Christie’s has a pant-load of Turkish rugs, most of them in the ho-hum department; however, there are a few which deserve mention. Before doing that let me further open that can of worms, which is perhaps the greatest “problem” on the rug scene today - new reproductions masquerading as old. The asmalyk is not the only suspicious piece, lot 208 described in the catalog as a “Borjalu”(a specific type of Kazak rug) is, in my opinion, equally dubious. Here is the photo:
By dating it circa 1870 and giving it a 2-3,000 pound reserve the cataloguer is, I believe, signaling something that shouldn’t fill any possible purchaser with confidence. Mainly a rug of this size, approximately 8 feet x 4 feet, in the claimed excellent condition mentioned in the description, would surely sell for quite a substantially higher sum were it really circa 1870. It seems obvious the cataloguer held some reservations and expressed them covertly with such a low estimate. Rk.com’s position is an unequivocal Caveat Emptor on this lot. I don’t like anything about it and here is a detail that might make these reservations somewhat more clear to those of you who have studied both Borjalu and other types of Kazak rugs:
Ok, now on to the Turkish rugs. The first lot, which is so ugly I decided not to picture it fearing it might be responsible for destroying countless monitors, is lot 23. This in name only Lotto is truly so scrubby that referring to it by such an exalted name conjures up an image, which an inferior rug of this ilk cannot possibly fulfill. Everything about it is sub-standard and the 10-15,000 pound estimate a joke that no one on sale day will even crack a smile about, let alone a hearty belly laugh. No chance for this baby and it will, I am sure, remain unsold.
Another over-estimated “Turkish” rug is lot 101 the “Cairene” rug purported to have been purchased as an Ispahan by Bernheimer’s in 1919. Here is the photo:
One wonders if the worn out tired rag on sale at Chrisitie was in that condition when ol’Otto Bernheimer picked it up in ’19? Just for the record from all the stories I have heard Otto wasn’t exactly known as a big spender when it came to rugs. In fact, all the rumors about his reputation are unanimous – he was a cheap-skate and always was motivated by price and not apparently quality. So probably Bernheimer bought it in this shape – shame he didn’t splurge out for one it great shape as wool quality and COLOR are the big attractions of these Cairene rugs – both of which are sorely lacking here. The 30-50,000 pound estimate is wishful thinking at best and RK.com predicts this tired old end of the line Cairene will not find a buyer, at least not at those prices. By the way not only is condition a drawback, the major downside for this example is its lacking the genius qualities the best examples of this group maintain – something clearly missed by Berheimer regardless of the “rose by any other name” problem calling it an Ispahan engendered.
The next rug, a Melas prayer rug that dates to the second quarter of the 19th century, is, believe it or not in my opinion, the only Turkish lot besides lot 100 worth praising. Here is the photo:
While this piece is not 18th/17th or 16th century nor does it suffer from the over-rating most of these old and boring pieces receive (especially those that have of late been hitting the auction block), it is an honest, well conceived genuine Turkish rug. What it lacks in age it makes up for in condition and sparkling draftsmanship. The treatment above the mirhab is charmingly evocative and the rare main border with unpaired different minor borders complete a very nifty package. By the way the inner of those minor borders is very reminiscent of another minor border – the one on the vance jordan Caucasian prayer rug at sothebys that was pictured and discussed in our review of that sale. All in all this unprepossessing Melas rug’s 2-3,000 pound estimate is extremely reasonable, considering most of Christie’s other lots that have been mentioned here, and we expect to see it sell well above the estimate. That is, providing those in attendance have had their second cup of coffee and don’t have to run out of the saleroom to feed their greedy central London parking meters just as the auctioneer’s hammer is descending. Before leaving this lot let me get in the following statement- the uncharacteristic treatment of the main border as well as the apparent coarsness of weave are both causes for concern. If this Melas also turned out to be a repro, I wouldn't be too surprised as the more I look at it the greater the more questions about its veracity come to the fore.
Compared to the visual charm the Melas exudes the next lot, number 134, another of these “supposed” Karapinars I perennially question, should rightly be called nothing more than a boorish relative. Here is the photo:
Granted it is older, probably late 18th/early 19th century, but no where near the 17th century date the cataloguer’s longwinded spiel tries so pathetically hard to convince us it is. Well, sir/madam cataloguer, sorry but your dating just ain’t so and your distorted reference to its “great control of a curved line” is so oblique and pointless one wonders if you wrote that about the rug in question or just from your imagination of it?
I do trust your calling this provincial copy of a 16th/17th classic Ushak long rug a masterpiece as you did was only disingenuous for if you really believe what you wrote then you are in even deeper trouble, as that would raise questions about your level of rug knowledge and credentials to review even an average eBay offering let alone a major rug sale. Lastly your comment “The technical virtuosity of the weave employed to create this rug is exceptional for an Anatolian village rug” is so foolish it needs no further commentary but the 18-25,000 pounds estimate you placed on it does. Did you think your description is powerful enough to convince a buyer or two to blindly throw their checkbooks towards to podium after hearing your words echo in the vast reaches of their empty craniums? Come on now, this late 18th/early 19th century central Anatolian village rug, made most probably near Nigde not Karapinar, is in my opinion worth only 3-5,000 pounds and that would be on a good day. Time will tell but Rk.com is sure this lead balloon of a rug will not fly on sale day—we’re sure it won’t even get off the ground.
The last Turkish rug chosen, lot 135, is another Berheimer “score” but this one was bought in 1941. Here is the photo:
Gee, you’d of thunk ol'mr Bernheimer would have learned something in the intervening 22 years from 1919 and been spending more freely to get some masterpieces. But alas, again ole cheepy Otto decided to save a few bob by buying a fragment instead of spending more and getting a complete piece. Bernheimer’s frag is good enough, in fact it is an excellent example of this type of rug and, again one wonders if Bernheimer’s choice was motivated by the price or the rugs superior quality. In any event he picked a winner here and the 4-6,000 pound estimate is reasonable for a frag like this one.
Once more I must question the cataloguer’s myopic focus on a comparison of this rug with the examples chosen. Why? Simply put because the piece that is undoubtedly the archetype of this group has been ignored. Here is a photo of that rug:
This severely fragmented 16th century north-west Persian rug is now in the collection of the Museum of Islamic Art in Berlin and illustrated in their catalog published in 1987 (ISBN 0-571-14933-2). Surprisingly enough it was acquired FROM Bernheimers in 1960 and why the cataloguer omitted it raises another flag as to question this person’s ability to properly place this rug, or perhaps any real antique rug, into the correct art-historical perspective.
As this is not Oriental Rug 101 the many similarities between lot 135 and this early, grand example of north-west Persian rug making will not be enumerated here but there are many and any astute reader should surely be able to find at least a dozen.
The origins of certain Turkish Village rugs, like this one, stretch to the max our understandings of how rug motifs and patterns were exchanged between the many disparate groups that ended up in Anatolia after the mid-15th century. An example like this one proves many points, the major one being how little we know about these rugs and how careful we must be in not taking to narrow a viewpoint in discussing them. That there are numerous design similarities connecting them is obvious, how they came to be surely isn’t.
Unlike many who study antique rugs I have always found the unknown to be far more interesting than what is “known”, mostly because the majority of what is “supposedly” known is, just that, supposed as the cataloguers comparisons for lot 135 surely demonstrates.
Christie’s sale is a good one and as it happened yesterday, the results should soon be posted. We’ll then take a look back here soon and see how these pieces, and others, did on sale day.