Rosewood rush

A Finely Carved Anglo-Indian Rosewood Sofa

If you’ve lived in or around the Indian subcontinent, you would have seen this tree: tall, often with a sharp fork in the trunk and a series of twists and turns, culminating in dense, disperse foliage that spreads like the wings of a peacock.

This is the mighty rosewood tree, of the genus Dalbergia, which has a variety of uses, ranging from being an ingredient in medicines, to its utility as timber in construction. But one of its most hallowed applications has been for furniture, prized for its regal aesthetics and durability.

Intricate yet functional

‘Heirloom Treasures’, the latest auction at Mumbai-based AstaGuru, showcases a range of rosewood furniture sourced from private collections across the country, including sofas, a daybed, writing tables, and even a vintage swing in the Art Deco style.

Anglo-Indian Rosewood Console Table

Anglo-Indian Rosewood Console Table

The craftsmanship comes from mostly the 19th and early 20th centuries, and features popular styles of the time such as elaborate mother of pearl inlay, Art Deco, vintage Chinese design, and intricate Anglo-Indian woodworks.

“Rosewood furniture has always been popular in India,” says Rushaad Dastur, auction specialist at AstaGuru. “One of the most popular styles is Anglo-Indian, emerging from a unique fusion of British and Indian craftsmanship. Utilising Indian wood, British artisans created functional yet intricately carved furniture, showcasing a perfect union of the East and West.”

Many such pieces will be on display at the upcoming auction. This includes a finely carved Anglo-Indian rosewood sofa that rests on four scroll shaped feet and features armrests decorated with lion heads. There’s also an Anglo-Indian rosewood console table from 1880, whose elaborately pierced apron and trellis feature arabesque designs.

A Large Rosewood Cupboard

A Large Rosewood Cupboard

It’s important to note that most antique furniture features older rosewood sourced from across the world, rather than from North India. While the former is darker and sports smoother textures, the latter, known as sheesham, has a light-brown hue and is considerably cheaper.

Furniture like this is not easy to come by, especially since the international trade of rosewood is heavily curtailed. India in particular is a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), that lists rosewood under its Appendix II. This includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but whose trade must be controlled to avoid utilisation incompatible with their survival.

Enduring appeal

Even then, one must know how to recognise good quality rosewood. “Rosewood typically features a rich, deep colour with darker streaks and intricate grain patterns. High-quality rosewood often exhibits consistent coloration, uniform grain and is smooth to the touch,” divulges Dastur.

There are things to keep in mind to ensure maximum durability: wood can warp, contract and expand due to fluctuations in temperature and moisture levels. It is advisable to maintain moderate humidity and temperature in your indoor environment, to prevent deterioration and maintain its structural integrity. At the same time, try to avoid direct sun exposure, and ensure regular dusting with a soft cloth.

A Rosewood & Teakwood Swing in the Art Deco Style

A Rosewood & Teakwood Swing in the Art Deco Style

“Generally, high-quality rosewood furniture can last for generations if properly cared for,” says Dastur. He goes on to list some of the pieces to watch out for in the upcoming auction, the most exciting of which is the rose and teakwood swing in the Art Deco style (₹10-₹11 lakh) from the mid-20th century. The fluted floral panels and canopy showcase the geometric style in vogue during the post war period.

The auction will be held on March 27-28.

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