Burgeoning Interest in Collecting Push 19th-Century Oriental Rugs to Forefront in Art World

“A Rare Tree of Life” Persian Sultanabad (circa 1850). Architect/designer: Brayton Hughes Design Studio; Photo: Karl Neumann.

OAKLAND, CA.- Highlighted by a world record-price for an Oriental carpet sold at auction and the remarkable interest in rug-based interior design projects, the year 2010 has pushed the level of interest in art-level Oriental rugs to unprecedented heights.

So says Jan David Winitz, president and founder of Claremont Rug Company, internationally acknowledged gallery specializing in art-level, 19th-century Oriental carpets. In January, Winitz predicted that 2010 would be “The Year of the Rug” and events throughout the year have more than confirmed his declaration.

As proof he points to:

• The $9.5 million paid for a historic Oriental rug at Sotheby’s auction in London, double the previous record.

• The unprecedented response at his Gallery of a 185-piece private collection of 19th-century art level pieces which “sold out” out at a record pace.

• A two-page article in the Wall Street Journal (“The Rug Market Takes Flight”) that cites antique Oriental rugs as a major collecting niche.

A substantial increase in clients furnish their residences with antique rugs from his gallery (up from eight to more than 50 in the past two year).

• Articles that he contributed to in major art and wealth-oriented publications (ArtNews, Art & Antiques, Financial Times of London, Worth) in rug collecting and interior design projects featuring antique Oriental rugs and

• A significant increase in the sales of Oriental carpets at Christie’s annual auction sales, according to Stefan Kist of Christie’s New York.

“While Claremont has been in existence for 30 years, 2010 has truly been a banner year,” said Winitz, “in terms of the reception and interest in our inventory among connoisseurs of art and antiques.”

“I am continually approached by clients to assist them to design interior spaces or entire residences around rare, art-caliber rugs,” said Winitz, author of ‘The Guide to Purchasing an Oriental Rug.’

“Many are building world-class collections with the purchase of significant pieces.” He said the number of clients who acquired rugs to hold in private rug vaults or cellars more than doubled during the year.

Within the rug collecting community, the majesty of the finest pieces from “The Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving” (circa 1800 – 1910) has long been known. Winitz said, “Now, this ‘secret’ is starting to be discovered by the larger universe of art collectors. Rugs in the 3500-piece Claremont 19th century inventory are valued from $20,000 to $500,000 and more.

“I work with clients whose homes include art collections, ranging from Warhol’s and Kandinksy’s to Monet’s and Matisse’s as well as Degas and Henry Moore sculptures,” he says, “and they tell me that whether their homes are traditional or contemporary, the rugs are the unifying element.”

A high point of the year for Claremont was the exhibition and sale of 185 carpets acquired from a French matron whose family had assembled the collection over four generations. Winitz said he expected a trove with the provenance of “The Intercontinental Collection” to take 12 to 18 months to be sold. “However, from the moment that connoisseurs from around the world got wind of the inventory,” Winitz said, “they were calling directly or viewing the carpets on our website. Virtually all of the rugs were purchased within four months.”

Late in the year, Winitz unveiled a second collection (“The Heartland Treasury of Antique Art Carpets”) assembled by a Midwestern industrialist and his son during the early to mid 1900’s. Again, the response stunned Winitz. “Within days, I was getting calls and email inquiries regarding ‘whole home projects,’ rug vaults and private collections. And what was the most remarkable was that much of the response has been from art aficionados who were coming late to rugs.

“One of my favorite comments was made by a client who has purchased a couple of million dollars of rugs from me,” said Winitz. “He told me that he was shocked that he could obtain rugs that he considered important pieces of art for sums he considered ‘extremely modest’ relative to other forms of art that he collects.”

In another important aspect of the rug collecting world—interior design–Winitz will complete more than 50 whole home projects (each involving 15 to 50 rugs) during the year. He also worked with more than 200 additional clients who purchased significant carpets to serve as the unifying theme for their home decors.

“While 2010 was the Year of the Rug,” he says, “we believe that the emerging interest in antique rugs among major art collectors and the diminishing availability of the best 19th-century pieces will combine to drive demand to even greater heights.”