Two ancient Buddhist sculptures from US private collection fetches US$3.8 million in Hong Kong auction

Two ancient Chinese Buddhist sculptures performed the most brilliantly in the Swergold Collection Sale last week. It was held in Sotheby's Hong Kong. 

Both sculptures were sold at HK$17.1 and HK$12.8 million dollars, fetching a combined HK$29.9 million (around US$3.8 million) dollars. They were also part of the 18 out of 25 sculptures sold, accumulating a sale total of HK$40.8 million (around US$5.2 million) dollars.

This Buddhist sculptures was part of Leopold and Jane Swergold's Collection. They are considered as among the most important American collectors in Chinese Buddhist bronzes.

Large inscribed bronze figure of Shakyamuni Buddha

Created in Western Wei dynasty (535-557 CE), dated 539
Height: 28.2 cm

  • Nakanishi Bunzo, Kyoto
  • James Freeman, Kyoto
  • Collection of Norman Kurland
  • Eskenazi Ltd., London

Estimate: HK$5,000,000 – 7,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$14,000,000

Sold: HK$17,115,000 (around US$2.2 million)

Giuseppe Eskenazi is considered as the Godfather of Chinese Antiques

The inscription on this Western Wei Buddhist sculpture was commissioned by Monk Huile 

This Buddhist sculpture from the Western Wei dynasty was once owned by prominent British art dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi. He is considered as the Godfather of Chinese Antiques.

This inscribed votive bronze sculpture is one of only three known dated examples from the Western Wei dynasty. Only two of them are known aside from the Swergold example. One is dated to the first year of the Datong reign (535-551 CE), now at the Tianjin Museum. The other is dated to the fifth year of Datong, now at the Art Institute of Chicago.

This Shakyamuni Buddha sculpture is depicted as seated on top of a waisted Sumeru throne, raised on a four-legged pedestal. A downcast gaze evokes a peaceful and meditative state, the upward curling edges of the Buddha’s mouth make a soft smile, creating an air of joy and fulfilment.

The inscription running along the pedestal recording how the Monk Huile of Yongchuan Temple commissioned the sculpture. The inscription is dedicated to the Emperor, his seven generations of ancestors, all relatives and sentient beings – in the hope that they live serenely in the Buddhist universe.

Leopold and Jane Swergold's Buddhist Collection was exhibited in the Houston Museum of Art

Gilt-bronze figure of Padmapani

Created in Tang dynasty (618-907 CE)
Figure Height: 16.6 cm, Overall Height: 27.6 cm

  • Yamanaka & Co., Inc.
  • Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 26th May 1944, Lot 505
  • Collection of Mrs Alice Spalding Bowen (1890-1981)
  • Honolulu Museum of Art, Honolulu, 1953-1967
  • Collection of Robert H. Ellsworth, New York, 1967-1972
  • Collection of Christian Humann (d.1981), New York, by 1972, named the Pan-Asian Collection by 1977
  • Collection of Robert H. Ellsworth, New York, acquired in 1982
  • Christie's New York, 17th May 2015, Lot 15

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 – 5,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$10,500,000

Sold: HK$12,880,000 (around US$1.6 million)

Robert Ellsworth was a prominent collector of Chinese art

This Buddhist sculpture had a prominent provenance. Most notably, it was once owned by British art dealer, Robert Ellsworth (1929-2014). He owned extremely exquisite collections of Chinese arts. They were either sold or donated to museums in America, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

This sculpture can be identified as Padmapani – a manifestation of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva, by the lotus blossom at the left shoulder. The cult of Padmapani and this distinctive iconography emerged in the late 4th and early 5th century, and continued to be popular in the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE).

The Bodhisattva is dressed like a prince, adorned with opulent jewellery that serves also to denote his worldliness, as has vowed to remain in the world until all sentient beings have achieved enlightenment.

Other highlight lots: 

Gilt-bronze Figure of Amitabha Buddha 

Created in Sui to early Tang dynasty (circa early 7th century CE)
Height: 11.1 cm 

  • Zondewan, Brussels, 8th April 1916
  • Collection of Adolphe Stoclet (1871-1949)
  • Collection of Raymonde Feron-Stoclet (1897-1963)
  • Eskenazi, Ltd., London, March 2003

Estimate: HK$3,000,000 – 5,000,000

Hammer Price: HK$3,000,000

Sold: HK$3,780,000 (around US$490,000)

Gilt-bronze Figure of Bodhisattva 

Created in Tang dynasty (618-907 CE)
Height: 11.4 cm 

  • J.J. Lally & Co., New York, 2008

Estimate: HK$ 1,000,000 – 1,500,000 

Sold: HK$2,016,000 (around US$260,000)

Gilt-bronze Figure of Shakyamuni Buddha 

Created in Northern Qi to Sui dynasty (circa 6th-early 7th century CE)
Height: 13.6 cm 

  • Takashi Yanagi, Kyoto, April 2007

Estimate: HK$1,500,000 – 2,500,000

Sold: HK$1,890,000 (around US$240,000)

Auction Summary:

Auction House: Sotheby’s Hong Kong

Sale: Reflection and Enlightenment: Chinese Buddhist Gilt-Bronzes from the Jane and Leopold Swergold Collection 

Date: 12 October 2021 

Number of lots: 25 

Sold: 18 

Unsold: 7 

Sale Rate: 72% 

Sale Total: HK$40,812,000 (around US$5.2 million)