The ‘Nitta Maitreya’ from the collection of Muneichi Nitta was hoped to be sold in a single-lot sale at Christie’s Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the rare sculpture did not cause much hype at all at the sale. Due to its rarity and provenance, the estimate was HK$40m, much higher than what bidders were offering. However, the bidding started at HK$24m, and the figure was bought in at HK$30m, after only three bids.
Muneichi Nitta was a legendary collector. Pieces from his collection can be seen in the National Palace Museum in Taipei and Tokyo National Museum. He once owned the ‘Ming’ Fanglei, a national treasure bronze masterpiece. On top of that, he had even ‘beaten’ The Louvre as well as the British Museum in auctions. No wonder why people regard him as a legendary collector.
Mr. Nitta’s birth name is Peng Kai-dong. He was born in 1912 in Taiwan when it was under the rule of the Japanese. At the age of 15, he moved to Tokyo and then traveled between Taiwan and Japan frequently before he eventually settled down in Japan. When he was 26, he married his Japanese wife and that was when he got his name that he is known for – Muneichi Nitta.
Mr. Nitta performed in the movie ‘Bāng Tshun-hong’ when he was young
After the Second World War, Mr. Nitta was banned from entering Taiwan due to the fact that his logistics company had delivered goods to Japan. During that time, he worked hard and made use of his connections with celebrities and opened his first antique shop in Ginza Tokyo. His business blossomed as artefacts were flowing into the market because of society’s instability.
Shakyamuni Buddha, Gilt bronze, Northern wei dynasty, dated 477 – National Palace Museum
Not until the early 1950s, when Mr. Nitta was around 40 years old did he developed an interest in collecting Buddha figures. Since then, he had travelled around the world searching for religious figures. His collection ranged from the 3rd to 19th century, across 1600 years, with masterpieces from India, Sri Lanka, China, Japan, and many more countries. The high quality of his figures is what made him internationally known.
Gilt-bronze figure of Maitreya Buddha, late Sui - early Tang dynasty
At the end of the 1980s, Mr. Nissa collaborated with museums to exhibit his collection of buddha sculptures. In 1987, the public was able to witness his extraordinary collection of Buddha and Guanyin figures from places such as Gandhāra (northern Pakistan), Pakistan and India, including the gilt-bronze figure of Maitreya Buddha offered by Christie’s in this sale. Dated from the 7th century, this figure is one of the largest gilt-bronze artefacts from that time, displaying a style unique to the early Tang period.
Seated Śakyamunin, Sri Lanka, Anuradhapura period, 9th century
Four-armed Bhrikuti, East India, Pala Dynasty, 9th century
Since the 1987 exhibition, Mr. Nissa had been donating his buddhist sculptures to museums in the US, Japan and Taiwan. In 2004, he offered 358 gilt-bronze figures to the National Palace Museum. A special exhibition,'The Casting of Religion' was held based on his donation in the same year. Mr. Peng sadly passed away in 2006, and in his will he again donated 48 pieces to the National Palace Museum.
A highly-important gilt-bronze figure of Maitreya Buddha, late Sui - early Tang dynasty, early 7th century
Lot no.: 2801
The Nitta Collection, sold at Christie’s Hong Kong, 26 April 1998, lot 601
Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: The Nitta Maitreya
Lot offered: 1