Sotheby’s Sets Record with Antique Kirman Carpet Sale

World Record Shattered by Historical Kirman Vase Rug

A Message from Claremont Rug
Company President, Jan David Winitz

ImageToday’s sale at Sotheby’s of William Andrews Clark’s Sickle-leaf, Vine Scroll and Palmette ‘Vase’-technique carpet for $33.76 M has enormous significance not only for the antique Oriental rug field, but for the art world as a whole.

Clearly the sale of this fabulous, incredibly rare historical carpet that was likely woven in the Persian city of Kirman for over 3-1/2 times the previous world record is a landmark, but it is also a precursor of a movement to come: the recognition that the best Oriental rugs woven in the 16th through 19th centuries stand on par with the best art works of other mediums.

A great rug possesses the ability to affect the mind and heart of man to see himself and the world in which he lives in a profound, deeply nourishing manner, which is the true definition of art.

It highlights what I have been saying for over 30 years–that antique Oriental carpets are undiscovered art that is now starting to become discovered.



CLICK HERE to Read Jan David Winitz’s Further Comments Regarding this Historic Sale in the Wall Street Journal.

(photo courtesy of Sotheby’s)

Village Style Antique Oriental Rugs

Antique Carpet, Serapi

The villages surrounding the major weaving cities and towns created antique Oriental rugs that married the casual nature of the tribal antique rugs and the greater formality of the town rugs. The designs are somewhat planned, often directed by the head weaver. The construction is looser also and village patterns tended to be drawn in a more angular manner than floral and stylized floral imagery woven in more sophisticated settings. The colors in village rugs presented a range of tonal variations, from subtle to dramatic. These cottage-level pieces were often woven in a weaver’s own home allowing her and her extended family to integrate weaving with their daily life responsibilities. Village antique Oriental carpets offer the most casual decorative possibility in room sizes and larger formats. The Bakshaish and Serapi carpets from the Azerbaijan region are the most famous and widely sought after of the village antique carpets.

Major styles of village antique rugs: Bakshaish, Serapi, Malayer, Serab, Heriz, and Bakhtiari.

Antique Oriental Rug Spotlight: Caucasian Rugs, Part Two

The Caucasian nomad often knew only two environments during his entire lifetime: the high mountain meadow to which he brought his sheep to graze during the summer, and the deep valley below in which he waited out the winter. He lived in either a small tent blackened with smoke or a “kosh,” a dimly lit sod hut literally dug out of a hillside. The nomad learned to have gratitude for anything that provided comfort or beauty, and gratitude that he had life itself.

Perhaps as an expression of the deep joy of a people living and working close to the earth, the tribesperson wove rugs. And the carpets he created were magnificent! As a whole, the Caucasian antique carpet possesses an individuality, a boldness and deep sense of unity which is unsurpassed in the world of oriental rugs.

Antique Carpet

What is most striking about the Caucasian antique Oriental rug is its daring use of color. Balance of color is achieved here not by shading, but rather through contrast. The predominant reds, blues, greens and yellows would seem clashing to the mind, yet in actuality, the unerring confidence of the Caucasian craftsmen created color combinations so harmonious that they have been marveled at and studied by Western artists for centuries!

The Caucasus lies at the very heart of the rug-weaving world. Conquering armies, including those of Genghis Khan, Tamerlane and the Golden Horde, the Persians and Turks, stormed across these mountains for over a thousand years. They left behind the influence of every rug-making tradition from Egypt to China. The illiterate Caucasian tribesperson, working on a small, portable loom, has taken the form of more sophisticated weaving cultures. By transforming these designs into simple geometrical proportions, they have brought to them a new freshness and spontaneity.

The entire evolution of tribal weaving can be seen in Caucasian antique Oriental carpets. The dragon motif, boteh, flowerhead, arabesque, palmette, birds, animals, cloudband and crab designs are all present. Sometimes many of these are found in a single rug! In the midst of powerful geometrical diamonds there may be a tiny horse, dog or gazelle. Determination and intensity side-by-side with good humor and lightness demonstrate the dexterity of the Caucasian weaver.

Because of the physical lack of accessibility of the Caucasus to the outside world and the spiritedness of its peoples, natural dyestuffs were still used almost exclusively through 1920. This is over fifty years after the introduction of much easier-to-work-with, but infinitely less brilliant analine dyes. Similarly, it was not until World War I and the Bolshevik Revolution that Caucasian antique rugs were woven for export. The many fine examples from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are clearly original, authentic tribal works of art in every regard.

In short, the Caucasian nomad wove antique rugs for his own daily use, to satisfy his singular sense of creativity and harmony. Accordingly, he put a level of care into his work which seems virtually incomprehensible to us today. The wool he used provided a superior level of resilience and luster because it was shorn from the sheep which he himself had grazed in high mountain pastures. It was then cleaned and washed repeatedly so that it could thoroughly absorb the vibrant vegetable dyes.

The Caucasian weaver believed that only after the material of his craft was brought to its ultimate state could he be inspired to create a rug of ultimate balance and harmony. For he did not merely see his finished carpet as the work of art. Instead, the art lay in performing each step of the process to completion.

It is of little wonder that the weavings of the numerous Caucasian tribal groups enjoy a universal popularity among collectors of oriental rugs today. Both the thick-piled carpets from the most mountainous regions of Kazak, Karabagh and Gendje, and the thinner, more closely shorn Kubas, Shirvans, and Daghestans, from the lower slopes descending toward the Caspian Sea, are equally enchanting. These are the last remnants of an ancient weaving tradition which has now all but vanished. They are living examples which speak to us of both the gaiety and deep understanding of life possessed by their creators—the mountain weavers of the Caucasus.

Antique Oriental Rug Spotlight: Caucasian Rugs, Part One

When the Almighty Spirit first created the Earth, he made the land completely flat. Looking down at his creation, he was satisfied with his work, except for the fact that there were no mountains. So he loaded up an enormous sack with innumerable rocks and boulders, and sped down to distribute them across the surface of the Earth.

As the Almighty Spirit was approaching the planet, his enemy, the Evil One, accompanied by three cohorts – famine, pestilence and hardship – appeared behind him, and slashed open the bag full of mountains. The colossal rocks and boulders tumbled down to Earth, and landed one on top of the other on a narrow strip of land between the Black and Caspian Seas, the Caucasus.

In his anger, the Almighty Spirit issued forth a stern warning to the Evil One; that under no circumstances would he ever be allowed to enter the land of the Caucasus. “For,” as he gravely said, “after what has happened every day of living will be hard enough.”

No better impression of the physical environment of the Caucasus Mountains, where Caucasian antique rugs where made, can be depicted than from this traditional Caucasian folktale. Bordering Iran to the North, the Caucasus ranks among the most grandiose and hostile landscapes in the world. Here lies a single narrow ridge of mountains stretching 400 miles east to west and containing twelve peaks higher than the tallest in the Alps, along with numerous glaciers and tumbling gorges that rival those of the Himalayas. The mountains are climaxed by Mt. Elbruz, towering to 18,493 feet above sea level. Here, in Greek legend, the god Zeus chained Prometheus for eternity as punishment for delivering fire to man.

For centuries, the Caucasus has provided refuge for the nomadic peoples, creators of tribal antique rugs, who were forced to go there after being driven out of more hospitable areas. Before the purges of Joseph Stalin in the 1930s, approximately 350 different tribes resided in the Caucasus, speaking over 150 distinct languages. Along with the Moslem Lesghis, Chechen, and Talish, there were clans of Mountain Jews, Christian Armenians, Buddhist Kalmucks, Norsemen and even a group of Württemburg Germans. These mountain peoples were known both for their spirited sense of independence and their longevity, with many tribal elders apparently living decades past one hundred years. One clan, the Circassians, were noted for the great beauty of their women, who were sometimes either stolen or traded, breeding their olive complexions, striking eyes and distinguished countenances into the ruling families of Turkey.

The existence of the Caucasian tribesperson depended entirely on his ability to cultivate a simple innovativeness of lifestyle, along with a deep understanding of the natural forces which governed him. He learned to find strength and inspiration for the antique Oriental carpets he created in the harsh, yet majestic mountain surroundings. By living a life of almost continuous physical activity, he learned to tap into the instinctive nature hidden in man to guide him.

Oriental Rug Spotlight: Bakshaish, Part Two

Antique Persian Rug, Bakshiash Style

Antique Oriental Bakshiash Carpet, Photograph courtesy of Claremont Rug Company

Bakshaish carpets were the product of the Persian home craft, often woven in roomsize (typically 9ft x 11ft to 11ft x 14ft) on a loom attached to the outside wall of the weaver’s home. Area sizes (normally 4ft 6in x 6ft 6in and sometimes as small as 2ft x 4ft) are only occasionally seen, the best of which are highly prized by serious collectors. Rare examples of very large sizes of these magnificent rugs can occasionally be found in sizes ranging from 11×15 to 12×18. Extremely seldom seen are sizes larger than 12×18, runners and keleges (corridor rugs) found in this style.

The best Bakshaish carpets offer a unique combination of geometric allover design or graphic medallion format with unparalleled use of natural color and soft tones for large format carpets. They fit perfectly into contemporary or casual decors, and brilliantly enhance the casual, organic ambiance of mountainside homes.

Among connoisseurs, early Bakshaish carpets, (especially circa 1875 or earlier, as well as the best late 19th century examples) are the most highly prized of the extremely desirable Northwest Persian village carpets. For lovers of tribal rugs that are only found in smaller sizes, the Bakshaish style offers a similar geometric, folkloric character in carpets of larger sizes.

The 19th-century examples of Bakshaish weaving, if artistically distinguished, memorable in their beauty and in good condition, have performed very solidly as art investments, especially since the mid-1990’s. Because of their great rarity, greatly inspired artistry and overwhelming appeal, the best 19th century representatives are widely sought after. Collectible-level pieces seldom come available on the public market, and when they do, often receive overwhelming demand.

Oriental Rug Spotlight: Bakshaish, Part One

Bakshaish Antique Persian Rug - Claremont Rug CompanyBakshaish is a town on the banks of the Talke Rud River in the Heriz region of Northwest Persia. Situated in the mountainous region 60 miles east of the large city of Tabriz, Bakshaish is the oldest rug weaving village in the district of Heriz, noted for carpets with highly artistic, tremendously diverse abstracted adaptations of age-old tribal and classical Persian motifs.

In their softness of color and line, the appearance of antique Bakshaishes somewhat resembles the Sultanabad carpets of Central Persia, yet with designs drawn to substantially more free form, improvisational and geometric proportions. These are folk art masterworks in which the individual artistic creative decision of the weavers can usually be abundantly seen. The viewer will take delight in discovering the idiosyncratic temperament of the Bakshaish weaver, as seldom is one motif drawn in exactly the same fashion twice, and borders and even center medallions are usually playfully misshapen. 

The best antique Bakshaishes are connoisseur’s delights, exhibiting truly original patterns, unusual movement and asymmetry of design, and a richness and maturity of color obtained by the masterful use of natural dyes. They transcend the decorative to become truly one-in-the-world art objects.

Bakshaish weavers employed both soft reds and navy tones for the base color of the field, with the use of ivory or sometimes, golden Camelhair grounds being particularly rare and beloved. Exceptional blues are a hallmark of these carpetswith hues of azure, turquoise, peacock and teal. Muted salmons, corals, buffs and yellows as well as rich spring to jade greens can also be found in abundance. Bakshaish carpets have a structure similar to others of the Heriz group, although their weave is usually somewhat finer.

Oriental Rug Spotlight: Tabriz


Tabriz Antique Persian Rug, Claremont Rug Company

The major city of Tabriz, located near the Turkish border, is the center of classically designed carpets in Northwest Persia. At the foot of the beautiful Elbruz Mountains, Tabriz has a noteworthy history, both as the Persian market center most linked geographically to European and Western commerce, and as the source of the most venerated weavings: the inspired carpets of the Shah Abbas period during the 15th and 16th centuries.

With such auspicious beginnings, during the second half of the 19th century, the city boasted some of the most famous 19th century weaving masters such as Kurban Dai, Sheik Safi, Faradji. and most notably, the luminary Hadji Jallil, all of whom were responsible for the reclamation of this celebrated past by reinventing a truly memorable carpet production.

Since the early part of this century, Tabriz has lead a resurgence in carpet-weaving both for domestic use and for export. With strict standards of craftsmanship and quality of materials used, Tabriz weavers produced tight densely-knotted structures and elaborate floral displays. Some of the finest workshop rugs, woven exclusively for carpet aficionados among the nobility, are technical achievements unsurpassed by any other weavings of the 20th century.

Like Kashan and Isfahan carpets, Tabriz weavings capture the sophistication and refinement of the classical Safavid Court carpets. Reflected in many fine examples of Tabriz carpets is this rich heritage of the elegant court tradition combined with subtle innovations inspired by Western taste and artistry.

The Tabriz weavers drew on a varied repertoire of delicate designs: multi-faceted flowerheads, subtle arabesques, lush vinery rendered in naturalistic detail, and precise allover “Herati” patterns, all woven in jewel-toned colors.

Oriental Rug Spotlight: Serapi, Part 2

Antique Oriental Rug

Antique Oriental Serapi
Courtesy of Claremont Rug Company

The women of this area were master dyers able to deeply dye the superb, silky, local wool with a great range of soft-shaded or “abrashed” color. The wide palette of hues came from many carefully brewed plants and minerals, colors for which the recipes are now lost. Watermelon to terra cotta tones came from madder root. The blue tones, from sky and aqua to periwinkle and deep navy, came from the indigo plant. Gold and yellow tones are from chamomile and a variety of other plants. The weavers also frequently used large areas of undyed and unbleached wool,whose ivory and camel tones provided contrast to the wide range of vegetable color.

Until they began rising in value in the 1980’s, Serapis were an inexpensive alternative to classical floral carpets that were often used in heavily trafficked areas of the home. This use helped to soften the color, giving the Serapis the muted tonalities they are renowned for by collectors and interior designers around the world.

The heavy use that Serapis often withstood also meant that significant restoration commonly was necessary to preserve many of the finest pieces. If done skillfully and thoroughly, restoration not only allows the continued use of these majestic carpets, but also increases their investment value. 19th century pieces with only a moderate amount of skillfully executed restoration are quite rare and, if of excellent quality and strong artistic impact, are extremely desirable.

Antique Serapis are usually found in the room size format from 9×12 to 11×14. Happily, oversize Serapis measuring 11×15 to 12×18 are sometimes found, and the best examples woven pre-1900 are deeply prized.Very occasionally extremely large antique examples woven in sizes up to 16x 26 can be found. Area-size Serapis, measuring 4ft x 5ft to 5ft x 6ft 6in are very seldom encountered and cherished by connoisseurs. Although rarely found,Serapi runners and keleges (corridor-size runners) make stunning complements to decors featuring room size or oversize Serapis.

Having had the pleasure to place so many of these wonderful carpets, we can attest to the magical element they bring to a wide range of decors. The rarity of the best antique Serapis with pure vegetable dyes, graphic designs and inspired artistry make them excellent investments, occupying an important position in both the American and international art markets.

Oriental Rug Spotlight: Serapi, Part 1


Serapi Antique Oriental Rug - Claremont Rug Company

Fine 19th-century Serapis include some of the most rare and desirable large size decorative carpets. Woven in the rugged mountains of Northwest Persia, Serapis are a distinct Heriz region style, with finer knotting and more large-scale spaciously placed designs than other rugs from this area.

Although it was the grandest of the antique Heriz styles, the Serapi format is seldom seen after 1910, because of the remoteness of the mountains in Northwest Persia presented. Carpets had to be taken by their weavers to Serab, 30 miles distant, to be marketed. “Serapi” is not a place or tribal name; rather it is a market term derived from “Serab-i,” meaning “of Serab”.

Serapis combine design elements borrowed from many traditions. The bold geometric designs are probably connected to the tribal Caucasian traditions across the Aras River to the north. The elegant court carpets of Tabriz to the west certainly would have influenced the weavers’ understanding of balance and the central medallion format.

Serapi carpetswere woven on the level of a family or small workshop with multiple weavers working several years to complete each rug. The weaving was done almost exclusively by women. Highly skilled artisans, they continually reinterpreted the design as they wove, creating highly spontaneous and inventive artistry. In general, the Serapis made in small workshops are more finely woven and formal, and pieces woven on a family level are more rustic and symbolic in design.