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Gem-set, enamelled Tipu Sultan sword sells for GBP 100,800 at auction in UK

London: A gem-set and enamelled sword, believed to be from the personal armoury of 18th century Mysore king Tipu Sultan, has gone under the hammer for GBP 100,800 at a sale at Christie’s auction house in London.

The Art of the Islamic and Indian World sale on Thursday also had a more intricately designed sword belonging to the legendary ruler up for auction but it failed to fetch bids within the asking price of GBP 1,500,000-2,000,000 and remained unsold. However, the buyers’ names were kept confidential.

The set of swords, previously unrecorded, come from the collection of Charles, the 1st Marquess and 2nd Earl Cornwallis, a central figure in the consolidation of British authority in India after the death of Tipu Sultan at the fall of Seringapatam (Srirangapatna) in 1799.

The proceeds from the auction of the swords are intended for repairs to the family’s Port Eliot Estate in Cornwall, south-west England.

“These swords previously belonged to Tipu Sultan and have been passed down through the Eliot family since they were presented to Charles, 1st Marquess Cornwallis and 2nd Earl Cornwallis KG PC (1738-1805) in the late 18th century,” said a spokesperson for the Port Eliot Estate.

“The proceeds from the sale will be used for repairs to the Port Eliot estate. It is hoped this restoration will safeguard the future of the house for the next generation and for the public to continue to enjoy this magnificent Cornish estate for many years to come,” the spokesperson said.

Christie’s notes the “unbroken provenance” of the two swords, which came into British possession on the fall of Tipu’s kingdom after a series of Anglo-Mysore wars. A third sword with Tipu Sultan’s famous tiger symbol associated with his moniker as the Tiger of Mysore and an English blade, which was priced between GBP 60,000 and 80,000, also went unsold as it failed to fetch its guide price at the auction.

“It is a real pleasure to bring to the market this exceptional sword, a weapon of spectacular craftsmanship that was clearly seen as one of the most important of Tipu’s swords after the fall of Seringapatam,” said Sara Plumbly, Head of Department, Art of the Islamic and Indian Worlds.

“It is one of a group of three related swords – the others having been presented to equally significant figures at the time, Edward, 1st Earl of Powys and Governor of Madras from 1798-1803, and King George III. The rest of the sale includes a number of important works of art from across the Islamic and Indian Worlds. Amongst others, highlights include an Ottoman tombak helmet of spectacular craftsmanship and a Mughal painting of Grooms shoeing a horse by the Imperial artist Mukhlis,” she said.

The sale is followed by another India-focussed auction at Christie’s in London on Friday, entitled ‘An Eye Enchanted: Indian Paintings from the Collection of Toby Falk’ and featuring 150 paintings.

Falk, a respected 20th-century academic in the field of Indian painting, authored definitive works on the subject. The paintings offered in the Christie’s sale include examples from different schools across the Indian subcontinent, from Mughal to Pahari, Deccani, Company School as well as some of the lesser-known Rajasthani centres.

“Toby had a discerning eye and with each of the paintings, whether the value is GBP 500 or GBP 200,000, you sense immediately why it was included in his collection. Each work is interesting – be it for an intriguing detail, the history, the pure beauty or perhaps the fact that it comes from a little-known school,” added Plumbly.

The auction represents over 500 years of Indian painting, from a 15th-century illustration of ‘Trisala Reclining’ (from a Jain ‘Kalpasutra’) to a work by the contemporary Indian painter Jamini Roy. With many lots sold without a reserve price, the sale has been presented as an opportunity for established collectors of Indian paintings or those starting on their collecting journey, to acquire examples of Indian paintings assembled by one of the giants of the field.

(Published 27 October 2023, 16:17 IST)

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