In the clubs there was tea and in the jungles there were tigers – this was the British Raj in the 1920s, segregated, separated, yet never too far from an indigenous fervour, a ferocity, that, in imperial eyes, needed to be put down less it overwhelm. The combat between the Western huntsman and his native quarry, the ultimate prize, the Bengali tiger, captures this struggle and puts Lot 1066, an impressive taxidermy skin rug by renowned firm Rowland Ward, in its socio-historic time and place.
While the imperialist context should rightly be considered, it is equally important to focus on the quality of this piece as a supreme example of the taxidermist’s art and the intriguing story of Rowland Ward.
This tiger has been captured in all its snarling magnificence with eyes bright, jaw open and well preserved overall – a keen eye will notice that right upper tooth has been lost. By repute of the vendor, inheritor of this rug from the gentleman who took part in the hunt, this particular beast was well known as a man-eater and this fang was lost in the soft flesh of an opponent who came off second best. While we can neither confirm nor deny this, when observing the latent power which still emanates from this Shere Khan of real life Bengalis it is easy to imagine the unfortunate consequences of getting too close for comfort.
The taxidermists responsible for immortalising this prized trophy were of course Rowland Ward, one of the best that money could buy and holders of a Royal Warrant since 1870, founded some years earlier in London in 1857 by the eponymous taxidermist who himself came from a tradition of naturalists and dealers in animal skins. Rowland Ward Ltd had grown with the borders of the British Empire and had become a literal byword for big-game mounting amongst the well-to-do of late 19thand early 20th century society with clients including a young Winston Churchill, Walter Rothschild and both Kings Edward VII and George V; always teeming with exotic fauna, not for nothing was their premises at 167 Piccadilly known as ‘The Jungle’.
In A Passage to India, E. M. Forster writes ‘Adventures do occur, but not punctually’. It is indeed a far from punctual event for a Ward Bengali rug of this quality to come on to the auction market – surely an adventure not to be missed.
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