By Scott Reyburn
The 5-foot-8-inch by 8-foot-8-inch Pearl Carpet of Baroda had been commissioned in 1865 by the Maharajah of the former Indian state of Baroda, possibly as a gift for the tomb of the prophet Mohammed at Medina, said Sotheby’s.
The carpet, with more than 1 million natural Basra seed pearls, had never been offered before at auction and was expected to fetch at least $5 million, said Sotheby’s. The sale price included fees. The New York-based auction house would not reveal the identity or nationality of the seller in Doha and said it was sold to an anonymous telephone buyer.
Its price beat the previous highest amount paid for a carpet or rug: $4.5 million in June, 2008 at Christie’s International, New York, for a 17th-century Persian silk Isfahan rug that had belonged to the U.S. collector Doris Duke.
During the Qatar sale, an early-17th century Persian velvet panel, showing elegantly-dressed women walking in a garden, sold for $3.4 million, 10 times the upper estimate. The recently- discovered Safavid court textile measured 3-foot-3-inches-wide. It had been in a European private collection for nearly a century and would now be returning to another, said Sotheby’s.
In October 2008, Sotheby’s announced that it would be holding a “major international series of auctions” in Doha in early 2009. The following month, the oil-rich Gulf state opened a new Museum of Islamic Art, designed by I.M. Pei.
Sellers entered just 18 lots -- plus the carpet, which had its own catalog -- into Sotheby’s inaugural Arts of the Islamic World auction. Only five of the 18 managed to sell. They totaled $4 million with fees. The estimate was $4 million at hammer prices.
Islamic works of art are one of many auction markets that have been affected by the economic slump. Last year, Sotheby’s April 9 Islamic art sale in London fetched a record 21.5 million pounds ($31.1 million). Six months later, on Oct. 8, following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. and as crude oil fell to its lowest in 10 months, the equivalent Islamic sale at Sotheby’s took 9.3 million pounds.
Yesterday evening, Sotheby’s first auction of international, Arab and Iranian contemporary art in Doha took $4.3 million. This was less than half of the presale estimate of $13.8 million to $19.7 million. Fifty-five percent of the 51 offered lots sold. The top price was the low estimate $974,500 paid for a purple-colored Anish Kapoor stainless-steel mirror sculpture, dated 2003.
“While the contemporary art market is thriving at adjusted levels as we saw in our sales of contemporary art in London in February, tonight’s sale was not supported by the international market place to the extent we had hoped,” Cheyenne Westphal, Sotheby’s chairman of contemporary art for Europe, said in an e-mailed statement after the auction.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)
To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at email@example.com.
Last Updated: March 19, 2009 17:22 EDT