The carpet world is, in miniature, a faithful reflection of the larger human tide: scoundrels and geniuses, dilettantes and schemers, aesthetes and hoarders. This observation was relevant upon a recent appearance in the N.Y. trade of what hopefully, and erroneously was thought to be an important period carpet.
First in a poor, perspective cell phone photo, then shortly afterward in the flesh, the rug superficially appeared to be a 16th-17th century piece of Persian Safavid or Indian Mughal origin. What it was, however, was a not so clever interpretive copy, now raised to the dubious level of a fake.
About 6 1/2′ x 10′ in size, a quick look at the back revealed a very uniform, very worn look. The latter could only be produced by a careful sandful of the exposed knot nodes of the almost wholly depressed warp weave. The shortcut fringe had a high ply count, very uniform and India late 19c looking. It did not look Persian of the 16th century.
The border was giveaway: pairs of Peris (Persian angels) on a blue ground. It was a direct copy of the Safavid silk hunting carpet in Vienna. Made for shah Tahmasp about 1535 (before 1546 certainly) in Kashan and possibly designed by the esteemed miniaturist Sultan Muhammed No other period carpet from anywhere has this border. The prototype was first published in 1892 and hence, this piece cannot be earlier. Probably slightly later.
The red filled displays a jungle and animal scene in a Mughal style of c.1595. The ground color was not deeply corroded as one would find on a lac dyed Mughal genuine piece. The pattern overall was a pastiche, a (not so) clever combination of authentic earlier designs.
The old and genuine repairs may have misled the vendor, but probably his imagination got the best of him. The price was reasonable, all too reasonable if the rug was authentic, but confiscatory for a not too attractive late 19th century Indo in rough shape. Probably British manufacturer, it was a pre-O.C.M creation. The carpet had been sent to a well known and knowledgeable collector who promptly recognized its true nature and returned it. The piece later appeared uptown with a major carpet gallery and the proprietor was enthusiastic when showing it off to the author. He had to be gently deflated. It needs to be sold as a decorative rug in period style for an inappropriate price: a red and blue old looking rug to be used and used up.
Who in the cast of characters are the vendor,the collector, the potential buyer, other shadowy enablers?
The trend toward the uncovered un-carpeted floor has gathered steam in the last few years. Even a brief perusal of the decorator magazines reveals rug-less interiors, This the culmination (nadir?) of certain gathering tendencies.
One is historical ignorance. Modern Contemporary design has been with us for at least two entire generations and increasingly many people have grown up knowing no other. Once a part of a liberal education included knowledge of traditional architecture, art, and design. At least in general terms, people actually knew about the history of these things and they mattered to them. Now Warhol is an old master, ornament-less buildings are the norm and design starts after 1950. How do traditional antique rugs fit into this? They actually, do, but few give them the chance.
Another baleful vector is that forward light, clean, uncluttered interiors. Most rugs are too visually heavy, too fuzzy, too busy, and finicky. The saturated red/blue palette of many orientals is too concentrated for the spaces. And the rug is not permitted to compete with the wall art. Carpets with character get banished. The only knotted pieces left are Moroccans, monochromes, or modern borderless creations.
A third trend is that toward abstraction. Rugs just look too representational, especially Persian, urban creations. Moroccans, Gabbehs and Dhurries, with their broad expanses of solid color and wholly abstract, geometric character are the current ways to go.
Fourth is just plain rebelliousness. The classic oriental is a parental or grandparental possession signifying good, non-adventurous taste. Thus it cannot be au courant. No matter that rehabbed brownstones require their carpets, their owners are only a small part of the market. Of course, certain interiors are traditional enough to utilize orientals to good advantage.
So what does this portend for the market as a whole? To secure these new clienteles, importers of new rugs have abolished borders, mixed pile materials, and gone to abstract, often overall, patterns. Although they are still hand knotted, they are not what used to be seen as an oriental rug. They have little or no resale value.
In brief, and it will be expanded in a later blog, it means the effective end of the middle market. Dealers in these goods, and the number is shrinking, face a choice, either upgrade to a market of the 1%, or embrace new goods in a variety of non-traditional
No, your carpet is not worth $30,000,000. No, your carpet is not worth $3,000,000. And no, your carpet is almost certainly not worth $300,000. $30,000 might be more like it. The antique carpet trade was hoping, quite irrationally, that the sale of the Clark Collection of Important Carpets, at Sotheby’s, New York on the 5th of June, 2013, with its star performer the Sickle Leaf Carpet, Kirman, c. 1600 from the Corcoran Gallery, Washington, D.C., would focus attention on oriental carpets as a significant art form, with prices to match…
What happened was that a masterpiece was sold, along with a number of other truly extraordinary pieces. The lead piece was one of the most famous, most acclaimed, most published carpets (on any piece of Islamic art) in the world. Your rug is not any of the above. There is no rising tide, just a once-in-a-lifetime one off storm surge and so your boat is not getting a lift.
A rising tide, if it exists, is solely confined to the relative handful of ultra rare classic period carpets of Persia, India, and Turkey in impeccable condition with spectacular colors and superb technique. To this elite grouping may be added a handful of collector pieces, for example the 18th century Salor Ergsi sold at Grogan’s recently for about $250,000. You don’t have one of these either. The sale of a late 17th century Mughal Pashmina Carpet for about $8,000,000 is another example. This carpet is published, famous, has a serious auction history, and like the Clark piece, a solid gold Gilded Age prominence (ex- Vanderbilt NYC). Both Clark and Vanderbilt carpets are going to the Islamic Art Museum in Doha, Qatar. Your carpet will not be going there, ever.
The carpets presently in the trade are governed by wholly different criteria, even the general run of collectible ones. For decorative carpets, remember that they form part of larger ensembles, and are never the drivers of them. We will discuss design trade in our next blog, but remember that floors have gotten barer and less important overall in the last few decades, and a high ticket sale of the rarest of the rare is irrelevant to that trend. Such pieces are in a parallel universe to those which might be considered by a designer today.
Watch this site for our next commentary on the state of the rug world, coming up before you know it!