Buddhist Art Dominates Sotheby’s Asian Art Sale in Paris

In this Paris auction week, Buddhist art dominated the top spots at Sotheby’s Asian Art sale after intense bidding battles. The leading lot was a 18th-century thangka from Central Tibet, which was hammered down at €430,000, outstripping its estimate of €30,000.

Ngor Evam Choden Monastery

Measuring 206 by 158 cm, the large thangka has an inscription indicating this particular painting was commissioned by an abbot of the Ngor Evam Choden Monastery in 1704. The calendar date given in the inscription as well as the depiction of the vase of longevity and two long-life deities suggest it could be a portrait of the 25th abbot Sangye Phuntshok, who headed the monastery from 1686 to 1689.

The pandita-style red lappet hat of the Sakya lineage with its domed top and gold-on-gold edged lappets identifies the figure prominently depicted at the centre of this painting as a Sakya lineage hierarch. The Sakya is one of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Ngor is the main temple of the large Ngor school of Vajrayana Buddhism.

The large thangka was hammered down at €430,000 at a prolonged bidding battle. It sold for €525,000 with premium included, realising the highest price at the sale.

The second top lot was a thangka from mid-15th century Ngor Monastery, measuring 72 by 60.5cm. The mandala of Kalachakra (the Wheel of Time) is one of a set of Vajravali paintings commissioned in the Nepalese style for the Sakya monastery of Ngor in Tsang province, central Tibet.

The Kalachakra tantra was devised in the eleventh or early twelfth century by Indian scholar Abhayakaragupta at the eastern Indian monastery of Vikramashila, and is one of the most complex in Vajrayana Buddhism — some seven hundred and twenty-two deities are described in the textual source — making for perhaps the most intricate and aesthetically appealing of all Tibetan mandala painting.

Estimated at €50,000, the thangka was hammered down at €320,000 and sold for €393,000.

Other exceptional Buddhist art sold included a gilt-lacquered wood figure of Buddha from Qing dynasty, 17/18th century, which was hammered down at €250,000 and sold for €309,000, exceeding its estimate of €100,000.

The Buddha figure seated in vajraparyankasana has his right hand raised in vitarka mudra (representing the discussion and transmission of Buddhist teachings) and his left hand resting in dhyana mudra, gesture of meditation.

Other highlights included an archaic bronze ritual food vessel, gui, from the early Western Zhou Dynasty and a polychrome copper alloy figural representation of Buddha and sixteen arhats from 15th century Tibet.

Estimated at €80,000 - €120,000, the archaic bronze vessel gui was hammered down at €130,000 and sold for €162,500. Gui was a ritual vessel for serving cooked millet, sorghum, rice or other grains. Bronze casting came fully into its own in China during the Shang dynasty (circa 1600BC -1046 BC) with the production of sacral vessels intended for use in funerary ceremonies. Western Zhou (circa 1047 BC - 772 BC) succeeded some five and half centuries of the Shang dynasty. People quickly introduced changes while keeping standard vessel shapes and established decorative motifs.

The polychrome copper alloy figural representation of Buddha and sixteen arhats from 15th century Tibet was hammered down at €95,000 and sold for €118,750. Buddha seated on a lotus surrounded by his followers and sixteen arhats. Below are the guardians of the four directions, Vaishravana, Dhritarashtra, Virudhaka and Virupaksha on lotus and Jambhala sitting in the foreground in front.

A pair of coral-ground famille-verte ‘floral’ bowls carrying the highest presale estimate at €450,000-550,000 failed to sell at the sale.

Top five lots sold

A Very Large Thangka Depicting a Ngor Abbot Tsang Province, Central Tibet, Ca. 1704 Distemper on Cloth

Lot no.: 38
Size: 206 x 158cm
Provenance: Private European Collection
Estimate: €30,000 - 50,000
Price realised: €525,000

A Rare Thangka Depicting a Kalachakra Mandala Central Tibet, Ngor Monastery, Mid-15th Century Distemper on Cloth

Lot no.: 34
Size: 72 x 60.5cm
Galerie Koller, Zurich, 26th and 27th November 1993, lot 1.
Estimate: €50,000 - 70,000
Price realised: €393,000

A Rare and Large Gilt-lacquered Wood Figure of Buddha, Qing Dynasty, 17th/18th Century

Lot no.: 60
Height: 105.5cm
Private Swiss Collection
Estimate: €100,000 - 150,000
Price realised: €309,000

A Well Cast Archaic Bronze Ritual Food Vessel, Gui, Early Western Zhou Dynasty, 11th/10th Century Bc

Lot no.: 75
Size: 26cm

  • Dr. Otto Burchard & Co., Berlin, until 1935.
  • Acquired from Galerie Jacques Barrere, 11th July 1986 (according to a private correspondence).
  • The Sze Yuan Tang Collection, Hong Kong.
  • Acquired from Anthony Hardy, Hong Kong, 13th March 1988, by the father of the present owner (according to a private correspondence).

Estimate: €80,000 - 120,000
Price realised: €162,500

A Rare Polychrome Copper Alloy Figural Representation of Buddha and Sixteen Arhats, Tibet, 15th Century

Lot no.: 43
Size: 22.6cm
Acquired in Munich in 2010.
Estimate: €60,000 - 80,000
Price realised: €118,750

Auction summary

Auction house: Sotheby’s Paris
Sale: Asian Art
Sale date: 11 December 2018
Price realised: €3,212,563