This spring another antique oriental rug was written into the history books as the most expensive ever sold – this will be the third record-breaking auction in as many years.
If you have read our other articles on this subject, you are familiar with the Doris Duke Isfahan that sold for $4.45 million in 2008 and the Pearl Carpet of Baroda that sold for $5.46 million in 2009.
The most recent sale was of a Kerman vase carpet offered by Christie’s auction house on April 15, 2010, which realized a final price of $9.4 million dollars (including fees and taxes). Referred to as the Comtesse de Behague Vase Carpet, this Persian rug is dated to the mid-17th century. While the rug does not feature the traditional vase pattern, it is being called a vase carpet due the similarity between its appearance and the appearance of other “vase” carpets. This rug, like the Doris Duke Isfahan, was featured in Arthur Upham Pope’s epic Survey of Persian Art, c.1930 (plate 1232).
After the death of Martine Marie Pol, the Comtesse de Behague, in 1939, the rug remained in her family for many years. An unconfirmed report states that the rug was acquired inexpensively by an experienced international dealer at a small Augsburg, Germany auction. This dealer is believed to have then subsequently consigned the rug to Christie’s. There were seven international bidders in total – one in the room and six on the telephone; only one museum participated. At the end, it was a match between two phone bidders that resulted in the record setting sale, blowing away a conservatively estimated $303,000-$456,000 that the rug was expected to fetch. The $9.4 million sale price made this Kerman rug not only the most expensive rug sold to-date, but also the most expensive piece of Islamic art ever auctioned.
The rug is 5’0” x 11’1”, and its condition was described by Christie’s as “outstanding” with a few small repairs at its center and corrosion of the black areas. (Corrosion occurs in certain color areas due to metal deposits left in the wool from the dye used to color it.) Some observers have described the design of this carpet as a prototype for the Herati motif with it’s four curling, serrated leaves surrounding a rosette connected by vines: the pattern repeats across the rug on a relatively large scale. The leaves are rendered in a variety of colors, including black (which is somewhat rare), upon a vibrant, medium blue background. Kerman, Iran is a major weaving center in the south-eastern part of the country. Kerman rugs are distinctive in their use of pattern and color.
As auction buyers often remain anonymous for some time after the gavel falls, there has been speculation that recent buyers of valuable oriental rugs are from Eastern countries, making their purchases with the intention of bringing art items of historical significance back to their origins. In this down economy, soaring prices for certain art items and artifacts may also be correlated to investors’ desire to put their money towards the purchase of assets with tangible, stable – if not increasing – value.