Pair of South Asian religious sculptures achieve US$3 million at Asia Week New York

During this season’s Asia Week New York, Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art Sales attained favourable outcomes at Christie’s; and satisfactory results at Bonhams. Alongside Buddhist art, Hindu art and antiquities from the regions were also featured.

A Hindu statue from the John Rockefeller III’s Collection led Christie’s Sale – it fetched US$693,000 dollars with buyer’s premium. Meanwhile, Bonhams’ Tara sculpture from 13th century Nepal garnered US$2.3 million dollars, with buyer’s premium. Together, the pair of sculptures amassed US$3 million dollars.

Amongst 97 lots offered at the Christie’s Sale, 77 were sold and achieved a sale total of US$3.7 million dollars. Bonhams, in contrast, sold 23 out of 52 lots offered and yielded US$2.9 million dollars in total.


​Lot 457 │ Bronze Figure of Dancing Krishna │ India

Created during Chola dynasty (12th century)
Height: 39.2 cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Spink & Son Ltd, London, by 1959
  • Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, New York, August 1959
  • Sold to benefit Asia Society, New York; Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet, New York, 3 May 1977, Lot 7
  • William H. Wolff, Inc., New York, 23 October 1985
  • Robert and Bernice Dickes Collection, New Jersey
  • Carlton Rochell Asian Art, New York, 22 March 2010
  • The Maitri Collection of Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art; Bonhams New York, 20 March 2018, Lot 3231 (Sold: US$492,500)

Estimate: US$500,000 – 700,000

Hammer Price: US$550,000

Sold: US$693,000

(From left to right): The five Rockefeller brothers – David, Winthrop, John, Nelson and Laurance
This sculpture’s provenance can be traced back to 1959 – when John D. Rockefeller III (1906-1978) acquired it from Spink & Son Ltd. – a prominent antique dealer based in London.

John and his four younger brothers were figures in the American political and economic circles. Among them, second eldest brother Nelson and youngest brother David were the most well-known. The former was the Vice President under Gerald Ford (in office from 1974 to 1977), while the latter's Art Collection fetched US$835.1 million dollars at Christie’s in 2018 – the most valuable private collection sold at auction.

In 1977, this sculpture was then auctioned in New York – its proceeds donated to John’s established educational organisation, Asia Society. Since then, the statue belonged to different collectors until it was sold at Bonhams New York in 2018 – where it amassed US$492,500 dollars with buyer’s premium. This year, it was sold at Christie's New York. 

An incarnation of Vishnu, Krishna is the god of protection, compassion, tenderness and love and is one of the most revered Indian divinities. In Hinduism, Krishna can appear in different forms – such as a god-child, a young dancing boy and the universal supreme being.

This exquisitely cast image depicts Krishna in his most popular form in South India – as a young dancing boy. His hair is arranged into rows of curls stacked upon each other – reserved for juveniles and female figures and one of the most attractive elements found in Chola dynasty sculpture. The jewelled tassels hug Krishna's ears and descend towards makara-shaped earrings resting on his shoulders indicate the Chola dynasty's mature artistic style.

He is naked but for jewelled ornaments, also betraying his status as a pampered, royal child, yet the sculpture does anything but infantilize the deity, who offers the audience a gesture of reassurance with his right hand and his still, confident expression.

Lot 423 │ Large Gilt Bronze Figure of Maitreya │ Central Tibet

Created during 15th century
Height: 50cm
Provenance (Amended by The Value):

  • Acquired from Kapoor Galleries, New York, 1987
  • Swiss Private Collector

Estimate: US$400,000 – 600,000

Hammer Price: US$330,000

Sold: US$415,800

Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who postpone their Buddhahood to help all sentient beings. Maitreya is the Future Buddha – presently a Bodhisattva residing in Tusita Heaven. He is believed to descend onto Earth and preach Buddhist teachings.

During the 15th century, Tibetan Buddhist art was artistically influenced by Nepal and China.  Characteristic of these regions, this sculpture has curved eyebrows, rectangular auricles, a long and angular nose, an arched mouth. It has a raised chin, graceful fingers and a gently raised chest to add a sense of dynamism. The whole body is adorned in turquoise – the hem of the garment covering the legs is exquisitely carved.

This lot belonged to a Swiss collector. Since its acquisition in New York in 1987, it was kept in the Collection until its sale this season.

Lot 460 │ Bronze Figure of Sambandar │ India

Created during Vijayanagara period (late 15th-early 16th century)
Height: 75 cm

  • Sotheby’s New York, 1 December 1993, Lot 104
  • Carmen Cervera, Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza
  • Christie's New York, 13 September 2017, Lot 622 (Unsold)

Estimate: US$300,000 – 500,000

Hammer Price: US$250,000

Sold: US$315,000

Sambandar is one of many saints dedicated to Hindu god, Shiva. According to legend, the three-year-old Sambandar became hungry while he was visiting a temple and was fed milk by a statue depicting Shiva and Parvati. Immediately, he became their devotee and spent the rest of his life dancing and singing their praises.

He stands on a lotus over a tiered pedestal – the bottom step incised with further lotus petals and is surrounded by a flaming aureole issuing from the mouths of makaras (sea creatures in Hindu mythologies) and incised with a diamond stippled pattern. The surface retains a rich red-brown patina and its large size indicates it was part of an important commission.

In 2017, the statue was auctioned at Christie's New York. The seller was Carmen Cervera, Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza – a former Miss Spain pageant winner and prominent art collector. Estimated between US$600,000 and 800,000 dollars at the time, it failed to sell.

This year, the Baroness consigned the sculpture to Christie’s once again. In the end, it fetched US$315,000 dollars with buyer’s premium.

The seller was Carmen Cervera, Baroness Thyssen-Bornemisza

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie’s New York

Sale: Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art

Date: 22 March 2022

Number of lots: 97

Sold: 77

Unsold: 20

Sale Rate: 79.5%

Sale Total: US$3,731,490


Lot 305 │ Gilt Copper Alloy Figure of Green Tara │ Nepal

Created during early Malla period, circa 13th century
Height: 23 cm

  • David Tremayne Ltd, London, 1985
  • The Michael Henss Collection, Zurich

Estimate: US$500,000 – 700,000

Hammer Price: US$1,900,000

Sold: US$2,310,312

The auctioneer started the bidding at US$400,000 dollars. After around 30 bids, the hammer was dropped at US$1.9 million dollars. The winning bid was by a gentleman in the auction room, with paddle number 603. In the end, it was sold at US$2.3 million dollars with buyer’s premium. 

Feminine counterpart of Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, Tara is a Buddhist deity of compassion with numerous forms – popular in Nepal, Tibet and Mongolia. In this case, she is depicted as Green Tara – a compassionate being determined to help other sentient beings to relieve suffering. 

The Malla dynasty ruled central Nepal during the 13th to the 18th centuries – namely the Kathmandu Valley where the Newar people lived. Many Buddhist and Hindu masterpieces were created during these 500 years and is considered as the Golden Age of Nepali art.

This sculpture sits in a royal ease posture, while she tilts her head – with a benevolent gaze and warm smile. Her crown is adorned with inset gems and rare pearls. She gently extends a downward facing palm in a gesture of blessing.

Enlaced within the fingers of her left hand is the stem of a blossoming blue lily – symbolising purity and divine birth. Her fleshy torso transitions to a lower garment gathered in bold pleats around her thighs and shins. Her body and hair are embellished through the ritual practice of painting the skin with cold gold and the hair with ground lapis lazuli – features that indicate the idol’s former veneration in Tibet.

Lot 320 │ Copper Alloy Figure of Buddha │ Thailand

Created during 15th/16th century
Height: 47 cm

  • Dr. Kenneth P. and Margaret Landon, since 1946
  • Margaret L. Schoenherr, by inheritance on 20 April 1989
  • Then by descent to the present owner

Estimate: US$ 20,000 – 30,000

Hammer Price: US$50,000

Sold: US$62,812

This sculpture depicts Sakyamuni Buddha's right hand touching the ground. Under the Bodhi Tree, he gestures to the earth witnesses as he subdued the Demon King, Mara and ultimately, cultivated Buddhahood. The left hand is in meditation gesture, whilst the Buddha is seated in a full-lotus posture. The flame finial found in the crown is characteristic of Sukhothai style.

According to the former Director of the Bangkok National Museum, Luang Boriban – who presided over the sculpture's formal gift exchange – some gold was added to the original alloy to provide a glow and prevent tarnish. The sculpture has a storied provenance accompanied by a typewritten letter and a commemorative plaque created in 1946. The sculpture was given by Luang Chmachamnikate – a Thai official whose family owned the statue for several generations – to Dr. Kenneth P. Landon, an American ambassador to Bangkok who advised the brokering of the Anglo-Thai Peace Treaty (1946).

Lot 317 │ Brass Figure of Vaikuntha Vishnu │ India

Created during 8th/9th century CE
Height: 19 cm

  • Christie's, New York, 3 October 1990, Lot 189
  • Private European Collection

Estimate: US$50,000 – 70,000

Hammer Price: US$48,000

Sold: US$60,312

A human face is depicted at the front, with a lion and a boar's face on the two sides

A demonic face appears at the back of the head
With its raised details worn smooth by centuries of worship, this bronze survives with glossy patina of a revered icon. Its subject – Vishnu is depicted in a cosmic manifestation as Vaikuntha.

According to an ancient Hindu text, the name Vaikuntha was first mentioned – where Vishnu is described as manifesting in the form of a four-headed god, with a peaceful human face in front, a lion and a boar's face on the two sides, and a ferocious face at the back. Here, the lion and boar are vividly depicted with their mouths agape – representing both of Vishnu's avatars.

He stands with his left foot in front of his right, holds a lotus flower and a conch shell in his upper hands, and rests his lower hands on the heads of two diminutive figures – Gadadevi, the female personification of his battle mace; and Chakrapurusha , the male personification of his war discus. Enlivening the composition, a small figure of the Earth goddess, Prithvi, emerges from the base between Vishnu's feet; while another female figure, likely representing the donor, sits by the pedestal's left side.

Vaikuntha Chaturmukha|Brass inlaid with copper and silver, Kashmir (9th century CE)|Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Auction Details:

Auction House: Bonhams New York

Sale: Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art

Date: 22 March 2022

Number of lots: 52

Sold: 23

Unsold: 29

Sale Rate: 44.2%

Sale Total: US$2,927,195