The Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) is trying to acquire the most important of the Clive of India treasures, which were bought by Sheikh al-Thani of Qatar for his planned Islamic museum in Doha. The chief curator in Qatar is Dr Oliver Watson, who is now on secondment from the V&A, where he was the leading Islamic specialist.
The V&A denies there are any difficulties in this competition for the Indian treasures. “Oliver Watson is currently an employee of the Qatar museum, so we do not feel there is any conflict of interest”, a spokesman explained. Dr Watson told The Art Newspaper that his responsibility is “to act in the interests of the organisation for which I am currently working”.
The V&A wants to buy the Clive flask, which is set with rubies and emeralds in gold. “We are looking at the possibility of trying to raise the money and will seek outside funding,” a spokesman explained. Applications are being submitted to the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Art Collections Fund. The Export Reviewing Committee gave the flask a starred rating, which means that every effort should be made to retain it in the UK.
The Clive of India treasures were sold at Christie’s on 27 April. The Sheikh bought the flask for £2,973,000., in addition to which he also bought an agate and garnet flywhisk handle (£919,000), a Mughal ceremonial dagger (£748,000) and a silver hubble-bubble huqqa pipe (£98,000). These had once been owned by Robert Clive and after his death in 1774 they passed down the family, until their sale following the death of Vida Schreiber. Powis Castle, the Clive home in north Wales, is now owned by the National Trust. The trust is hopeful of raising the funds for the huqqa. The export licence for all four Clive of India treasures has been deferred until 13 December, but this period is now.
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'V&A thirsts for flask'