Sotheby’s spring auction is currently taking place in New York. It has started the season on a strong note as eminent collectors expressing keen interest in the sales of Chinese works of art. In MING: Luminous Dawn of Empire, a top Hong Kong tycoon emerged victorious in a bidding battle for a gilt-bronze figure of Manjushri, Yongle mark and period, with a winning bid US$1.33m.
In Jingyatang: Treasures of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture, the Hong Kong tycoon gained another victory in the bidding of a Carved Limestone Head of Avalokitesvara from the Sui Dynasty. Giuseppe Eskenazi, a prominent antiques dealer also took home an Inscribed and Dated Huanghuashi Buddhist Stele from the Eastern Wei Dynasty for US$1.33m.
An Inscribed and Dated Huanghuashi Buddhist Stele from the Eastern Wei Dynasty, dated Xinghe Third Year (corresponding to 541 A.D.), is 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, image above), a Japanese-based art dealer who operated branch offices in the US, UK, France and China. He acquired numerous sculptures looted from Chinese Buddhist sites during the end of Qing dynasty.
Started at US$750,000, the sculpture was sold for US$1.33m with buyer’s premium after seven bids. When the auctioneer, Henry Howard-Sneyd, put his hammer down, he particularlly mentioned the buyer's name, Eskenazi (image above), one of the most respected dealers in Chinese art.
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 work of art was formerly in the collection of Fujii Zensuke (1873-1943) before being passed down to the Yurinkan Museum, Kyoto.
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.
The bidding opened at US$400,000 and closed at hammer price US$700,000. The figure was sold for US$855,000, including buyer’s premium.
A Carved Limestone Head of Avalokitesvara from the Sui Dynasty (581-619), 41.3cm in height, 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 (image above), 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.
Cheung Kong Center situated in Central, Hong Kong
The sculpture was offered an opening bid at US$300,000 and hammered down at US$690,000. It was sold to a distinguished Hong Kong tycoon for US$843,000 with buyer’s premium.
The remaining one of four lots offered was a 58.7cm-tall Limestone Relief Carving of an Apsara from the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534). Estimated at US$1.2m-1.5m, the lot was bought-in.
Top three lots
An Inscribed and Dated 'Huanghuashi' Limestone Buddhist Stele, Eastern Wei Dynasty, Dated Xinghe Third Year, Corresponding to 541
Lot no.: 202
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
Hammer price: US$1,100,000
Price realized: US$1,335,000
A Carved Limestone Figure of A Bodhisattva, Northern Qi Dynasty
Lot no.: 203
- Collection of Fujii Zensuke (1873-1943).
- Yurinkan Museum, Kyoto.
Estimate: US$600,000 - 800,000
Hammer price: US$700,000
Price realized: US$855,000
A Carved Limestone Head of Avalokiteshvara, Sui Dynasty.
Lot no.: 204
- 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
Hammer price: US$690,000
Price realized: US$843,000
An Exceptional and Rare Limestone Relief Carving of Apsara, Northern Wei Dynasty
Lot no.: 201
- 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
Auction house: Sotheby’s New York
Sale: Jingyatang: Treasures of Chinese Buddhist Sculpture
Lots offered: 4
Sold by lot: 75%
Sale total: US$3,033,000