Sale of the week: Welch collection

Sale: The Stuart Cary Welch collection

Location: Sotheby’s, 34-35 New Bond Street, London W1. Tel: +44 (0)20 7293 5000

Date: Wednesday April 6. On view Sunday noon-5pm; Monday and Tuesday 9am-4.30pm. Catalogue online at

Need to know: Stuart Cary Welch, who died aged 80 in 2008, was one of the greatest Indian and Islamic art connoisseurs of modern times. During a 35-year career as a Harvard University lecturer and curator of the Islamic and Indian art sections of the Harvard museums, he built up a formidable collection of his own that is now set to realise up to £6m. He read classical art at Harvard at a time when study courses in the Indian and Islamic fields did not exist. As a result, his knowledge of the genre was self-acquired, and he increased awareness around the world by arranging exhibitions and helping to build museum collections. This first part of the sale is devoted to Islamic art; on May 31, part two is dedicated to the arts of India.

Highlights: The undisputed highlight here is a single illuminated page from the 16th-century Shahnameh of Shah Tahmasp, one of the most celebrated Persian manuscripts. Once in the collection of the Barons de Rothschild, Welch acquired the 18x12-inch masterpiece through Agnews in 1977 and a note on the backboard states: “ ... the costliest acquisition I had ever made. Terrible effort, but successful (a triumph!)”. It is now valued at a startling £2m-£3m. A Mughal miniature by the leading 17th-century artist Govardhan is estimated at £200,000-£300,000 and a striking portrait of a turbanned man, thought to have been a sketch for a 15th-century wall painting, is tipped to realise up to £80,000. The 164-lot sale does contain affordable pieces including a tiny, 1,100-year-old bronze ink well (£800-£1,200), a Persian lacquered pen box (£2,000-£3,000) and a vast Ottoman padlock and key (£300-£400). This sale offers a rare chance to see the result of half a century of scholarship and collecting passion.

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