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Antiques and Fine Art Auctions Blog

Skinner expert appraisers and auctioneers discuss antiques, fine art, and collectibles. Keep up on market trends and get collecting tips from antiques experts. Discover the stories behind the art and antiques Skinner offers at auction.

Reflecting the Natural World: Respite and Shelter in Rug Design

The endless fecundity — and beauty — of the natural world is a constant theme in antique rugs, and that is especially true of the selection for our Fall 2020 Sale. The importance of the idea of “the Garden” is an often-noted feature of Islamic Art in general, and Persian Art in particular. A garden, of course, has echoes of the original Paradise, Eden, as well as the Paradise to come. But beyond all notions of the life-to-come, a garden, no matter how small, represents respite and shelter in a region where much of the landscape is arid and unforgiving.

Lot 1048: Serapi Carpet, northwestern Iran, c. 1890

Serapi Carpet, northwestern Iran, c. 1890. Lot 1048, Estimate: $8,000-10,000

Here in this lovely Serapi carpet, for example, we have a provincial weaver’s version of a classic walled garden: a central pool of water, surrounded by various stylized renderings of plants and (quite unusually, and wonderfully) large heraldic birds. 

Despite the fact that the design vocabulary in this carpet, as with most Persian rugs, is floral in origin, there is nothing flowery going on here.  Or curvy, for that matter. Instead, in classic Northwest Persian fashion, the branches, leaves, and blossoms are rendered with a highly stylized angularity that is both childlike and controlled. Another appealing aspect of this lovely carpet is the weaver’s use of space. A musician friend tells me that when he’s playing at his best, it’s like there’s an envelope of silence around every note. Similarly, in this carpet, there’s an envelope of space around every element, so we can really see, and feel, what’s going on in the garden at our feet.

Lot 1140: Marasali Rug, Caucasus, dated 1852 (1269)

Marasali Rug, Caucasus, dated 1852 (1269). Lot 1140, Estimate: $3,000-3,500

This relatively early Marasali Prayer rug is exemplary: a dark blue field with staggered rows of boteh-shaped flowers surrounded by an ivory grape-vine border. And clearly made for a special client — a local potentate, perhaps — suggested by a fine weave and the numerous silk highlights.  But beyond those things that make it a splendid example of type, however, there’s that “something” that raises certain rugs to the level of real art. That “something”, obviously, is difficult to define, but we know it when we see it:  the range of  colors, the harmonious wedding of technical finesse with playfulness, the way the interiors of the botehs are wonderfully varied, both elegant and psychedelic.

Lot 1103: Ningxia Runner, western China, 18th century

Ningxia Runner, western China, 18th century. Lot 1103, Estimate: $1,000-1,200

One of the wonders that early rugs from Western China sometimes achieve, as in this sweet little Ningxia, is a seamless mix of austerity and whimsy.   We see a darkened sky, maybe a half-hour after sunset, with cloud-bands and bats.  But these bats are not the stiff, stylized doodles of auspicious presence that we’re used to seeing in Chinese rugs. These bats are real creatures, on the hunt, swooping in and out of the roiling clouds.

Lot 1101: Victorian Chair Upholstered with Ningxia Mats, western China, c. 1890

Victorian Chair Upholstered with Ningxia Mats, western China, c. 1890.
Lot 1101, Estimate: $800-1,000

To the late Victorian sensibility, any rug — no matter what significance it may have held in the culture that made it — was fair game as a furnishing object. Every textile was potential upholstery. And when you had covered your floors and your stairs and your table-tops and your walls with rugs, you could chop them up and cover an armchair with them. As we have here, where pieces from a number of Ningxia mats and rugs have been artfully arranged for seating. Plus, it’s comfortable — just the place to curl up with a snifter of brandy & a book of Tang Dynasty poetry.

Lot 1119: Ukrainian Carpet, c. 1800

Ukrainian Carpet, c. 1800. Lot 1119, Estimate: $6,000-8,000

The first thing that strikes one about this beautiful carpet is its quality, the fine weave and delicate drawing, the soft sumptuous wool, the generous use of space. The ivory field, with its wreaths of acanthus leaves surrounding floral bouquets, is pure “Age of Reason”. The expansive terracotta border, on the other hand, with its huge, blobby flowerheads, represents barely contained wildness. Made almost certainly for the Francophile Russian market, one can imagine this rug on the floor of Count Rostov’s house in St. Petersburg, 10 years before Napoleon — that upstart — decided to invade.

Virtual First Tuesday | November 3

Join us for First Tuesday online!


See what hidden treasures our experts may be able to reveal

We invite you to join us online for our Virtual First Tuesday on November 3. Submit your items anytime before the 3rd and Skinner specialists from all departments will be on hand on Tuesday to evaluate items and respond by email.

Let’s get started: 

Step 1: Gather information and images for up to three items of fine & decorative arts, furniture, jewelry, silver, watches & coins and much more.Read More

Consider This: Collecting Chinese Textiles

Subject and Symbolism

The symbols depicted on a textile can tell you quite specifically what the function was and who would have owned it. Chimes, twin fish, and double happiness characters are symbols for blessings in marriage, designating a marriage robe. At the same time, Imperial dragons were strictly only used on Imperial textiles until the later parts of the Qing dynasty. 

Manchu Wedding Robe, China, 19th century. Sold for $9,225 in September 2019.

Read More

October Regional Consignment Days | Maine & Westchester

We invite you to join us online for regional consignment days in Maine and Westchester, New York. Skinner specialists look forward to evaluating items via email, and beginning the conversation about the advantages of selling at auction.

Gather information and images for up to three items of fine & decorative arts, furniture, jewelry, silver, watches & coins and much more. Send an email with the information and images at newyork@skinnerinc.com, maine@skinnerinc.com or at the buttons below.… Read More

The Allure of Chinese Blue and White Porcelain

Chinese blue and white porcelain has an appealing charm that has long been recognized among art collectors and ceramics aficionados. Many elements contribute to this, but the most prominent would be the cobalt blue color. In China, the use of blue pigment on ceramics began as early as the late Tang dynasty. Still, it was not until the late Yuan dynasty that blue and white porcelain gained popularity, and production started in sizable quantities.… Read More

Identifying Counterfeit Whiskies with Joe Hyman

Rare Spirits Specialist, Joe Hyman, delves into the fascinating subject of counterfeit spirits bottles and shows us what to look out for. Three whiskies in recent months raised red flags and Joe points out the reasons why. Watch now to uncover telltale counterfeit signs on labels, capsules and yes, even when tasting.

View our Rare Spirits currently on offer until Oct. 7th.


Jewelry Under the Tent Consignment Event | October 7


Join us on Wednesday, October 7, to have your jewelry evaluated for our November auctions! Skinner’s Jewelry department will be hosting an outdoor consignment day at our Marlborough Gallery.

Auction results from recent jewelry consignment days:

Antique Sapphire and Diamond Ring, sold for $339,000 Van Cleef & Arpels “Three Wise Monkeys” Brooch, sold for $13,750 Art Deco Platinum, Ruby, and Diamond Ring, sold for $35,670

Have you been wondering when the best time would be to sell jewelry?… Read More

10 Designers to Buy Now – Create a Unique Work From Home Space from Auction

Learn how to reasonably acquire and assemble a stylish work-from-home space to improve your productivity and video teleconferencing presence


Join us on Zoom for the talk 10 Designers to Buy Now – Create a Unique Work From Home Space from Auctions by Director of 20th Century Design, Dan Ayer.

Let’s face it, working from home and video teleconference is the “new normal.” If you haven’t done so already, or need inspiration, now is the time to create a sophisticated and functional workspace to step up your Zoom game.… Read More

The Art of Set Decoration: How Japanese Textiles Inspire Andrew Baseman

Set by Andrew Baseman for the movie Crazy Rich Asians


Join us to explore how antique Japanese textiles have influenced the vision and creative process of Andrew Baseman, a designer and set decorator on diverse film and television projects including Crazy Rich Asians, Mindhunter, Gotham, The Nanny Diaries, Eat, Pray, Love, The Americans, and The Normal Heart. Andrew will share how he turned motifs from the fabric swatches on offer in our upcoming Asian auction into a line of handmade rugs for his interior design clients.… Read More

Video Blog: An Explanation of our Glossary of Terms

Understand the terms used throughout catalog descriptions for Fine Art at Skinner. Robin S.R. Starr, Vice President and Director of American & European Works of Art, explains and illustrates how, where, and why these terms are used at Skinner in the accompanying video.

Glossary of Terminology:

Attributed toThe work may be by the artist’s hand, but leaves some question or doubt as to actual authorship.

School ofA work of an unknown follower executed in the style of the artist and contemporary in period.… Read More

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