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Climate Change


A fine and large Meiji period bronze of two tigers by Genryusai Seiya

This time last year, with COP 26, taking place in Edinburgh, I wrote about the impeccable green credentials of antique furniture and works of art.  As COP 27 takes place in Egypt, I am reflecting on the impact of global warming on our animal kingdom.  We are bombarded daily with dire facts and figures, cataclysmic events worldwide and nature documentaries charting the decline and destruction of the natural world. Along with panda bears, big cats and polar bears are the bellwethers of all threatened species.

Unusual Meiji Period Bronze of a Tiger and an Alligator by Genryusai Seiya

To put the changes into perspective I will look through the prism of my own family’s experiences.  In the early 20th century my maternal great aunt, Frances Grose, set out for India to escape her stern Victorian mother’s command that Frances (one of Cambridge’s first female students) should come back home to replace the household servants who had left for the munitions factories.

An Indian carved hardwood elephant

Instead, she became headmistress of a girl’s school in Calcutta (Kolkata) and was awarded the MBE for services to female education.  Although she recalled watching elephant polo, she did not mention tiger hunts, which were only banned in 1972.

An Art Deco marquetry panel of a jaguar

My grandmother was not so lucky.  She was forced to drop out of her degree in medicine to wait on her mother, father and younger siblings.  But she did escape – to Brazil – by marrying an engineer on the trans-Andean railway.  Her photographs show Copacabana Beach as kilometres of pristine sand fringed by trees and dotted with the occasional fisherman’s hut.

A set of 10 hand painted porcelain Vista Alegre dessert plates

My mother, therefore, was born and brought up in Brazil, which may be why she and my father were given these plates decorated with exotic birds from the Brazilian rainforest as a farewell present when they left a six year stint with BP in Portugal. 

A Meiji period bronze elephant by Genryusai Seiya

As newlyweds in the 1950s however, my parents went to what was then Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda  They lived in an area which now falls within the Selous National Park.  Wild life was abundant and it was not unusual to find a lion strolling down the road and to see vast herds of elephants on safari.  Nonetheless it is extraordinary that my father’s salary was £120 PLUS one pair of tusks per year!  A good-sized pair of tusks could fetch more than £120 – thus doubling his salary.  

In an attempt to stop poaching and illegal trading in ivory we are no longer allowed to sell it, so this piece is not for sale.  Fittingly this Japanese okimono from 1880 shows a polar bear, not on an ice floe, but on a brown wood base.

A Fine and Intriguing Pair of Giltwood Pier Mirrors, One George I Period (c.1730), The Other Made to Match by Hugh Paton of Edinburgh, Carver and Gilder to Queen Victoria, C. 1850

Christopher Coles has, once again, unearthened a fascinating hidden story.  A story which chimes perfectly with our theme of re-cycling and re-using.  Mirrors were extremely expensive and toxic to make so it was common practice to re-frame the plates in more fashionable frames.  Thus we have Queen Anne glass in a George I frame.  Furthermore, when a companion mirror was required, an exact Victorian replica (so perfect that it is virtually impossible to tell them apart) was made by Hugh Paton and then both gilded so that they matched. 

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