As I am about to enter a studious summer, let’s take a look at the Parisian art market most recent months, which were packed with action. I also want to share with you some of my ongoing and upcoming projects and plans. If this article interests you, please comment below and share on social medias!
The Islamic Art Market in Paris: New Players, New Scores
This spring, excitement was palpable around Drouot, the Parisian main marketplace1. No less than four large auctions were scheduled in May and June, as well as individual lots passed in non-specialist auctions, and that ended being major surprises.
All prices include premium.
On the 16th May, Pingannaud-David expertise opened the season with their first solo auction and new collaboration with Artcurial. They chose to focus on a small catalogue of 118 lots (excluding archaeology), with low estimates ranging from €300 to €25,000.
As for the results, Artcurial arrives in fourth position with 52% of lots sold for €211,336, a halftone result for the bold selection offered to the public. The biggest success was achieved by a late 19th century Ottoman karlik, a silver cooling vessel from a French collection, bearing the tughra of either Sultan ‘Abd al-‘Aziz (r.1861-76) or Sultan ‘Abd al-Hamid II (r.1876-1909). Valued €6,000-8,000, it was sold for €26,240, 437% of its low estimate. The second record, a beautiful moulded pottery bowl with hunting scenes, from 12th or 13th century Seldjuk Persia, was sold within its estimate of €15,000/20,000, for €20,992.
The next day, Rim Encheres, with Rim Mezghani supported by the expertise of Laure Soustiel, was also taking its first steps inside the hotel Drouot. After an inaugural sale in November, the challenge was to show a clear progression margin for the newly created auction house. Were presented 154 lots divided in two thematic groups, “shades of blue” and “empires and artisans”, with estimates from €80 to €30,000.
Rim Encheres achieved a total of €279,253 with 56% lots sold, which is not extraordinary, given the estimate of some unsold lots, but still shows a clear progression compared to their inaugural sale, which had made €220,580 for 50% sold. Challenge succeeded for the Parisian latest comer. The most successful lot sold within its estimate of €30,000/50,000: A rare Qur’an from the second half of the 15th century, probably produced under the Aq-Qoyunlu dynasty in Iran, with a 16th century Safavid binding, sold for €41,600. The second-biggest lot came as a surprised: A nice Iznik dish from circa 1590, with a charming decor of sailing ships, and an impeccable provenance, was valued at €4,000/6,000, and sold for €29,900, 748% of its low estimate.
A month later, on the 15th and 16th June, Millon and Anne-Sophie Joncoux-Pilorget, Parisian market almost veterans in this context, were offered over two days a large catalogue of 441 lots from €50 to €200,000, risking daring estimates and a two-day sale to assert its place on the market.
I was contracted by Millon, with whom I worked in the past, to support with marketing and communication surrounding the sale, bringing more awareness to the event (with more or less success given the current climate in France, following the scandal in the Louvre2)3.
Millon broke records with €2,014,727 achieved in total, and €650,000 for a monumental Qur’an page on vellum from the second half of the 8th century, beating all French sale records for single Qur’an pages. Overall, Millon was in the average with 56% of lots sold, but managed to sell well above estimate in many cases. The second-biggest lot, a Qur’an juz’ from 12th century Baghdad, also sold for 200% of its low estimate (without premium): €200,000 against €80,000/120,000.
Finally, Camille Célier was also taking her first solo steps with Ader-Nordmann on the 28th June, presenting a catalogue of 293 lots (including Orientalist painting, excluding archaeology) between €50 and €15,000.
Comparatively, this auction was the most successful one with 69% of lots sold for a total of €330,656. The auction house had made the choice of presenting more objects with lower estimates, around half below €1,000, and it clearly paid off since buyers from all backgrounds gathered. Both top lots were sold within their estimate: A lacquer mirror case with historical scenes and a crucifixion from Qajar Iran, dated and signed Muhammad Isma’il Isfahani (1814-1892,) sold €19,840; and a large Orientalist oil painting by Rigolot (1862-1932) sold €19,200. Here again the surprise came for an Iznik dish (that looks like Kutahya), valued €3,000/5,000 and sold €16,640.
Success and Deceptions
Ottoman productions encountered a massive success for most. Beside Artcurial’s karlik sold €26,240, Alexis Renard and Beaussant-Lefevre sold a magnificent tombak ewer and basin dedicated to the princess Mihrimah Sultan (1812-1838), daughter of Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808-1839), dated 1236 H./1820 for €130 560 against an estimate of €20,000/30,000, pre-empted by the Louvre. Millon presented Ottoman arms, especially a curious 18th century yatagan sword with hidden mechanisms that sold €24,000, a price within its estimate of €25,000/35,000.
Iznik and Kutahya potteries also broke records, confirming the cravings for these productions, especially Iznik’s, that had already been seen in London last Autumn. Rim Encheres, in particular, sold the 11 Ottoman ceramics – dishes and architectural, as well as Ader which achieved high prices with 5 of the 7 lots presented.
The biggest deception was probably Indian paintings. Artcurial presented 23 lots of Indian paintings, 18 being in temporary importation (which incurs an additional 5.5% premium on hammer price, for the buyer), but only managed to sell 8, most within or below estimate. Most likely, Pingannaud-David imported lots from London in a daring effort to hype up Indian painting on the Parisian art market. This could have worked, given the reputation and legacy of late Marie-Christine David in the field, but it might have been too early for the newly created expertise, or estimates might have been too high (some definitely made me raise an eyebrow), and buyers did not respond.
The same goes for Millon which offered 13 paintings, only 4 were sold, including one more than 300% above estimate.
However, and because there is always an exception to the rule coming to contradict my shiny theories, a 19th century Awadh painting was offered at Coutau-Begarie on the 3rd June, expertised by Anne-Sophie Joncoux-Pilorget, which clearly unleashed all passions. Valued €3,000/4,000, it was sold for more than 10 times its value.
Finally, manuscripts made sellers and buyers very happy, confirming here again the importance of the media on the market. Apart from the extraordinary result achieved on the monumental Qur’an page, Millon confimed its leadership on the market by selling the vast majority of manuscripts, including a copy of the Book of Conduct for Sufi Aspirants, written by the great Persian philosopher Sohravardi and copied in 717 H./1317 by his indirect descendant, Ahmad ibn al-Sohravardi al- Bakri (1256-1340), sold for €152,000. Ader managed to sell a 19th century Ottoman miniature Qur’an for €16,640 against an estimate of €3,000/5,000, and Artcurial sold most of their manuscripts (not the biggest ones unfortunately), including an illuminated frontispiece from a 16th century Layla wa Majnun probably made in Herat, gone at €2,099, that is 350% of its low estimate.
It seems that the Parisian art market is entering a new phase of its history. Experts are younger (but highly experienced), with new ideas and new ways of working. Provenances were put under a shining light in the catalogues, which is, as we know, particularly appreciable. We can look forward the Winter auctions to see how Paris will find its new balance.
Art Informant, Publication and Projects: Update
ART Informant Podcast
The ART Informant podcast, started in November 2021, is now taking a short break after an eventful first season full of amazing guests. It will be back for a second season in September 2022. I also hope to expand on the concept with additional content, but it will depend on external factors I will hopefully be able to talk about in a few months.
The podcast has been received very positively, and I am really grateful to the community that has helped share the episodes, grow the audience, and gave me very constructive feedback.
A Studious Summer
As for me, I am now entering a new phase of the creative process: writing. As many of you know, I have had the project to publish my doctoral dissertation for a while, so now is the time. My dissertation was more or less a catalogue raisonné of Indian and Persian flower paintings on album pages produced between the 16th and the 18th centuries, with close to 350 entries, and even if this catalogue is a good tool for Art historians and experts, it is not publishable as is, and not all paintings can be reproduced, unless I get some serious funding.
For this reason, I am completely revisiting the content, removing a lot of redundant information and dead-ends that were interesting to explore within the context of a doctoral dissertation, but are not publication-worthy, while developing theoretical concepts around the analysis of the corpus. I expect this exercise to take me until the end of the year at least, but the more quiet summer months are a perfect time to focus.
Apart from this personal project, I am starting two new projects that will take me to the first half of 2023: the publication of a book (another one, yes, but of a different kind) and the exploration of a new research topic in collaboration with a promising young scholar.
A lot to do this summer and a lot of exciting things to come!
- To learn more about Drouot, listen to the ART Informant episode with Rim Mezghani
- France24, “Louvre ex-director charged in art trafficking case”; The Art Newspaper, “Antiquities trafficking case escalates as Louvre Abu Dhabi joins civil action and Swiss collector files criminal complaint”; 247 News Agency, “Accusations against former Louvre director uncover global art smuggling scandal”
- You can check some of the press releases I wrote here and there