Are you sit­ting com­fort­ably?

Seats of beauty and power com­manded un­ex­pected prices and a pow­er­ful sculp­ture stirs mem­o­ries

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

IF you hap­pen to be a Pr­eraphaelite stun­ner, as imag­ined by Os­bert Lan­caster in his 1939 Homes Sweet Homes, sit­ting ‘sur­rounded by such tes­ti­monies to her in­spi­ra­tion the in­tel­lec­tual young woman could safely re­lax and lend a prop­erly ap­pre­cia­tive ear to the pat­ter of Pater and the whis­pers of Wilde’, or in­deed ‘A green­ery-yallery Grosvenor Gallery, Foot in-the-grave young man’, then you were well served in two of last month’s auc­tions. Both Dreweatt’s Spring Sale at New­bury, and Moore Allen & In­no­cent at Chich­ester of­fered Aes­thetic Move­ment chairs by Ed­ward Wil­liam God­win.

The first, on April 19, in­cluded a pair of ebonised, rush-seated arm­chairs made to a God­win de­sign, per­haps by Wil­liam Watt and some­where be­tween 1867 and 1885 (Fig 2). This auc­tion house is good about record­ing con­di­tion, here the ‘Ebonised fin­ish rubbed to ex­trem­i­ties and no­tice­ably to the arms, the rush seats have started to fail to fronts of both seats, how­ever still sta­ble and use­able, some old splits and cracks to bar and arms. Over­all in fair con­di­tion for age’. The re­sult of this can­dour was a price of £2,061 against the £800 es­ti­mate.

The chair in Chich­ester, on April 21, was more re­mark­able, as was its price (Fig 2). This was a much more am­bi­tious com­fort­ably up­hol­stered arm­chair also given to Watts, of about 1877, with swept arms formed as quar­ter wheels with turned spin­dles. Once again, con­di­tion was given: ‘Var­i­ous scratches, marks, chips etc to the frame as ex­pected. Up­hol­stery has been there some time—un­sure if it is orig­i­nal. Arms and head-rest very dirty. The hes­sian at the bot­tom of the chair is in poor con­di­tion and one of the front cas­tors need at­ten­tion. Gen­er­ally OK apart from wear to the edges, scratches, scuffs, marks, small chips etc.’

The es­ti­mate was to £6,000, but the auc­tion­eer, Philip All­wood, was so con­vinced that it would do bet­ter that he was filmed say­ing so. In the event, it sold for £53,504.

It is not a very long step from such aes­thetic fur­nish­ings to Ot­toman tex­tiles that might well have ap­pealed to God­win’s cus­tomers. Sotheby’s late-april Ori­en­tal­ist and Mid­dle East­ern art week had a splen­did group from the col­lec­tion of Argine Be­naki Sal­vago, who was de­scribed in Michael Haag’s book

Alexan­dria, City of Mem­ory as ‘one of Europe’s most beau­ti­ful women, the toast of Paris in her youth’. She was one of Egypt’s cot­ton aris­toc­racy and the grande dame of Alexan­drian so­ci­ety in the 1930s.

The star lot was a 63¾in by 47¼in late-16th- or early-17th­cen­tury silk-vel­vet and metal-thread panel (Fig 5) dec­o­rated with a çin­ta­mani and tiger-eye de­sign. Çin­ta­mani is a pat­tern of a tri­an­gle of three spots over a pair of wavy bands. It seems to have come to the Ot­tomans from Chi­nese Bud­dhism by way of Tamer­lane, who used it on coinage and to mark his prop­erty. The panel made a record £1,076,750.

An­other high­light of the week was a 65in by 99½in paint­ing by the Ger­man Ge­org Emanuel Opiz (1775–1841), The Ar­rival of the Mah­mal at an Oa­sis en route to Mecca (Fig 3), which sold for £944,750. A Mah­mal was an or­nate camel-borne palan­quin that rep­re­sented the pro­tec­tion of the Sul­tan to pil­grims mak­ing the Hajj.

It has been sug­gested that the scene may just pos­si­bly record Mustafa Agha Bar­bar, Gov­er­nor of Tripoli in Le­banon, re­ceiv­ing obei­sance from the re­li­gious leader of the Hajj as it passes through his do­main. Bar­bar (1767–1835) was much em­broiled in the plot­tings, manouevrings and civil strife be­tween emirs and sects that char­ac­terised the Near East in the early 19th cen­tury as now. He made a de­ter­mined ef­fort to erad­i­cate the Alaw­ite clan that now con­sti­tutes the As­sad gov­ern­ment.

How­ever, the true star of the week in al­most ev­ery sense, at auc­tion for the first time in its 1,000-year his­tory, was the ear­li­est-known dated astro­labe from Umayyad Spain (Fig 4), signed by the cel­e­brated An­dalusi as­tro­labist Muham­mad ibn al-saf­far. It was the ear­li­est of his three known in­stru­ments and the only one in pri­vate hands. The lat­tice­like ‘rete’ dial was a per­fectly fit­ting 16th- or 17th-cen­tury re­place­ment, fit­ted in the east­ern Mediter­ranean, show­ing how val­ued it al­ways was. It now sold for £608,750.

Fig 1 above: Arm­chair de­signed by God­win. £53,504.

Fig 2 right: Rush­seated arm­chairs. £2,061 the pair

Fig 3 above: Ge­org Emanuel Opiz’s The Ar­rival of the Mah­mal at an Oa­sis en route

to Mecca. £944,750. Fig 4 right: Ear­li­est-known dated astro­labe from Umayyad Spain. £608,750

Fig 5: Silk-vel­vet and metal-thread Ot­toman panel. £1,076,750

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