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New record for Islamic art in bumper week of sales

11 April 2011Written by ATG Reporter

ISLAMIC art dominated the London sales agenda last week with the first of the two bi-annual series of auctions devoted to this field in the capital.

Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams all joined in, and the final works of art sales in the three rooms was still taking place at Christie's South Kensington as ATG went to press. By that time the auctions had already chalked up over £43m (hammer) in a series that was noteworthy for featuring some major, single-owner collections and producing several high individual prices.

Sotheby's, who fielded two auctions on April 6, were leading the field with £31.6m.

Of this, £13.6m was contributed by a 321-lot mixed-owner session but the larger share, £18m, was provided by the 164-lot, first part of the collection of the late Stuart Cary Welch, a renowned scholar, curator, art historian and lecturer, who died in 2008.

The Cary Welch collection also provided their highest price in the form of a page from one of the most famous Persian manuscripts, the 16th century Shahnameh created for the Safavid ruler Shah Tamasp. This manuscript, with its extra large pages painted in the royal workshop between 1525 and 1535, is regarded as one of the pinnacles of manuscript illumination and when pages or folios have come up for auction in the past they have made substantial sums.

The 18½ x 12½in (47 x 32cm) page sold by Sotheby's last week, shown here, depicts Faridun in the guise of a dragon testing his sons. It was contested by no fewer than seven bidders in the room and on the phones for almost seven minutes before the hammer fell at £6.6m.

The price was over double the £2m-3m estimate and set a new auction high for any Islamic work of art, beating the £5.5m paid for a 17th century Kirman vase carpet at Christie's last year.

The mixed-owner auction that followed this was led at £4m by a 14th century Mamluk brass armorial candlestick made for Sayf al-Din Qushtumur, major-domo of Tuquztamur al Hamawi, the Viceroy of Egypt and Syria.

Christie's 401-lot Islamic work of arts sale at King Street on March 7, which included works from the collection of the scholar and linguist, the late Simon Digby, totalled £9.2m and was led by another, even earlier piece of Egyptian metalwork, a 7¾in (19.5cm) high Fatimid bronze of a gazelle dated to the late 10th/early 11th century AD that went for £800,000.

The sale produced another strong miniature price when a 9½ x 7in (24 x 18cm) pen and ink drawing of the Mughal Indian Emperor Jahangir c.1620, shown with one hand resting on a lion, by the court artist Balchand, leapfrogged its £50,000-70,000 estimate to sell for £700,000.

Another portrait of Jahangir provided the top price at Bonhams on April 5. This was a much larger, lifesize painting in gouache on canvas measuring 6ft 10in x 4ft 7in (2.1 x1.4m).

It showed the Emperor seated on a throne and is attributed to the artist Abu'l Hasan, Nadir al-Zaman and dated from AH 1026/AD 1617. This sold for £1.25m, going to a Middle Eastern museum. Their 383-lot sale of Indian and Islamic art raised a total of £2.3m.

The Islamic week also featured separate sales of rugs and carpets and a sale of Islamic coins at specialist auctioneers Morton and Eden, which produced another of the week's highlights - the Umayyad gold dinar which made £3.1m, an auction record for an Islamic coin. Click here for full story.

By Anne Crane

Written by

ATG Reporter

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