At one time when the merchant princes and nouveaux riche businessmen held sway over north Calcutta, they stuffed and decorated the huge ornate houses they constructed with furniture, china, stained glass, huge looking glasses and bibelot. They wanted to impress not only their British rulers but also their rival zamindars, landlords and businessmen.
Over the years, these pieces have turned into antiques that command a high price in the market. Indulging in their acquisitive instinct and sheer bad taste, much of what they bought was little better than kitsch, and even worse ó junk. But with age, even kitsch appreciates in value, especially if such pieces were imported from Europe. Thus, vases, dolls, dressers and chairs that were in common use in the 19th and early 20th Century are now highly-sought-after objets díart.
When Bowrings Fine Arts Auctioneers decided on a valuation of these objects in September last year, quite predictably, people from old Calcutta families rummaged their attics and produced whatever was left before the valuers Bowring had appointed. The best thing about it was that Bowrings was getting it done for nothing. They were not even obliged to Bowrings for services rendered.
On January 17, at 6.30 pm, this collection of ceramics, clocks, bronzes and furniture by the famed C. Lazarus & Company, a small selection of Oriental carpets and paintings by such masters as Jamini Roy, his contemporaries and artists of a much later vintage will go under the hammer at the recently-opened ITC Sheraton Sonar Bangla.
One of the highlights of the auction, the first of its kind in very many years, is the Satsuma pottery, fine examples of which from the 19th and 20th Centuries, will be up for sale. Costing nearly a lakh each, or even more, this pottery was often richly decorated with gold and enamel and had gained international recognition years ago. Moreover, there are Japanese plates and a fine bronze figure of an Oni.
A large gilt brass carriage timepiece by Charles Frodham & Company and signed as such on the backplate is the showpiece of the collection of clocks. Its value has increased, since it comes in its original leather covered travelling case.
There are some fine pieces of furniture too. Among them is an Empire style buffet of late 19th Century with gilt metal mounts and raised on lionís paw feet and an Indian teakwood table with elaborately carved scrolling end supports united by stretchers.
While the furniture and china are quite showy, the collection of early 20th Century paintings is not that impressive. There is an early oil by Jamini Roy and there are figurative works from the Bengal School but the overall quality of the collection is not of a very high order.
Bowrings certainly could have done better.