International Art Market: Islamic candlestick sets record: Discovery of medieval Turkish artefact at bank 'like finding a lost Rembrandt'

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The Independent Online
A blue and white pottery candlestick which had been left with the Regent Street branch of the TSB as collateral for a loan set a new auction record for an Islamic work of art at Sotheby's last week when it made pounds 617,500.

The bank had sent it for sale expecting to collect about pounds 200,000. It has turned out to be one of the very earliest products of the Turkish potteries established at Isnik, 60 miles south- east of Istanbul, in about 1480.

The existence of such a candlestick had been known to scholars from a 1903 publication when it was in a French collection. Since then it had not been sighted. 'To walk into a local bank and get shown the piece was like finding a lost Rembrandt,' Dr John Carswell, Sotheby's Islamic expert, said. It was bought on behalf of a Middle East collector.

The price underlined the recovery of prices for Islamic works of art, recorded across all Sotheby's and Christie's 'Islamic week' sales, for pottery, metalwork, manuscripts and textiles. Recession and the Gulf war had greatly discouraged bidders last year.

The second major highlight of the week was the pounds 441,500, or double estimate, paid at Christie's for a 17th-century silk and metal thread carpet of the type known as a 'Polonaise' - these richly ornamental carpets were popular in Poland. The price sets a new auction record for a Persian carpet.

Purse strings seem to have been loosened across the Middle East. Sotheby's sales in Tel Aviv on 14 and 15 April, timed to coincide with the Passover celebrations, which attract foreign Jewry to Israel on a large scale, were an unprecedented success.

The modern picture sale ran 65 per cent above estimate with an early Chagall, Return from the Synagogue, reaching pounds 1,073,051, or double expectations. The Judaica sale made twice as much as the equivalent auction last year and included a ravishing illuminated manuscript of the Machzor Rome, a compilation of festival prayers and biblical readings completed in 1480, at pounds 756,536. It was made in Pesaro, Italy, for Elijah ben Shlomo of Ravenna and had been on loan at the British Museum for years.

In more mainstream fields, the market recovery was less obvious. Buying was still selective at the sales of British and foreign silver mounted in New York. Christie's had attracted two collections of silver by Paul de Lamerie, the most famous British silversmith. While 20 pieces out of the 25 on offer sold, the star turn was not among them - a rococo two-handled cup and cover made for the 6th Earl of Mountrath in 1742. Christie's estimate of dollars 500,000 ( pounds 320,000) to dollars 800,000 ( pounds 512,000) was apparently too high. The top sale price was pounds 285,484, below estimate, for a pair of Lamerie soup tureens and covers.

The spring Old Master picture sales in London contained very little of interest and scored somewhat depressed prices. The exception was Sotheby's group of seven paintings commissioned by the Queen of France, Marie de Medici, in 1623 for the Luxembourg Palace, which depict Medici family history; they sold for pounds 1,651,500 or three times the saleroom estimate.