Almost all Near Eastern weavings be they pile rug, flatweave-kelim-soumak-jijim or textile have varying degrees of similar, look-alike, analogs. Only an extremely tiny percentage, we’d guess at .000001%, are uniques that have absolutely no similars.
One of these in the look-alike rarity group is the soumak bag illustrated just below, which has achieved considerable notoriety since it first appeared decades ago, and even more for lately selling at a near record auction price.
The ex-Ebberhart Herrmann, rudnick collection auction khorjin sold last year for $33,550
Since appearing in a Herrmann catalog in the late 1980’s no other similar soumak khorjin appeared. However this is no longer the case, as the most recent issue of that rag hali number 191 Spring 2017 contains this advertisement.
On first glance both look like carbon-copies but further investigation proves otherwise.
RK knows the ex-Herrmann soumak well. We have handled it several times and while we admit not having had the opportunity to do so with the other we are 99.9999% sure our opinions about it are 100 percent correct.
In other words there is little contest our belief the Herrmann khorjin is the far superior in all respects.
Here they are side by side:
Left: hazara gallery advertisement that rag hali 191; Right: ex-Hermann, ex-rudnick auction lot #1 Nov.20, 2016
Before commenting on this comparison RK needs to reiterate we do not think a whole lot about the ex-Herrmann khorjin, which is clearly the better. In fact one of the first posts RK made to the RugKazbah.com discussion board, which was on Nov. 30, 2002 fourteen years before the rudnick sale, we wrote the following comments.
CUTE ANIMALS DON’T A GREAT SOUMAK MAKE
Another comparison Michael Wendorf, aka Mr Mambo, squeeked about was between a soumak bag in a Hermann catalog
and one that is now on loan to the Weaving Art Museum and pictured in the soumak exhibition.
Weaving Art Museum
The hermann example was purchased about 15 years ago by an American wife/husband collector team, aka the 'rugniks', and presumably is still in their 'collection'.
For us it is 'sensational' but lacks real connection to the tradition.
It is a pastiche.
While the other bag is far more quiet and subdued, - it's design doesn't scream "look at me" but rather seduces the viewer's attention gradually. It is, in a manner of speaking the prototype of the herrmann piece.
After a few minutes of looking at herrmann's you've seen it all, while the longer the Weaving Art Museum(WAMRI) example is studied, the more interesting and evocative it becomes.
Check this out for yourself.
Let's examine several details of these soumaks that prove my point but before doing this let me state the following as I have examined both bags.
They both have exceptional coloration - the broad green main border of the 'rugnik' bag is exceptional - but the WAMRI soumak has a broader range of colors - light blue, the same green, pumkin orange, crisp yellow - which are not apparent in the photos seen here.
Plus its color balance doesn’t overpower the design, as is the case in the ‘rugnik' piece, which by the way has a number of other deficiencies.
One place to look for clues to prove the 'rugnik' bag is a later copy and the WAMRI example was its prototype is in the medallions, which though they appear the 'same' actually aren't.
The WAMRI medallion is an eight pointed one, made by placing a square within a square at a 90 degree angle, with perfect proportions that are hypnotic.
While the 'rugnik' bag's simplified rectangular one barely hints at this feature and the loss of visual power is clearly the result..
Also the medallion's positioning likewise fails in comparison to the other bag's proportions, especially in regard to its medallion's position that has the effect of focusing the viewer's attention towards and into the medallion.
This again is lacking in the other piece
The borders that frame the medallions are different, the 'rugnik's a simple zig-zag compared to the more complex motif and wider border on the WAMRI piece. This feature again focuses attention into the center of the design.
Notice the elements inside the 'rugnik' medallion are all somewhat squashed – they are not nearly as distinct and potent as those in the WAMRI piece.
But the differences in the 4 small medallions that surround the central one says it all. Those in the 'rugnik' bag are a pastiche of design that RK personally finds gross and out of place while the WAMRI ones are traditional, complex and definitely an integral part of the design.
Actually the others were assembled from the WAMRI ones.
We could go on but this is a boring exercise as the rugnik bag will, we are sure no matter what we demonstrate, appeal to most novices as the more interesting, ie. better, of the two. However anyone who is well versed in the traditional weaving cultures of the Caucasus will have little doubt the WAMRI bag is far superior.
Those cutesy animals in the border of the rugnik bag are flash and naively, aka amateurishly, rendered and the four small medallions above and below the central one are likewise amorphous, meaningless patterns devoid of iconography or history. This bag tries to hard but in the end says nothing.
On the other hand the WAMRI soumak epitomizes the art of soumak - it is perfect both in it conception, execution and most important, its connection to a viable historical continuum.
Just one last comment: the minor borders on the rugnik bag are a simple zig-zag but on the WAMRI example a unique and complex motif has been used. Remember complexity that is contrived is meaningless but when it is brilliant in its execution, like it is here, it adds another layer of dimension that can be appreciated even by those whose eyes are untrained but open.
Comparing the ex-Herrmann khorjin with the one offered in that rag hali 191 many of the same deficiencies can be leveled at the latter compared to the former. The most obvious, and perhaps salient, is the elongated overall proportions, as well as those of all the individual elements compared to the square and ‘chunkier’ ones the ex-Herrmann khorjin displays. This is quite significant and if there are any rules in evaluating Near Eastern weavings it is square and round is far better than elongated and vertically compressed.
There is absolutely no doubt the hazara gallery soumak is a later copy of the Herrmann bag. But the 64,000$ question is how much later. Although RK does not believe it is a recent fake, frankly we would not be surprised if this was our opinion after a careful hand’s on analysis.
So until that happens let’s date it second half of the 19th century and the ex-Herrmann example some decades earlier in the first half 19th century.
While judging colors or their vibrancy with any assurances of accuracy is impossible from digital photos it can nevertheless be positively stated the ex-Herrmann bag looks better thanks to a more varied color palette that includes clear yellow and light blue, both absent from the hazara bag.
Both are deficient in proportions – the ex-Herrmann soumak a bit squashed on the vertical and the hazara gallery example more than a bit too elongated on the vertrical axis. But better the slight compression of the ex-Hermann bag's proportions than the others slightly geeky, too long and narrow ones.
The rest of the comments we made it 2002 are still valid, and compared to the Weaving Art Museum khorjin we illustrated the faults and inabilities of the ex-Herrmann and now its later relative, the hazara gallery examples demonstrate. Stepping up to the plate and swinging that hefty 37,500 dollar bat and buying hazara’s bag can be seen in two ways. Either someone paid too much or the buyer of the ex-Herrmann khorjin got a good deal. Either one is misleading, as that khorjin ain’t no champion. However, it is in a league above the hazara gallery example and perhaps its price, and not the rudnick auction price of $33,500, is just part of a quickly rising price level rare soumak bags will continue to experience.
RK suggest players be very careful where and on what they splurge out on, as clearly the hazara gallery khorjin is deeply overshadowed by the ex-Herrmann bag, but more significantly by other soumak khorjins that are earlier and have iconography that is far more genuine, alluring and evocative.
P.S: According to our source who spoke directly to muhamad zavvar, the owner of hazara gallery, the soumak he advertised was immediately sold for $37,500.
That said, believing anything zavvar says is difficult when one considers his well publicized two, yes two, going out of business auction sales. Needless to say he is still in business --- guess he did not make enough from those sales to go out of buiness. Ha Ha, what a joke, typical for rugDUMB where duplicity passes for honesty and truth is the rarest commodity.