Estimated at US$800,000, A Rare Korean Gilt Bronze Figure of Chijang Bosal Failed to Sell at Bonhams New York

A rare Korean gilt-bronze figure of Chijang Bosal (Ksitigarbha), Goryeo dynasty (918-1392), 13th/14th century, was expected to fetch US$800,000-1.2m at Bonhams New York. Unfortunately, the price point was perhaps too high that it was not attractive enough to find a new owner. This cover lot of the sale failed to sell and was bought in.

Kṣitigarbha is a bodhisattva best known for his vow not to achieve Buddhahood until all hells are emptied. Primarily revered in East Asian Buddhism, Kṣitigarbha is a saviour of deceased children and of tortured souls in the underworld and he vows to take responsibility for the instruction of all beings in the six worlds between the death of Gautama Buddha and the rise of Maitreya.

Kṣitigarbha is usually depicted as a monk and he is in the same guise in the present lot with elaborate bracelets, necklace, and a string of jewels suggesting his divine status. The bodhisattva is seated cross-legged in meditation and dressed in flowing robes open at the chest, a long cowl covering the head gathered at the back and secured with a band.

The figure features the urna of inlaid amber

The bodhisattva has his right hand raised with the thumb and middle finger joined in a mudra of teaching and the left hand holding a chintamani (wish-granting jewel or pearl). Cintamani is a wish-fulfilling jewel within both Hindu and Buddhist traditions, said by some to be the equivalent of the philosopher's stone in Western alchemy. In Buddhism it is held by the Bodhisattvas Avalokiteshvara and Ksitigarbha.

Right hand raised with the thumb and middle finger joined in a mudra of teaching and the left hand holding a chintamani

The earliest extant images of the deity are to be found at the seventh-century Longmen cave complex in China's Henan Province; he is also depicted in paintings of the Five Dynasties period (late ninth-early tenth century), originally preserved at Dunhuang and now in museums in Paris and Kyoto.

The present figure was made in the 13th-14th century, corresponding to the late Goryeo dynasty. The Goryeo period is considered the ‘golden age of Buddhism’ in Korea. Buddhist sculpture made in the middle and late Goryeo period shows the influence of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1279) in China. China’s influence on Korea became more prominent during the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368).

According to the auction house, sculptural representations of Ksitigarbha are commonly found in Japanese art but are extremely rare in Korea; only one other Goryeo-dynasty Korean bronze figure of the deity is known, a smaller and less ambitious work in a Japanese private collection.

This gilt-bronze figure was the cover of the Bonhams’ sale of Property from the Collection of Drs. Edmund and Julie Lewis, Part I, carrying an estimate of US$800,000-1.2m. The bidding started at US$500,000 and the price stopped at US$580,000 as no one offered a higher bid. The figure failed to find a new owner and was bought-in.

Internationally recognised as leading experts in nephrology, Drs. Edmund and Julie Lewis are also avid collectors who have focused on collecting Japanese lacquer art and painting and Asian Buddhist sculpture.

Following the flop of the figure of Ksitigarbha, the top lot of the sale fell to a four-panel screen Ryu wa ryu o shiru (Dragon knows dragon) by Morita Shiryu (1912-1998), which fetched US$187,575 after premium.

The top lot bought-in

A Rare and Important Korean Gilt Bronze Figure of Chijang Bosal (Ksitigarbha)

Lot no.: 521
Height: 53cm (figure only)
Provenance: The Collection of Drs. Edmund and Julie Lewis
Estimate: US$800,000 - 1,200,000

Top lot of the sale

Morita Shiryu (1912-1998). Ryu wa ryu o shiru (Dragon knows dragon)

Lot no.: 616
Size: 113 x 224cm

  • Previously sold, Butterfield and Butterfield, San Francisco, November 16-17, 1994, lot 2314
  • The Collection of Drs. Edmund and Julie Lewis

Estimate: US$60,000 - 80,000
Price realised: US$187,575

Auction details

Auction house: Bonhams New York
Sale: Property from the Collection of Drs. Edmund and Julie Lewis, Part I
Sale date: 11 September 2019
Lots offered: 116