A German Court has wisely decided against the plaintiff in the case of
the Safavid carpet which later went on to a huge career at Christies
London.Any other decision would have severely infringed upon dealer
activity at auction.The legal complaint is so absurd that it was
actually taken seriously by the authorities,who eventually threw it out
on the 27th of January 2012.The battle may or may not be continued
before the Bavarian High Court.
It is almost as if someone had read the Hali commentary on the Béhague
Carpet,and decided to sue for damages.
The carpet was apparently in the possession of German carpet dealer
Herbert Steinhausen,who subsequently gave it as a present to his
housekeeper.He is said to have purchased it in 1987,at the Sotheby`s
auction in Monaco of the Countess de Béhague/Marquis de Ganay
collection.The Marquis de Ganay was Martine Béhague`s nephew,who
inherited her estate(not her husband,as stated by Christies and Hali)
Herbert Steinhausen was a Munich carpet dealer with a Showroom on the
Brienner Strasse.He seems to have dealt principally in new carpets,with
virtually no goods before 1920.After his death in the 80`s,his wife
continued the business for a while before closing.
His housekeeper was a close friend of the plaintiff,who subsequently
inherited the Béhague carpet,along with some other rugs from the
Steinhausen estate.It`s unclear why any rug dealer would give a carpet
of this stature to an employee living in a terraced house(a Hereke mat
might have been more appropriate) As the plaintiff moved house after the
death of her husband,she was obliged to downsize,and called in Georg
Rehm,the unfortunate auctioneer from Augsburg.What happened afterwards
is well known:the carpet,estimated at 900 euro finally sold for 19,700.
Six months later it sold for 7,2 million euro at Christies London.
|2.Six years later,another carpet with the same design appeared at Christies,in the sale of carpets from the Alice de Rothschild Collection.A shortened version,it sold for 962,500 GBP(Sothebys 19.4.2016,lot 101)
The consignor,Frau N, was understandably upset.The story was widely
circulated in the German media. The auctioneers were accused of massive
incompetence,despite having consulted with local experts.The carpet is
said to have been purchased by a Hamburg dealer,who however failed to
show up at the trial.
On the day of the sale,the consignor at Christies was said by Hali
Online to have been a very senior international dealer,who had acquired
the piece inexpensively at a small auction in Augsburg.
There are conflicting reports in the press concerning Herbert
Steinhausen.The Welt Online report infers that he acquired the carpet in
1987,and yet a few paragraphs later his housekeeper is said to have died
in the mid-eighties.How could either of these two woman have known about
the auction in Monaco? And why did Frau N not supply this information to
the auctioneers in Augsburg beforehand? It seems only to have occurred
to her after the Christies sale in London.
For in fact there were no carpets on offer at the Monaco Auction in 1987.
Indeed,there is no real evidence that the carpet ever belonged to the
Comtesse de Béhague,beyond Arthur Pope`s assertion.The Comtesse died in
1939.The "Survey of Persian Art"(carpets) was published in 1939.Thus the
Comtesse could not have contested ownership.There is neither written
proof nor confirmation from the family.No one can remember this large
carpet,even though it is said to have "possibly"lain in the Comtesse`s
The Comtesse is mentioned ten times in Pope`s Survey(although not once
in the authoritative biography of Pope and Ackermann ,"Surveyors of
Persian Art")He published three carpets,one silk Keshan kilim,two
paintings and one persian velvet.Amongst the carpets was the Sanguszko
now in the Thyssen Collection,which Pope claimed to have examined
personally.According to Friedrich Spuhler,the carpet changed hands
sometime before 1930,so Pope`s information in 1939 was out of date.The
other carpet was a sickle-leaf lattice vase carpet,a fragment of which evidently appeared in Martin,fig.184.The keshan silk metal
tapestry has a medallion design.Neither of them seem to have been
Kurt Erdmann wrote an extended review of Pope`s"Art of Carpet Making",a
major work in its own right.He criticised Pope for his weak
selection of sickle-leaf lattice carpets(including the second Béhague carpet)
Erdmann is at a loss to say quite where the Augsburg-Christies carpet
fits in,but he does find it"interesting".The placing of the Augsburg
carpet in Pope`s Survey could be construed as a kind of discrete
To sum up,we have a carpet whose provenance rests solely on information
supplied by Arthur Upham Pope,a scholar/dealer whose relationship to the
truth was at times strategic(the Rayy textiles scandal)We have a dead
German carpet dealer whose merchandise was basically new,but who managed
to acquire an obviously valuable antique carpet at an auction where no
carpets were on sale;his housekeeper who was the recipient of said
carpet,and her loyal friend who inherited it along with the story.
It is said that the Christies agents subsequently visited Frau N´s
house.There were no other carpets of value.
|Martine de Behague