(by the Islamic Arts specialist Dr. Isabelle Imbert Ph.D.)
After the success of this spring Islamic week in London, during which Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonham’s presented a selection of marvels, all eyes are turned to Paris, where two important auctions are being held on the 17th June by Millon et Associés, then on the 26th by Ader Normann. In between, Christie’s New York will offer one of the most important auctions of Indian jewels from the Al-Thani collection on the 19th June.
Though Parisian auctions generally offer less prestigious auctions than London Islamic weeks, the items offered represent a solid investment for buyers. As well, the price range is usually larger. Valuations go as low as 200/300€ for a 19th century manuscript North Africa prayer book Dala’il al-Khayrat in elegant maghribi script and colorful illumination sold by Ader, to 60.000/80.000€ at Millon for a rare and important ensemble of the first photographs made in the holy city of Mecca around 1880-81. All can find happiness, from the first time buyer to the experimented collector.
Prayer Book, North Africa 19th c. Ader 200/300€
Millon et Associés opens with an important auction of 389 lots. Following last autumn unexpected enthusiasm for manuscripts, the house aims to sustain the momentum with 114 items on paper such as manuscripts, calligraphies, paintings and archives. This is overall an audacious choice that might lead to a few surprises. Among the most interesting lots is presented an important Qur’an produced in Mamluk Egypt around 1330, decorated with beautiful illuminations characteristic of the first half of the 14th century, particularly a double-frontispiece entirely covered in blue and golden geometrical designs (25.000/30.000€). As well, an impressive genealogy of the Prophet Muhammad produced in Ottoman Turkey in 1595 is offered for 8.000/12.000€. With a total length of 6.25m, the scroll traces back the family tree of the Prophet of Islam over 22 generations. In between names, the surface is covered in floral designs, especially tulips, carnations, roses and hyacinths, emblematic of Ottoman decorative repertoire.
Left: Mamluk Qur’an, Egypt, c. 1330. Millon 25.000/30.000€; Right: Holy genealogy of the Prophet Muhammad, Turkey 1595
Besides the large selection of works on paper, Millon offers other interesting items, such as an important ensemble of weaponry, including a very elegant powderhorn made from a pearly nautilus in 19th c. India. As well, metalworks are well represented in the different sections of the catalogue, especially in the science section where are displayed several astrolabes, including one particularly detailed produced in the Maghrib during the 19th c., valued at 20.000/30.000€.
Left: Powderhorn, India, 19th c. Millon 1.500/2.000€; Right: Astrolabe, Maghrib 19th c. Millon 20.000/30.000€
Ader Nordmann also made the choice to present a large quantity of works on paper, precisely 175 over the 398 lots, including a selection of photographs and a very interesting series of portraits in gouache on canvas of Indian rajas executed at the beginning of the 20th century. Estimations of Ader lots do not exceed 30.000/35.000€, the most important item reaching this threshold being an Ottoman vase characteristic of the Iznik production in the last quarter of the 16th century. Its decoration shows great finesse and intricacy, highlighted by the brass neck chiselled with similar patterns.
Left: Portrait of Raja, Rajasthan, early 20th c. Ader Nordmann 1.000/1.200€; Right: Iznik vase, Turkey c. 1575. Ader Nordmann 30.000/35.000€
Ader offers overall a good variety of items, from small Orientalist watercolours for 250/300€ to more ethnographic artefacts such as Touareg bags and sandals from the early 20th century. Interestingly, both Ader and Millon include contemporary artworks in their selection. While early photographs have become a fully-fledged part of French and British premodern Islamic art auctions and Orientalist paintings and sculptures from the 19th to the early 20th c. have been sold in Paris for some time, art pieces by alive artists are usually sold in dedicated auctions in London, New York, Dubai or Tehran. Contemporary artists are not currently represented by French houses, most probably because the Parisian market for such pieces is still feeble, and it is therefore particularly interesting to see pieces by artists such as Abol (Iranian, b.1948) and Ahmad Moalla (Syrian, b. 1958) in both upcoming auctions. While Ader doesn’t segregate this category of lots and spread them amongst the premodern items, Millon, with a larger selection, groups most of the lots between the Orientalist section and the 19th c. photographs. Both houses have opted for accessible creations, mostly centered on Arabic calligraphy or figuration. It will be very interesting to see the reaction of the market through the results.
While Parisian auctions are full of promises, Christie’s Jewelry is making history with one of the most important sales of Indian jewelry the world has ever seen, intitled Maharajas & Mughal Magnificence. The Sheikh Hamad al-Thani, son of a former Qatari prime minister and cousin of the current Emir, is putting for auction a large part of his collection amassed since 2009, after an exhibition tour of 4 years in London, Paris, Venice San Francisco and Beijing. A total of 388 lots, all most exquisite and refined than the other, will be sold on the 19th June.
Valuations go from 1.500/2.500$ for a carved jade belt-hook to 10.000.000/15.000.000$ for a belle-epoque diamond devant-de-corsarge made by Cartier in 1912.
Interestingly, all the lots given an estimate below 50.000$ will be sold without a reserve price. This decision might reflect Christie’s concern regarding the capability of the market to absorb such a large quantity of high value items in one auction. The catalogue itself is overwhelming and despite the disparities of valuations, no clear headline stands out. However, several lots are expected to excite the buyers, especially a jade dagger owned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan (1627-1658) valued at 1.500.000/2.500.000$. Of great historical significance, the origin of the dagger is relatively well documented, especially the jade stone carved into the hilt, brought from China. Though the carved head has not been precisely identified, it represents a European contribution to Mughal jewelry, both in the technique and the subject matter.
Seven lots include Golconda diamonds. The city of Golconda, close to Hyderabad, has been one of the main diamond producers in the world, while the name ‘Golconda’ is used within the jewellery world to denote the finest diamonds. Besides indicating a superior quality, the term also signifies that the diamond is a period gem, mined in the ancient diamond fields of Eastern India. Golconda diamonds have a higher degree of transparency, a quality that is rarely seen in diamonds from other areas, as demonstrated by the Arcot II, weighting 17.21 carats and valued 2.000.000/4.000.000$. The gem was mined in the 18th century for Muhammad Ali Wallajah, the Nawab of Arcot, before passing in Queen Charlotte’s collection (1744-1818), then to George IV (1762-1830), before being sold for the first time in 1837.
Even more impressive is the “mirror of paradise” diamond ring, with its rectangular-cut diamond of 52.58 carats mounted on platinum. The cut speaks for itself.
Left: The Arcot II, Golconda, 18th c. Christie’s 2.000.000/4.000.000$; Right: Mirror of Paradise diamond ring. Golconda. Christie’s 7.000.000/10.000.000$
The rest of the catalogue displays a flow of carved emeralds and rubies, ceremonial daggers inlaid with diamonds, antique jewels, refined album paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries and enamelled boxes. It will be really interesting to see the results of the auction, as the results promise to break many records.
Left: An antique diamond and multi-gem sarpech or turban ornament. India 19th c.. Christie’s 80.000/100.000$; Right: An antique diamond and enamel peacock aigrette. Mellerio Dits Meller, France 20th c.. Christie’s 500.000/700.000$
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