The Carpet and the Connoisseur: The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs
March 6—May 8, 2016
Main Exhibition Galleries

The Carpet and the Connoisseur: The James F. Ballard Collection of Oriental Rugs highlights the extraordinary range of Oriental carpets assembled by one of the most important early 20th-century American collectors who set a new standard for collecting and scholarship.

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Large Fragmentary Ushak Carpet with Quatrefoil Medallion, 16th century; Ottoman period, (1281–1924); wool; 119 x 90 ¼ inches; Saint Louis Art Museum, Gift of James F. Ballard 98:1929
During the early 20th century, St. Louis businessman James F. Ballard became one of the country’s top collectors of Oriental carpets. An unlikely collector, he was celebrated for his approach to collecting Anatolian carpets from provincial centers in Turkey at a time when most other rug connoisseurs were acquiring the classical Persian and Indian carpets. In addition to his passion for collecting, Ballard was also a patient teacher, inveterate traveler, and, above all, the first Oriental carpet enthusiast to acknowledge the importance of Turkish influence on the history of the pile carpet.

Ballard ultimately divided his collection of carpets between The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1922 and the Saint Louis Art Museum in 1929. Another group of carpets were added to the St. Louis collection through a later donation by his daughter, Nellie Ballard White, in 1972. As a result of these two gifts, the Museum has amassed a collection of Oriental rugs recognized as one of the most significant collections in the world.

The Carpet and the Connoisseur will highlight 51 carpets from the Ballard collection, including three Cairene rugs, a Spanish rug, and examples of “Lotto” and small-pattern “Holbein” carpets, all important examples of works from the late-15th and 16th centuries. Ballard also acquired two 19th-century Persian pleasure tents that were used for outdoor gatherings. These are also featured in the exhibition.

The Carpet and the Connoisseur is guest-curated by Walter B. Denny, University of Massachusetts distinguished professor in Islamic Arts in collaboration with Philip Hu, associate curator of Asian art, and textile conservator Zoe Perkins. The Carpet and the Connoisseur will be on view in the Main Exhibition Galleries from March 6 through May 8, 2016.