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Gouache and gold on paper equestrian portrait of the Sikh ruler Raja Hargobind, £125,000 at the inaugural Islamic & Indian Art sale at Lyon & Turnbull.

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Helped by a remarkable single-owner collection, the 150 lots in Lyon & Turnbull’s (26% buyer’s premium) inaugural auction of Islamic & Indian Art totalled £941,393 (premium inclusive) - close to twice the pre-sale estimate.

The core of the June 12 sale held in London was a selection of works from the collection of William ‘Bill’ Archer (1907-79) and Mildred ‘Tim’ Archer (1911-2005), two leading 20th century scholars of Indian miniature paintings.

The Archers’ collecting impulses were in large part an expression of their deep knowledge and abiding love of the subcontinent and its peoples. The couple spent more than a decade in India from 1934 until independence in 1947 through various postings in the Indian Civil Service.

On their return to England, Bill was appointed Keeper of the Indian Section at the Victoria & Albert Museum while Mildred began her work of reordering the rich paintings collections held by the India Office Library (now part of the British Library). Both published extensively.

On the market for the first time in many decades, the most coveted elements of the Archer collection generated feverish bidding.

Sikh leader

Carrying the Archer reference code A-1, indicating it was perhaps the first ‘miniature’ painting William Archer acquired sometime in the 1930s or 40s, was a gouache and gold on paper equestrian portrait of Raja Hargobind (1606-45).

Painted c.1700 in the Kashtwar district in the state of Jammu, it shows the Sikh ruler on a richly caparisoned grey stallion wearing a white jama and a string of pearls with a hawk in one hand and a sword at his waist.

Inheriting the position at the age of 11 when his father was murdered in 1606, Raja Hargobind was the sixth of the 10 Sikh Gurus. A fine commander and swordsman, it was through his leadership that a military tradition was founded in the Sikh faith. Such works carry a particular resonance in the Sikh community, and it sailed over its £3000-5000 estimate to bring £125,000.

A rare painting that demonstrated a singular blend of European, Chinese and Indian influences is thought to have been painted in a cosmopolitan seaport in Gujarat c.1740.

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Interior scene of a woman and a youth listening to a lute player attributed to Surat, Gujarat c.1740, £140,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

The corner interior scene shows a woman robed in white resting on a divan listening to a lute player with a well-dressed youth in a red dress lounging in the foreground.

In his lifetime, Bill Archer had been unable to pin down the origins of this image that mixes European architecture with Chinese paintings and blue and white porcelain. However, when (like other lots in the collection) it was on loan to Bristol Museum and Art Gallery from 1994-2004 a convincing case was made that it was painted in Surat. As the most prosperous port in the Mughal empire, it was well positioned to access the mix of goods and people pictured in this work and the European prints that influenced its style and composition.

It became the top-selling lot of the sale when it was knocked down at £140,000.

Later in his career, Bill Archer became enthused by the refined and romantic paintings of Guler and Kangra, among other court styles of the old Punjab Hill kingdoms. These Pahari or ‘Hill’ schools would become the focus of his studies and collecting, his magisterial survey of the Pahari schools, Indian Paintings from the Punjab Hills, published in 1973.

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Pahari gouache and gold on card gold on card terrace scene of two courtiers presenting a white hawk to a seated Raja, £38,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

A particularly good example by a master Pahari painter c.1760-80 was a gouache and gold on card terrace scene of two courtiers presenting a white hawk to a seated Raja - perhaps Raja Brij Raj Dev who ruled Jammu from 1781-87. The composition and soft colour palette are in the style of Nainsukh of Guler (1710-78), one of the finest of all Pahari artists.

It sold for £38,000 followed by a miniature from Nurpur c.1770-80 depicting Raj Suraj Mal together with a white hawk sold for £35,000.

The paintings from the Archer collection sold for a total of £753,000. L&T said the majority of the items in the collection sold to Indian museums, institutions and Indian private collectors.

Son like father

Like his father, Michael Archer (1936-2022) also worked at the Victoria and Albert Museum and was a recognised specialist in both English stained glass and English delftware.

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Monumental 17th century Safavid blue and white dish, £15,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

Among three Islamic ceramic items from Archer’s personal collection was a monumental 19in (48cm) Safavid blue and white dish. Decorated in the Chinese style with a vase with flowers within a band of fish scale, it was made in 17th century Kirman, Persia. Despite its broken condition, it made £15,000.

The dish was previously owned by the celebrated Islamic art academic Arthur Lane (1909-63) and had been gifted by his widow to Archer in recognition of the friendship between his father and her husband, who were colleagues for many years.

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Iznik pottery jug c.1580 decorated with pomegranates, cintemani and carnations, £21,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

From another source was a striking 8in (20cm) baluster form Iznik pottery jug made in Turkey c.1580. Although typically decorated in cobalt-blue, bole red, green and black, the arrangement of stylised pomegranates containing white cintemani motifs, alternating with carnations is thought to be unique. In good condition for its venerable age, it sold for £21,000.

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Over-lifesize grey schist head of Buddha from Gandharan, £50,000 at Lyon & Turnbull.

A finely carved over-lifesize grey schist head of Buddha from the Gandharan region of north-west India came for sale from the family of Virginia Patton Moss (1925-2022). A Hollywood starlet in her youth (she played Ruth Dakin Bailey in A Wonderful Life alongside Jimmy Stewart), she left the movie world to settle in Ann Arbor, Michigan, when she married into the motor industry.

She accompanied her husband Cruse Watson Moss (1926-2018), president of the Kaiser Jeep Corporation, on his business travels, buying this 13in (33cm) high 2nd or 3rd century head in Pakistan in 1968. It sold for £50,000, twice the mid estimate.