THE CLARK SICKLE-LEAF Carpet, which was sold at Sotheby’s this past June, demolished the previous record for an Islamic carpet three times over (at Christie’s in 2010, a 17th-century Kirman carpet set the record at $9.59 million) while also setting the auction record for any Islamic work of art. The 17th-century carpet, named for its distinctive sickle-leaf pattern, eventually went to an anonymous bidder after a 10-minute, multi-bidder battle. The piece, which was probably woven in Kirman, bears a distinctive elegance and renowned provenance and has maintained exquisite quality despite its age—all factors that contributed to its desirability and record-setting price. In a release regarding the auction, Mary Jo Otsea, Sotheby’s senior consultant of rugs and carpets, described the sale of this distinguished piece as the “highlight of my 30-year career.”
The entire sale, which was made up of carpets from the William A. Clark Collection consigned by the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., became a historic event for the field, with all of its 25 carpets selling for a total $43,764,750—over four times its pre-sale high estimate of $9.6 million. Clark, a successful industrialist who served two terms as U.S. senator from Montana, was an avid collector of art and amassed his collection of Oriental carpets during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, historically the most fruitful time for Western collectors to acquire these works.
Of the carpet, Jan David Winitz, of Claremont Rug Company in Oakland, Calif., a dealer and expert in the field, says, “This piece warrants the price—it has an incredible combination of age, condition, and beauty, with a true artistic depth.” On the piece setting the auction record for any work of Islamic art, Winitz says, “I’m not surprised, because this is the great Islamic art form—the only surprise to me is that it took so long.” —SARAH E. FENSOM