Dr Jan’s perfect blend of Irish and Chinese décor is up for auction | Independent.ie
Question: What has 208 pictures, 207 pieces of carved jade, 162 bronze sculptures, 113 tables, 64 chairs, 58 snuff bottles, 57 rugs, 48 pieces of silver, 34 cases of wine and two tapestries?
Answer: The collection from Pouldrew House, Kilmeaden, Co Waterford.
All of these items are going under the hammer at Sheppard’s marathon auction of the contents of Pouldrew House & Other Important Clients, which takes place in Durrow from Tuesday May 9 to Friday May 12.
Those living in the Waterford area may be familiar with Pouldrew House where Dr Jan Mohamed once held regular acupuncture clinics. Dr Jan was a medical doctor from Singapore who came to Ireland to work in Waterford Regional Hospital and purchased Pouldrew House, seemingly on a whim, in 1992.
Once ensconced, Dr Jan did two unusual things. He restored and refurbished the dilapidated mansion in a blend of Irish and Chinese décor. And he became a pioneer of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in Ireland.
His clinics brought many people across the threshold. Maybe they weren’t ushered into the Chinese drawing room or the Irish drawing room (Pouldrew House had one of each) but they certainly came closer than most people get to magnificent country house collections. Normally, you need to know the owner and be invited to tea. Famous clients included Priscilla Presley, who came for acupuncture with her daughter, Lisa Marie, and reputedly offered to buy the house.
When Dr Jan died in 2019, he left an extraordinary collection of Asian and European objects. Unlike most Irish country house collections, this was amassed during one person’s lifetime.
“Once you walked into the house you could see how well the pieces sat together and how they fitted into the context of a late Regency country house,” says Philip Sheppard.
“It’s extraordinary how the cultures speak to each other.” For example, a pair of large Chinese Qing Dynasty hardwood palace cabinets with dragon carved doors (Lots 13 and 383: est. €20,000 to €30,000 each) housed a collection of Chinese snuff bottles above and Waterford crystal below.
This seemingly strange juxtaposition, he explains, is a modern variation of an old Irish tradition. “From the 18th century, Irish country houses were decorated with furniture and porcelain brought in by the East India company. They underpinned the status of the owners by creating a sense of the exotic and unreachable.”
Soon, these covetable imports were imitated in Europe, giving rise to familiar items like willow pattern crockery. Sheppard sees this collection, in which someone from Singapore brought back pieces that reflected his culture and successfully married them with Irish architectural heritage, as an unusual reversal of this colonial tradition. “It’s an Empire Strikes Backmoment in Irish cultural history!”
Amid the overall ensemble is a collection of snuff bottles, exquisite miniature masterpieces from Qing Dynasty China.
They include a Qing blue-and-white snuff bottle (Lot 1602: est. €800 to €1,200, inset) and another with a delicate porcelain lattice of birds and flowers. When the stopper turns, you can see the inner vial move within the lattice.
Another snuff bottle shows a warrior wrestling with a tiger (Lot 1534: est. €300 to €500). It’s 7cm high, made in white porcelain, and may be based on the medieval Chinese novel The Water Margin, which also inspired a 1970s TV series. Spoiler alert: the warrior was up to snuff and the tiger snuffed it.
European pieces include a Flemish allegorical-themed tapestry (Lot 238: €5,000 to €8,000). Once a popular item in Irish country houses, few such tapestries survive in this country. The damp did for them. There is also a portrait of the artist Lucas van Uden (1595-1672). The grisaille on canvas (Lot 412: est. €2,000 to €3,000) shows the artist in lace collar and cuffs and is attributed to Erasmus Quellinus the Younger (1607-1678), a pupil of Peter Paul Rubens who became his collaborator.
Some of the historical pieces in the sale raise more questions than answers. An 18th-century sedan chair (Lot 229: est. €5,000 to €8,000) appears European in origin and is a type that may have been used in Ireland. A print dated 1707 and published in the Dublin Penny Journal shows a similar-looking covered sedan being used to carry someone across College Green in Dublin.
A “Prospect of the North Front of Castle Durrow” (1774) indicated a “chair road to the river” suggesting that someone, possibly an invalid, may have been transported through the grounds via sedan chair. The map, which sold for €2,400 was purchased by the Irish Architectural Archive. The chair in the current sale still retains its 18th-century glass.
By Eleanor Flegg, PHD
Published in the Irish Independent Thu 27 Apr 2023 at 21:30
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