26. Gandhara Grey Schist Head of the Buddha

Afghanistan, 3rd century AD
Size: 36 cm high

In the latter part of the 1960s a shop opened at the gritty end of the King’s Road, called ‘Oxus’. It was a shop like no other, a single room of modest proportions stuffed with treasures. Such things in the hands of dealers in Mayfair or St. James’s would be mounted, carefully lit, and presented with learned documentation. At Oxus they were strewn across the floor, piled up in corners, stuffed in carved wooden chests from Nouristan and Badakshan, or ranged along the walls on rickety shelves. Festoons of tribal jewellery hung from nails banged into the walls as needed, and the only seating was provided by piles of textiles.

The swashbuckling owner of this establishment was David Lindhal. He wasn’t exactly a pirate, since his charm was such that he never needed a cutlass. But he was an adventurer of boundless energy and enthusiasm, and he had a keen eye. Unlike most of those who retraced the hippy trail with rucksacks full of rubbish, he returned each time with marvels, and as time went on his caravans grew longer, and heavily laden.

Since I worked at Christie’s at the time, David asked me to clear his shipments through Customs for him as they arrived. It was a relatively simple procedure, the only requirement being to certify that the pieces were antique, that is to say over one hundred years old, as stated on the flimsy documentation that accompanied them. The advantage for me was that I got to see everything before anyone else.

This head, or rather fragment of a head, was in the very first shipment, and as soon as I saw it I was transfixed by its serene beauty. I knew little about Gandhara art at the time, but it seemed the perfect incarnation of Greek ideals of beauty, entwined with the Indian embodiment of spiritual beauty as reflected in human beings. More than forty years later it still represents what it promised all those years ago.