Come May 31, Sotheby's London will auction some of collector connoisseur Staurt Welch's prized collection of Indian art, to a discerning public.

Ramya Sarma

Athing of beauty is a joy for ever. That seems to have been the working principle of Stuart Cary Welch's life. Welch (1928-2008) was a curator, scholar, gifted teacher, celebrated connoisseur and collector, who spent over 50 years studying the art and aesthetics of India and the Middle East. And his passion for the objects he admired was matched by the careful and meticulous way in which he collected pieces that touched his intellect, his instincts and his heart. Part of his vast and wonderful collection, Arts of the Islamic World, was offered on sale at Sotheby's, London in April, bringing in an astounding £20.9 million, an auction record for any single such sale of Islamic art. And, at the end of this month, May 31, 2011, Part II will be offered to a discerning public.

On display

With 204 lots, this will include, as Sotheby's says, “many dramatic and exquisite works of great rarity, including Rajput, Deccani, later Mughal, Company School and Himalayan paintings, drawings and works of art, as well as a wide range of more affordable drawings, sketches and decorative arts from the 13th to the 20th century.” Star of this particular show will be a “Vasudhara Mandala, the earliest recorded Nepalesepaubhathat contains a date within its dedicatory inscription, and was painted in 1365 by Jasaraja Jirili. It is estimated at £300,000-400,000.” Other highlights include a rare and important, finely paintedMonumental Portrait of a Monkey, Mewar, Udaipur, circa 1700, estimated at £70,000-90,000 (estimated prices do not include buyer's premium).

According to Holly Brackenbury, Director and Head of Sotheby's Indian Art Department, “Stuart Cary Welch was a scholar, connoisseur and collector. His lectures, exhibitions and publications inspired many people in the West to look at Indian art for the first time. He looked at every piece individually and brought about a new understanding of Indian art, this is particularly apparent in his collecting; every miniature, sketch and object was collected for a reason, he identified not only the historical importance of a piece but also its beauty.” She explains that “This collection of Indian art is one of the most important to have come to the auction market within the last fifty years. There are some exceptional pieces in the sale. Not only do these pieces have the provenance of coming from the Stuart Cary Welch Collection, but many have also been widely published and exhibited in leading institutions across the world. This sale offers collectors and museums globally a wonderful opportunity to acquire some fantastic works of art with impeccable provenance.”


Welch was a lecturer at Harvard University, and a curator of Islamic and Indian art at Harvard Art Museums for over 40 years. The Krishna theme is also seen inBhairavi Raga: Lord Krishna Enthroned and Adored, a circa 1650 miniature in the early Pahari style, one of the Ragmala series. Its estimated price tag: £15,000-25,000.Celebrating Holi, Awadh, 1760-1764, is another treasure, offered at about £30,000-40,000, a work vibrant and energetic, showing off the colours and spirit of the festival. Even as Welch's august reputation makes the collection being auctioned even more prized and covetable, the Internet offers an interesting and fun piece of information on the collector-connoisseur: “The 1978 Merchant Ivory film,Hullabaloo Over Georgie and Bonnie's Pictures, film follows art stalkers yearning to acquire a maharajah's hidden collection of miniatures. When, finally, the dusty cloth bundles are unwrapped, the screen dances with colourful images of painted works—all of which belonged to Welch.” A man worth knowing, art worth owning.