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    Sale 2024

    Indian and Southeast Asian Art

    16 September 2008, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 472

    A folio from the Polier Album: Layla and Majnun

    INDIA, OUDH, C. 1770-80

    Price Realised  


    A folio from the Polier Album: Layla and Majnun
    Annotated in French below, "20. Leila fesant visite a Majnoun dans les Bois"
    India, Oudh, c. 1770-80
    Majnun wearing a simple blue dhoti and seated below a tree with a lion in repose behind him, Layla in rich red and gold robes seated before him with hands folded, attended by three ladies-in-waiting bearing a flywhisk and a gold plate, the elderly driver with his camel in the foreground, all set in a green clearing filled with birds, a wooded mountain and river in the distance and a reddish sky above, surrounded by an inner white border with red flowers and an outer pale blue border with red and white flowers, the French inscription below
    Opaque pigments and gold on wasli
    9 3/8 x 6¾ in. (23.8 x 14.1 cm.), image
    14 x 9 7/8 in. (35.6 x 25 cm.), folio

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    Having been married off to another man of appropriate social class, Layla goes to see Majnun in the forest, who has been driven mad by his unrequited love and has become a wandering poet, gaining fame for his haunting verses about her. The moment is especially poignant, for it is the last time the star-crossed lovers will meet; she soon dies of sorrow and he then collapses at her grave. The reddening evening sky and rolling clouds above echo the ending of their days, and the paired antelope and birds remind them and the viewer of what should have been.


    Antoine Louis Henri Polier, acquired between 1767-68
    Possibly William Beckford, after 1802
    English Private Collection, 1960s

    Pre-Lot Text

    Antoine Louis Henri Polier, born in Lausanne 1741, entered the service of the British East India Company as a surveyor in 1757. By 1762, he had become Chief Engineer of the Bengal Army in Calcutta and began working on the design and construction of the new Fort William; he then rose to the rank of major and took command of the Fort Garrison. Though Polier was first sent to Oudh as a surveyor, it was recommended to the Nawab Shuja-ud-daula that he be made the chief architect for the kingdom of Oudh - and be the eyes and ears of the British East India Company at the Nawab's court. Polier became wealthy from his commissions for court buildings as well as from private trading, and he built a palace in Lucknow that he called "Polierganj" or "Polier's Dream-Potion." Polier was dismissed from the service of the Nawab of Oudh in 1782, and was asked by Warren Hastings to remain in Lucknow as an appointee of the Company with the honorary rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, as Polier's knowledge of Oudh was considered essential to Company interests. After 30 years in India, Polier left in 1787 and settled in France where he was murdered in a robbery in 1795.

    During his time in India, Polier collected Persian and Sanskrit manuscripts and Indian miniatures, and he possessed a complete collection of the Vedas. His collection began with a gift of three albums given to him in 1767, which inspired him to assemble further albums of muraqqas, scenes of Indian life that were being created to satisfy Western taste. He collected the best antique work he could find, and also commissioned new work, principally through his favored retained artist Mihr Chand who was largely responsible for arranging the layout and decoration of the albums made for his collection of paintings. The distinctive mount with a broad band of naturalistic flowers between two narrow borders with stylized floral motifs, the overall palette, and the handwritten inscription in French, indicate that this and the following three paintings were commissioned by Polier. The French inscriptions only appear between 1767-68, and after then he began to annotate his albums in Hindi and Urdu, which he learned while at court. For examples of folios from the Polier Album (volume I. 4593) at the Museum fr Islamische Kunst, Berlin, with inscriptions in the same hand, see R. Hickman & Enderlein: Indische Albumblatte, Leipzig 1979, cat. nos. 1, 11, 21, 39, 43 and 51.

    In 1802 William Beckford visited Lausanne and acquired many of Polier's albums from his family. On Beckford's death these mostly passed to his daughter, the Duchess of Hamilton, and then to the Berlin Museum following the Hamilton palace sale at Christie's London in 1882. Of the thirteen albums from Beckford's library now in the Islamisches Museum, eleven seem to have been from Polier.