Like the European auction houses and other ones on this side of the Atlantic, Sotheby is also having trouble acquiring exemplary rugs and carpets for their sales. However, compared to the rest, they have the best on offer once again. That said, in RK.com’s opinion, this sale is nothing to shout about nor to make a trip farther than a comfortable drive from one’s abode.
Their sale is a pretty large one, 268 lots in toto, the overwhelming majority “decorative” pieces.
For many years now Sotheby has split up the sale into a morning and afternoon session. The former for the ‘collectible’ and the later for ‘decorative’ and this auction remains in that mold. With only 75 out of the 268 pieces in the collectible part, and many of those really nothing more than trumped up ‘decorative’ examples anyway, one could rightly say paucity of the types of weavings that make collectors hearts beat faster (and palms get sweaty) here mirrors the state of affairs at auction lately.
Ok let’s take a peek at a few of the lots RK.com has singled out for commentary.
Lot 3, called “18th century” in the catalog entry, is far and away RK.com’s choice as the pick of the litter, especially since it comes with another embroidery fragment. Although to many the estimate might appear a bit strong for what actually amounts to perhaps only less than a quarter, and a cut and shut one at that, of one of these cross-stitched embroideries, they are one of the rare avis of the rug collecting world and we think the high end of the estimate will prevail if not be bettered.
The articulation of the design is excellent and while not the best or the earliest of these – this is in reality a pastiche of elements found in far more archaic examples - what sotheby’s is offering is just fine with us. The colors and spirited assemblage of these elements plus the introduction of some unfamiliar ones (unfamiliar to these embroideries that is) result in a genuine sammler stuck.
Additionally the inclusion of the serrated leaf and wine cup yellow ground main border provides us with evidence this design found use in the Caucasus prior to the umpteen examples visible in so many mid and later 19th century pile carpets.
No one has yet to provenance these embroideries or date them with any certainty and RK will not attempt the challenge here and now.
As much as we like Lot 3 we have to say we dislike Lot 7, a Tekke torba. Granted the convention of having two rows of halved major gols above and below a central row of complete ones is a seldom seen feature and the major border similarly unusual. But the outcome of utilizing these rare features is naught. Why? Well just take a close look – the minor gols are compressed and flattened, the major gols hardly any better, and the coloration we believe lacks that dynamic quality Turkmen rugs are so well like for. The large stained area – probably the result of a burn or just such incredibly heavy smoke damage as to be a de facto burn, doesn’t help its likeability either
Called “mid-19th century”, we’d rather date it early 19th from the looks of things, it carries a $5-7000 estimate that we predict will never be reached.
Most of the lots carry little or no descriptive captions but here sotheby’s expert chose to attempt one.
“The design of this torba where three complete guls are flanked by half guls appears to be unusual in Tekke weavings, with two published examples being Sotheby's New York, April 12, 1996 lot 29 and Butterweck, G. et al , Antique Oriental Carpets from Austrian Collections , Vienna, 1986, pl. 109. This full and half gul pattern is found more often in torbas of the Yomud and Arabatchi tribal groups, for examples see "The Lesley and Robert Pinner Collection of Turkmen Rugs," Rippon Boswell, May 15, 2004, lot 61; Dodds, D., et al, Oriental Rugs from Atlantic Collections, Philadelphia, 1996, pls. 204 and 247; Turkmen and Antique Carpets from the Collection of Dr and Mrs Jon Thompson, Sotheby's New York, December 16, 1993, lot 49; Andrews, P. A. et al, Wie Blumen in der Wüste, Hamburg, 1993, pl. 41; Loges, W., Turkoman Tribal Rugs, London, 1980, pl. 110; Mackie, L. and Thompson, J., Turkmen Tribal Carpets and Traditions, Washington, D.C., 1980, pl. 61. The stepped-S border of the torba offered here also appears to be unusual, with both Tekkes cited here having a kochanak border design.”
In the past RK.com has inferred the experts in sotheby’s carpet department are poorly equipped for their jobs and this blotched try at rug-erudition proves the point well. In December1990 at the now infamous sale from the Tent-Band Collection – another pseudonymous guise for RK.com – the best example of a Tekke torba with this border was offered at Sotheby New York. At that time the present head of the department was its secretary (perhaps a better position for someone of her talents?) and for her, and your information, that torba’s rendition of this evocative design still today remains the best of type. Was it’s omission here only the result of amnesia?
Lot 10, a truly rare Turkmen main carpet also received another long-winded catalog wind up:
“Saryk main carpets with the octagonal Termirjin or omurga major gul as found here are rare, with only around a dozen known according to "Auction Price Guide," Hali, issue 114, p. 135. The present carpet shares Memling minor guls and a cruciform motif border with even fewer examples: see Munkacsi, Kurt and d'Heurle, David, Bigger is Better: Main Carpets of the Turkmen, (cd), 2003, pl. 2 also Christie's London, October 19, 1995 lot 461; Rippon Boswell, November 20, 1999 lot 98; Rippon Boswell, November 12, 1994, lot 103; Andrews, P.A., et al., Wie Blumen in der Wüste, Hamburg, 1993, no. 104 previously Sotheby's New York, May 30, 1987, lot 40; and Loges, Werner, Turkoman Tribal Rugs, London, 1980, pl. 24. Possibly unique to the carpet offered here is the column of complete Memling guls at each side of the field. In the examples previously cited, the guls are cut in half along the edges of the field.”
Here is a perfect example of rug book parroting without so much a any real inkling of understanding. Polly want a cracker? Come on now, hasn't almost 20 years of being around rugs in the most trafficked rug department in the world – Sotheby New York – taught her anything other than rote repetition and citing similar ones appeared here-isms?
Firstly, dating this rug as 19th century is dense but not as thick as estimating it at a dopey $5-7000. Regardless of its condition problems it is complete and, considering a decent fragment of one of these genuine Temerdjin main carpets would make that price any day, this estimate appears disingenuous. Look for a price closer to $20,000, courtesy of today’s dirt-cheap $’s.
And by the way, the inclusion of those full minor gols at the sides, as well as the halved ones at the top and bottom, is nothing Rk.com likes or believes notable. In fact, this and the somewhat ungenerous spacing are both signs this main carpet is at the end of the continuum for this design. All in all though, it’s still a major trophy and one RK.com is sure a number of rug hunters with pouches full of ammo, i.e. strong checkbooks, will vie for.
The only aspect of Lot 13’s catalog entry we’d countenance is the proper estimate it carries - $3-5000, although we might wager it might just squeak by the low end at best. Mediocre Turkish rugs, and heavily damaged ones at that, rarely do well at auction and this lot typifies what we are saying about quality. We find the drawing above the double arches – which are also ungainly – insipid and highly conventional, they seriously lack depth and artistry. The cartouche main border is no better and the repetitious manor border equally boring. Who ever dated this rug 18th century, let alone late 17th, needs some help, as RK.com would date it no earlier than circa 1800.
Lot 31 is another soumak bag with what has become known as the ‘cross design’ and in common with the plethora of similar example to recently come up for auction, and for sale privately, has little to offer. These examples display nothing more than a two-dimensional rendering of this rare design and this one follows suit.
We have already discussed these bags here in other threads on RK.com’s discussion board. With commentary to prove their lack of merit and having published for comparison the one we feel is the prototype, we’d suggest new readers, or those with short memories, search them out.
This bag carries a $5-7000 estimate that we are sure will not be realized sale-day. And as the late 19th century date? We wouldn’t be too surprised if it is, in reality, late 20th or early 21st after we see it in the flesh in the coming days.
The catalog caption tells readers this Borjalu Kazak, Lot 35 is “extensively rewoven and replied” but doesn’t say why it carries the ridiculous estimate of $20-30,000. There is not one feature Rk.com likes and we would not be surprised to learn what we see here more the result of recent rug restoration than original intent. Maybe some poor bloke with an uneducated and all too eager decorator/advisor will end up buying it against the reserve. This wouldn’t be the first time, or the last, the new car psychosis – buy it and after getting it home find its value greatly diminished – was in play at a rug auction. Caveat emptor.
Examples of the deficiencies of sotheby’s rug cataloging abound and this lot, number 46, just another one. How in this day of oft-times overblown admiration for Kurdish rugs, which is due not only jim burns and his recent publication, anyone who calls themselves rug-knowledgeable could call this long rug anything other than Kurdish or the ubiquitous NWP (north-west Persian) is beyond us. But hanging the tired and worn-out moniker trans-Caucasian on it is truly imbecilic.
The catalog entry does recognize its probable age, early 19th century, we’d have preferred circa 1800 or earlier. But the $10-15,000 estimate is unrecognizable in our eyes and we feel will prove unreachable on 12/6.
Well, that’s it for Part I of our pre-sale review. Stay tuned for Part II soon.