The Mysterious Hand of Fate

Sometimes in art collecting the process of discovery seems to be almost fated. I remember one such incident over two decades ago which stands out in my mind above all others.

I paid a visit to a venerable antiques shop located in a grand old mansion on America’s West Coast. Among the many wonderful decorative artworks and furnishings displayed across three floors - I saw what looked like an original 17th Century Persian Miniature painting in a gaudy old frame hanging in a dimly lit small stairwell.

Looking closer I discovered what appeared to be an important illustrated sheet of the Shah Nama of Firdausi painted in the style of one of the 17th Century Safavid Persia’s greatest artists. The faded sticker showed a surprisingly low - though still not insignificant - retail price of 800 dollars! Clearly this painting had been hanging there for quite some time.

Mitche Kunzman

  • Indian Miniature Paintings & Drawings

Sometimes in art collecting the process of discovery seems to be almost fated

Distracted I continued up the stairs, finished looking around, said goodbye and returned to New York. I suppose that in retrospect even that price may have seemed like a lot for me to gamble at the time.

But after I got back home to New York I began to ask myself why I hadn’t actually bought the miniature? What was I thinking? Was it because inexpensive works by this artist’s imitators had so often appeared in the marketplace and it was hard to be sure in that low lighting? But this one really looked like the hand of the master. The question kept nagging at me for two years until my next visit to the West Coast.

Before I visited the shop again I reassured myself not to worry as even the greatest masterpieces of Persian miniature painting could easily go unrecognized considering so few people actually learn about them. I hoped fate may offer it to me once again.

Once there, I calmly walked up that same stairwell again - and sure enough - the painting was still there! This time I unhesitatingly offered to buy at the full asking price. Getting it back home and removing it from its old faded mount more of the page was revealed.

I found the miniature to be in excellent condition and only then was I convinced that it was indeed by the hand of the master himself and with an autograph signature by him from 1649, Doubtless from the quite significant dispersed Shah Nama of Firdausi!

Other sheets had been in the Rothschild Collection and the Fogg Museum. Previously, a decade earlier, another example from the same rare series had sold at auction in London for over 19.000 Pounds Sterling!

In art collecting the mysterious workings of fate often reward study and learning above all else. And you never know what you may unexpectedly find - and find again - up the darkened stairway of an old mansion - even when you’re not initially thinking of looking for it.