Today’s guest post is courtesy of Ryan Reitmeyer of Carol Piper Rugs, Houston Texas.
Customers are often surprised to learn that being an antique rug dealer does not require traveling to the Near East to search for hidden treasures buried deep within an oriental bazaar. In fact, most of the great antique carpets that we sell today were originally exported to the Western market when they were woven.
Thomas Eakins, the great American impressionist painter completed his “Portrait of Dr. John Brinton” in 1876. In order to capture his subject’s civility and advanced social standing, Eakins gave the viewer a number of clues in the portrait. The gentlemanly cut of Dr. Brinton’s suit, the unmistakable gold pocket watch chain in the middle of his vest, the massive books that lie open on the easel in front of him and, most impressive of all is the beautiful Oushak carpet adorning the floor of Dr. Brinton’s study. This man commissioned the most fashionable painter for his portrait. He had the most stylish furniture and clothes and he had the most desirable carpet.
A number of examples of Oushaks like the one in Eakins’ painting remain on the market today. This Oushak from the Carol Piper Rugs inventory is strikingly similar to the carpet that appears in the Eakins painting: Although the color placement and the border system is a little different than Dr. Brinton’s Oushak, the design, comprising a series of serrated palmettes set in a repeating pattern, is unmistakable. This design seems to have been of a uniquely Turkish origin and is found frequently in late nineteenth century and earlier Oushak carpets from the 18th century.
John Singleton Copley’s portrait of Jeremiah Lee from 1769 contains just such a carpet. Jeremiah Lee was a fabulously wealthy merchant and ship owner in Massachusetts in the mid-eighteenth century and is positively stylish in this portrait. Like Dr. Brinton, Lee chose to surround himself with the most fashionable accoutrement, leaving no doubt as to the extent of his wealth and impeccable taste. The magnificent Oushak at his feet would have been a rare and exotic luxury indeed, and it even matches the drapes.
Oushak carpets like the one in Copley’s painting are not easily found on the market today, but a few good examples do exist. This Oushak from the shop’s inventory is a compelling analog. The shape of the palmettes and arabesques in this Oushak are similar to Jeremiah’s Lee’s carpet, although the two do not share the same border system. Seeing this earlier example of the serrated palmette design makes an interesting comparison with the previous carpet, as the shape and scale of the design in this older rug seem to feel more natural and less restricted than the nineteenth century version.
George Washington proudly standing on an eighteenth century Oushak carpet, the all-American rug indeed. Gilbert Stuart completed George Washington (The Lansdowne Portrait) in 1796. Like the previous two paintings, Stuart chose to surround Washington with objects of the finest taste; gilt furniture, sumptuous textiles, the imposing Greek columns in the background and the purely exotic Oushak carpet on the floor. Stuart’s depiction of Washington was so popular that it was used to create the one dollar bill; he remains one of the most celebrated American portraitists today.
Carpets like the eighteenth century Oushak in Stuart’s painting are extremely rare on the market; they occasionally turn up at auction or can be found in museums. They are referred to as “Medallion Oushaks” because of the large dominate central medallion, which floats beautifully on a field of small-scale peonies. Medallion Oushaks were first identified in 16th century carpets from Oushak, evidently the design was so popular that they continued weaving it through the eighteenth century (as evidenced by this example) and through the nineteenth.
Great Americans standing on magnificent rugs. It doesn’t get any better than this.
This post originally appeared on the Carol Piper Rugs’ blog.