For Jan David Winitz, President and – for all intents and purposes- curator of the Claremont Rug Company, the exquisitely crafted antique Persian and tribal rugs offered by his firm are more than merely home furnishings. They are art. Historically important, highly collectable and in many cases extremely rare works of art at that.
“To date, antique Oriental rugs have been valued largely as cultural artifacts whose origins, distinctive knotting patters, dyes and motifs have been well documented by museum curators and textile scholars” Winitz explains, “Yet, many long-time collectors, myself included, believe that their value extends far beyond ethnography and structural analysis. We recognize that a small portion of the remaining antique rugs stand on solid ground as genuine works of art- on par with the finest paintings, sculpture, and other acknowledged artworks”.
From the inspirational beauty found in tribal rugs to the more methodical patterns found in what are known as “city” examples, the concept of Oriental rugs as an art form is far from foreign to artists and their patrons. Kandinsky was known to study rugs in order to better explore the non-representational abstracted patterns found within them while Matisse often added images of rugs to his hugely influential paintings, giving the work an added layer of richness and depth. Indeed, even Paul Gauguin, that pioneer of French Post-Impressionism once quipped, “Oh, you painters who ask for a technique of color- study carpets and there you will find all knowledge.”
The relatively recent avocation and categorization of 15th– 18th century rugs as artwork has catapulted the interest – and subsequent value- of the pieces to previously unheard of stratospheric levels. With Sotheby’s infamous $33.76 million dollar sale of William Andrews Clark’s Sickle-leaf, Vine Scroll and Palmette ‘Vase’ technique carpet last year, collectors and dealers are on a proverbial magic carpet ride of buying and selling. Interest in the finest 19th century rugs is escalating, evidenced by the Caucasian “Eagle Kazak” tribal rug that at $233,000 sold for nearly twice it’s $120,000 estimate when the hammer dropped earlier this year.
“The range of color, pattern and condition relative to age are high among the elements that drives value for collectors” Winitz explains. One would be wise to take him at his word. As the man who literally wrote the book on collecting rugs wisely (The Guide to Purchasing an Oriental Rug, Publishers Group West, 1981), Winitz’s seemingly endless knowledge on the subject has garnered him clients on five continents as well as an admirably pristine reputation as one of the top dealers in the world. Revered among those in the know, Winitz has earned the trust of his collectors; many of whom have been known to purchase treasures sight unseen based solely on his expertise and recommendation. It is that reputation, too, that sends current owners to Claremont when they wish to discreetly dissolve their own collections. “Typically, we acquire rugs privately though ongoing communication with collectors we have established relationships with.” The company is currently in the process of evaluating, categorizing, and readying for sale a veritable anthology of over one hundred pieces recently acquired from a Texan estate- a noteworthy family collection amassed over 50 years and two generations.
While historical pieces dating from the 15th through 18th century are coveted by museums, the age and fragility of such pieces largely preclude their appropriateness for display by the modern collector. Rather, the savviest of contemporary aficionados gravitate towards fine examples of 19th century work. For the modern collector, these are the pieces that allow them to live with their acquisitions on a day-to-day basis, enjoying luxury underfoot while basking in the afterglow of an art investment well made.