Monday, March 16, 2009

Masterpieces set to go under hammer

A Sotheby’s official briefs the media about the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, which is among the items showcased at the Ritz-Carlton Doha
Art aficionados and collectors from across the world will take part in Sotheby’s first major international auction series in the Middle East, which takes place on March 18-19 at Ritz-Carlton in Doha.
Lord Poltimore, deputy chairman, Sotheby’s Europe, told Gulf Times that 20 dedicated telephone lines had been set up for people to take part in the auction of contemporary art, Orientalist art, arts of the Islamic world (including the famous Baroda carpet) and important watches.
Potential buyers don’t have to be present at the venue to take part in the auction. However, they have to register in advance and establish their creditworthiness. Catalogues of the Doha auction had been distributed worldwide and Lord Poltimore expected interest from various parts of the world.
Officials expect “a good high” percentage of the exhibits to be auctioned off in Doha and collect more than $30mn in the process.
By holding the auction in Doha, Poltimore said, “we are making a statement that we believe the region is important, and doing well economically. Hopefully, there will be many more exhibitions to come”.
Potentially, the most expensive exhibit at the Doha auction is the Pearl Carpet of Baroda, one of the most extraordinary masterpieces of its kind ever to come on the market. The carpet will form the centrepiece of Sotheby’s inaugural series of sales in Doha and be sold alongside other objects in the ‘Arts of the Islamic World’ auction on Thursday.
The carpet is traditionally believed to have been created as a gift for the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad in Madina and was commissioned by “Gaekwar” Kande Rao, the Maharaja of Baroda. The intended gift was clearly never delivered as the Maharaja died before he made the donation and the carpet therefore remained in his family.
Bidding on this will start around $5mn but is expected to rise considerably higher, officials said.
Mary Jo Otsea, worldwide director of rugs and carpets at Sotheby’s, said: “It is fitting that an historic object as magnificent and unique as the Pearl Carpet of Baroda is a major highlight of our inaugural series of auctions in Doha. The carpet has never appeared at auction before and the sale therefore represents an unparalleled opportunity to acquire an extraordinarily significant work of art. I am delighted that Middle Eastern collectors will be able to view this stunning work.”
This splendid carpet has a surface that is entirely embellished, created using an estimated 2mn natural seed pearls, known as “Basra” pearls originally collected in the waters of the Gulf. The design is picked out in coloured glass beads and richly encrusted and embellished with gold set diamonds and precious stones in their hundreds.
The design of the work echoes many of the details found in Safavid and Mughal carpet designs with dense fields of swirling flowering vines that form a deconstructed series of three Mughal-style arches. While this commission appears to have been unique, parts of the design reflect 18th-century India’s fashionable millefleurs motif. Across the centre there are three large round ‘rosettes’ each made of table cut diamonds set in silvered gold. Further smaller diamond rosettes in the border, all of which are embellished with sapphires, rubies and emeralds set in gold.
It is widely reported that when he commissioned the work, the Maharaja wanted to create a carpet that would be suitable for the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad.
It is also reported that the Maharaja turned to Islam later, but it is no surprise that his death derailed any plans to send the carpet overseas. The work therefore entered the family collection and remained there for over 100 years. The carpet is testament to the splendour that surrounded the Maharaja and his court.
Exhibited in 1902-3 as a highlight of the great Delhi Exhibition displaying the wealth of the Maharajas, it was later moved to Monaco with Maharani Sita Devi – the ‘most flamboyant Maharani’ – who took the carpet along with her jewellery collection when she moved to the Mediterranean. For the first time in over 80 years the carpet was once again showcased in the 1985 landmark exhibition India at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
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