It’s almost springtime in New York and, on the heels of acor, sotheby’s carpet sale is happening April 2.
As usual there are a number of overpriced pseudo-collector rugs in the front part of the sale and almost twice as many larger “decorative” rugs in the back. There are no real screamers in the sale, nor are there any surprises. Well, none except some of the prices sotheby’s “experts” have hung on some of the offerings. Two of these will be mentioned below. But before briefly grunting through these couple of high hopes some favored consignors were obviously able to translate into getting silly estimates placed on their lots, there is one rug worthy of discussion and genuine interest.
Here is the photo of lot 60 ubiquitously labeled trans-caucasian by sotheby’s carpet matrons:
Their description doesn’t do much better at placing this rug in any type of historical or artistic framework than they did attributing it. Here are a few of their comments with mine added afterwards:
(SPB) “This enigmatic Trans-Caucasian weaving draws on the design pools of both Turkey and Persia, but cannot really be considered to belong to either. Therefore we must suggest an origin in the vast geographic and cultural crossroads straddling the present day borders of Turkey, Iran and the Caucasian republics.”
(JC) The only thing enigmatic about this is sotheby’s perception this rug is enigmatic. It’s surely not. The rug was undoubtedly made in NW Persia, not the Caucasus. The coloration and the border point to this area far more than they do to anything resembling a Caucasian attribution, trans or not. The medallion and 4 large “palmettes” above and below it, as well as the smaller ones placed sideways in pairs also infer a NWP origin.
Granted the main element in the border does somewhat resemble a pattern that might be considered more “Turkish” or “Caucasian” by novice eyes but, in fact, it, too, doesn’t stray far from the NPW fold either. Plus the secondary element, a white box with a cruciform, is typical for NWP and should seal this rug’s origins there.
(SPB) “The design is redolent of three well known 17th or 18th century Caucasian carpets with palmette and cloudband designs; see: Kirchheim,. E. Heinrich, Orient Stars , London, 1993, pl.78; a carpet from the Estate of the late Giuseppe Rossi , Sotheby's London, March 10. 11 and 12, 1999, lot 1540 and The Bernheimer Family Collection of Carpets , Christie's London, February 14, 1996, lot 195. The present lot differs from these examples in several ways.”
(JC)Sorry but calling those other rugs redolent of this one is way off the mark. For starters the Kirchheim rug is completely different, lacking a medallion or similar borders. Forget about the coloration or weave, which also are way different. If the cataloguer had bright enough eyes to recognize these differences why did they bother to try and ignore them and go with the trans-caucasian provenance?
(SPB)“It has a bold central medallion whereas the others display ascending or repeating motifs. It has a wool foundation whereas the others have cotton ones. All of these carpets are dominated by bold and well-drawn cusped cloudbands whereas in this rug the cloudbands have become vestigial ribbon-like ornaments issuing from the dominant palmettes and only reasserting themselves as powerful motifs in the central medallion.”
(JC)Since these rugs are so different and the Sotheby cataloguer recognized this why then would one even bother to compare them? Guess that by dropping the names of some famous collections sothebys hoped something might rub off on their piece, huh?
(SPB) “The main border is overwhelmingly Turkic in character and relates to another palmette-design carpet from Azerbaijan in the Orient Stars Collection, see; Kirchheim (op. cit.) pl. 75.”
(JC)Again the border of the cited Kirchheim piece is not similar enough to bear the comparison and one wonders why it was even mentioned. At least the Turkic nature of the border was recognized by Sotheby, too bad they didn’t recognize it enough to call the rug Turkish, which in reality would be a whole lot closer than trans-caucasian.
(SPB) “The design prototype of this particular carpet appears to be an early 16th century Tabriz medallion carpet in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris illustrated in Pope, A. U., A Survey of Persian Art , Oxford, 1938, pl. 1155.”
(JC)Tabriz? Right on, finally they got it. For not only does the design prototype come from Tabriz but most probably this rug was woven not far from there either.
Dated to the 18th century by Sotheby, which appears to be correct, this rug is an interesting piece of weaving but regardless of the misattributions and gaffs in the write-up and the distressed condition a 15-20,000$ estimate is not going to be reached.
It is a worthwhile rug just not worth 15 grand or more. It will remain unsold is RK.com’s prediction unless the reserve is in the 5000$ range.
The second lot chosen for some comments is lot 62 an Anatolian village rug:
Dated to the 17th century in the catalog, another foolish attempt to heighten interest in another lesser article, this rug would be far better presented as mid-18th century. It belongs to a rather august and rare group of rugs believed to have been made in Melas but it is the runt of the liter. They all share similar wide borders with geometric palmette-like devices. Again the price guess-timate is seriously flawed and no way will this reach 25-35000$. It will be unsold is our prediction. Well, that is unless some internet millionaire’s decorator wants it to put in front of that marble fireplace she found for his study.
The third piece, lot 69 is a nice, mid-19th century Karagashli small rug:
There’s not much there to make one eye’s bulge except the price estimate, 30-50,000$. Who are these folks at sotheby trying to kid?
In the fall sale a similarly good looking chichi prayer rug made 50,000$ because two bidders threw caution to the wind and hopped on board the I Gotta Have It express train. Does SPB think the same two bigtime spenders will butt heads again? If so then maybe all these folks, those at SPB included, are spending too much time with their heads up their butts?
The rest of the catalog offerings are either not interesting enough to bother with or are just more of the same over estimated and dated piles of wool. But they are, in the end, just so to a lesser degree than the three instances mentioned above.