US$2.7 million Chinese archaic bronze jar tops Asia Week New York

Christie’s Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale delivered glittering results.

Amongst 351 lots offered in two parts, 294 were sold – a US$31 million dollars sale total and 83.7 per cent sale rate was achieved – far exceeding expectations.

The most valuable lot was a bronze jar from ancient China fetched US$2.7 million dollars with buyer’s premium. Alongside the bronzeware, a 900-year-old Guanyin sculpture and 17th century huanghuali table each sold for more than US$2 million dollars, and were the sale’s second and third most expensive lots.

The archaic bronze jar was hammered at US$2,250,000 dollars

Lot 719 │ Inlaid Bronze Facted Jar, Fanghu

Created during Warring States period (4th-3rd century BCE)
Height: 43 cm

  • Kaikodo, New York, before 1996

Estimate: US$400,000 – 600,000

Hammer Price: US$2,250,000

Sold: US$2,760,000

The auctioneer started the bidding at US$300,000 dollars, and dropped the hammer at US$2.2 million dollars more than 5 times its low estimate. In the end, it fetched US$2.7 million dollars, with buyer's premium.  

The four-sided vessel is set with loose rings suspending loose ring handles on opposite sides, and is decorated on each side with elaborate pictorial scenes arranged in horizontal registers. The flat, raised bronze motifs of the scenes are silhouetted against a sunken background bearing extensive remains of an inlaid paste. The bronze of the raised motifs has a brownish-red and green patina.

Ancient Chinese bronzewares were decorated with different creatures – such as taoties (mythological creatures), dragons, phoenixes and owls. Patterns were later based on human activities – reflecting the people’s living conditions of the period and are precious visual historical materials.

This present bronze jar has two group of carvings portraying scenes of feasting, hunting and fighting on land and sea.

The first group of motifs portraying scenes of feasting, hunting and land and naval battles

First group – with layers from top to bottom:

A sun and moon are found on the upper right and left, while various food utensils are found in the room. The characters on the first section hold wine vessels, and those on the second section raise their glasses to greet them.

Musicians play stone chimes (bianqing), chime bells (bianzhong) and drums.

A line of eight female dancers dressed in robes.

Hunters wielding bows and arrows or spears – some in carriages and on foot – are chasing animals such as deer, rabbits, tigers and wild boars.

At the Palace’s Grand Hall, there are two birds on either side of the roof. Guards are standing on patrol outside, while two people exchange a disc inside. Below the Palace is a row of four horses with reins and stablemen, and a row of four hunted and bleeding tigers are found further below.  

The lowest single-story building has a cauldron inside – possibly a kitchen.

The second group of motifs portraying feasting, hunting and land and naval battles

Second group – with layers from top to bottom:

Row of warriors hold spears and dagger-axes.

A fierce battle ensues – soldiers fighting with spears, dagger-axes and shields. 

More fighting scenes are portrayed – chariots also join the battle.  

This layer is naval warfare – in contrast to the land battles above. Two deck boats, warriors on the upper deck, oarsmen at the lower deck; and someone at the front of the ship who uses a drum to boost the oarsmen’s morale and keep them in rhythm.

Women are picking mulberries and feeding silkworms.

Contrasted with another set of kitchens on the ground floor, this one-story structure may be a weaving workshop.

This present archaic bronze jar is similar to ones found in the Palace Museum, Beijing and National Palace Museum, Taipei. They also depict scenes of feasting, fishing, hunting and fighting in various sections. 

A vessel portraying fishing, hunting, and land and naval battle scenes (circa 475-221 BCE) | Palace Museum, Beijing

Motifs depicted on a vessel, with scenes of women picking mulberries, feasting and dancing, hunting, and land and naval battles (circa 475-221 BCE) | Palace Museum, Beijing

This present lot's provenance can be traced back to when it was acquired by Kaikodo in New York before 1996.

Kaikodo (The Hall of Embracing Antiquity), was the studio name in central Japan given in the 1970s to Howard and Mary Ann Rogers. Given by their mentor, Cheng Chi, its name represented the couple's Collection of Chinese paintings, ceramics and other works of art.

Howard was then Professor of Chinese Art at Sophia University in Tokyo, while Mary Ann was a frequent Lecturer at the University and for the College Women’s Association of Japan. She was also a Researcher at the Idemitsu Museum of Arts, Tokyo.

Fang wine vessel with hunting scene motifs | National Palace Museum, Taipei

Lot 748 Gilt Bronze Figure of Guanyin Dali Kingdom

Created during late 11th century – early 12th century
Height: 57.1 cm

  • C. T. Loo & Co., New York, circa 1924
  • Grace Rainey Rogers (1867-1943) Collection, Greenwich, Connecticut
  • Collection of the Late Grace Rainey Rogers; Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., 18-19 November 1943, Lot 285
  • C.T. Loo & Co., New York or Frank Caro, New York
  • Arthur M. Sackler Collections
  • Acquired from the above in 1982

Estimate: US$2,000,000 – 3,000,000

Hammer Price: US$2,100,000

Sold: US$2,580,000

The bidding started at US$1.3 million dollars, and the hammer was dropped at US$2.1 million dollars. In the end, this sculpture garnered US$2.5 million dollars with buyer’s premium.

There are many different incarnations of Guanyin Bodhisattva – the Great Being of Infinite Compassion – who delays Buddhahood to help other sentient beings achieve enlightenment. He or she can appear as the Water Moon, Child-Giving or in this case, Willow Branch Guanyin.

Images of Guanyin holding a willow branch and a vase are often termed Yangliu Guanyin, or Willow Branch Guanyin. In the Dali Kingdom, images of the Willow Branch Guanyin are sometimes also called Bhaisajyaraja Avalokitesvara – a Sanskrit name that means Medicine King – a reference to the healing powers of the willow branch.

The stylistic characteristics unique to the Dali Kingdom are numerous – such as a squarish face with a tiny chin; small, almond-shaped eyes that look directly forward, as well as elaborate crown and jewellery.

These traits are shared amongst a small group of gilt bronzes that depict Guanyin Bodhisattva holding a vase and willow branch from 10th to 13th century China – found in prestigious Museum Collections around the world – including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Museum of Asian Art; National Palace Museum, Taipei; Tsz Shan Monastery Buddhist Art Museum, Hong Kong and Shanghai Museum.

According to a Christie’s specialist, this present sculpture would have been backed by either a halo or a mandorla when worshipped in a temple. The lotus-petal-shaped aureole suggests light radiating from the deity’s body – ultimately symbolising its divine status.

This sculpture and related ones in this group lack a tenon at the back of the head, or between the shoulder blades to secure a mandorla. This suggests either that a sculpted mandorla was affixed to and supported by the now-lost base, or that the mandorla was painted on the wall behind the figure.

As few original bases of comparable Dali bronze sculptures have survived, the exact appearance of this sculpture’s original lotus base remains unknown. But it is possible that this sculpture’s base might have resembled the double-lotus pedestal of the 12th century, Dali Kingdom Acuoye Guanyin Bodhisattva found in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

A square opening with gently curved sides on the figure’s back gives access to the sculpture’s hollow interior. It is possible that the opening was covered with a gilt-bronze plate, which concealed dedicatory objects – such as small paper scriptures, textile fragments and glass beads.

Acuoye Guanyin Bodhisattva, Dali Kingdom, 12th century, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

It is believed that the cavity (upper back section) was originally sealed with a gilt bronze plate – used to conceal dedicatory objects
This Guanyin sculpture’s provenance can be traced back to circa 1924, when it belonged to the prominent Chinese antique dealer, C. T. Loo (1880-1957). Since then, the sculpture passed through the hands of Grace Rainey Rogers (1867-1943) and Arthur M. Sackler (1913-1987). Both were distinguished American collectors and philanthropists, and the pair had museum buildings built and named following their donations.

Sackler's name is more commonly found in auction catalogues. The late New York pharmaceutical billionaire's Collection of Chinese antiques can be described as holistic – encompassing bronzes, jades, books, ceramics, Buddha sculptures and furniture pieces. Christie's and Sotheby's held sales from his Collections.

Prominent Chinese antique dealer, C. T. Loo (left); This Guanyin Bodhisattva sculpture was recorded in Bronze Antiques de la Chine appartenant a C. T. Loo et Cie (1924, right)

Grace Rainey Rogers (left) and Arthur M. Sackler (right) were distinguished American collectors

Lot 1016 Huanghuali Trestle Leg Table

Created during the 17th century
95.9 x 309.9 x 47.6 cm

  • EverArts Ltd., Hong Kong, 27 August 1996

Estimate: US$800,000 – 1,200,000

Hammer Price: US$1,700,000

Sold: US$2,100,000

This huanghuali table is distinguished by the massive length and thickness of the solid huanghuali plank top, measuring more than 5 centimetres thick. It is evident that the furniture maker not only had the economic resources for such an extravagant use of material, but also had access to the highest quality material. The plank possesses an attractive grain and displays a depth of colour. It is rare to find an example of large-scale furniture that prizes both size and material equally as in this case.

This form is known as a qiaotou'an (everted end recessed-leg table). But the 16th to 17th century scholar, Wen Zhengheng, termed it bizhuo (wall table), as it was commonly used against a wall to display works of art or to hold offerings. Tables of the present type tend to feature long, single-plank tops and thick members. Such tables also feature aprons with integral spandrels which are joined to provide added structural support.

Other highlight lots:

Lot 1048 Ge Type Mallet Vase

Six-character seal mark in underglaze blue and of the Yongzheng period (1723-1735)
Height: 16.6 cm

  • Dr. Carl Kempe (1884-1967) Collection
  • Ceramique Chinoises Provenant de Deux Collections Europeennes; Sotheby's Paris, 12 June 2008, Lot 97
  • Eskenazi Ltd., London

Estimate: US$400,000 – 600,000

Hammer Price: US$900,000

Sold: US$1,134,000

Lot 1039 Jun Purple Splashed Bottle Vase

Created during Northern Song-Jin dynasty (960-1234 CE)
Height: 28.3 cm

  • The J. M. Hu (1911-1995), Zande Lou Collection

Estimate: US$300,000 – 500,000

Hammer Price: US$700,000

Sold: US$882,000

Lot 713 Cast Bronze Ritual Tripod Food Vessel, Liding Anyang

Created during late Shang dynasty (12th-11th century BCE)
Height: 19.7 cm

  • Sadajiro Kawai, Kyoto, before 1961
  • Important private Japanese collection, prior to 1994, and thence by descent within the family

Estimate: US$100,000 – 150,000

Hammer Price: US$650,000

Sold: US$819,000

Lot 1031 Longquan Celadon Octagonal Dish

Created during Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279)
Length: 16.5 cm

  • The J. M. Hu (1911-1995), Zande Lou Collection

Estimate: US$60,000 – 80,000

Hammer Price: US$600,000

Sold: US$756,000

Lot 743 Large Gilt Bronze Figure of a Bodhisattva

Created during Tang dynasty (618-907 CE)
Height: 21.2 cm

  • Kaikodo, New York, 1996

Estimate: US$50,000 – 70,000

Hammer Price: US$235,000

Sold: US$296,100

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie’s New York

Sale: Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art

Sale Date: 24 March 2022 (Lots 701-775), 25 March 2022 (Lots 1001-1127)

Number of lots: 351

Sold: 294

Unsold: 57

Sale Rate: 83.7%

Sale Total: US$31,090,326