Due to insufficient information and unsystematic cataloguing, there is a relatively high threshold for collectors interested in artworks dated back to centuries ago or ancient periods because of the difficulty in artwork authentication. Therefore, provenance serves as one of the important indicators when collectors consider adding a work of art into one's collection.
For the coming spring sales in New York, Sotheby's presents four masterpieces of early Chinese Buddhist sculpture with distinguished provenance. They were previously owned by prominent collectors such as Tai Jun Tse (J.T. Tai), Yamanaka & Co. and Tsai Chen-Nan.
Exemplary works of art from the Northern Wei through to the Sui Dynasties beautifully illustrate the diverse aesthetics of Buddhist sculpture in China. We are going to introduce all four of them in chronological order. An Exceptional and Rare Limestone Relief Carving of an Apsara from the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534), is the oldest of the four offerings. It carries a pre-sale estimate of US$1.2m-1.5m.
Handsomely carved and in wonderful condition, the apsara – an angelic, female creature who appears often for visual context alongside Buddhas and Bodhisattvas – takes center stage, embodying the imagery’s transformation from a South East Asian import to a uniquely Chinese vision. No longer in flight, the grounded figure in a kneeling posture, with a double-halo above her head, radiates serenity, humility and spirituality.
It was last offered at Sotheby's Hong Kong in April 1997 from the collection of J.T. Tai (1910-1992, the image above), a Shanghai-born antiques dealer. Widely known for the great quality of works he collected, J.T. Tai enjoyed high reputation in the antiques world.
An Inscribed and Dated Huanghuashi Buddhist Stele from the Eastern Wei Dynasty, dated Xinghe Third Year (corresponding to 541 A.D.), is also estimated at US$1.2m-1.5m. The front of the lower register and legs carved with a twenty-character inscription reading 'Zhang Huiqi makes a statue for his mother Sun Sheng'.
The flame-shaped mandorla richly carved in high relief, centered with Shakyamuni Buddha seated in vajraparyankasana on a rectangular platform with loose robes draping the body and falling in rhythmic folds over the platform, the right hand raised in abhaya mudra and left hand in varada mudra, the face with a meditative expression beneath the domed ushnisha, a lotus-form nimbus radiating behind the head.
The Buddha flanked by bodhisattvas standing above seated lions, monks and worshipping figures, with five apsaras in flight, each playing a musical instrument and trailing fluttering sashes, all raised on a tiered rectangular base supported on four legs, the upper register of the base carved in high relief with a central squatting figure holding a boshan-form censer overhead and flanked by kneeling monks.
This sculpture, once exhibited at Shina ko bijutsu taikan (Catalogue of a Collection of Chinese Art) in Osaka, was sold by Yamanaka & Co. in Osaka in 1924. Yamanaka & Co. was founded by Yamanaka Sadajirō (1866-1936, the image above), a Japanese-based art dealer who operated branch offices in the US, UK, France and China. He acquired numerous sculpture looted from Chinese Buddhist sites during the end of Qing dynasty.
The Carved Limestone Figure of Bodhisattva from Northern Qi dynasty (550-577) measures 95.3cm in height. It carries a pre-sale estimate of US$600,000-800,000.
This figure with fine facial features and stylized draped robes is a beautiful example of the mature artistic style of the Northern Qi dynasty. The deity standing on an integral circular base and with a petal-shaped mandorla framing the head, the face finely carved with a tranquil expression and delicate features, with slender almond-shaped eyes beneath an evenly arched brow tapering at the end issuing from a straight nose above full lips.
Yurinkan Museum, Kyoto
Published in Saburō Matsubara’s seminal Chinese Buddhist Sculpture from 1966, this work of art was formerly in the collection of the Yurinkan Museum, Kyoto. The name of the museum "Yurinkan" is taken from the Analects of Confucius and expresses the feeling of good neighbourly relations.
A Carved Limestone Head of Avalokitesvara from the Sui Dynasty (581-619), 41.3cm in height, will be the last lot offered in this dedicated sale, carrying an estimate of US$400,000-600,000.
The full oval face carved with a serene expression, the downcast eyes set beneath finely arched eyebrows leading to the straight nose above full lips, the rounded cheeks framed by pendulous earlobes and surmounted by an elaborate diadem concealing a simple chignon, secured with a fabric band laying in folds above the forehead and knotted behind each ear.
The sculpture was previously owned by Yamanaka & Co. and Tsai Chen-Nan. Tsai Chen-Nan, a renowned Taiwanese collector, is an art aficionado. He founded his private museum in 1977 with collection spanning across thousands of years, including artworks by internationally-acclaimed Chinese artists such as Qi Baishi and Xu Beihong.
These four Buddhist sculptures are all from the esteemed Asian private collection, Jingyatang. The collection is mainly comprised of ancient artworks like bronzes, pottery and Buddhist sculptures.
An Exceptional and Rare Limestone Relief Carving of Apsara, Northern Wei Dynasty
- Collection of Tai Jun Tse (J.T. Tai, 1910-1992).
- Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 29th April 1997, lot 713.
- Fo diao zhi mei. Bei chao fojiao shidiao yishu/The Splendour of Buddhist Statuaries. Buddhist Stone Carvings in the Northern Dynasties, National Museum of History, Taipei, 1997, cat. no. 005.
- Qian gu fo yan. Chuantong diaoke tezhan / Ancient Chinese Sculpture II [Thousand ancient Buddhist countenances. Special exhibition of classical sculpture], Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, 2000, cat. no. 13.
Estimate: US$1,200,000 - 1,500,000
An Inscribed and Dated 'Huanghuashi' Limestone Buddhist Stele, Eastern Wei Dynasty, Dated Xinghe Third Year, Corresponding to 541
Yamanaka & Co., Osaka, 1924.
- Shina ko bijutsu taikan/Catalogue of a Collection of Chinese Art, Yamanaka & Co., Osaka, 1924, cat. no. 120.
- Fo diao zhi mei. Bei chao fojiao shidiao yishu/The Splendour of Buddhist Statuaries. Buddhist Stone Carvings in the Northern Dynasties, National Museum of History, Taipei, 1997, cat. no. 017.
- Zhonguo gu fo diao tezhan [Special exhibition of Chinese ancient Buddhist sculptures], Hualien County Cultural Center, Hualien, 1999, cat. no. 011.
- Qian gu fo yan. Chuantong diaoke tezhan / Ancient Chinese Buddhist Sculpture II [Thousand ancient Buddhist countenances. Special exhibition of classical sculpture], Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, 2000, cat. no. 18.
Estimate: US$1,200,000 - 1,500,000
A Carved Limestone Figure of A Bodhisattva, Northern Qi Dynasty
- Collection of Fujii Zensuke (1873-1943).
- Yurinkan Museum, Kyoto.
- Fo diao zhi mei. Bei chao fojiao shidiao yishu/The Splendour of Buddhist Statuaries. Buddhist Stone Carvings in the Northern Dynasties, National Museum of History, Taipei, 1997, cat. no. 032.
Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000
A Carved Limestone Head of Avalokiteshvara, Sui Dynasty.
- Yamanaka & Co.
- Collection of Tsai Chen-Nan.
- Diaoshu biecang/The Art of Contemplation. Religious Sculpture from Private Collections, National Palace Museum, Taipei, 1997, p. 165, cat. no. 2.
- Zhonguo gu fo diao tezhan [Special exhibition o f Chinese ancient Buddhist sculptures], Hualien County Cultural Center, Hualien, 1999, cat. no. 031.
- Qian gu fo yan. Chuantong diaoke tezhan/Ancient Chinese Sculptures II [Thousand ancient Buddhist countenances. Special exhibition of classical sculpture], Kaohsiung Museum of Fine Arts, Kaohsiung, 2000, cat. no. 28.
- The Beauty of Buddhist Sculptures, National Museum of History, Taipei, 2006, cat. no. 27.
- Buddha: The Embodiment of Wisdom and Compassion, Seoul National University Museum, Seoul, 2007, cat. no. 20.
Estimate: US$400,000 - 600,000
Auction house: Sotheby's New York
Sale: Jingyatang: Treasures of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture
Lots offered: 4
2018/3/15-16｜10am - 5pm
2018/3/17-18｜10am - 6pm
2018/3/19｜10am - 5pm