Home > Archive >sotheby's London Spring Sale
email: jc@rugkazbah.com
Tue, Aug 2nd, 2005 12:47:45 PM
Topic: sotheby's London Spring Sale

For the last year or two few really early Turkmen, Turkish or Caucasian rugs have come into the market place regardless of the rising prices they now command.

RK.com has watched this situation brew and since we are an active buyer of such weavings our statement reflects both self-interest as well as a journalistic one.

This paucity of circa 1800 and earlier rugs, bags and various other trappings is the result of many factors – the increased number of buyers and the dwindling pool of undiscovered and unrecognized examples sleeping away in attics, basements, trunks and being used on the floor in old homes - the two most significant.

We have many contacts -- from junk dealers who clean out houses, to antique dealers, to auction houses, etc – and this year (2005) has so far been the worst ever.

Will it get better? Is this a temporary lull and will we pass thru this lack of new and fresh material?

RK.com believes no, it won’t.

The only ray of hope is the aging population of rug collectors and the good chance pieces in their collections will begin to change hands in the near future.

That said, let us remark many of these “collections” are basically accumulations where most of the pieces are mid-late 19th century with few if any really early ones.

Although many hate to admit it sotheby’s rug auctions are a great judge of what is happening supply wise and what is in store for the future.

Their latest effort, which will be a sale in London on April 27, well reflects this declining supply situation as a leaf thru the catalog readily demonstrates.

After doing just that, RK found only one lot of interest and worth picturing:

Here is the catalog description:
Lot 64
12,000—18,000 GBP
mounted, the fragment approximately 33.5 by 12cm., 1ft. 1in. by 4in.
7th - 8th century
in weft –faced polychrome compound twill, in natural ivory (darkened), pale red, blue and green, with a repeating design of a roundel laid against a lobed wreath enclosing stylised flower heads, and enclosing a pair of confronting mandarin ducks supported on a split leaf motif
Many silk textile fragments with roundel designs have been found along the Silk Road; they were popular during the Sui to Tang dynasties (c.6th – 9th centuries AD) and examples have been found in almost all the archaeological sites from this period. One of the principle centres for silk production was Zandane, near Bokhara in Sogdiana; the Sogdians traded extensively along the Silk Road and examples of their silks have been found in both the Northwestern Caucasus (at the burial site of Moscevaja Balka) and in sites in northwest China, such as Astana.
The lot offered here is most probably of Sogdian manufacture; related examples are illustrated in Professor Zhao Feng’s article Silk Roundels from the Sui to the Tang, Hali, Issue 92, 1997, pp.80-85, see Figs.4&4a and 8, p.82, both of which include representations of Mandarin Ducks and were therefore most probably intended for the Chinese market. For further discussion of this group of silks, please see Hali, ibid."
(ed. end of catalog description)

These archaeological silk textiles have had a recent bout of interest over the past decade with several major museums and a few private collectors vying to own them. Of late more and more of them are hitting the marketplace, a fact which is making many of these buyers a bit uneasy. Increased supply is always an anathema and, unless one buys only the best, as the supply increases it invariably makes earlier purchases, often done at much higher prices, seem foolhardy and errors.

RK does not pretend to be an expert in this area, however, we have followed it for years and even owned several of these weavings. From our vantage point the market for these silk cloths is on the down and Sotheby’s estimate of 12-18,000BP reflects this fact.

Color is, obviously, very important as many of these cloths have suffered various degrees of color loss because they were used as burial goods and, as such, exhibit the characteristics of many archaeologically found weavings.

It is hard to tell from the photos how well the colors in lot 64 have stood the test of time but the sale result will surely be determined by their brilliance or lack thereof.

While the condition of the cloth and the size of what remains are surely quite acceptable, we find the draftsmanship somewhat stiff, simplistic and stodgy compared to some others we consider to be masterpieces. This one is not in their class by any means.

We also are not wild about the proportions nor the ojival, rather than round, shape of the medallions in which the two ducks are playing kissy-face.

All that said, it still is the best piece in sotheby’s London spring sale. The rest of the goods on offer not providing anything other than a sleepy ho-hum at best.

In closing, if sothebys can’t mount a better sale rest assured the rest of the auction houses will probably do even worse and what has become a sellers market for good early pieces will continue unabated.

Author: jc
Sat, Apr 30th, 2005 12:56:06 PM

Reading the hali post-sale review made RK feel like rip van winkle, or maybe even his ghost.

The gushing praise that slobbered off their website for the "caucasian rugs" they characterized as high quality almost made us incontinent.

Jeezzz, haven't they ever seen real "high quality" Caucasian rugs?

Those at sothebys were, at best, late -post 1860 - factory produced genre copies that had about as much punch and power as the dud of a rug dodds sold to LACMA. The only difference here being those at sothebys were sorta bargains compared with the exorbitant price dodds extracted.

Not one of the Kazaks they mention, and pictured on their website, was anything other than a high class furnishing rug - no collector value or interest there, folks.

Reading almost anything in hali requires the reader to not only have the proverbial salt shaker in hand but, in our estimation, have one in each hand.

It's one thing to look for the best in any situation but, in doing so, to be blinded to the facts, especially when it come to reporting, is not only questionable it is down-right bogus.

Author: jc
Tue, Apr 19th, 2005 12:22:47 AM

From the timing it would appear hali is a day late and a dollar short with an online review/preview of the Sotheby London Spring Sale. Whoops better make that two dollars with our incredible shrinking greenback.

While schaeffer, a man who has trouble walking or driving past any McDonalds or Wimpy Bar, did devote more wordage to his review than we did ours he concluded the same thing, i.e. no great shakes in this sale.

Just for grins we decided to post some of his happy face hyping with our less compromised comments to follow in italics.

“The end of April brings the London sales, with Spring in the air, and Passover imminent (never a date to be cavalierly ignored when scheduling oriental carpet sales).”
Does schaeffer really believe this belongs in any review of a rug sale? Who’s he pandering to now? Does anyone know the new collector or dealer, who won’t be seen without his yarmulke, danny-oh is wooing? Yeesshhh and we thought only American media was obsequious to the Likuds.

“The London rug auction market, particularly for collectors' rugs, has been dominated by William Robinson's carpet department at Christie's for several years now, while Sotheby's has been in the wars with frequent changes of personnel, venue and marketing strategy. Bonhams (which consumed Phillips almost four years ago) has made little impact on the overall balance, and Christie's South Kensington, at least for rugs, remains a lower-end law unto itself. CSK also remains a good place to shop for antique textiles.”
Guess Christies take more ad space than sothebys, huh?

“This time, however, it seems that old-hand Jacqueline Coulter at Sotheby's, in the first sale that really has her stamp on it since her return from sothebys.com, may have done something towards redressing the balance on Wednesday 27th April, both through the adoption of a clever marketing device in the catalogue, teasing potential buyers with pictures of several of the lots as they might look in a fashionably minimal interior setting, and, more importantly, by securing the consignment of one or more unnamed private collections of very good, mainly 19th century, Caucasian, Persian and Turkmen tribal and village rugs and Central Asian embroideries.”
Whew, that’s quite a run on sentence. We didn’t know schaeffer had such stamina, he sure looks like he couldn’t take two deep breaths in 10 seconds without passing out.

“While not all are new to the market, many have been effectively out of circulation for some time. And some carry estimates that look to be a bit on the high side (especially when converted to dollars with premiums added), as they tend to throughout the SLO catalogue, but if quality and authenticity are any kind of passport to success, the basic ingredients are there.”
Hey hali, run that by us once more. Please tell us how rugs that were run through auction a few years ago can now be described as having “quality and authenticity” when they re-appear? That’s the dubious and mostly mendacious myth all auction houses, especially sothebys, thrive on.

No, Dorothy, buying something at sothebys, or any other auction for that matter, does not guarantee anything other than, at best, the few words in bold type that are written in the first sentence describing the lot up for sale. Notice if you will, dear readers, what they guarantee and then what they ‘say’. Talk is cheap and any auction catalog, not only sothebys, is chock full of it.

So schaeffer’s lap dog comment is basically no better or informative than what you’ll see in the average EBAY listing. So much for his laughable “quality and authenticity” mini-spiel.

Moving on to Christies, which has even less for anyone even mildly collector-oriented, schaeffer can’t help but pump what little King Street has in the tangled mass of over three hundred lots of commercial goods they will sell.
“Christie's sale on Thursday 28th, by contrast, is distinguished more by its daunting size (316 lots) than by many truly memorable pieces, other than a recognisable parcel of carpets consigned by, or at least associated with, the Swedish dealer Peter Willborg. The sale is undoubtedly extremely efficiently commercial, with plenty of sensibly estimated carpets for (and from) the trade, but with less of direct interest to collectors.”

Breezing through the Bonham’s sale, hali comments on the fake watercolor “cards” sold some time ago. Thanks for telling us something everyone already knows, boys. But why didn’t y’all tell us then instead of now years later?
“At Bonhams on Tuesday 26th, the most curious consignment is a set of more than a hundred Jaipur Palace crested invitation cards of the 19th century, with watercolour images of carpets from the Amber Collection (lot 2, £8-10,000), similar to a smaller set sold for a substantial sum of money in the same rooms in October 2001. Last time around it emerged after the sale that there were well-justified doubts as to the whether the cards and the paintings on them were contemporaneous: it now seems most likely that the paintings postdate the actual cards by a considerable time, perhaps a century or more (HALI 122, pp.106-7). This time Bonhams have sensibly attributed the cards, which are certainly collectable in their own right, to any time in the 20th century, but it does make the estimate look pretty steep.”

“What follows is a rapid survey, by no means comprehensive or even-handed, of some potentially interesting lots to look out for during the sales.”
When ever has or is hali’s reportage even-handed?? A better description would be advert-glad-handed, as in good advertising guarantees favorable, if not gushing, editorial and other commentary.

“One caveat: we have not yet seen any of the carpets, rugs or textiles in the flesh, so the selection is based only on the published images in the sales catalogues received at the time of writing. With the predominance of cheap digital images over expensive film, these run the gamut of colour variance from lurid to dingy, and often lack clarity.”
As for their caveat? RK.com can’t allow this to pass unheeded or unchallenged. First off, we doubt schaeffer can tell the difference whether on film, as digital bytes or in the flesh. For instance, the hali review pictures the following piece:

with this caption description:
“Rare green-ground single column 'tree' Kazak, Caucasus, circa 1880”

RK has never liked the ubiquitous circa 1880 description when applied to rugs that lack synthetic dyes, or even one as is the case here. We have seen literally hundreds of so-called circa 1880 ‘kazak’ rugs at auction over the past 25 or so years. Fact is sothebys has been the place where more of them, and more regularly than elsewhere, show up.

We don’t like the look of this one and would bet even money it’s not 120 or so years old.

Is it a new “fake”? Send it to NY and we’ll be glad to offer a free appraisal, but don’t expect us to show up anytime soon on NB street.

The hali reviewer, so far we have presumed danny schaeffer is the droll scrivener who penned it, then swallows the late 18th/early 19th century guesstimate placed on this Saryk main carpet coming up for sale at Christies:

We don’t like the look of this lot either but believe it to be more genuine than the ‘tree-kazak’ picture above.

Ok, you might ask, what don’t we like about the Saryk?

Where should we start?

The secondary gols are late to the max and belong on an Afgani not a circa 1800 Turkmen MC. The almost rectangular, rather than circular, main gols are another tipoff it is a late piece. The rote and stiff drawing of the main gol interiors are others. Then there are the all too wide guard borders.

How’s that for starters?

Needless to say this is not an early or classic period circa 1800 Saryk Main Carpet, as the yes-man reviewer marching in step with Christie’s fairy-tale dating wants you to believe.

This MC is not even early 19th century, try circa 1875 in our opinion, it’s nothing more than another late genre copy - this time done by Turkmen weavers. Maybe even the descendants of those who produced the 100 years older plus examples this one wants to be?

Again, if you fly it here, we’ll tell all.

But for now we believe our position about this rug and the ‘tree-kazak’ will prove to be correct, otherwise we wouldn’t take the chance to be proven wrong.

Check it out yourselves and write on in here afterwards.

The review/preview goes on to mention a few of the lots now called “classical”, all of which we chose to ignore and still will.

However, we will mention their seeing rondels surrounding those smooching duckies on sotheby’s silk samite brocade where we saw ogives. Errors like this, subtle but telling, are to be expected from the amateur-hour eye schaeffer wields, or should we say blinks? Regardless, it is an important point even dull danny-boy should have noticed, let alone discussed.

There are other clues, like the color palette, pointing to the conclusions we reached about this textile.

“Older Turkish rugs include a fairly worn but unusual 17th century 'Transylvanian' double-niche floral rug with both field and border on a yellow ground (SLO, lot 47, £15-20,000)…”
We don't agree it can be called ‘unusual’, there is nothing unusual about it other than the fact it is a "late genre copy". This rug is but another, at best, 19th century copy of an earlier form that first appears in a quite specific group of mid to late17th Transylvanian rugs. This one, most likely from the Kula-area, shouldn’t raise anyone's bloodpressure besides those getting paid to advertise or to sell it. To call it stiff is being kind.

We’d like to see it in a photo in one of those posh decorator magazines next to a large, old marble bath-tub with cast-iron claw feet – it would make a lovely addition to any classy bathroom.

So now please, hali, tell us are these lots we mention examples of the “quality and authenticity” you were just squawking about?

The review/preview then drums on from there referring to some pieces up for sale as “old friends”, while not bothering to question why their recent, investor oriented, owners are selling (dumping?) them.

It even refers to the Saryk Main Carpet as “posh”. However, this is one of the best observations schaeffer and company have madein their reviewing these sales. Though, sadly for them, they did it by shooting themselves in the foot because the term “posh” does not exactly fit with late 18th century Turkmen rugs.

Late 19th century Turkmen weaving, the more likely date for likes this Saryk MC, are posh. But that’s all they are – as they lack the brilliant proportions, draftsmanship and coloration earlier, classic period (pre-circa1800), always Turkmen Rugs possess.

Described by one former pundit as “Brooding”, we’d prefer mysterious, using “posh” in connection with any genuinely early Turkmen rug is a major contradiction in terms. In this case, it demonstrates how little expertise (or is it honesty?) the hali reviewer brings to the table.

And by the way, the noble provenance this rug carries has about as much value as the hali’s opinion it is “…well-drawn,(and) well-spaced,…”. It is neither, that is unless you are paid to write hype or believe what someone else's. or your own, dead-eyed rug-sight might tell you.

We’d bet in schaeffer’s case it’s 50/50.

That’s about enough for this go-round but please don’t forget:
caveat emptor.
Not only when buying at auction but also when you are reading hali.

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