The sumptuous Taj Mahal in Agra is India' most famous building – a white marble mausoleum built in the 17th century by a grief-stricken Mughal emperor in honour of his third wife who died during childbirth.
Miniature paintings of the building adorn a carved wood humidor made in the late 19th century by an unknown Indian craftsman for the British Raj market. It was the type of decorative yet functional item that would have adorned the home of a colonial administrator and then been shipped home to a "big house" when the sun set on the British Empire. With an estimate of €3,000-€5,000, it's one of the most eye-catching lots in Sheppard's three-day auction which begins in Durrow, Co Laois on Tuesday (September 30th) where viewing starts today.
Another important box in the sale is a "brass-bound coromandel-cased silver-mounted travelling vanity set" bought in the 1850s from Hunt & Roskell, London (€1,500-€2,500). The key-ring has a label attached inscribed with the name: Lady Inchiquin, once the chatelaine of Dromoland Castle in Co Clare. The highest-priced lot is a pair of 19th-century English cabinets painted with scenes from Greek and Roman mythology: Diana and Callisto and Apollo and Daphne (€40,000-€60,000).
Neither the artist nor the sitter have been identified but an Italian 18th or 19th-century white marble bust of a classical figure wearing a toga is of very high quality and estimated at €5,000-€8,000.
Militaria in Sheppard’s auction includes a 19th-century officer’s campaign desk (€800-€1,200) and a first World War doctor’s field case (€200-€300).
Among the pictures is a very striking early Victorian equestrian oil-on-canvas painting Bay Hunter in a Stablesigned C Tanner (€3,000-€4,000); and a set of four prints, published in 1852 by JW Moore, London depicting the Marquis of Waterford and followers hunting in Co Tipperary, titled The Noble Tips (€600-€900).
The final day of the sale is, as now customary at Sheppard’s, devoted to Asian art and there is likely to be Chinese interest in a large 17th or 18th-century Tibeto-Chinese gilt-bronze statue of the Buddha (€20,000-€30,000).
Given the history of surprises with Chinese porcelain at Sheppard’s there may well be a sleeper among the imperial porcelain vases.
There are many quirky items in the catalogue. A selection of taxidermy includes a most unusual example – a stuffed and glass-cased bobcat pouncing on a mallard (€800-€1,200). A 20cm-high brass and enamelled travelling clock, made in Birmingham by the British United Clock Company sometime between 1885 and 1909, is just €50-€80.
As always, Sheppard’s sale is a marathon and, with over 1,700 lots, requires advance planning. The catalogue is online at sheppards.ie and three days of viewing begin at 10am this morning.