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Remarkable royal gifts to famous British aristocratic convert to Islam at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art Sale
A gilt-silver thread and silk Kiswah fragment presented to Lord Headley on completion of the Hajj in 1923 Egypt or Mecca, circa 1923. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- Rowland George Allanson Allanson-Winn, 5th Baron Headley (1855-1935) led an extraordinary life. Born into an aristocratic family, he was a conventional member of the British establishment until his conversion to Islam in 1913, the year he also inherited his seat in the House of Lords. Known alternatively by his adopted name of Shaikh Rahmatullah al-Farooq, Headley founded the British Muslim Society (1914), was declared bankrupt (1922) and in 1926 was offered the throne of Albania, which he declined much to the disappointment of his wife who promptly left him. In 1923 Headley completed the hajj – the obligatory pilgrimage to the Muslim holy site of the Ka’ba in Mecca. To mark the occasion, he was presented with remarkable gifts by King Hussein bin Ali of the Hejaz which are to be offered at Bonhams Islamic and Indian Art sale in London on Tuesday 25 October. The Order of Al Nahda, First Class, star, badge and sash is estimated at £4,000-6,000 and a gilt-silver thread embroidered silk Kiswah fragment is estimated at £3,000-4,000.

Oliver White, Bonhams Head of Islamic and Indian Art, said: “Lord Headley was one of the first and most prominent British converts to Islam in the early 20th century. The very special gifts he received from King Hussein bin Ali on completion of the hajj demonstrate the high regard in which he was held and the significance of his conversion among the British Muslim community.”

On completion of his pilgrimage, Lord Headley witnessed the removal of the black and gold kiswah which covered the Ka'ba during the month of the Hajj. Before leaving Mecca, he paid his respects to King Hussein and was given several gifts including a gold-embroidered robe, (also in the sale, estimated at £1,500-2,000) and two sections of the kiswah, which were traditionally cut into smaller pieces and presented to dignitaries. The larger piece was presented to Woking Mosque, while the piece in the sale was displayed on the wall in his drawing room in Ivy Lodge, Twickenham.

At the same time, Headley was also presented with the order of Al Nahda, First Class or Supreme Order of the Renaissance, which was instituted in 1917 by King Hussein to commemorate the Arab Revolt of 1916 against the Ottoman Empire. Headley was very proud of this award stating that it was 'the highest order that can be given in Arabia'. A signed photograph of Lord Headley wearing the order of Al Nahda by the celebrated society photographer Carl Vandyk is offered in the sale, estimated at £1,000-1,500.

The sale, which is made up of 157 lots, also features important Persian portraits including:

• A rare and important newly-discovered early portrait of a court official by Abu'l Hasan al-Ghaffari, Sani' al-Mulk. In this newly discovered painting by Abu'l Hasan Ghaffari, Sani' al-Mulk a nobleman is shown in green courtly garb with black headgear, and a colourful waist-shawl in which a scroll of paper is inserted as a sign of his position in court. As with all Abul-Hasan's signature works, meticulous attention has been paid to detail and patterning. This early portrait by the artist, who studied in Italy for several years and is best known for the paintings of the famous 'One Thousand and One Nights' in the Gulistan Library, Tehran, dates from the reign of Muhammad Shah. This painting, and the work below, were once in the collection of George Kidston CMG, Head of the Eastern Department of the British Foreign Office, 1919-20. It is estimated at £15,000-20,000.

• A nobleman seated on a balcony terrace, by the artist Mirza Jani, Qajar Persia, circa 1850-70. The portrait was probably executed in Tehran at the time when Mirza Jani was a court painter in the royal atelier at the Golestan Palace, where he worked for three decades. He trained at the Dar al-Funun, a school of portraiture nurtured through royal benefaction. Estimate: £8,000-12,000.

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