A major rug event in New York will be Christie’s November 24th auction – 500 years Decorative Arts Europe – . An amazing group of carpets from the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington is included…among them are fifteen 17th c Isfahan carpets with early provenance from Italian dukes , English lords, a Portuguese prince, later in the collection of a United States Senator from Montana, William Andrews Clark.
The catalogue’s introduction says this is the largest group of classical Isfahan carpets to appear on the auction market in recent history. These stunning carpets of finely knotted wool and silk stand at the pinnacle of Safavid carpet weaving. During the reign of Shah Abbas Isfahan became the capital of Persia and the royal manufactories established there produced carpets for the Persian nobility , for export and for diplomatic gifts.
A number of these were collected by Senator William Andrews Clark in the early 1900s and many were installed on the walls of his Fifth Avenue mansion, presenting them as great works of art.
Those of us who attended ARTS in San Francisco in October and who were fortunate to see Jim Dixon’s home built in Sonoma County to his own design specifically to house his carpet collection had perhaps a similar experience. There at Mr. Dixon’s the beauty of his antique and classical carpets hung border to border in room after room, level after level, was an unforgettable experience.
The Clark collection was donated to the Corcoran after Clark’s death in 1925.These carpets, most of which are considered to be “’in a wonderful state of preservation”, have been written about extensively by Richard Ettinghausen, Kurt Erdmann, M.S. Dimand and Jean Mailey. Some were shown in exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1910.
The major dealer redited with the sale of many of these Isfahan carpets to Senator Clark, Vitall Benguiat, had a large collection himself. Clark gifted many of the European decorative arts in this auction to the Corcoran Gallery as well as the Isfahans and other carpets.
Woven in wool and silk most have clear claret floral filled central fields and wide vivid palmette figured borders. One with a camel field and a “Polonaise” with a pale field are exceptions. Most, perhaps all are in fine condition. #30 for sale at Christie’s is shown here (above). This is a rare “strapwork” carpet, an Isfahan subgroup of which apparently only seven are known. The beautiful dark blue vinery entwining the motifs creates the “strapwork”. The estimate for this carpet is $30-50,000. The estimates on the Isfahans range from bottom of $15,000 to top of $120,000 (#31: 22’ long has a deep emerald bracketed leaf border).
Other impressive carpets in the catalogue are a charming ivory field red arabesque Bidjar, a number of stately Heriz, south Caucasian runners including a pretty Seychour. All of these seem to be priced modestly; some are not from the Clark donation.
The carpets are on exhibit starting November 20th.
Valerie Justin, Sag Harbor NY, November 8, 2009