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Opening night at Keshishian

English needlework carpet
ca. 1920

Feuille De Choux
Renaissance tapestry
ca. 1540-50

Georgian tapestry
Flatweave and handknots
ca. 1960

Victor Vasarely
Op-Art tapestry
Aubusson, France
ca. 1970
Decorative Arts Diary
by Brook S. Mason

Purveyors of fine antique carpets and European tapestries are few and far between in this country but now the London dealer Keshishian is opening in New York. Long a fixture on London's Pimlico Road, next door to designer Jane Churchill, this firm's U.S. outpost is appropriately located in a fine arts building: 24 West 57th Street, where it shares quarters with dealers like Marian Goodman and Garth Clark.

Why open here when London is clearly the capital of the antiques trade? "We had numerous clients, designers like David Easton and Peter Marino, ask us to be stationed also in New York," says Eddy Keshishian. Their private clients include Henry Kravis, John Bryan (Sara Lee CEO), John Getty, Paul Allen and Tommy Hilfiger. One glance at Keshishian's multi-million dollar inventory confirms such an haute client list.

There are more than 150 carpets and tapestries dating back to the Middle Ages and right up to Pop Art. Highlights include a rare 1920s Pontremoli in fine needlework and gros pointe. A botanical design in gentle celadon and lemon yellow is spread over practically 12 feet and the carpet is signed. Keshinian knows of only one other such example. Similar examples by Pontremoli can be found in the Royal Collection. The price for this one is princely, too: $750,000.

For those seeking a touch of medieval splendor, Keshishian has a mid-16th century Flemish tapestry. In a Feuille de Choux (cabbage leaves) pattern in verdant and moss greens, this tapestry is dense with unusually large scale deer and exotic birds, this example is one of only ten known and one happens to be in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It costs $255,000. This is one area that is clearly going up in price as noted at Christie's European furniture sales where a late 17th century Brussels tapestry made $105,000 just last month.

"While tapestries are not a traditional collectors market, they are a strong decorative market," says Stefan Kist, Christie's senior specialist from Toronto. He is seeing more and more new buyers enter the field. "An excellent 16th-century tapestry is a fraction of the cost of an important painting," he adds. Another contributing factor is the increasing number of mega-mansions built recently. Tapestries and splendid carpets are just part and parcel of baronial taste.

But there are also examples bordering on the bizarre. Take one work that features sea nymphs and dolphins in a lurex silver-like yarn. Made by art students in Tbilisi, Russia, during the 1960s, this tapestry would look right at home with Perspex furnishings and a bevy of mercury glass.

Needless to say, the range of fine Orientals is stupendous. But look for Art Deco and Arts and Crafts examples as well; they are gaining considerably in favor with many furniture collectors these days.

Interestingly, sales volume in this area of rarities has jumped five times. "Yet, the number of transactions can be surprisingly small," says Eddy Keshishian.

Also, this market is fast changing. Once the province of only a handful of collectors, interest is broadening today. "We're seeing more strong American buying than ever before," says Keshishian.

BROOK S. MASON writes on the fine and decorative arts.