by Maison Giroux.
The 21in (53cm) diameter top was inlaid with a typical hardwood, brass and ivory marquetry design of a cockerel, dragon fly and flowering trees. It was signed FD Bte for Ferdinand Duvinage, who took over Maison Giroux in 1867. After Duvinage died in 1874 his widow, Rosalie, took on the business and patented the marquetry technique in 1877, describing it as ‘a mosaic combined with metal partitioning for artistic objects and furnishing’.
Estimated at £7000-10,000, the table sold back to France at £28,000.
British furniture highlights
British furniture, too, had its moments, most notably a c.1820 mahogany dining table, 5ft 3in (1.67m) deep and extending via five pedestals and tilt-top sections to an impressive 22ft (6.72m) long. It had a provenance to Rossdhu, the early 19th century country house now home to the exclusive Loch Lomond Golf Club.
One of the pedestals had been rebuilt but the table took a mid-estimate £26,000, going to an overseas bidder on the phone.
A set of 14 late Georgian mahogany and upholstered dining chairs featuring carved sunflower roundels and trailing husks to the top rails and carved and pierced anthemion splats would have seated half the potential diners. It sold to a private UK buyer at a mid-estimate £6800.
Clock chimes at lower level
It wasn’t all plain sailing for potential stars – the £12,000-18,000 estimate on a huge 15ft wide x 9ft tall (4.55 x 2.73m) George III mahogany breakfront bookcase was too big for buyers and Girton had to exercise his discretion to sell a monumental Benjamin Vuillamy ‘Gothic Revival’ chiming clock.
Dated c.1840, signed Vulliamy, London, the 3ft 9in (1.14m) tall clock on 3ft (92cm) stand featured roundels painted with views of Greenwich. It was pitched at £40,000-50,000, having sold at £52,000 at the Edinburgh rooms in April 2017, but perhaps insufficient time has lapsed since then for a truly successful comeback and it got away in the room at £32,000. “The vendor did allow us discretion on the day,” said Girton.
On the other hand, lots emerged which left modest estimates behind, two of which came from a private English collection. One was a 17th century, 9½in (24cm) wide, carved alabaster plaque depicting men in cloaks eating a meal which went to a UK collector on thesaleroom.com at a five-times estimate £2800.
The other was a bronze of Mr Punch, demonstrating that what has become an essentially British figure has international appeal. Catalogued as 19th century French, the 8¼in (21cm) tall bust was estimated at £300-500 but sold to an American buyer at £5000.