I’ll put the tale on record so that, if ever the Sage forgets again, you will know what really happened.
Although one can apply for a visa to India by post, I think it’s all part of the build-up to the visit if one trots along to the Indian High Commission and queues up oneself. I had a free day at the beginning of December, so I asked El and Phil if I could stay with them on Sunday night, ready to present myself on Monday. The doors are not open then, but there are always a lot of people. If you ever do it yourself, try to get there before 8am, as that’s when the queue really builds up.
I was playing the organ in the morning, so I booked a train ticket for lunchtime, thinking that I’d fit in a visit to a museum in the afternoon. Then the Sage observed that there was an auction on that Monday, in the King Street auction rooms (which is behind and across the road from the Ritz). A wealthy American lady, well known in the antiques world, had recently died and her collection of English eighteenth century porcelain was being sold in that auction. She had some fine pieces of L0west0ft, and the auctioneers had taken the opportunity to put in some other items as well, including a fine inscribed inkwell.
I arrived at the salerooms looking quite hot and bothered. I was wearing a wool trouser suit, boots and a long wool overcoat as well – it was December and I’d be waiting in the early morning, outside, for a couple of hours the next day. I didn’t want to bother with a case, so I wore all my clothes and carried toiletries in my handbag. Everyone else was chic and soignée, so I tried to look as if I intended the effect I’d achieved. I bought a catalogue (these come at the price of a hardback book, but they are fully illustrated), and found my way to the china.
I spent a happy hour looking around before turning my attention to the L0west0ft. It was very impressive. There were some spectacular pieces of rare or early shapes. The viewing can be quite nerve-wracking though. It’s displayed in tall glass cabinets which are, of course, kept locked. If you want to handle something, you ask an assistant, who will unlock the cabinet and leave you to it. The opening is at the back, but the smaller pieces are at the front, so you have to reach around them, and some items are quite top-heavy, to pick out the item you want, and then carefully put it back again. If you were to touch it against something else, they could all go down like dominos. The assistants are remarkably trusting. My jacket joined my coat on the floor (no, really, I’m not bothered if they think I’m odd) and I was very, very careful.
I handled and saw many lovely and impressive items, but found nothing I actually wanted to buy. The nicest pieces were too expensive in any case, but they didn’t speak to me. I didn’t covet them.
On the other side of the room was a case of polychrome china. This was on a small dais and the top shelf was above my head. I asked an assistant to fetch pieces down for me, as I couldn’t reach. She was tall, but they were above her head too, and she had to rely on my directions and what visibility she had through the glass shelf. She brought down various items and put them on a table for me.
In the catalogue, they had mixed up two lots. The picture of one (two cups) was labelled with the number of another (one cup). Furthermore, the single cup was photographed from the reverse side. It was uninteresting. As soon as I picked it up, however, I knew I’d found the cup I wanted to buy.
It was painted with an elephant, a very pale grey, with slightly darker grey patches. The elephant was beautifully painted, well proportioned and detailed. It was being ridden by a man in Chinese Mandarin robes and another man was standing beside, hand outstretched. But what I liked most of all was that the rider sat astride the elephant as if he was riding a pony, legs dangling. The painter had carefully copied a picture of an elephant, but had no idea of its size.
I thanked the saleroom assistant, gathered up my coats and bag, went downstairs to register as a potential buyer and left.
To be continued