Why An Antique Decorative Rug Sold for $9.6 Million at Christie’s

Blue Antique Decorative Rug

Detail of a blue, red and green antique decorative rug made in the 17th century in Kirman, south east Persia that sold at Christie’s, London on April 15, 2010 for $9,599,535. According to Christie’s “this is  a world record price for any Islamic work of art sold at auction, and for any carpet sold at auction”.

Until recently the art world considered antique decorative rugs as mere floor coverings, even though artists such as Matisse, Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky recognized their great artistic value and were deeply influenced by them. In fact traditional decorative rug themes appear in several Matisse paintings (to be covered in a future blog post).

Decorative rugs in Henri Matisse paintings
                                                Henri Matisse: Pianist and Checker Players, 1924

Recently the art world has recognized the artistic merits of antique decorative rugs, specially those dating from before 1800. William Robinson, Director and Head of Islamic Art, Christie’s London put in context the record price fetched by the Kirman rug:

This week’s results…demonstrated a fierce demand for quality and rarity, spurred by the opportunities to acquire desirable works of Indian and Islamic art. The highlight of the week was the sale of the Kirman carpet for a world record price of £6.2 million (US $9.6 million), but throughout the sales at every price level we saw impressive prices for works of art, carpets and textiles, with strong interest and bidding from a truly international pool of collectors.”

The Financial Times recently wrote that some antique rug collectors are choosing to hang art level antique rugs on the wall instead of putting them on the floor, and, according to Jan David Winitz of Claremont Rug Company, Oakland, California some collectors are doing large scale installations of antique rugs for wall display and these installations can be for as many as 70 rugs in one house and can range in cost from $400,000 to $4 million.

Last month the Metropolitan Museum in New York opened it’s new Islamic Galleries after eight years of renovations. These galleries will greatly increase the exposure to and appreciations of art level antique and decorative rugs. The video below from the Metropolitan Museum shows the extreme care taken to install a very large art level antique decorative rug:

antique decorative rug, Emperors Carpet, Metropolitan Museum, New York

A small section of the Emperors Carpet shown being installed in the video. Note the spectacular green, red and gold color composition and it’s relationship to Matisse’s art. The Metropolitan Museum’s fascinating history of this rug’s ownership over more than 300 years:

Czar Peter the Great (by tradition, until 1698); Austrian Imperial House , Vienna (1698–1921); Vienna Museum für Kunst und Industrie (1921–25); [ Cardinal and Harford, London , 1925–28; sale, Christie, Manson & Wood, London, July 5, 1928, no. 146]; [ International Art Gallery , London, 1928, sold to Arthur U. Pope for Rockefeller McCormick]; E. Rockefeller McCormick , Chicago (1928–d. 1932; her estate until 1943;sold to Arthur U. Pope for MMA)

If the Kirman Vase carpet fetched $9.6 million, imagine what the Emperor’s carpet would be valued at today!


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