Gilt Bronze Figure of Buddha Hammered Down at US$3.2m after Intense Bidding War

Christie’s New York kicked off its Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art sale at 2 am on 14th September (Hong Kong time). The sale reports a sell-through rate of 71%, not particularly outstanding. Nonetheless, the sale was heated up by the leading lot, a gilt bronze figure of Buddha from the 13th century. It led to a brutal bidding war of over 30 bid increments in merely three minutes. The figure was hammered down at US$3.2m, far exceeding its estimate of US$600,000 – 800,000.

The Buddhist figure is carved with elongated eyes with the pupils gazing inward, a sharp nose, and pierced earlobes surmounted by diminutive lotuses. The countenance of the seated Buddha is gentle and serene, depicting the young Gautama Buddha. The Buddha has a nasal bridge jointing the eyebrows, a big forehead and a robust body, classic features of Nepalese Buddhist sculptures.

The craftsmanship of this figure is meticulous. The Buddha is dressed in a sheer sanghati with richly incised hems bordered by beads cast in high relief, with one pleated end elegantly draped over his left shoulder. The toes are each in clearly separate and distinctive shape, showing the sophistication of early Nepalese bronze work.

The figure, with no base, is colossal with a height of 50.5 cm. The gilt bronze on its surface has turned from shiny gold to matte gold after a long period but the overall condition is pretty well-preserved.

The Buddha is seated in dhyanasana with his right hand in bhumisparshamudra (earth-touching gesture). This mudra is formed with all five fingers of the right hand extended to touch the ground, symbolizing the Buddha’s enlightenment under the bodhi tree. He summoned the earth goddess, Sthavara, to bear witness to his attainment of enlightenment.

The bidding of the figure started at US$400,000 and soon evolved into an intense bidding war. There were mainly three bidders: one telephone bidder, two bidders (a man and a woman) in the room. The price soon soared to US$1m and the bid increment doubled from US$50,000 to US$100,000. Undeterred by the rise of increment, three bidders stayed in the bidding war, making over 30 bids in merely three minutes. The woman in the room won the bidding war and was cheered by a round of applause.

The figure of Buddha was hammered down at US$3.2m and was sold for US$3.85m with buyer’s premium.


Top Lots

A Large and Important Gilt Bronze Figure of Buddha. Nepal. 13th/14th Century.

Lot no.: 620
Height: 50.5cm
Sotheby’s New York, 1 December 1993, lot 23.
Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000
Hammer price: US$3,200,000
Price realized: US$3,852,500

An Important Gray Schist Figure of a Standing Buddha. Gandhara. 2nd/3rd Century.

Lot no.: 603
Height: 81.3cm

  • Walter Randel, New York, 1961.
  • Acquired by Alice M. Kaplan from the above by 1962.

Estimate: US$300,000 - US$500,000
Hammer price: US$650,000
Price realized: US$792,500

A Densatil Gilt Bronze Frieze with Offering Goddess. Tibet, 14th/15th Century.

Lot no.: 626
Height: 32.3cm

  • Private West Coast Collection.
  • Acquired by the present owner from the above by 8 March 1997.

Estimate: US$80,000 - 120,000
Hammer price: US$320,000
Price realized: US$396,500


Auction Summary

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art
Sale no.: 14484
Auction date: 2017/9/13
Sale total: US$6,208,750
No. of lots: 49
Sold: 35
Unsold: 14
Average price per lot: US$177,393
Sell-through rate: 71%

(All prices realized have included buyer’s premium unless otherwise specified)