En Sjov Historie

How €18,000 rug was sold for £6m

By Georgina Adam

The mid-17th century Persian carpet that was sold for a record £6.2m at Christie’s in London on April 15 had been bought for only €18,000 at an obscure German auction house six months ago, the Financial Times has learned.

Catalogued simply as “Persian carpet” and estimated at €800, the finely knotted wool rug appeared at Georg Rehm, a provincial saleroom in Augsburg, in October last year. Asked to confirm the sale, the auction house refused “to divulge results … after extensive negotiations with our suppliers and buyers”.

The carpet, measuring about 11ft by 5ft, is one of a group of spectacular, colourful and intricately designed pieces woven in the city of Kirman in southeast Persia in the 16th and 17th centuries. They are called “vase” carpets because their design often features a vase motif. Highly sought-after and rare, the best examples are in museums.

The carpet had an excellent provenance, having belonged to the legendary French art collector the Comtesse de Béhague, who formed a stunning collection of antiquities, Islamic art and carpets. According to Christie’s catalogue, the carpet went to her husband’s family and was sold between the 1930s and 1950s.

It was estimated to be worth £200,000-£300,000 but fierce bidding from both telephones and collectors present in the room drove it quickly to over £2m. From then on the auction settled into a tense battle between two bidders on the telephone, until the final price of £6,201,250 was reached. The price sets a new record for Islamic art and for a carpet sold at auction.


The Persian ‘vase’ carpet was auctioned at Christie’s in London

The buyer has not been identified but some dealers have speculated that the warring bidders could both be from the Gulf state of Qatar. The country has a spectacular museum of Islamic art, opened in 2008, which already has a major collection of carpets and textiles.

Also from Qatar is the renowned collector Sheikh Saud Al-Thani, a member of the ruling family and a keen art collector. According to some sources, he is passionate about acquiring works with Béhague provenance.

Christie’s Islamic art specialist William Robinson was not available for comment