World Business NewspaperNovember 19, 2011
Where there's a wall...
By Nathan Brooker
Museum-level antique Persian Ferahan (floor),
Motasham Kashan and Laver Kirman carpets in formal dining room.
Kashan "Mohtasham" carpet (c. 1870-80) was sold for
£217,250 ($340,850) at Christie's in 2010
Detail of 17th century Kirman "vase" carpet became the most
expensive carpet sold at auction when it was bought for £6.2m ($9.59m).
Antique "oriental" rugs have attracted enthusiasts for centuries, but it is only
recently that the world's top auction houses have shown an interest. Thirty years ago
the art world largely ignored the value and significance of these works, and they
were viewed by many as little more than soft furnishings. Today, however,
record sale prices are forcing collectors and curators around the world to sit up and
Last year Christie's sold a mid-17th-century Kirman "vase" rug in London for a
record-breaking £6.2m. "I have noticed an upsurge in the sale of rugs and
carpets dating from before 1800," says William Robinson, international specialist of
Islamic art and oriental rugs and carpets at Christie's. "A factor that I attribute
principally to this is that Islamic art as a whole has been doing very well."
Jan David Winitz, president of the Claremont Rug Company in
Oakland, California, founded his dealership in 1980. Back then the market for what he
calls 'art-level' antique rugs was nothing like it is today: "Antique rugs were
considered even by dealers as little more than a floor covering," he says.
Now, though, with the rise in price and profile, a growing number of
collectors are choosing not only to lay their rugs on the floor, but are hanging them
on the wall alongside paintings.
Though often grouped together and described simply as "Persian", they can actually
come from Central Asia, Turkey, or the Caucasus Mountains as well as from Persia.
Most date from the 19th century and comprise a variety of palettes and styles, with
each town, village or tribal group producing their own distinct designs.
As part of their Whole Home collection, this connoisseur couple
displays 19th century oriental rugs on the walls and floors.
Collectible Caucasian Seichur Kuba hanging in a gentleman's
At the forefront of the trend in non-floor display is the
Kazak design, which comes from the Caucasus' highest regions. "The Kazak designs are
extraordinarily graphic," says Winitz. "They're very non-representational and have
large blocks of colour, very much like the art of European modernists such as
Matisse, or the Bauhaus artists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky, who all studied
Persian rug design."
Winitz says other popular designs include the Ferahan Sarouk
from Central Persia, and the Hadji Jallili Tabriz, named after a master carpet
designer in Northwest Persia in the mid-19th century.
Antique Persian rugs as contemporary decor.
On wall: Ferahan Sarouk; on floor: Laver Kirman
One of Winitz's clients, Dr. Jon Schreiber, an author and
private investor from California, has been collecting antique Oriental rugs since his
student days and is an advocate of the trend in non-floor display. With a collection
that totals over 500 pieces, Schreiber explains the relationship between wall-hung
rugs and modernist painting: "Fine art, you don't see after a while because your eye
becomes accustomed to it. But with rugs you always see something different."
According to Winitz, "the obvious advantage to putting them on
the wall is that it's a way of preserving them. On the floor they'll be walked on and
there's going to be a certain amount of wear. On the wall they are totally
Typically, the antique rugs suitable for wall-display sold at
Claremont cost between $15,000 and $150,000 each, though a number of collectors are
embarking on what Winitz calls "Whole Home" projects. These large-scale installations
can include up to 70 rugs per household, costing between $400,000 and $4m.
Winitz thinks one of the reasons behind the current trend in
non-floor display is the state of the global economy. "People are taking money out of
the stock markets and other traditional means of investment and putting portions of
their portfolio into items that they can see, touch, and which actually add to their
quality of life."
Hanging so that clients can enjoy their many nuances of color
and design are two rare 19th century tribal oriental rugs which are complemented by
an antique Persian Malayer carpet
Preparing a rug for wall hanging is relatively simple, but must be carried out by
an expert so as not to damage the fabrics. The most traditional method is to have a
series of loops sewn in at the top of the rug; brass rods are then inserted through
them and secured to the wall.
"There are humidity considerations for displaying antique
rugs," says Winitz. "The ideal humidity is around 65 per cent. Lower humidity may dry
out the wool fibers, while higher humidity may cause mildew. The best temperature
condition for rug preservation is between 60-75 degrees Fahrenheit."
Though wall hanging is not the only method of non-floor
display, it is perhaps the least labour intensive: "We have a number of clients who
actually display rugs on their dining tables," says Winitz, "laid under the glass.
That tends to work particularly well in very modern homes."
Rod King, co-founder of Antique Persian Carpets in Tonbridge in Kent, has over 42
years' experience in the antique rugs trade. He is very much behind the trend in
America as a means of preservation.
"The rugs are a great investment and are really starting to sell well in the UK
and in Europe but, of course, once these rugs become worn and damaged, the value
decreases dramatically," he says.
With the recent opening of the Islamic gallery in New
York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Winitz is certain the value of these antique rugs
will continue to rise. "Where antique rugs have suffered in the past", he
says, "is due to lack of exposure. The opening of the New York Met's gallery will
have a tremendous impact on our field."