Art connoisseurs are increasingly turning their attention to rare, one-in-the-world 19th century Oriental rugs, according to Jan David Winitz, an eminent art dealer who specializes in 19th century Oriental art/investment level rugs and the founder/president of Claremont Rug Company
Winitz has spent the last 40 years researching and searching out momentous antique rugs from the Second Golden Age of Persian Weaving. He has also extensively studied the nature of connoisseurs and what he terms The Art of Collecting for nearly as long. He now works with many collectors who have substantial private collections and is an advisor to central art collectors who are building their personal antique Oriental rug troves under his guidance.
Winitz, who founded Claremont Rug Company in 1980, acquires the vast majority of his art-level/investment caliber rugs from the Second Golden Age of Persian Rug Weaving (circa 1800 to 1900) employing a network of longtime collectors he has developed. Winitz believes that the opportunities to acquire rugs of great distinction are diminishing, as many connoisseurs have indicated that they intend to ultimately donate their rugs to museums.
Antique carpet connoisseurs remarkably share many qualities, said Winitz, whose Claremont inventory is comprised of more than 4000 19th century art and investment level rugs. They have an insatiable hunger to surround themselves with the most beautiful and rare rugs distinguished by an uncanny ability to recognize the features that separate an extraordinary piece from a simply respectable one.
Secondly, their passion to collect objects of uniqueness and splendor often dates back to childhood. It may have been rocks, dolls or stamps, but many of them had an early propensity to accumulate objects that intrigued and nurtured them, he observed. They also are attuned to how various forms of art relate and demonstrate this in how they put together their homes.
In the market for 19th century Oriental rugs, Winitz indicated that the combination of the increased interest among connoisseurs, who previously focused on other art genres, and the relatively modest prices for investment-level pieces, when compared to other art forms, has produced significant trends.
When I created Claremont in 1980, said Winitz author of The Guide to Purchasing an Oriental Rug, I counseled my clients that the best 19th century Oriental rugs were art masterpieces and should be studied and acquired with that in my mind. I have always been drawn to those carpets that move me most deeply, both intellectually and emotionally. Frankly, this approach was extremely novel until very recently.
Over the years, by adhering to that founding principle we have built a global clientele. As a result, we have been able to help clients build personal collections of momentous rugs that have become centerpieces for succeeding generations of these connoisseur families.
Art-level rugs that exhibit the purest sense of balance and harmony are quite few and far between, said Winitz. I have had the privilege to work with many art connoisseurs and collectors. They have passion for the artistic qualities of Oriental rugs, which provided inspiration to many Western painters, including Holbein, Vermeer, Kandinsky, Klee and Matisse.
Pointedly, those who also collect other art forms understand the concept of precious tangible assets and have told me that they are continually surprised by the significant undervaluing of important 19th century Persian and Oriental rugs. One of Winitzs clients recently commented that his entire 120-rug collection cost less than his Lichtenstein.
Several events in recent years have drawn renewed attention to rugs from the First Golden Age (ca 1400 to ca 1700) and the Second Golden Age. Among the most notable was the 2010 auction price of $9.59 million obtained for a 17th century Laver Kirman. This had been preceded by Claremonts own acquisition of a combined 400-rug trove (The Hudson River Valley Collection) of 19th century pieces from members of a New York family in 2009. Then in November 2011, the Metropolitan Museum in New York opened a new, permanent exhibition of Islamic art, which features rugs from the First Golden Age, attracting global media attention.
There are many distinguishing characteristics of rugs from the Golden Ages. Weavers employed difficult to procure, exotic hues of color not found in later rugs as well as more fluid, varied and fascinating pattern language. Scholars and academicians agree that with few exceptions these attributes ceased to exist by the 1920s.
This confluence of events, availability and mentality is clearly demonstrated in Winitzs observations about his diverse clientele, who range from old wealth families to high-tech entrepreneurs to Nobel Prize winners and rock stars.
What they share is a keen sense of beauty and artistic harmony and a deep emotional connection with their rugs, he said. Collectors and connoisseurs acquire rugs for personal residences, rug vaults and even for a few for private museums. They display their carpets on walls and as central interior design themes.
Claremont, an important art gallery that specializes in 19th century Oriental art and investment rugs, has an inventory comprised of more than 4000 rare carpets that are valued in the $20,000 to more than $500,000 per piece range. To aid clients, the Gallery has more than 1000 rugs available for viewing and an extensive educational section on its website (www.claremontrug.com). A recently produced oversize brochure, containing 29 full color photos and extensive text descriptions of important rugs, can be obtained by calling 1-800-441-1332.