As The Middle East goes to press London's fine art auctioneers, including Sotheby's and Christie's, are gearing up for Islamic Week. This is a week dominated by an exceptional series of sales, incorporating a number of private collections, from the rich and varied arts of the Islamic world The past few years have seen a noticeable heightening in enthusiasm for sales of Islamic art which, last October at Sotheby's, achieved record totals. Juliet Higher reports on this rich and varied genre.
Although there have always been ardent connoisseurs of Islamic art prepared to cross a desert or two to secure a particularly precious Mughal turban ornament, or an exquisite Persian miniature, international interest and collecting only took off 25 years or so ago.
In 1975 the World of Islam Festival was held at various venues all over London, which was to have far-reaching consequences in raising public awareness of Arab-Muslim culture, not least initiating twice-yearly exhibitions and sales in London which have become known as Islamic Week. They now represent such a significant date in the global arts calendar that no dealer, collector, academic nor museum curator dare miss one.
As a result of that seminal festival, London has become the centre for Islamic art, rather appropriately, being neatly half-way between the Eastern and Western worlds.
Simultaneously, the newly oil-rich Gulf states and Iran launched into a splurge of collecting for their burgeoning institutions and museums, as well as for private houses, palaces, and latterly for corporate buildings. Like a chameleon, the Islamic art market to this day continues to absorb and reflect developments in collecting, from Turkey, for example, keen to gather its long dispersed heritage back to its shores. Several countries in South East …