Duke Don Gaetano de Braganza, Fourth Duke of Lafões (1856-1927), Italy.
William A. Clark, New York.
As the largest group of classical Isfahan carpets to appear on the auction market in recent history, this selection from the Corcoran Gallery of Art demonstrates the pinnacle of Safavid carpet weaving during the reign of Shah Abbas from 1587 to 1629. In 1597, Shah Abbas moved the Persian capital to the city of Isfahan where he established royal manufactories to produce carpets for export, diplomatic gifts and the Persian nobility. These carpets were among the finest ever created in wool and silk and they represent the artistic appreciation and patronage enjoyed during the reign of Shah Abbas. Today, these intricate, beautiful and luxurious carpets are treasured not only for their rich history and courtly origins, but also for the ease in which they translate into both modern and period interiors.
Frequently featured in Dutch and Flemish paintings of this period, 17th century Isfahan carpets later found popularity among American collectors. One of those Americans was William Andrews Clark (1839-1925), the Senator from Montana who had amassed his fortune in mining, invested his earnings and became a banker, publisher, and politician. At the beginning of the 20th century Clark began filling the massive mansion he had constructed on Fifth Avenue in New York City with European decorative arts and Oriental carpets. Clark's Fifth Avenue residence was so impressive that in a New York Times article published on May 31, 1908, describing the construction and interiors, the headline announced "New York's Most Expensive Private Mansion." The carpets offered here occupied this legendary home.
With the exception of one rare Polonaise rug, and an unusual camel field example, the 17th century carpets are of the red-ground type that today maintains an iconic status among Persian carpets for their claret floral-filled fields and sophisticated borders. Among this group, there is a notable range in border and field design but the selection is cohesive in its wonderful state of preservation. Many of the carpets were purchased directly from or through the guidance of Vitall Benguiat, the New York City dealer who himself had amassed an important collection of carpets. Many of Clark's carpets were installed on the walls of his Fifth Avenue mansion indicating his interest and approach to them as great works of art.
Upon Clark's death he gifted the European decorative arts and carpets from his New York City home to the Corcoran Gallery of Art, a selection of which is represented in the present sale. Recognizing the importance of classical Isfahan carpets, the Corcoran staged multiple exhibitions focusing on the group including the seminal 1948 show Carpets for the Great Shah and, more recently, The World at our Feet: A Selection of Carpets from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. By exhibiting and publishing this highly important group of carpets, the Corcoran has made these pieces available to scholars, collectors and admirers throughout the century. Many of these pieces are widely published and are oftentimes referred to in the continuing scholarly discussion about the production, history and importance of 17th century Isfahan carpets. This selection presents a unique opportunity to access an important, varied and well-preserved group of classical Persian carpets that has now become interwoven with American history through Senator Clark and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Property from the Corcoran Gallery of Art to Benefit the Acquisition Fund
Illustrated Handbook of The W.A. Clark Collection, Washington, D.C., 1928, p. 77.
'Carpets for the Great Shah', The Corcoran Gallery of Art Bulletin, Vol 2, No. 1, October 1948, p. 16, no. P16.
Washington D.C., The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Carpets for the Great Shah, 3 October-16 November, 1948, no. P16.