Tang Jade Camel from Junkunc Collection Fetches US$620,000, Three Times Its Low Estimate

Following the success of the previous two sales dedicated to Junkunc collection, Sotheby’s presented another sale featuring a selection of ancient Chinese art from Stephen Junkunc III, one of the great Chinese art collectors. The centerpiece of the sale was a beige and brown jade camel from Tang dynasty that sold for US$620,000, more than three times its low estimate at US$200,000.

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 of 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 jade camel 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. Estimated at US$200,000-300,000, the jade camel was hammered down at US$500,000 and sold for US$620,000 after premium.

The second top lot of the sale was 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 figure of peacock was hammered down at US$450,000 and sold for US$560,000, surpassing its estimate US$200,000-300,000.

The third top lot of the sale was a rare inlaid iron flask, Warring States Period - Han Dynasty, which was sold for US$375,000, more than double its estimate of 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 colour 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 armour, 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.

Top five 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
Hammer price: US$500,000
Price realised: US$620,000

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
Hammer price: US$450,000
Price realised: US$560,000

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
Hammer price: US$300,000
Price realised: US$375,000

An Exceptionally Rare and Important Archaic Turquoise-inlaid Bronze Sword

Late Spring and Autumn - Early Warring States Period

Lot no.: 210
Length: 51cm

  • C.T. Loo, New York, 1941.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Estimate: US$80,000 - 120,000
Hammer price: US$260,000
Price realised: US$325,000

A Superb and Rare Archaic Celadon and Russet Jade Slit Disc (Jue)

Eastern Zhou Dynasty

Lot no.: 202

  • Fritz Low-Beer, New York, 1950.
  • Collection of Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978).

Estimate: US$150,000-250,000
Hammer price: US$240,000
Price realised: US$300,000

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

Lots offered: 59
Sold: 42
Unsold: 17
Sold by lot: 71.2%
Sale total: US$4,643,750