It must be the saddest sale of the year. Simply titled Mallett:Taking Stock the once great retail emporium, located on London’s elite New Bond Street and New York’s plush Madison Avenue, is disposing of the rest of its retail stock at Dreweatt’s Donnington Priory saleroom on November 8.
Unsurprisingly, there are many extraordinary and quite beautiful Asian pieces in the sale. What is surprising, however, are the staggeringly low estimates. Our eye has particularly been taken by Lot 35, a Chinese export carved bone model of a pagoda (illustrated above) which is well catalogued – and estimated at just a ludicrous £100-200! It is difficult to see the logic in this. It would seem to us to be worth a very substantial four figure sum, if not more, or are we missing something? Look at the catalogue description:
Ω A rare Chinese export carved bone model of a pagoda, 19th century, with seven storeys , each level intricately carved with pierced walls and gallery with a fluted roof hung with gilt pendant bells, of each room centred by a small figure, the base within a fenced stylised polychrome garden with an elaborately carved and decorated gateway, with a group of painted figures carrying ceremonial batons, retaining the original pine stand, 61cm high 26cm wide, 20cm deep, with losses and damage
During the 19th century, the principal centre in China for the manufacture of export wares such as the present lot was the city of Guangzou (or Canton as it would be known in the West after the 1839-1842 Opium War). Situated on the Pearl River delta near the South China Sea. Canton was culturally and economically the most important city in south China, and a hub of trade in all manner of artefacts, including ivory.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, it had become fashionable for English landed gentry to create decorative buildings and follies in their gardens and estates, particularly of eastern design. Perhaps the most notable English example is the pagoda at Kew Gardens of 1761-2, built as a surprise for Princess Augusta, the Dowager Princess of Wales and mother of George III. The designer, Sir William Chambers, had worked previously as an employee of the Swedish East India Company, during which time he spent several months in Canton. Whilst there he made architectural drawings of typical buildings which he later published as a book of Designs of Chinese Buildings (1757). His pagoda at Kew was very well received, and went on to inspire further examples, such as the three-storey version built at Alton Towers in the 1820s.
Please note, this lot may be subject to CITES regulations if exported from the EU.
Associated with the sale is a private treaty opportunity to acquire a famous Qing dynasty ivory and lacquer six-fold screen owned by Mallett and loaned to the V&A from 1965-81. This important property deicts episodes from the classic work Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Presently the Mallett business remains part of the troubled Stanley Gibbons group. Untril very recently, Dreweatts were also part of the group but have just been bought out by investment business Gurr Johns. Mallett was acquired in 2014 by the Stanley Gibbons Group for around £9m. but has, arguably, failed to adapt successfully to new trends in purchasing which have swung sharply away from the retail environment.