Published: December 13, 2016
Review by Rick Russack, Catalog Photos Courtesy Grogan & Co.
BOSTON, MASS. – On November 20, Grogan & Company sold the Caucasian carpet collection of Rosalie and Mitchell Rudnick. The collection of 100 carpets, sold without reserves, drew buyers from the United States and European countries. The top lot of the sale, a Kuba prayer rug, with a date that translated to 1810, sold to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts for $61,000. More than 15 other rugs sold for more than $10,000 each. There were about 100 bidders in the room, several phone lines were in use and internet bidding was available on two platforms. Grogan prepared a full-color, hardcover catalog for the sale, which grossed $744,200, yielding an average of over $7,400 per lot.
The Rudnicks began collecting Caucasian carpets in the early 1980s and literally traveled the world seeking additions to their collection. The provenance that is listed in the catalog for each carpet shows that purchases were made in Istanbul, Milan, Paris, London, Munich, Switzerland, as well as from numerous dealers in this country. They built an extensive reference library, which also sold at this auction, and their rugs appeared in several exhibitions and have been illustrated in books and magazine articles.
They were active in carpet collector’s groups and are credited with revitalizing the original Boston Rug Collectors Club, now known as the New England Rug Society. The society’s website, www.ne-rugsociety.org has an enormous amount of information on the various types of Oriental carpets and thousands of photographs with detailed descriptions of rugs.
Rugs in the Rudnick collection, known to collectors as Caucasian rugs, were made in the Nineteenth Century in the Caucasus mountains region between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea, north of Iran. That area includes the present day countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia, some of which were under Soviet control during the Twentieth Century. The region is comprised of numerous small villages, and the rugs are identified by the name of the village in which they were made: Soumac, Moghan, etc. There are identifiable differences between rugs made in different villages, but individual makers are not known. The rugs were woven by women and the skills, and sometimes the patterns, were passed from mother to daughter.
Sometimes rugs are dated with Arabic numbers. According to Georgina Winthrop, Grogan & Company’s gallery manager and fine art specialist, “The dates reflect the Islamic lunar calendar, also known as the Hijri calendar. It is often denoted with the abbreviation AH (‘Anno Hegirae’) (comparable to BC or AD in the Gregorian calendar). The Hijri lunar calendar began in 622 CE, the year in which Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina. The catalog entries for the dated rugs are as follows: ‘dated AH 1225 (1810)’ – i.e., the rug is dated 1225 anno Hegirae, which translates to 1810 anno Domini.”
The most desirable rugs tend to be earlier examples, made closer to 1800, made with native, not chemical dyes, which came into use in the last quarter of the century. Many of these rugs were made for personal use in the homes of villagers, but as the century progressed, many rugs were made to be sold to traders, who often asked for particular designs. Some collectors feel that the spontaneity and folk art feel of the earlier rugs was lost when weaving for traders became prevalent. Michael Grogan said “collectors want artistic rugs, rather than just rare, and they want examples with a good patina.” He said knowledgeable collectors and dealers can date rugs within a 25-year period, judging by the patina the rug has developed.
The sale started with a selection of Soumac bag faces. The first lot of the day, dating to the early Nineteenth Century, with bright greens, reds and whites, got the sale off to a good start, ending up at $33,550. A few lots later, another Soumac bag face was one of the lots that surprised Grogan when it sold to the phone for $39,650, nearly four times the estimate. It had been included in exhibitions and was illustrated in a book on the Soumac bags. Another rug that surprised Grogan was a Kazak prayer rug, dated 1827. It sold for $36,600, well over the estimate. He told Antiques and the Arts Weekly, “After all these years, I’m still learning. When I first looked at this rug, I didn’t realize how really artful it was. It was odd and different. People whose knowledge I respect thought that the rug was spectacular. That made me look at it more deeply and understand just how special it was. It is good to know I still have things to learn about these rugs.” Two Caucasian prayer rugs with vibrant colors and in good condition also did well. One was dated 1821 and sold for $51,850 and another, dated 1832, realized $45,470.
Some of the rugs in the collection displayed unusual patterns. An early Nineteenth Century prayer rug, exact village unknown, had bold, colorful diagonal lines across the rug, inside borders of black, red and yellow. Although the rug showed wear in several places, it realized $11,590. A Kuba pictorial rug, with six figures mounted on horses, some holding birds, 13 other figures, stars and diamonds, earned $15,680. This rug also had early repairs that were quite apparent.
As the sale progressed it became apparent that rug collectors are tolerant of carpets with defects and/or indications of old repairs if the carpet is unusual. Lloyd Kannenberg of the New England Rug Society told Antiques and the Arts Weekly that high-quality repairs are made today in Turkey, and at reasonable cost. “Most rugs are one of a kind and they are not making them any more. Scarcity could outweigh condition concerns and in many of these rugs it is easy to see what has been done to them over the years. Sometimes, you will see a repair that really stands out because it doesn’t match the color around it. But when that repair was done, it matched perfectly. Dyes age differently and sometimes the old repairs are very noticeable. To many collectors, that’s okay. You have to remember that some of these rugs have been walked on for over 200 years.”
The Rudnicks built a good reference library that was sold after the carpets. Prices were reasonable. For example, Central Asian Rugs, by Ulrich Schurmann, published in 1969, sold for $305, and an almost-complete run of Hali magazines, the most influential magazine in the field, issues 1-185, lacking only six, brought, $1,464. Other books and catalogs were sold in lots of ten to 25 titles and sold between $427 and $732.
Michael Grogan has had a long and deep interest in Oriental rugs. During the ten years he worked at Sotheby’s in New York, he ran the rug department for three or four years. A few days after the sale, Grogan said, “I was really delighted with the sale. It felt like the old days. The gallery was full and the presale interest was strong. The rug market certainly felt revitalized. I think there were some good buys and there were some nice surprises. The Soumac bag faces that started the sale did really well and it’s always nice to see something going to a major institution like the MFA. I’m looking forward to the next one.”
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For more information, 617-720-2020 or http://groganco.com.
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