These magnificent polychromed ivory ceremonial seats are designed with scrolled frames in the English 'Grecian' style, while their rich sculpture of Indian tiger and floral motifs are executed in an 'antique' or Roman manner. Their robust 'antique' style was introduced to India at the turn of the 19th Century, when Marquess Wellesley was serving as Governor-General (1798-1805). In particular, he set this tone at his palatial Calcutta Government House, which he had built by the East India Company in a Roman Palladian style provided by Charles Wyatt (d. 1819) of the Bengal Engineers, nephew of the court architect James Wyatt (d. 1813). The chairs legs are Grecian-scrolled and tiger-pawed in the manner of an 1804 chair pattern issued in Thomas Sheraton's Cabinet-Maker, Upholsterer and General Artist's Encyclopaedia, London, 1803-1806, to which the celebrated Calcutta cabinet-making firm of Stewart & Co. had subscribed. They are likely to have been inspired by and executed at the same workshops as another closely related pair of ceremonial 'durbar' chairs, whose reeded pillar legs derived from one of Sheraton's earlier patterns of 1793 issued in his Cabinet-Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book, 1794 (Jaffer & Swallow, op. cit., p. 36, fig. 2).
THE MAHARAJAH OF BENARES'S IVORY SEAT-FURNITURE
This group is among the most remarkable examples of Anglo-Indian furniture, presented by the Maharajah of Benares to George Nathaniel Curzon (d. 1925), 1st Marquess of Kedleston during his Viceroyalty of India (1899-1905). The group of ivory-veneered furniture, exhibited by the Maharajah at the Calcutta International Exhibition in 1883-4, included four pairs of armchairs, six footstools and one sofa. The present pair and sofa were sold, by the Trustees of the Kedleston Estate, in these Rooms, 19 June 1980, lot 133-134. The sofa was bought by the Victoria & Albert Museum and is on loan to the Indian Museum at Kedleston. The remainder of the group was sold by the Kedleston Estate Trust, in these Rooms, 4 July 1996, lots 212-217. Included amongst these lots were two pairs of chairs (lot 216 £128,000 and lot 217 £117,000) - one pair (lot 217) was bought by the National Trust and has returned to Kedleston.
The group is unique in its place in Indian furniture history as it bears no stylistic or constructional resemblence to furniture made in India either for British or Indian patrons. Clearly, it was a one-off commission for an Indian prince or British official. In the later dealings with the scandal surrounding Curzon's acquisition of the suite, the Maharajah of Benares claimed that the suite had in fact been acquired when his father had purchased the guest house, Nandesur, from the heirs of a former British Resident at Benares, indicating that the seat furniture may have been commissioned by a British official.
LORD CURZON AND INDIAN FURNITURE
From his first visit to Asia in 1887 until his return to London in 1905, Lord Curzon was an avid collector of Eastern artefacts and a supporter of India's artistic heritage. He was known as 'a great public figure, ... a man of brilliant intellect, unparalleled industry, anachronistic tastes and strange flaws in character' (D. Gilmour, Curzon, London, 1994, p. 600). On his return to England in 1905, he bequeathed half his collection to the Bethnal Green branch of the Victoria and Albert Museum and, from 1916, created a museum at his family home at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire. The suite, of which these chairs formed a part, however, was retained by Curzon for his London residence, 1 Carlton House Terrace and they remained there until his death in 1925 when they were removed to the museum at Kedleston (A. Jaffer and D. Swallow, 'Curzon's ivory chairs at Kedleston', Apollo, April 1998, pp. 35-39).