Rich array of Asian art showcased at Nagel's 100th anniversary auction

In 2021, Nagel grabbed headlines when a 14th-century imperial gilt-bronze figure of Vajrabhairava sold for a whopping €14.1 million (around US$14.7 million ) after fierce bidding wars.

This year, to mark the 100th anniversary of the leading German auction house, Nagel is bringing us a wide variety of Chinese art, including a majestic Buddha sandstone stele, magnificent gilt-lacquered figures, minimalistic Ming-style furniture, extravagant imperial artworks, and delicate paintings by Chinese artists – this eclectic ensemble is certainly not to be missed.

Here are the top picks carefully selected by The Value:


Lot 8 | An extremely rare and important bronze figure of Indra in captivity
Nepal, early Malla period, 13th/ early 14th century
Height: 22.7 cm

  • From the collection of Gerd-Wolfgang Essen (1930-2007), collected between the 1950s and 1980s

Estimate: €100,000 - 150,000

Nepal has long been one of the world's greatest Buddhist center. The Kathmandu Valley enjoyed a unique location sandwiched between India to the south and Tibet and China just beyond range to the north, the nations where religious art thrived. Influenced by these neighboring cultures, the Newari artisans developed a rich local style, notably recognized for their masterful casting techniques. 

In both Hindu and Buddhist mythology, Indra is considered the king of the gods, sometimes referred to as ‘The One with a Thousand Eyes’, symbolised by the third eye horizontal on his forehead. In Nepal, he is often depicted seated in the pose of 'Royal Ease', with one arm relaxedly resting on a raised knee. The present figure's gesture of oustretched arms is extraordinary. 

Legend has it that Indra descended to earth and disguised as a farmer in pursuit of of parijata, a white flower required by his mother for a ritual. Unaware of his divinity, the valley dwellers seized the Lord of Heaven and bound his hands and feet with ropes. Indra was released only after his mother promised to provide the valley with the rain that was desperately needed to ripen the crops.

Up to the present day, a festival dedicated to worshipping Indra as the Lord of The Rain, Indra Jatra, remains a major annual celebration in Nepal. 

Indra Jatra remains a major annual celebration in Nepal

Bronze figure of Indra seated in the pose of 'Royal Ease' | Rubin Museum of Art, New York

Dr. Wenhua Luo, Palace Museum Beijing has dedicated an essay for the present lot, see pages 44 to 46 of the catalogue; and credits to Dr. Pratapaditya Pal and Michael Henss for their comments on the classification on this rare bronze.

Lot 426 | A very fine gilt-bronze figure of Amitayus
China, Kangxi period (1661 - 1722)
Height: 44.5 cm

  • Old Viennese private collection, by repute asembled before 1930, gift to the present owner by a family descent

Estimate: €500,000 - 800,000

As a newly established dynasty, the Qing, who were themselves Manchus and not of Han Chinese descent, relied on the discipline and support of other foreign ethnic groups, including the Mongolians and Tibetans, to maintain their authority over China proper. In the pursuit of this goal, the Manchus propagated and heavily patronized Tibetan Buddhism, leading to the flourish of Buddhist art at the time.

While the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1661 - 1722) initially promoted Tibetan Buddhism as a means to solidify its allegiances, he eventually became a devout Buddhist himself. During his reign, the Emperor commissioned multiple large-scale gilt-bronze image of various Buddhist deities, including the present lot, which was engraved with Chinese number at the base. These gilt bronzes, produced by the imperial workshops, are characterized by a strong Indo-Himalayan aesthetic.

Without inscriptions, the nature behind the present figure is not entirely known, but it is often suggested that such cast images of Amitayus were produced for the birthdays or memorial days of the Emperor or his royal family. As Amitayus was considered the Buddha of Eternal Life, images of the bodhisattva were fitting gifts for such occasions, sending auspicious blessing of longevity. 

In 2018, a similar gilt-bronze figure from the collection of David Rockfeller was offered at Christie's New York. Carrrying an estimate between US$400,000 and 600,000, it elicited intensifying bidding battles to sell for US$2.5 million. 

A fine gilt-bronze lacquered figure of Amitayus from the collection of David Rockefeller

Lot 305 | A rare and large sandstone stele depicting Buddha Shakyamuni
China, Ming dynasty, 15th century or earlier
Height: 68 cm

  • From the collection of Gerd-Wolfgang Essen (1930-2007), assembled between the 1950s and 1980sbought from Hauswedell, Hamburg, 15.11.1968, lot 13

Estimate: €25,000 - 35,000

The confluence of cultures and religious ideas often ignites aesthetic magic, ushering in an era when various art blossom. The present standstone stele, for instance, is a masterpiece created under multifarious cultural influences. 

Buddhist art originated from the Gandharan sandstone statue, and stele was also a creation of the ancient region. In China, sandstone statues of Buddha in this form were developed as early as the Southern and Northern dynasties (420 - 589). The roaring lions beneath the attendants' lotus thrones are distinctly Indian and Nepalese, but the pair of dragons chasing the flaming pearl at the upper section are clearly Chinese, signifying symbols of imperial power.

The main deity Shakyamuni's upward-growing hair is one of the 32 major marks of Buddha. He is seated in vajrasana with his benevolent eyes downcast and earlobes elongated, displaying a serene and solemn expression on his face. The pair of attendants at the sides stand on a lotus base, smiling and with their hands in anjalimudra. 

Traditionally, when the main deity is Buddha, the two flanking attendants would be Avalokiteshvara and Maitreya, but alternative pairings may exist depending on the school of Buddhism.

Outside of Buddhism, arguably the most well-known holy trio is Guan Yu, Guan Ping and Zhou Cang – figures from the Three Kingdoms period (184 – 280 AD) who are revered for their loyalty and righteousness.

The Three Kingdoms is a turbulent time in China when the country was split up between three rival factions. Its history became a source of inspiration for folktales in the following imperial dynasties, eventually leading to the creation of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, a 14th-century novel hailed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature.

Lot 392 | A fine and large gilt- and red- lacquered wood figure of Guan Ping
China, 17th/ 18th century
Height: 110 cm
Collection of Siegfried Claßen (1935-2022), Cologne, assembled between 1960 and 1990
Estimate: €10,000 - 15,000

With the novel rose to prominence, many of its characters have been greatly admired for their virtue, the most notable of which being Guan Yu the general, who is dubbed as the God of War. Not only is Guan Yu a household name in China, but he is also worshipped as a guardian deity after his death, held up as a role model of impeccable morality.

When Guan Yu is deified, Guan Ping and Zhou Cang would often appear by his sides in statues placed in temples and shrines. In such a combination, Guan Yu is usually depicted seated with one hand on his beard and the other on his lap, or reading Chinese classics. 

As for Guan Ping and Zhou Cang, their typical images can be exemplified by the two gilt-lacquered wood figures here. Guan Ping, Guan Yu's son, was famed for his prowess with both the pen and the sword. Therefore, his face is portrayed as white, akin to a polished literati; and his hands hold the general's seal while dressed in armor, highlighting that he had both brains and brawn.

Lot 393 | A large gilt-lacquered wood figure of Zhou Cang
China, 17th/ 18th century
Height: 120 cm

  • Collection of Siegfried Claßen (1935-2022), Cologne, assembled between 1960 and 1990

Estimate: €10,000 - 15,000

Zhou Cang, on the other hand, was a fictional figure in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms known as a bandit with great military skills. As a weapon bearer of Guan Yu, his hands would wield the general's famed Green Dragon Crescent Blade, a pole weapon with a wide blade and a spike at the back. 

Portrayed as impulsive, he is always angry-looking, and his face would be coal black with a full beard and bulging eyes, while his mouth open as if roaring.

This pair of statues, more than a meter tall and covered in gold lacquer, must have been housed in a sizable temple, if not in connection with the royal family. 

A comparable gilt-lacquered wood figure, created during 17th century, can be found in the Tsz Shan Monastery Art Museum. 

Standing Weituo, 17th century, China | Tsz Shan Monastery Buddhist Art Museum

Lot 13 | An important gilt-bronze figure of Takkiraja
Central-Tibet, 15th century
Height: 27.2 cm

  • Important Austrian private collection, bought 1993 at the Art Fair Vienna, from Gallery Asboth, Vienna

Estimate: €40,000 - 60,000

Takkiraja, the King of Desire, is one of the Ten Great Wrathful Deities in Tibetan Buddhism and especially popular amongst followers of te Saskyapa school. Together with Kurukulla and Ganapati, they form an iconographic group a trio of wealth deities known as the Three Great Red Deities. 

In Tibetan Buddhism, wrathful deities possess the power to destroy the obstacles to enlightment. As such, they are often depicted as terrifying and demonic, serving as a protector to defend and guard Buddhist followers from dangers and enemies.

Like many wrathful deities, Takkiraja has three eyes: two bulging below raised eyebrows, one vertical at his forehead. He usually stands with his sturdy legs in pratyalidhasana, with the right drawn in and left extended, while holding an iron hook ending in the curved prongs of a half-vajra. His long hair is tied in a top knot adorn with snakes and jewellery made of semi-precious stones. 

Exquisitely executed and well-proportioned, the present lot was featured in the catalogue of 1993 art fair Vienna Hofburg.

The present lot published and illustrated in the Art fair catalogue Vienna Hofburg 1993, pp. 78-79

Lot Y434 | An extremely rare and excellent imperial kingfisher feather and ivory hanging in a carved zitan frame
China, Qianlong period (1736 - 1795)
111 x 149 x 6.3 cm

  • Former old German private collection, acquired between 1890 and 1900 (an old photograph of the panel dated 09.80 is available)

Estimate: €60,000 - 100,000

Diancui, meaning 'dotting the kingfisher', is a technique of incorporating the iridescent blue feathers of kingfisher birds into luxury decoration, mostly as an inlay for fine art objects and adornment such as headdresses, fans and panels. It has a history dating back more than 2,000 years, but when imperial China fell apart, the technique was lost and could only be seen in surviving artifacts.

A complex and delicate technique, diancui involoved a painstaking process of cutting and reshaping each feather, before attaching it with glue onto the surface. The irridescent effect created is similar to cloisonné, but no enamel would be able to compete with the electric blue color.

Measuring 111 x 149 cm, the present panel represents a luxurious use of kingfisher feather, achieving a rich and vivid decorative effect complemented by other highly valuable materials, from finely carved ivory and jade to zitan wood. Each prized material is skilfully combined to create an idyllic mountain lanscape filled with multiple animated figures in various scenes of farm and town life. 

Such a precious panel would have been produced by the imperial workship, and similar examples could be found in the Palace Museum in Beijing. 

Lot 469 | An exceptional pair of white jade bowls
China, Qianlong period (1736 - 1795)
Diameter: 6.6 cm; Height: 5.4 cm

  • Old European private collection, assembled before 1990

Estimate: €8,000 - 12,000

While the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736 - 1795) was renowned his extravagant and elaborate artistic taste, he would also admire the beauty and elegance of minimalistic art piece, as demonstrated by the present pair of white jade bowls.

The Qianlong Emperor's conquest of the Dzungar Khanate, now known as Xinjiang, permitted for a greater quantity of jade to be delivered to the Qing Court, hence the opportunity for careful selection of the highest-quality material for the Son of Heaven's use. 

The exceptional quality of the white jade stone, smoothly polished to a lustrous sheen, would have made any embellishment superfluous. Perfectly proportioned, these monochrome bowls, exquisitely matched in colour and polish, stand as a testament to the finest jade craftsmanship accomplished during the celebrated reign of the Qianlong Emperor. 

A similar pair of unmarked jade bowls from the 18th century can be found in the British Museum.

Lot Y478 | A rare set of four matted low-back armchairs 'meiguiyi'
China, early to mid Qing dynasty
Height: 86 cm

  • From an old European private collection, acquired in the 1960s or 70s

Estimate: €20,000 - 30,000

Lot Y480 | A fine huanghuali and burlwood chair
China, early to mid Qing dynasty
98 x 60.7 x 47.3 cm

  • From the Tafel family collection, founded by the Tibetan explorer Dr. Albert Tafel (1876-1935) and expanded by Albert Tobias Tafel (1913-1981), mostly acquired in China in the 1930s and 40s

Estimate: €10,000 - 15,000

Lot Y476 | A rare and finely carved 'lingzhi' mushrooms armchair
China, mid-Qing dynasty
Height: 90 cm

  • From an Austrian private collection, acquired prior to 1990

Estimate: €6,000 - 10,000

Sleek in construction and elegant in design, meiguiyi, or rose chair, represents the minimalist aesthetic of classical Chinese furniture at its finest.

This small, regular chair is characterized by a low back only slightly higher than the straight arms, which are positioned at right angles to the front posts. While the form of such chair essentially demonstrates a restrained elegance, its design can range from ultrasimple to polished and sophisticated, as shown by the three lots above. The third lot, for instance, was deftly carved with an intricate motif of lingzhi mushrooms, symbol of longevity.

With its angular silhouette, rose chair was not intended for relaxation, but ideal for scholarly settings, sitting neatly beneath the window without obscuring the view outside, or flanking a table in pairs. Due to the literati’s fondness for the chair, it is also referred to as a ‘scholar chair’ in Southern China. 

An embodiment of simplicity and refinement, rose chair would be a versatile piece even in today’s interiors, pairing well with modern décor for a clean Scandinavian or vintage-industrial style.

Lot 388 | Gao Qifeng | Two Sailing Boats, Ink on paper
China, dated 1929
109 x 41 cm
Inscription and signature by the artist: “Autumn Colors at the Lakeside. In the ninth month of the eighteenth year of the Republic (1929) painted for Dr. Shinaide (Schneider), Gao Qifeng”
Three seals of the artist: “Qifeng zhi xi”, “Lingnan Gao Weng”, "Mei yi yan nian"

  • Old North German private collection, in the family of the present owner since 1929, when the painting has been dedicated to a family member

Estimate: €30,000 - 50,000

Acclaimed as one of the "Three Masters of the Lingnan School", Gao Qifeng is repsected for energizing Southern China’s art scene by fusing the poetic Chinese ink painting with Western realist techniques and Japanese plein air style.

Orphaned in childhood, Gao started painting at an early age under the tutelage of his elder brother. In 1907, they travelled to Japan to deepen their study of art. His time there proved to be an influential encounter which brought him into contact with European naturalism and perspective, paving the way for his later ink paintings in a unique East-West style.  

After returning to China, he began to set up art societies and teach paintings to advocate his beliefs in art. Unfortunately, struck with lung disease, he retreated to a secluded island in Guangzhou in 1929. That same year, he painted the Two Sailing Boats as a gift to Dr. Shinaide, a family member of the present owner, who has kept the piece for nearly a century.

In Two Sailing Boats, the boats reveal a strong influence of Western painting with its realistic depiction, while the dark ink wash in the foreground comes from the Chinese tradition.

Lot 774 | Signed Zhang Daqian | Lady with Fan (Xiwangmu), Hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper
China, dated 1972
79 x 26.5 cm

  • According to the owners, from a private collection in Hesse, collected between 1970 and 2015

Estimate: €6,000 - 10,000

One of the most well-known and prolific Chinese artists of the 20th century, Zhang Daqian is renowned equally for his splashed-ink landscapes and meticulous portraits. 

With roots firmly grounded in Chinese tradition, the females in his earlier paintings were often depicted as willowy figures with narrow shoulders and slender waists, exuding a sense of fragility.

In the 1940s, Zhang spent two years studying and copying Buddhist mural paintings at the famed Mogao Caves in Dunhuang. The experience marked a pivotal turning point in his artistic development – when he returned to China, his mastery for figures paintings had reached a pinnacle. By absorbing the ancient rendering of the human body, the ladies under his brushwork became voluptuous and vigorous, echoing the values embraced by modern society.

A masterful artist aside, Zhang was also an important collector and connoisseur, with his collector's seals found on various paintings in world-class museum collections. 

Lot 792 | Yu Ping | Sleepwalking, Oil on canvas
China, 2009
Total: 200 x 560 cm

  • From a Swiss private collection

Estimate: €50,000 - 80,000

A professor at the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts, Yu Ping has held solo exhibitions across America, China, France and Switzerland since 2004. Her artworks has graced the walls of many museums in China, including Hubei Museum of Art, Guan Shanyue Art Museum and He Art Museum.

With a bachelor's degree in oil painting and a master's in Chinese painting, Yu Ping established an artistic style merging the two distinct genres. In her signature Sleepwalking series, the dream-like landscapes are reminiscent of classical Chinese depiction of the nature, while the figures are strongly Neo-expressionist. 

Auction Details:

Auction House: NAGEL Auktionen Stuttgart 
Address: Neckarstrasse 189-191, 70190 Stuttgart, Germany
Preview Date and Time: 2 - 5 December 2022 | 10am - 5pm (German Local Time)

Sale Date: 6 December 2022 9:30am (German local time)
China I : Lot 1-231 | China II : Lot 232-490  | China III : Lot 491-599

Sale Date: 7 December 2022 9:30am (German local time)
China IV : Lot 600-829 | China Varie : Lot 830-1795

Sale Date: 8 December 2022 9:30am (German local time)
Lot 1800-2598

  • Japan/Korea | Lot 1800 - 1955
  • India | Lot 2100 - 2237
  • Southeast Asia | Lot 2300 - 2371
  • Art Books | Lot 2380 - 2491
  • Carpets | Lot 2500 - 2536
  • Oriental Art | Lot 2537 - 2590
  • African Arts | Lot 2591 - 2598

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