Lot 195. A magnificent Royal coat embroidered with Basra seed pearls, India, 19th century. Estimate 180,000 — 250,000 USD. Lot sold 320,750 GBP. © Sotheby's.
wool lined with velvet, with gilt metal appliqué work and embroidered flower-form panels filled with fine ‘Basra’ seed pearls; 97.5cm. length. 140cm. max. width
Provenance: Private collection.
Note: This magnificent royal tunic, embroidered with thousands of Basra seed pearls, exemplifies the splendour and sophistication of the opulent courts of the Maharajas in the late nineteenth century. It also bears eloquent witness to an ancient and thriving sea-trade which supplied bounteous quantities of natural pearls harvested in the Arabian Gulf to the princely families of South Asia.
The present coat belongs in the same category of craftsmanship as the famed 'Pearl Carpet of Baroda' now in the Museum of Islamic Art, Doha, sold at Sotheby's in Doha, 19 March 2009. Embroidered in the mid-nineteenth century with as many as one and a half million 'Basra' pearls, the carpet embodied the wealth and grandeur of the legendary courts of the maharajas.
BASRA PEARLS AND INDIAN TEXTILES
Considered one of the most important producers and exporters of textiles during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, India lay at the centre of a major trading network. The history of the Indian textile trade dates back two millennia and geographically reached as far as China in the East and Rome in the West. Arab traders from the Gulf, particularly pearl traders, played an important role in the development of this trade. For over two thousand years, pearl fishing represented a steady source of income for people living in the area surrounding the delta of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. By the seventeenth century, most of the pearls harvested in the southern Gulf region and along the coasts of Qatar and Bahrain eventually ended up in the treasuries of Indian maharajas who were great lovers of pearls and gemstones.
This exceptional coat bears testimony to the importance of this trade between the Gulf region and India. The pearl trade, which dominated the Gulf’s economy, enjoyed its golden age in the mid-nineteenth century. Some of the highest quality pearls were discovered at this time and were then bartered and sold in Basra, the centre of the trade, mostly to Indian merchants (J. Bhuj Bushan, Indian Jewelry, Ornaments and Decorative Designs, Bombay, 1955, p.137). The high quality and abundance of the pearls exported from Basra ensured that Gulf pearls were known as ‘Basra pearls’ throughout the world. Between the 1850s and the early twentieth century, the vast majority of the pearls used by Indian jewellers and textile producers were ‘Basra pearls’, as on the present example.
POWER DRESSING IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY
A photograph from 1895 (fig.1), shows H.H. Sri Krishna Raja Wodeyar Bahadur IV and Prince Kantirava Narasimharaja Wodeyar of Mysore standing together in fine ceremonial dress. The coat worn by H.H. Sri Krishna Raja (on the left) is of the same cut as the present example with fine embroidery along the edges with lavishly embroidered foliate cuffs extending up the sleeves (Photograph taken at Mysore in 1895, British Library: 430/41(59)-B9901). The present coat may also once have belonged to a young prince, worn with accompanying royal regalia reserved for important ceremonial occasions.
Portrait of H.H. Sri Krishna Raja Wodeyar Bahadur IV and Prince Kantirava Narasimharaja Wodeyar of Mysore, 1895 (b/w photo), Indian photographer, (19th century). British Library, London, UK / © British Library Board. All Rights Reserved / Bridgeman Images (BL 3597497).
Sotheby's. Arts of the Islamic World, London, 25 oct. 2017, 10:30 AM