Corner fragment "trans-Caucasian" embroidery, circa 1500 or earlier, RK collection; published Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth: Classic Weaving of the Caucasus, 1990
The sotheby New York sale, Rugs from Distinguished Collections will take place in a few days but for more than 6 weeks it has been one of, if not, RugDUMBs major topics of conversation.
Almost everyone RK has talked with has either said they are planning to attend or are interested in bidding on something in the sale.
This bodes well for the sale; however talk is cheap, especially in rugDUMB, and until the hammer falls on the last lot you and I can easily be surprised both ways -- high prices and high sell percentage, some high prices and mediocre sell percentage or the complete opposite very few high prices and low sell percentage.
RK has our opinion and we will be glad to share it at the end of this closer look at the so-called Azerbaijani embroidery section of the catalog, which is the only part we have any interest in reviewing for numerous reasons, not the least of which is our longtime interest in researching and collecting the earliest (first period) of these rarely seen weavings.
It is these 17 lots from the Chesrow collection, placed at the very beginning of the sale, that have elicited as much or more pre-sale chatter than any other group or individual item.
We are already on record stating our not being greatly impressed by the historic connections to the roots of this tradition the Chesrow examples possess. Nor are we a believer the high estimates a number of them carry will be met with welcome on sale day.
That said we did predict elsewhere here on RugKazbah.com a few of them would sell and we are sticking to that prediction.
This is, in our opinion, a masterpiece embroidery similar but far older and better in all respects than any in the spb/Chesrow collection offering; textile museum collection, Washington, D.C.
Looking at the embroidery above one can easily see how far down the line the Chesrow examples sit on any art historic continuum.
But, as one of RKs correspondents remarked Yeah, but all those great ones are in museums and the ones at sotheby are for sale.
OK that's true, but while we recognize the logic of no champagne drink beer we dont necessarily need a drink, nor do we condone buying less than masterpiece quality especially when one is going to pay far more than the price thanks to the competition-factor an auction house like sothebys invariably drums up.
We also mentioned the catalogs complete lack of mention, let alone discussion, of the different types and groups to which these embroideries belong. Dividing them into groups is something even the most cursory examination of their structural features shows. It is surely something the catalog needed to delve into, and is therefore an obvious omission and major mistake.
Briefly, there are two basic groups the earliest examples can be divided into: Ones made with a long couching-stitch done on a linen ground cloth and ones made with a cross-stitch on a net(warp and weft construction) that has been indigo dyed.
From our long ongoing research we believe the couching-stitch to be the earlier technique based on it being the technique used by the all hands down earliest known example shown below.
Archetypal trans-Caucasian long-stitch silk embroidery corner fragment; RK collection; published Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth: Classic weaving of the Caucasus, 1990
This fragment is a sole archaic (first period) survivor, but its influence can be seen in what is probably a group of descendants like this one below, which we illustrate again.
This embroidery is design-wise the closest we have found to compare with the archetype above it. Notice the half-medallions at the top and bottom are almost exact copies of the archetypes remaining half medallion, though a number of important details have been lost in the process.
There appears to be little doubt our archetype fragment had a large medallion in the center and probably another half-medallion on the other side. But, regardless, both are so similar they discount any contentions they are not grandfather and grandson or great-grandson.
But back to the sotheby/Chesrow examples.
Both lots 1 and 2 are made with the couching stitch, and along with their superior articulation and proportions we are pretty positive they are the earliest in the group.
Though we have not seen them in person, and only carefully examined the multi-megabyte jpegs on the sotheby website, we are positive they are the best of the Chesrow collection couch-stitch ones.
But the puny spinning arms reference in the center of lot 2s medallion, estimate 25,000 35,000 usd, and their complete absence from lot 1, estimate 40,000 60,000 usd, demonstrate these aint as early or important as their estimated prices try to convey.
Their complete absence in lot 1 could be argued by stating four large double hooked ended radial arms have taken their place.
But what a dog ate my homework excuse that is.
Lot 3, estimate 20,000 30,000usd, from the photo appears to be in the cross-stitch group. On the other hand there is no doubt it is a late but rather pretty example with little connection to the iconography inherent in this historic tradition.
From the catalog photo lot 4, estimate 35,000 45,000 usd, seems to be embroidered with the flossy-type silk Kaitags use and not the earlier far more tightly spun silk seen in the earlier groups. Enlarging the photo shows it is done with a twill-stitch, which again belies it having any real age beyond circa 1800.
Fact is it is so late wed call it proto-Kaitag, as it has more in common with them. And again it is missing the spinning arms iconography and other important design elements the early examples always have, or at least suggest.
It is also way overestimated and wed bet it will only sell for less than half of the catalogs low estimate, if it sells at all.
Lot 5, 20,000 30,000usd, appears to have a couch-stitch, and its two half-medallions flanking a complete central medallion echo the archaic theme. But its lack of large spinning arms and having another puny vestigial reminder of them in the center of the central medallion date it at best to late second group.
The lackadaisical border iconography and flaccid drawing throughout are also unmistakable signs this is the case. It also is in our opinion over-estimated and chances it sells much above the low estimate are not very probable.
Another worthy mention is the implanting of two horizontal cartouche above and below the central medallion.
Those cartouche are nowhere to be seen in the early couched-stitch group but they do appear in the cross-stitch group. In fact, the earliest example of that group, which also resides in RKs collection, has their model.
Archetype, fragmented and cut-in-half-horizontally, cross-stitch trans-Caucasian embroidery with cartouche and box border, as well as most probably a large cartouche type central medallion; RK collection; published Kelim Soumak Carpet and Cloth: Classic weaving of the Caucasus, 1990
This cross-stitch fragment is also a sole survivor of its archetype group, we know of no other that is even close to its age or masterpiece quality.
Lot 6, estimated 60,000 80,000usd, is in the couched-stitch group but its lack of spinning arms, the cartouche style drawing it exhibits, and most importantly the four white Armenian wing-style angel figures in the central medallion all combine to place it well in the second group but it is decidedly earlier than lot 5.
It is in no way worth the absurdly high estimate and we sincerely doubt it will sell for more than 25,000usd if it sells at all.
Also its interpretation rather than faithful reproduction of the iconography should be convincing enough to any observer that RKs opinion is fact.
All that said we never underestimate the gullibility factor a high sotheby catalog estimate can stimulate. Nor do we ever discount the lack of discernment and knowledge rug collectors/buyers possess. So wed be equally unsurprised to see it sell for its estimate.
Lot 7, estimate 15,000 20,000 usd, is instantly forgettable; while lot 8, estimate 10,000 15,000usd, has some juice but it is just too stiff with no real design depth or movement to make it desirable.
Its all too regular, but it is an expertly done embroidery using the later more flossy-type silk. Again, its one that can be easily called proto-Kaitag.
Iconographically speaking lot 9, estimated 30,000 40,000 usd, appears to be a reasonably early second group example.
But the twill-weave, done with what appears to be later flossy-silk thread and coloration, all point to a later date.
Also the flaccid drawing of the classic yellow ground border, the multiple weak spinning arms, the misinterpreted minor elements of design, and the complete abdication of medallion and companion half medallion layout assure this assessment is not off the mark.
Here again it carries an estimate with little, or should we say no, reasonable support; one we doubt will be achieved on sale day.
Naive eyes might think this embroiderys design, lot 10 estimated 20,000 30,000usd, is groovy and exciting but to anyone whose eyes are trained in the idiom only one opinion should out: This is a late second group version full of later minor elements RK calls Armenian-style Christian iconography.
You might say we find it reminiscent of certain late dragon and 18th century blossom rugs. And while this might appeal to another group of eyes RK finds this embroidery lacking the venerable roots of this tradition and in their place substitution of a new, but tired and droll, set of symbols and design elements.
Carrying a big estimate, 60,000 80,000 usd, lot 11s main attractions are the figural (and animal) drawing it sports. However, RK finds this, in comparison to other figural/animal embroidery, lacking in every way.
This embroidery fragment was in RKs opinion produced in the south-east Caucasus circa 1750. It has much more in common with Kaitags than the earlier sotheby catalog so-called Azerbaijan embroideries. But that said, it is miles above lot 11 from the Chesrow collection, where the depiction of animals displays the difference between a weaver who possesses genuine connection to the historic tradition and one who is trying hard to emulate it. Notice the true rustic quality the large animal above has in comparison to the fuzzy, nebulous depiction the figure and animals on lot 11 exhibit; published Sovrani Tappeti 2006, no. 75 page 96
Plus we are pretty sure from the picture it has that flossy silk embroidery thread. And the colors, like the cochineal purplish red and light true non-synthetic sulphonic blue, also date it way beyond historic interest.
Is it beautiful? Is it evocative?
To us not, but thats an opinion. However, to call it late for the oeuvre is fact. It is another embroidery with a median estimate we see absolutely no chance will be reached under the hammer.
Of the remaining, lots 12, 14,15 and 17 are not worth our time to even briefly discuss and all but one carry estimates we doubt will show anything but optimistic when the hammer falls.
The same could be said, over-estimated, for lot 13 but we feel it necessary to write a few words, afterall it has the highest estimate of any in the Chesrow collection: 80,000 120,000usd.
We have already said some in another RugKazbah.com thread but reiterating them surely cannot be out of line.
When one compares the simplistic nave drawing with the gutsy rustic style of the textile museums fragment we are completely dumbfounded anyone who has artistic taste, knowledge or intuition could possibly believe lot 13 is anything but a foolishly overestimated soulless workshop product.
And regardless of where lot 13 was made it has none of the intrigue, mystery and historic connections embroidery in that price range should command.
But, RK well knows, there are those who might think it is cute, or compared to a horrible painting that costs 10x or 100x it could appear cheap.
This is exactly this type of buyer sotheby is obviously fishing for.
Will they hook Charley the Tuna?
Dont be surprised if they do we all know the Studio 54 ploy. Put a rope in front (ie in this case an absurdly high estimate) and someone will want to get it (ie in this case open the wallet and buy it).
And lastly lot 16, estimated 15,000 20,000usd, is another twill-weave flossy silk thread example. However, here the weaver was making no pretentions or displaying invention.
Rather this is an accomplished weaving with genuine references to the archetypal iconography.
The geometry is perfect and while the numerous diminutive sets of spinning arms, the elements filling the central and half medallion, others scattered in the field, and the cartouche and box border all pale in comparison to those in the archetype they are true to course and well represent the perhaps 200-300 year interval between it and the archetype.
We like this example and look to see it do well on the auction block.
Just a last word about dating: RK believes the two archetypes from our collection are righteously old -- the long stitch circa 1500, perhaps even earlier, and the cross-stitch circa 1600.
We sincerely doubt any of the spb/Chesrow embroideries are any earlier than 1700.
And though we want the sale to succeed we sincerely doubt the Chesrow embroideries can lead the charge.
As for the rest of the 180 plus lots?
Guessing what will happen at an auction is always chancy but here it is even more unpredictable.
We know there are many good pieces on offer, some with absurdly low estimates, others not so enticing, and still others with estimates that are very optimistic.
The antique rug-market in general is a soft and shrinking one for all but the best, most rare and exceptional.
But sotheby brings a large net, so does their publicity and the distinguished collections angle.
But we also have heard many of the pieces in the catalog are not fresh to the market and have been already offered to a select group of buyers without success.
Considering all that and more, our guess is as follows:
1.the Salting-group Safavid prayer rug will sell for 2 million plus.
2. All but a few of the Chesrow embroideries will perform poorly.
3. Many of the various Turkish and Cauvcasian prayer rugs will sell well.
4. The Turkmen pieces from the Fernandes Collection, ie property of an Asian collector, will sell but at even more reduced numbers than the estimates.
5. The Hedrickson rugs will sell well, some for far more than their paltry estimates.
6. The William Price rugs will also do well, but not across the board.
The sale will be a $$$ success but the percentage of lots sold will be disappointing.
We will revisit this thread post-sale, so stay tuned