“In the 19th century there were a number of carpet centres that are not significant producers now… it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify them with specific carpets.”
Pondicherry, a French territory for three centuries, was known for its Indo-French ‘rococo’ designs tailored to a Western audience.
In the wake of the impressive examples on display at the Great Exhibition of 1851, a floral chintz carpet such as this would have been the height of fashion for the grandest room in the recently remodelled Penicuik House, Midlothian.
By family repute, it was commissioned or purchased in Pondicherry and brought back from India by Edward Clerk (1824-1917) who was serving with the 4th Madras Cavalry.
He was a younger son of Sir George Clerk, 6th Baronet of Penicuik (1787-1867) and the carpet a gift for his father.
When in 1878 an artist by the name of Carelli painted a watercolour of the interior of the saloon, known as Ossian’s Hall after its painted ceiling by Alexander Runciman (1736-85), the carpet was given pride of place.
Sadly, Penicuik House was destroyed by fire in 1899 – and Runciman’s ceiling with it – but a salvage operation did save the majority of the furnishings, including this carpet. It was rehoused in the Clerks’ new home in the nearby converted stable block where it spent the 20th century.
By family tradition, there is thought to have been a second carpet, sold sometime in the late 19th century. It may be that an extra 19ft 8in (6m x 70cm) strip section offered as part of the lot came from this pendant piece.
Offered for sale from the descendants of Edward Clerk as part of L&T's Five Centuries sale with a guide of £10,000-15,000, the carpet sold at £8500 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) to an online bidder.