Thursday, 24 September 2009

90 000 Euros for a French Unsighed Art Deco Carpet, Fifteen Times the Estimate. Was it by Gray, Boiceau, Ruhlmann or Another Major Designer?

One of the best results in 2006 for a French Art Deco carpet was that obtained by Tajan in a winter sale of Decorative Art, no. 6660, November 29, lot. 96. The exact amount including tax was 91 258 Euros ( The description of the lot was reduced to several lines emphasising the geometrical design. No additional information about the owner, designer or the history of the carpet was produced. The estimation price published was 4000 - 6000 Euros. Measurement: 315cm x 349cm. Colours: burgundy, black and white.

Carpet designed by Alfred Porteneuve, Art et Decoration, 1939, no. 1, pp. 60 & 61. The Carpet Index Library

As it so happens, I actually saw the carpet. It had a used label in a corner featuring a brand logo with three letters ESF. The design was indeed very elegant and the knotting of good quality, even if it was of medium density.

In 2007, when I discovered the results of the sale and the large difference between the catalogue and the eventual sale price, I needed to understand why. Logically I thought that if there were people willing to pay this amount, it must have been because it came from a major French designer of the twentieth century.

I looked in my files for unsigned rugs, and for Gray, Boiceau, Ruhlmann, without any luck (Da Silva Bruhns signed his rugs). It was only this summer, during my holidays that I discovered a possible attribution. While reviewing the magazines of the 1930s, in an Art et Decoration magazine, published in 1939, in an article related to the decorator Jacques Lardin, I found two illustrations (pages 60 & 61), presenting the rug along with Lardin furniture. The black and white photos were partially painted in order to cover the four white central rectangles. Under one photo a text attributed the design of the hand knotted carpet to Alfred Porteneuve.

Alfred Porteneuve (1896-1949) was the nephew of Ruhlmann. He studied architecture and then went to work for his uncle. In 1933, after Ruhlmann's death, he was responsible for managing the closure of the decorative department. In fact he produced his own designs for furniture and textiles and sometimes produced re-editions of his uncle's furniture. He was presented with one of his major orders during the 1937 International Exhibition. He designed rugs, many of which were woven by E.S.F (Etablissement Sallandrouze Freres) in Aubusson, and some others were produced by Vinay et Cie.

Although an answer has been found for our initial question, we need then to ask why did the carpet obtain such a high price? Perhaps the article is mistaken and the original design belonged to the Ruhlmann catalogue and the buyer had the foreknowledge of this before placing their bid.

Written by Jean Manuel de Noronha

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