When Pablo Picasso was looking for pieces of ancient art to inspire his painting, he knew who to ask.
The artist sought out the Aarons, an Iranian-Jewish family who since 1910 had developed a reputation as the foremost dealers in Islamic and near eastern artefacts.
“Picasso was in love with Persian pottery,” said Salomon Aaron, a current co-director of the Aaron gallery along with his father, David.
“When you look at his art, you can clearly see the influence of some of the ancient pottery that he got from us. He was especially in love with terracotta pieces.”
That was in the 1950s. Since then, the family has supplied pieces to celebrity clients such as fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and provided artefacts to museums from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the Louvre in Paris.
The gallery was founded over a century ago in the Iranian city of Isfahan. When David Aaron fled the country during the 1979 Islamic revolution, he settled in London and set up shop in Mayfair.
There, they display art from Egypt to central Asia, some of it dating back to 6,000 B.C.
If sourcing these pieces once involved Indiana Jones-style tomb raiding, things have moved on since then. David and Salamon spend a lot of time browsing auction houses and markets.
“I’ve found pieces as close as Hampstead or as far as Hawaii,” said Salomon, a former Immanuel College student.
“And I go to Portobello market at 6am on weekends — but that’s been a monumental waste of time.
“With regulation on items, the industry has changed. But you can still go to antique markets and find objects where people don’t really appreciate their value.
“It’s an amazing feeling when you find a rare object. You form a bond with it and it’s hard to let it go.”
The gallery also sources Judaica for the Israel Museum and the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. “We’re helping them build up their collections,” Salomon said.