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Anglo Indian Furniture

A look at Anglo Indian furniture in the years before the Raj, prompted by some recent pieces in the 2022 Spring Quarterly Fine Sale.

An Anglo-Indian Carved and Stained Hardwood, probably Padouk, Card Table, Second
        Quarter 19th Century (FS53/1621).

An Anglo-Indian Carved and Stained Hardwood, probably Padouk, Card Table, Second Quarter 19th Century (FS53/1621).

The British possession of the Indian subcontinent which lasted for 100 years under the auspices of the East India Company, and then for another century under the British Crown, is looked back on as a time when humanity, fairness and respect to the existing cultures were very often surrendered up to blatant rapacity and wealth making through empire building. The Company days, in particular, have been shown to have been unashamedly mercenary times.

It is therefore important to illustrate those brighter moments of cross-cultural understanding which did occur, when those glimmers of light can be identified. One of those is definitely the emergence during the later 18th century of what came to be known as Anglo Indian furniture. This furniture was made originally entirely to order, predominantly for British political and military officers whose stay in India was to be long enough to require proper domestic furnishings. They wanted their furniture to be like it was at home, and they described what they wanted to local furniture makers and craftsmen. The Indian artisans saw these commissions through their own cultural lens, and whilst sticking to the basic requested requirements of dimension, shape and form, often embellished their work with very un-English mythical creatures, stylised foliage, sun bursts and other fantastical vernacular adornments.

An Anglo Indian Carved and Stained Hardwood Circular Occasional Table, Bombay Presidency,
        Last Quarter 19th Century (FS53/1624).

An Anglo Indian Carved and Stained Hardwood Circular Occasional Table, Bombay Presidency, Last Quarter 19th Century (FS53/1624).

An Anglo-Indian Carved and Stained Hardwood, probably Padouk, Sideboard, 'Possibly
        Southern India', Second Quarter 19th Century (FS53/1627).

An Anglo-Indian Carved and Stained Hardwood, probably Padouk, Sideboard, 'Possibly Southern India', Second Quarter 19th Century (FS53/1627).

They also utilised the timbers and the metalware that were available to them, and these, of course, differed from the norms of British cabinet making – padouk and rosewood becoming popular alternatives; as well as using differing construction methods and joints to actually fabricate the pieces.

The results were functional and recognisably British in form, and yet also exotic – almost outlandish to the British eye. Four such pieces were sold in the recent Spring Fine Quarterly auction at Bearnes, Hampton & Littlewood; the card table, occasional table, sideboard and cabinet bookcase illustrated here, all taking the very accepted forms of Regency England, but interpreted into wonderful local works of art – the Makaras (sea monsters) on the sideboard gallery are particularly noteworthy.

Given the age, the timber quality and the artistic merit of these pieces, (a virtually identical sideboard is held at the V&A in London), they are surprisingly affordable.

An Anglo-Indian Hardwood, probably Padouk, and Glazed Cabinet Bookcase, Second Quarter
        19th Century (FS53/1628).

An Anglo-Indian Hardwood, probably Padouk, and Glazed Cabinet Bookcase, Second Quarter 19th Century (FS53/1628).

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About the Author

Cristian BeadmanCristian Beadman
Furniture

After gaining his degree in Ancient History with Classical Art from the University of Edinburgh, Cristian spent a decade at Christie's in London, which he describes as the 'best apprenticeship he didn't know he was getting'. For most of that time he worked in the British and European Works of Art Department, and in conjunction with the Furniture Department, looked after the diverse selection of items that fall into these broad categories, from cast iron furniture to domestic lighting, from tea caddies to marble Grand Tour souvenirs, scrimshaw to sculpture and amongst all the rest, of course furniture.

The itch to get back west was already at work though and Dreweatts of Newbury was at least half way up the M4. Soon after joining, Cristian gained Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors membership and then spent fifteen years building the Furniture and Works of Art sales and starting a new Fine Sculpture sale category. As one of the senior valuers and auctioneers Cristian moved into the area of Estates and Collections, with strong emphasis on Probate, Insurance and sale valuation work, travelling widely and securing important collections within the UK and abroad. He also fed his passion for auctioneering in running an in-house auctioneers' training school.

In 2015, Cristian was delighted to be asked to join the BBC's Antiques Roadshow as one of the expert appraisers, and proudly remains part of the team. The west continued to beckon though and early in 2021 Cristian moved back to his beloved Devon, the county of his birth and boyhood.

Eighteen months were spent at Duke's of Dorchester, during which time Cristian secured and managed the sale of the contents of Wormington Grange, one of the most talked-about country house sales of the year, and a resounding success.

Now, delighted to be at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood, Cristian feels he has come full circle, working at the auction house he first attended as a six year old with his parents, albeit at their old Torbay HQ at Rainbow. - And finally, -hopefully, the itch to go west has now been scratched.