Ming Dynasty Buddhist Figures Lead Sotheby's Paris Arts d'asie Sale

The Paris sale week kicked off with Sotheby's Arts d’Asie sale, in which the top three positions of the sale were dominated by Ming dynasty figures from renowned European collections. A gilt-bronze figure of Bodhisattva from the Yongle period sold for four times its estimate at €492,500 (US$558,000) and was crowned the top lot of the sale. 

A gilt-bronze figure of a bodhisattva, Yongle mark and period

The bidding of the figure started at €100,000. After 19 bids, the auctioneer put the hammer down at €400,000 for a lady in the saleroom. Measuring at 18.4cm in height, the figure is casted with gilt-bronze and marked with Da Ming Yongle nian shi (bestowed in the Yongle era of the great Ming).

The Yongle period sculptures have now become recognised as being among the most important works of art from the Buddhist world. The stylistic origin of Yongle gilt bronzes can be traced to the Yuan dynasty when the court espoused Tibetan Buddhism. While the identity of the figure is not entirely clear, the positioning of the hands indicates that it may represent Manjushri. The figure's right hand may have held a sword while the other hand in the lowered position may have held a book.

It is highly possible that the figure depitcts Manjushri, a bodhisattva associated with prajna in Mahayana Buddhism. The figure was originally acquired in 1956 from the sale of the collection of André Schoeller, a celebrated art expert in Paris, and descended in the family.

The second and third top lots of the sale are both from the Belgium collector Louis Leconte's (1880 - 1970) collection. Starting from a young age, Leconte had developed a strong interest in history, especially in Belgium's military history which led him to writting many important books on this topic. In terms of Chinese works of art, Leconte was most attracted to figures of bodhisattva. Both lots that came from his collection realised prices that are many times their pre-sale estimates.

Louis Leconte

Two gilt-bronze figures of guardian kings, Ming dynasty, 16th/17th century

The second top lot goes to two gilt-bronze figures of guardian kings from the Ming dynasty. These Devarajas figures, also known as the Kings of the four cardinal directions, were often placed at the four corners of a Buddhist altar or stupa. One of the two figures holding a stupa in his left hand, represents Vaisravana, Guardian King of the North. The figures measure at 68cm and 67cm respectively and were hammered down at €260,000, 13 times their pre-sale estimate of €20,000 - 30,000 and realised over €320,000.


A gilt-bronze figure of bhaishajyaguru buddha seated on a lotus base, Ming dynasty, 16th/17th century

The third top lot is a gilt-bronze figure of bhaishajyaguru buddha seated on a lotus base from the Ming dynasty, 16th/17th century. The figure measures at 51 cm in height and its stand measures at 29.3cm. Notable for its large size and crisp casting, the figure represents the Medicine Buddha (Bhaishajyaguru), as evident by the myrobalan fruit he holds in his right hand. More commonly known as the Medicine Buddha, he is considered a healer who alleviates suffering and offers solace to the afflicted through the medicine of his teachings.

The figure was estimated at €50,000 - 70,000 and hammered down at €170,000, three times its estimate. It was sold for a total of €210,000. 

A sandstone head of Buddha, Tang dynasty, late 7th/early 8th century

The sandstone head of Buddha from Tang dynasty that was expected to be the leading lot of the sale did not arouse as much interest as anticipated. The auctioneer started the bid at €120,000, and after four bids, the hammer was put down at its low estimate of €150,000, realising almost €190,000.

Out of 143 lots offered, 105 were sold and generated a 73% sold by lots. We will stay tuned for the results of Christie's Paris Art d'Asie sale which will happen today. 

Top four lots

A Rare Well-cast Gilt-bronze Figure of a Bodhisattva, Yongle Mark and Period

Lot no.: 22
Height: 21cm

  • Collection André Schoeller (1877-1956), Paris.
  • Ader, Paris, 14th, 15th and 16th May 1956, lot 124.
  • Thence in the family by descent.

Estimate: €100,000 - 200,000
Hammer price: €400,000
Price realised: €492,500

Two Gilt-bronze Figures Of Guardian Kings, Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th Century

Lot no.: 29
Height: Left 67cm, Right 68cm

  • Louis Leconte (1880-1970). 
  • In the family by descent.

Estimate: €20,000 - 30,000
Hammer price: €260,000
Price realised: €324,500

A Large Gilt-bronze Figure Of Bhaishajyaguru Buddha Seated On A Lotus Base, Ming Dynasty, 16th/17th Century

Lot no.: 28
Height: Figure 51cm, Stand 29.3cm

  • Louis Leconte (1880-1970). 
  • In the family by descent.

Estimate: €50,000 - 70,000
Hammer price: €170,000
Price realised: €212,500

An Important Sandstone Head of Buddha, Tang Dynasty, Late 7th/early 8th Century

Lot no.: 51
Height: 42.8cm

  • Collection M. Raufast, Paris (according to the invoice by Samy Chalom).
  • Acquired from Galerie Samy Chalom, Paris, 28th April 1967 by the current owner.
  • With certificate by Jean-Claude Moreau-Gobard, Paris, 27th April 1967.

Estimate: €150,000 - 250,000
Hammer price: €150,000
Price realised: €187,500

Auction summary

Auction house: Sotheby's Paris
Sale: Arts d'Asie
Sale date: 2019/6/11
Lots offered: 143
Sold: 105
Unsold: 38
Sale by lots: 73%
Sale total: €3,038,750