HK$45m Wood Figures of Standing Bodhisattvas Lead Christie’s Buddhist Art Sale

On the last day of Christie’s spring sales in Hong Kong, the auction house kicked off the day with Glories of Buddhist Art which offered 15 lots of Buddhist Art. The sale realised a total of HK$119.5m (US$15m), achieving a sell-through rate of 73%. Leading the sale was a pair of wood figures of standing Bodhisattvas that sold for HK$45.2m after premium.

The pair of wood figures of standing Bodhisattvas date Five Dynasties-Northern Song dynasty (10th-12th century)

The pair of wood figures of standing Bodhisattvas dating Five Dynasties-Northern Song dynasty, 10th-12th century, both measure about 145cm tall. They have illustrious provenance and were published by the esteemed Asian Art dealer Yamanaka Sadajirō in 1924. They later came into an American private collection and the private hands of its current owner who acquired them in a Hong Kong auction in 1996. The figures carried an estimate of HK$40m-60m (US$5.1m-7.7m), the highest of the sale.

The figures depict Guanyin and Mahasthamaprapta. The name, Guanyin, means ‘the one who perceives the sounds of the world’. It refers to the compassionate bodhisattva’s ability to hear the cries of all mankind, and to strive endlessly to help those who offer prayers. Mahāsthāmaprāpta is a bodhisattva mahāsattva that represents the power of wisdom, often depicted in a trinity with Amitābha and Guanyin, especially in Pure Land Buddhism.

The auctioneer started the bidding at HK$30m and put the hammer down at HK$38m, below its estimate. The figures were sold for HK$45.2m after premium to the client of Charlotte Liu, Global Managing Director, Asian and World Art at Christie's.

The second highest price of the sale was realised by an Imperial gilt-lacquered wood figure of the Medicine Buddha, Qing dynasty, 18th century. It was hammered down at HK$26m, below its estimate of HK$30m-50m. It was sold for HK$31.32m to the telephone bidder represented by Charlotte Liu.

Charlotte Liu, Global Managing Director, Asian and World Art at Christie's

The figure measures over 240cm (with the wood pedestal included)

This enormous Buddha figure has been seating in Gump’s in San Francisco for over half a century. The décor store founded in 1861 in San Francisco by Solomon Gump and his brother, sells products ranging from jewellery made from jade, precious gemstones, pearls to goods from luxury designers such as Hermès and Buccellati. During the 20th century, the business was passed on to Solomon's son A.Livingston Gump, who had a strong passion for Oriental art. After a fire that destroyed the store in 1906, A.L refilled the store with stock of merchandise from Japan and China, such as fine porcelain, jade, bronze, and exotic fabrics and rugs.

Gump’s acquired the enormous Buddhist sculpture from Kyoto in Japan between 1936-1948. The figure was seated at the centre of the store and became well-known among the local population. After A.L’s death in 1947, his son Richard ran the company until retiring in 1975. Gump’s was sold to publisher Crowell Collier, which after further mergers became Macmillan Publishers. The monumental Buddhist sculpture had not been for sale even when Gump’s was sold two more times in 1989 and 1993. The statue remained in the Gump's collection until 2005 when the store was liquidated and sold to an investment group in 2005.

The Imperial Buddhist figure (left) was placed in Gump’s (photo taken in the 80s)

The investment group bought Gump’s. Separately, a member of the investment group bought the Buddha, who agreed to leave the iconic figure on loan to Gump’s after the liquidation.

Gump’s filed for bankruptcy in August 2018 and closed down on 23 December. The statue of Buddha then went up for sale at Christie’s Hong Kong at the current spring sales.

Including the two aforementioned lots, a number of Buddhist figures offered at the sale were hammered down at prices below their estimates. The third top lot, however, took everyone by surprise after being hammered down at a price far exceeding its estimate of HK$6m-8m.

A rare huanghuali altar table from the Ming dynasty from the renowned T.T. Tsui Collection sparked an intense bidding battle. The auctioneer opened the bidding at HK$4.2m and saw strong interest from two telephone bidders and three room bidders. When the price rose to HK$7m, a telephone bidder tried to scare off other competitors by offering an incremental jump of HK$3m that pushed the price up to HK$10m. Yet, room bidders were equally tenacious. The bidding continued for a while before the auctioneer put the hammer down at HK$22m and sold the table at HK$26.52m to a gentleman in the room.

T.T. Tsui (left) was a renowned collector

The present table appears to be a unique example of a huanghuali altar table of the mid-Ming period, and a very rare type of furniture to be preserved especially with its original stand. Most of the known extant altar tables are of Qing dynasty in date and are made of softwood and sometimes covered in lacquer.

A gilt-bronze figure of Panjarnata Mahakala from the Ming dynasty, 15th century, elicited interest from telephone bidders, respectively represented by Jonathan Stone (Co-Chairman Asian Art) and Chi Fan Tsang. Christie's Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Ar. The latter won the bidding with a victorious bid of HK$7.6m, HK$9.24m after premium.

The protector deity stands with a fierce expression, holding a kartri and kapala in each of his hands. Panjarnata Mahakala is often, but not always, depicted balancing a baton, Gandhi, in the crooks of his arms, from which all other forms of Mahakala are thought to emanate. Panjarnata Mahakala is the special protector of the Hevajra cycle of Tantras in the Sakya School.

Top five lots

A Highly Important Majestic Pair of Wood Figures of Standing Bodhisattvas

Lot no.: 2713
Height: 171.5cm (Guanyin); 173cm (Mahasthamaprapta)

  • Yamanaka & Co., Tokyo, acquired prior to 1924
  • An American private collection
  • Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 6 November 1996, lot 937

Estimate: HK$40,000,000 - 60,000,000
Hammer price: HK$38,000,000
Price realised: HK$45,205,000

A Highly Important and Monumental Imperial Gilt-lacquered Wood Figure of the Medicine Buddha
Qing Dynasty, 18th Century

Lot no.: 2704
Height: 172.7cm (figure); 68.5cm (gilt-lacquered wood pedestal)

  • Acquired by Martin S. Rosenblatt for Gump’s in Kyoto, Japan, between 1936-1948
  • An American private Collection, acquired circa 2008, and on loan to Gump's San Francisco until 2018

Estimate: HK$30,000,000 - 50,000,000
Hammer price: HK$26,000,000
Price realised: HK$31,325,000

A Highly Important and Exceedingly Rare Huanghuali Altar Table, Gongzhuo
Ing Dyansty, Second Half of 15th Century

Lot no.: 2703
Size: 99 x 115 x 69.8cm

  • Sold at Sotheby’s New York, 18-19 October 1990, lot 614
  • The T.T. Tsui Collection
  • The Tsui Museum, acquisition no. MSF008
  • Sold at Christie’s New York, From Elegant Mansions: Fine Classical Chinese Furniture and Works of Art, 16 September 1998, lot 23

Estimate: HK$6,000,000 - 8,000,000
Hammer price: HK$22,000,000
Price realised: HK$26,525,000

A Rare and Superbly Cast Gilt-bronze Figure of Panjarnata Mahakala

Lot no.: 2707
Height: 31cm

  • Sold at Sotheby’s New York, 20 September 2002, lot 63
  • Rossi & Rossi, 2009

Estimate: HK$6,000,000 - 8,000,000
Hammer price: HK$7,600,000
Price realised: HK$9,245,000

A Superbly Cast Gilt-copper Stone-inlaid Seated Figure of Manjusri

Lot no.: 2708
Height: 22.8cm

  • A Swiss Collection, 1980s
  • Property from the Estate of M Van Ouwerkerk
  • Sold at Sotheby’s New York, 19 September 2008, lot 302

Estimate: HK$3,500,000 - 4,500,000
Hammer price: HK$7,600,000
Price realised: HK$3,965,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Christie’s Hong Kong
Sale: Glories of Buddhist Art
Sale date: 29 May 2019
Lots offered: 15
Sold: 11
Unsold: 4
Sold by lot: 73%
Sale total: HK$119,540,000