Carved Wood Figures of Seated Bodhisattvas Led Bonhams’ Ollivier Collection Sale

In this London auction week, Bonhams offered a selection of Early Chinese Art from the Collection of Jean-Yves Ollivier, the unsung hero who helped end apartheid in South Africa. Several outstanding pieces of archaic Chinese bronzes from his collection fell short of expectation and failed to sell. On the other hand, a pair of carved wood figures of seated Bodhisattvas took the limelight and became the most expensive lot of the sale after selling for £512,750.

Jean-Yves Ollivier is an avid collector in Early Chinese Art

The top lot of the sale was a pair of carved wood figures of seated bodhisattvas from the Song dynasty. The 44cm-tall figures were hammered down at £420,000 and sold for £510,000, surpassing the estimated value at £120,000-150,000.

The benevolent facial expressions, shown in the plump cheeks, downcast eyes and gentle smiles, together with free-flowing draperies intricately sculpted by fine folds and contours, suggest that the present pair of figures depict Avalokiteshvara, also known as Guanyin, the benevolent Goddess of Mercy. Avalokiteshvara (known as Guanyin in China) is described in the 'Lotus Sutra', as capable of hearing all mankind, striving endlessly to help those offering prayers, transforming at will and appearing in more than thirty human guises to expound Buddhist teaching to devotees.

The present pair of figures would most likely have stood on an altar, venerated in connection with religious beliefs concerning the devotee's rebirth in the blissful Pure Land presided over by Amitabha Buddha. 'Pure Land' Buddhism was based on the belief that Amitabha granted rebirth of the dead in his wondrous realm to whoever meditated on him through chanting and prostration.

Besides the pair of Avalokiteshvara figures, most bronzes vessel in the collection failed to sell while only three of the top 10 leading lots were sold. The sell-through rate of the sale was only 46%.

The second top lot of the sale fell to a massive, richly glazed Bactrian camel from the Tang dynasty (618-907). Estimated at £300,000-400,000, it was sold for £370,000 after premium. It conveys a sense of realism by the forward moving posture of the creature, enhanced by the strong and slender legs, highly detailed with tendons and naturalistic tufts of dark fur, and the tall humps, gently swaying to either side of the body.

A white marble head of Mahasthamaprapta from Northern Qi dynasty fetched £308,750, the third highest price at the sale. It is a remarkable example of the high standards achieved in Buddhist portraiture during the Northern Qi period.

During the Northern Qi period, Buddhism flourished in China, conspicuous financial resources were devoted to the construction of Buddhist caves whose marvellous sculptures combined sensuous modelling and subtlety of expression. These features were likely to have derived from the contemporary Indian style of the Gupta period, which was highly regarded by the Qi aristocracy for its exotic traits. In Buddhist faith, images of deities served as important foci of worship and also promoted significant devotional acts which contributed to the devotee's personal growth towards spiritual liberation.

Despite carrying high expectation, an archaic bronze vessel, Hu, from the late Shang dynasty, came only in the fourth place. It was hammered down at its low estimate £180,0000 and sold for £220,000 after premium.

Hu was designed to store wine. Originally, this type of vessel would have had a lid which might have been fastened to the body by a string from the lug-handles on the sides. Bronze hu vessels of this type were popular in the Anyang region during the late Shang period.

Top five

A Fine and Rare Pair of Carved Wood Figures of Seated Bodhisattvas
Song Dynasty

Lot no.: 8
Height: 44cm

  • Mario Prodan Collection, Rome
  • Christie's London, 5 June 1995, lot 105
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £120,000 - 150,000
Hammer price: £420,000
Price realised: £512,750

A Magnificent and Massive Sancai-glazed Model of a Bactrian Camel
Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 28
Height: 82cm

  • Stephen K. C. Lo, P. C. Lu Works of Art Ltd., Hong Kong, 12 November 1991
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £300,000 - 400,000
Hammer price: £300,000
Price realised: £368,750

A White Marble Head of Mahasthamaprapta
Northern Qi Dynasty

Lot no.: 31
Height: 34cm

  • Gisèle Croës Arts D'Extreme Orient, Brussels, 2006
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £250,000 - 300,000
Hammer price: £250,000
Price realised: £308,750

A Large and Rare Archaic Bronze Vessel, Hu
Late Shang Dynasty

Lot no.: 33
Height: 41cm

  • Wui Po Kok Antique Co., Hong Kong, 21 October 2000
  • Gisèle Croës Arts D'Extreme Orient, Brussels, 2014
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £180,000 - 220,000
Hammer price: £180,000
Price realised: £224,750

A Fine and Rare Gilt-copper Densatil-style 'four Dancers' Frieze
15th Century

Lot no.: 35
Width: 37cm

  • Stephen K.C. Lo, P.C. Lu Works of Art Ltd., Hong Kong, 28 November 1995
  • Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection

Estimate: £140,000 - 160,000
Hammer price: £140,000
Price realised: £175,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Bonhams’ London
Sale: The Ollivier Collection of Early Chinese Art: A Journey Through Time
Sale date: 8 November 2018
Lots offered: 35
Sold: 16
Unsold: 19
Sold by lot: 46%
Sale total: £1,914,375