By the beginning of the 19th century much of the Indian carpet industry had become almost obsolete but the inclusion of several Indian pile carpets in London’s Great Exhibition of 1851 sparked its revival. Private workshops sprang up across the country and by 1862 the British Imperial government had set up a number of jail workshops in the Punjab. Some of those produced in the jail in Lahore were displayed at the Great Exhibition in 1862 in London and by the time of the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1888, the list of carpet producing workshops was extensive and included private manufacturers as well as over twenty jails including; Agra, Lahore, Yeraoda and Montgomery. There is a clear and continuous progression evident in the design and construction of the 19th century Indian carpets; an early example that anticipates the later ‘jail’ production sold in these Rooms, 17 October 1996, lot 401. What unites this substantial group is their predilection to the 16th and 17th century cloudband and palmette designs of the Safavid and Mughal traditions. The renaissance in Indian production was buoyed by the weaver’s exposure to these designs through the carpets of the Maharaja of Jaipur and the collection in Bijapur and later, the publication of lavish carpet reference books with hand-coloured plates such as Arthur Upham Pope's, Survey of Persian Art, Oxford, 1938 which shows a closely related prototype, Vol. XIII, pl.1126. (Bennett, 1987, no.5 ). In 1906 Andrews published his work on the carpets of India, including a large proportion from the collection of the Maharaja of Jaipur (Andrews, One Hundred Carpet Designs from Various Parts of India, London, 1905-6). The carpets in that collection had already however been sent to the weavers in the second half of the nineteenth century to serve as models for their products.
The present carpet is typical of those produced within the midpoint of 19th century Agra production, distinguished by the bold scale of drawing in both the field and border, the fine weave and, in particular, the vibrant colouring. A highly unusual feature found on the present lot is the figural depiction within each border corner of a saddled horse with its foal, above a pair of facing long-horned rams. This charming, small inclusion is a very personal touch added to what was essentially an extremely grand city workshop commission. Two examples of the group with linked arabesque borders sold Christie's, London 25 April 2002, and Christie's, New York, 18 December 2001, lot 62. A further feature these examples share with the present lot is a mirrored design, which creates an attractive balance but also allowed the workshops to create carpets on almost any dimension. Two slightly smaller examples that have manipulated this field design to produce a square format sold in these Rooms, 13 October 2005, lot 65 and one of particularly attractive and fine weave on 18 October 2014, lot 120.