Autum 2018 London Islamic week: results overview

This Autumn Islamic week is over, and what a week it has been! The selection of Bonham’s, Sotheby’s and Christie’s included some breathtaking treasures but also some interesting novelties that I have been really happy to follow. For my predictions prior to the week, you can read my article on this site, or the one I wrote for

Overall, the three auction houses did pretty well considering the increasing limitations of the market. Bonham’s sold 77% of their 220 lots for a total of £2,513,750; Sotheby’s sold only 53% of the 256 lots presented in the catalogue (three being removed from the auction) but achieved £8,988,25 and broke its own record with the sale of the Debbane Charger for £5,359,950; finally Christie’s achieved £5,075,250 by selling 56% of the 382 lots presented.

The Debbane Charger bid, a great moment for the Islamic Arts market

Beside the Debbane Charger, other lots were expected. The emerald seal bearing the name of Marian Hastings, wife of Warren Hastings, Governor General of India from 1773 to 1785 was presented by Bonham’s for only £20,000/30,000, almost nothing when we know the historical importance of the piece, not to mention its intrinsic value (the stone itself is 21.6 x 16.7 x 3.43 mm approx.). Without surprise, it reached £181,250. The gorgeous Reclining Man signed by Riza ‘Abbasi and presented by Chritie’s for £100,000/150,000 achieved £512,750, but not before I could ask the staff to unframe the painting for me to see it up close!*

The three Samanid bowls from the Soudavar collection I discussed in my article for Lot-Art did exceptionally well, better than I was expecting, selling at £65,000 (estim. £15,000/20,000),£12,500 (estim. £12,000/15,000) and £68,700 (estim. £30,000/50,000). The second one was lower and didn’t do very well because of its restored state, but especially because of its non-calligraphic decoration, less valued by collectors. The third plate is comparatively the best preserved, and though it was obviously broken, the repairs are not too important and clearly visible.

Left: lot 46 sold £68,750. Right: lot 45 sold £12,500

The last 20 lots presented by Bonham’s were exclusively dedicated to Sikh art. I am happy to see that collectors have indeed followed after the Toor collection exhibition last September and most of the artifacts were sold for good prices.For instance, a 19th century metal-thread embroidered velvet panel depicting Guru Nanak with Bala and Mardana valued at £2,000/3,000 achieved £10,625, and a gold Koftgari steel helmet produced in Lahore around 1840 surpassed its estimation of £5,000/7,000 to achieve £27,500.

Bonham’s lot 2016, sold £27,500

There were also many surprises during these auctions, reflecting how difficult it can be to foresee the fluctuations of the market.

The Diyarbakir mihrab tile panel presented by Sotheby’s for £300,000/500,000 didn’t do as good as I was expecting, reaching only £250,000. More importantly, sale of Ottoman figurative paintings, which I thought would be a “done deal” after the success of the previous Islamic week, completely crumbled. Sotheby’s presented two important lots, an album of costumes attributed to Fenerci Mehmed, valued £200,000/300,000, and the painting of the audience of the Polish Ambassador in the Topkapi Palace, dated 13 August 1707 and valued at £18,000/25,000, both remained unsold. Christie’s offered three lots: a page from the story of Miqdaq bin Aswad, signed and dated from the 16th century, valued at £80,000-120,000, a Qisas al-Anbiya from the 17th c. for £60,000/80,000 and a genealogical tree of the Ottoman dynasty, probably produced in France for the Turkish market at the beginning of the 19th c., valued at £20,000/30,000. Though the last one is not technically Turkish, the style of the portraits is closer to Ottoman painting than French portraiture. Only the Qisas al-Anbiya was sold for £68,750, not particularly high considering its valuation. Were the experts too confident after the success in the Spring? Maybe. Whatever it be, Ottoman figurative painting is visibly not there yet, while illuminated manuscripts and prayer books including views of sacred sites continue to do relatively well without breaking records.

A detail of the Baburnama page showing pigment deterioration

Christie’s was presenting a page of the first Baburnama produced under the patronage of the emperor Akbar and presented to him in 1589. This manuscript is extremely important for the history of Mughal arts of the book but the page remained unsold. This can maybe explained by the pigments poor state of preservation, or by the fact that the emphasis was put on the next lot, a gorgeous representation of the goddess Bagalamukhi enthroned in a golden temple, valued at £80,000/120,000 and sold £137,500, that maybe distracted the buyers. There is no doubt in my mind that this
Baburnama page will reappear in the near future, but maybe with a less enthusiastic estimation.

Bonham’s and Christie’s both presented Safavid pottery tiles of different qualities and pricing. Both did relatively well, Christie’s sold four of their eight lots (not six as announced in my previous article) and Bonham’s six of their eight, mostly within the valuation ranges. We will see what happens during the next auctions and if the number of Safavid tiles continues to increase but we might have to wait a while before Safavid tiles become the new Iznik. As always, the three auction houses presented a large quantity of Iznik dishes, Bonham’s just one and one 19th century copy, Christie’s twelve lots and three copies, Sotheby’s twenty-four lots including the Debbane Charger, and three copies. The market is literally saturated with Iznik potteries and I’d be tempted to say that enough is enough, but most lots find a buyer, sometimes for insane prices as demonstrated by one Çintamani tile circa 1580 presented by Christie’s for £30,000/50,000 and sold at £218,750. Given, it is a very nice tile and the leopard spot motif always adds value to a piece, but in the sea of Iznik potteries, I am starting to fail seeing the value.

Christie’s lot 217, sold £218,750

There are many things that could be discussed but I will finish on two. Firstly, Medieval Spain and North African artifacts beside manuscripts do not have the wind in their sails. Bonham’s had one Almoravid lot unsold, Sotheby’s had four Omeyyad,  Merinid, Nasrid and Nasrid revival, three unsold and Christie’s had six lots, all unsold. Medieval Spain and North Africa are never a big success except for manuscripts, as demonstrated by the £512,750 achieved by the blue Qur’an page sold by Christie’s. However, this Islamic week was surprising by the number of lots and I was expecting better results, especially considering the valuation of certain lots. These results will constitute an interesting point of comparison between the English and French markets, as some similar lots will be presented at Millon the 3rd December. Let’s whish the French house more success in this field.

Merenid Style casket, Marocco 19th c., Christie’s lot 18, £50,000/70,000 – unsold

Secondly and finally, I have to mention Sotheby’s album page presented as being from the Leningrad album, attribution that I challenged in my previous article. I like to think that someone read my article because the auctioneer himself questioned the attribution just before the bid, mentioning that the page was “probably” from the Leningrad album (but it’s not). The lot was sold within its range, £25,000, which is not surprising given the overall quality of the page but should have been way more the provenance had been confirmed.

The next stop before the end of the year will be Paris, Ader-Nordmann on the 27th November and Millon et Associés the 3rd December.

WordPress has changed its text editor and decided to remove the “justify” option. My text is now aligned left, which differs from my previous publications. I hope you won’t be too bothered by this!

* I wish to thank Christie’s and Behnaz Atighi Moghaddam for their warm welcome and kind assistance. 

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