Sale of Junkunc Collection Returns to Sotheby’s Asia Week, Led by a Jade Camel and a Bronze Peacock

In the upcoming Fall edition of Asia Week New York, Sotheby’s brings the second sale of ancient Chinese art from the renowned collection of Stephen Junkunc III, one of the great Chinese art collectors. The Junkunc Collection at its height numbered over 2,000 examples of exceptional Chinese porcelain, jade, bronzes, paintings and Buddhist sculptures.

Stephen Junkunc, III (d.1978), was born in Budapest, Hungary. He then emigrated to Chicago as a young child. His father founded General Machinery & Manufacturing Company there in 1918. The company specialised in the manufacture of knife-edge fuel nozzle head. With the outbreak of World War II, General Machinery converted its shop to begin manufacturing various aircraft parts. Stephen Junkunc III, the manager and part owner of the company, spent his free time forming an extraordinary collection of Chinese art.

Stephen Junkunc III then became an important collector in Chinese art. He purchased many great porcelain examples from leading London dealers like Bluett & Sons, W. Dickinson & Sons, John Sparks. From the letters that he wrote, we find that he was particularly fond of Ru ware, Guan ware, Ge ware, as well as clair de lune of the Kangxi period. His reputation was well established for his impeccable taste for ceramics.

The first sale of ancient Chinese art from Junkunc collection was held this March and pulled off an outstanding performance with a number of lots selling for prices exceeding their estimates. The current sale will present works span China’s antiquity, dating from the Neolithic to the Song dynasty periods. Let’s take a look at some top lots from the sale.

The top lot of the sale is a beige and brown jade carmel from Tang dynasty, carrying an estimate of US$200,000-300,000. It belongs to a select group of jade camels portrayed in this particular curled pose. Traditionally linked with the Tang dynasty and the Silk Road routes, camels are more commonly portrayed in ceramic as majestic figures carrying foreigners or loaded with precious goods. Naturally, they were associated with luxury and with the exotic, thus conferring status and wealth to their owners.

 Also estimated at US$200,000-300,000 is a gold and silver inlaid pacel-gilt bronze figure of peacock, Han Dynasty. This figure of a peacock is rare for its superb casting and exquisite decoration. Peacocks were exotic creatures from the south and as they first appear in Chinese literature in the third century BC, their occurrence may represent southern tributes to the Han dynasty court from those days. Peacocks were not merely popular as decorative motifs but represented auspicious omens (xiangrui), embodying the concern for the afterlife particularly prevalent during the Han dynasty.

The third top lot is a rare inlaid iron flask, Warring States Period - Han Dynasty, which is expected to fetch US$150,000-250,000. This flask which appears to be unique, is a work of historical importance. While the design of the present vessel is representative of the period, it is unique in its employment of new materials and inventive ways of adding color to its surface. The use of iron as material for a vessel is highly unusual in itself and very few iron vessels of this early period appear to be preserved. Although particularly from the Warring States to the early Western Han period (roughly 500 – 100 BC), iron was much in use for weapons and armor, tools and other small implements, iron was a material of prestige and is found particularly in the context of persons of high rank. Iron vessels, particularly with inlaid decoration, appear to be virtually non-existent.

Prior to the sale of ancient Chinese art from Stephen Junkunc III, there was a sale offering Chinese Buddhist sculpture from Junkunc collection last September. The top lot of the sale, a limestone head of Buddha from Tang dynasty, carrying a pre-sale estimate of US$2m-3m, was withdrawn by the auction house on suspicion of being stolen from Longmen Grottoes, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Central’s China Henan province. For more details, please read Sotheby’s Withdrew Chinese Buddha Statue Which Could Be Lost Relic from Longmen Grottoes.

Top three lots

An Exceptional and Rare Beige and Brown Jade Camel Tang Dynasty

Lot no.: 205
Width: 6cm
Provenance: Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).
Estimate: US$200,000-300,000

A Splendid and Rare Gold and Silver-Inlaid Parcel-gilt Bronze Figure of a Peacock 
Han Dynasty

Lot no.: 226
Height: 15.5cm

  • C.T. Loo, New York, 7th December 1946.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Estimate: US$200,300

An Important and Extremely Rare Inlaid Iron Flask
Warring States Period - Han Dynasty

Lot no.: 241

  • Collection Georges Bataille (1897-1962), until 4th December 1934.
  • Collection of Martine Marie Pol, Comtesse de Béhague (1870 - 1939).
  • Collection of Hubert Octave, Marquis de Ganay (1888-1974).
  • Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 7th May 1952, lot 56.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978)

Estimate: US150,000-250,000

Auction details
Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Junkunc: Arts of Ancient China II
Date: 10 September 2019|2:00pm
Lots offered: 59