Japanese aesthetic: A rare Longquan celadon kinuta vase could fetch US$700,000 during Asia Week New York

As the summer vacation comes to a close, the auction world bids farewell to its short break and gears up for the busy autumn season – starting with this month's Asia Week New York. 

This season, Christie's has curated three dedicated sales of important single-owner collections of Chinese works of art, one of which is from Japanese antique dealer and collector Mineo Hata. Taking place on 21 September, the auction features twenty-seven archaic bronzes and ceramics mainly of the Song Dynasty (AD 960 - 1279), which showcase the minimalist taste of a Japanese connoisseur.

Headlined by a monochromatic Longquan celadon kinuta vase with dragon-fish handles, the pieces are collectively expected to fetch around US$5.5 million. 

Mineo Hata (left) is a Japanese dealer and collector

Mineo Hata was born to a family of soy sauce brewers in 1949 near Shimane Prefecture’s Izumo Grand Shrine, a place rich in legend and heralded as the gathering place of ancient gods by Japan’s oldest texts. Growing up surrounded by the landscape, he developed a distinct aesthetic sensitivity that guided his approach to antique collecting throughout the years.

Originally a collector who worked an office job for a company dealing in medical devices, he decided to run his own art dealing business in the mid-1970s and opened his first storefront as Hata Kobijutsu in 1984 on Osaka’s Nishitenma Oimatsu-dōri, where established major dealers, such as Hirano Kotōken, had their shops.

In 1990, he was granted membership into the Osaka Art Club, a Western Japan’s elite group of dealers. Around the same time, as his business grew steadily, he opened his second store near his home in Kobe and began to wield a powerful paddle at major auctions.

A Longquan celadon kinuta mallet-shaped vase with dragon-fish handles from Mineo Hata's collection sold for US$2.28 million in 2008

One of his first large-scale successes on the global auction stage was a Longquan celadon kinuta mallet-shaped vase with dragon-fish handles, which sold for US$2.28 million against a low estimate of US$800,000 at Christie’s New York in 2008.

Fate would have it that in the current sale, the top lot would also be a Longquan vase of the same form, but of a larger dimensions. Carrying an estimate between US$700,000 to 1 million, it had belonged to the Takeyama Kanshichi (1854-1907) Collection in Japan and was last sold at auction in 1914.  

Lot 872 | A large Longquan celadon kinuta vase
Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)
Height: 35 cm

  • Takeyama Kanshichi (1854-1907) Collection, Nagoya, Japan
  • Takeyama Kanshichi Collection, Shunjuen, Nagoya, Japan; Osaka Bijutsu Club, 20 January 1914, lot 274
  • Mineo Hata Collection, Kobe, Japan

Estimate: US$700,000 - 1,000,000

A famous kiln cluster of the Song Dynasty, Longquan wares are highly prized for their exquisite soft green celadon glaze. They served as the pillar of overseas trade, where they were exported to Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia and farther away to Europe.

The kinuta vase, or mallet-shaped vase, is among its most admired pieces, listed by Japan as National Treasure and Important Cultural Properties. These vases were made with two types of handles – the more usual being in a relatively simple bird form, which is generally identified as a phoenix, and the rarer being in the form of a well-modelled dragon-fish.  

In Hindu mythology, the dragon-fish is a legendary sea creature, known as Makara and is equivalent to the Zodiac sign Capricorn. Though its form may vary, it’s generally depicted as half terrestrial in the front part and half aquatic in the hind part. Considered the guardian of gateways and thresholds, it is often seen on the decoration of throne rooms and entryways to temples.

Other scholars suggest that the design depicts a carp in the process of turning into a dragon, evoking a legend tells of the carp swimming up river to the Dragon Gate Falls. If it is successful in leaping over the gate, it turns into a dragon. This legend soon came to represent the success of the Chinese scholars, who studied hard to pass the civil service examinations, and if they achieved the highest grade would attain a good official post. 

The present lot features dragon-fish handles

A Japanese National Treasure | Longquan celadon with phoenix handles, Southern Song Dynasty; Height: 30.8 cm | Kuboso Memorial Museum of Arts

Longquan celadon mallet-shaped vase with dragon-fish handles; Height: 22.4 cm | The Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya, Japan

The majority of surviving Longquan kinuta vases would have bird-shaped handles and a height between 23 and 30 cm. And the current vase stands out not only in its dragon-fish handles but also in its height, which stands at 35 cm.

Similar examples of kinuta vases with dragon-fish handles can be found in several museums, including the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Tokugawa Art Museum in Nagoya, Japan, though mostly smaller than the present lot. 

As regards this vase's condition, however, there is a small Japanese gold lacquer to the mouth rim and a lacquer repair to one handle, the tail of which might have been replaced. 

Other highlights of the sale include an iron-red-enameled and green-glazed double gourd vase, Jiajing mark and period (1522-1566), estimated at US$400,000; a large late-Shang (13th-11th century BC) bronze ritual wine vessel, jue, which was formerly in the collection of the famed bronze collector and scholar Cao Zaikui (1782-1852); and a bronze ritual wine vessel and cover, you, from Early Western Zhou Dynasty (11th-10th century BC).

Lot 873 | An iron-red-enameled and green-glazed double-gourd vase
Jiajing six-character mark in underglaze blue within a double circle and of the period (1522-1566)
Height: 21.6 cm

  • Yamanaka & Co., Japan, late 1920s-early 1930s (by repute)
  • Mineo Hata Collection, Kobe, Japan

Estimate: US$400,000 - 600,000

Lot 852 | A bronze ritual wine vessel and cover, you
Early Western Zhou Dynasty, 11th-10th century BC
Height: 36.5 cm

  • In Japan prior to 1939
  • Mineo Hata Collection, Kobe, Japan

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000

Lot 853 | A large bronze ritual wine vessel, jue
Late Shang Dynasty, 13th-11th century BC
Height: 26.7 cm

  • Cao Zaikui (Qiufang, 1782-1852) Collection
  • Pan Jiyu (Zengwei, 1818-1886) Collection
  • Masuda Takashi (1848-1938) Collection
  • Mitsui Sumitomo Family, The Beiquan Ge Collection
  • Mineo Hata Collection, Kobe, Japan

Estimate: US$200,000 - 300,000

Lot 871 | A Longquan celadon 'twin fish' dish
Late Southern Song-Yuan Dynasty, 13th-14th century
Diameter: 22.2 cm

  • Important private collection, Kobe, acquired in the 1950s
  • Mineo Hata Collection, Kobe, Japan

Estimate: US$50,000 - 70,000

Lot 877 | A flambé-glazed fanghu-form vase
Qianlong incised six-character seal mark and of the period (1736-1795)
Height: 29.8 cm

  • Mineo Hata Collection, Kobe, Japan

Estimate: US$40,000 - 60,000

Lot 866 | A qingbai ewer, cover, and warming basin
Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279)
Height: 22.9 cm (ewer and cover); Diameter: 16.5 cm (basin)

  • Yamashita Sakuro (b. 1908) Collection (according to label)
  • Hirano Kotoken, Tokyo (according to label on box)
  • Mineo Hata Collection, Kobe, Japan

Estimate: US$40,000 - 60,000

Auction Details:

Auction House: Christie's New York
Sale: Mineo Hata: An Instinctive Eye
Date and Time: 21 September 2023 | 10:15 am (New York Local Time)
Number of Lots: 27