auction of Chinese Art is highlighted by some fantastic and very
dramatic Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.) masterworks of statues.
Lot 32, for example, shown above, is an outstanding painted gray
pottery earth spirit from the Tang Dynasty. The 29-inch-high work
depicts a ferocious tomb guardian depicted as a feline headed
beast with heavily muscled shoulders and arms and is seated on
its haunches with one four-clawed hand raised high in a threatening
gesture and the other arm holds down a demon dwarf. The catalogue
notes that "A similar figure excavated from a Tang tomb at
Nanliwangcun has been published. It has a conservative estimate
of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $119,500 including the
buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
A fine companion
piece to Lot 32 would be Lot 27, an unusual painted pottery
serpent, also from the Tang Dynasty that the catalogue notes possibly
represents "the primordial deities Nuwa and Fuxi conjoined.
The body of the serpent undulates in an "S" shape and
is "accentuated by a spine of jagged triangular spikes and
terminating in two humanoid monster heads hunched over three-clawed
feet with staring eyes and mouth open with long projecting fangs,
the flared ears pricked up and flanked a single curved antler.
The work is 15 1/2 inches long and has a modest estimate of $20,000
to $25,000. It failed to sell as did more than 60 percent of
the 222 offered lots, an extremely poor and surprisingly lackluster
showing. The auction totaled $2,547,182.
fearsome is Lot 41, a massive pair of sancai-glazed earth spirits,
also from the Tang Dynasty. The catalogue describes the two statues
as "each powerfully modelled, seated on its haunches on a
simulated rockwork base, vividly splashed in chestnut, green,
and straw glazes, one with a snarling lion's face with large teeth,
flat nose, and bulging eyes with details picked out in black,
set beneath knobbed deer-like antlers rising from the forehead,
frame by a flame-like ridged mane striped in three glazes, on
either side of an unglazed towering crested flame flange, the
other with an unglazed human face, framed by large elephant ears
in contrasting green and chestnut, with furrowed brows, staring
eyes and jaws open with fangs bared threateningly, beneath three
twisted horns protruding from the forehead in front of a tall
double-pike halberd-blade flange, the neck with spiky flanges,
each with muscular chests applied with a mat of green flame-like
hair and the belly with ladder ribbing, the shoulders set with
wings crested with feathers."
One of the spirits is 45 inches high and the other 45 1/2 inches
high and the pair has an estimate of $200,000 to $250,000. It
sold for $284,500.
If one wonders
for whom such ghoulish and very animated albeit wondrous works
were created perhaps it was the model for Lot 31, a rare and large
painted pottery Atlantean figure, also from the Tang Dynasty.
The muscular figure is seated wearing a dhoti over
pantaloons secured with a sash with a long scarf draped over his
left shoulder with one end clenched in his right fist. The figure's
face reflects strain and his toes are splayed and his teeth bit
his lower lip and his eyes roll to the side in a disgruntled grimace.
The figure is 25 1/4 inches high and is a companion to another
figure sold at Sotheby's March 20, 2002, that the catalogue noted
was "possibly one from a set of four supporting a main shrine
or Buddhist figure." It has a conservative estimate of $35,000
to $45,000. It sold for $65,725.
Lot 40 is
a rare blue and green glazed pottery Zodiac Cockerel from the
Tang Dynasty that is 10 1/4 inches high. It has a modest estimate
of $6,000 to $8,000. It sold for $5,378.
Tang pieces are so deliciously frightful. Lot 29, is a very beautiful
pair of gray pottery horses, 31 1/2 inches high, from the Tang
Dynasty. They are extremely graceful and powerfully modeled and
have an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. The lot sold for
in marked contrasted to the more stylized Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220
A.D.) red pottery horse, Lot 26, that is 51 inches high and has
and estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It failed to sell.
Not all Tang works, of course, are terrifying.
illustration of the catalogue, for example, lot 45, is a lovely
marble group of a mother and child that is 8 3/4 inches high.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"It is extremely rare to find any secular sculpture in the
Tang Dynasty other than pottery tomb figures, although a related
seated marble sculpture of a seated lady with hair dressed in
two buns was included in the exhibition of Chinse works of Art,
J. J. Lally & Co., New York, 1988, cat. no. 44, and another
of a lady playing a lute, in the collection of Tokyo Fine Arts
University, is published in Sui To no bijutsu, Tokyo, 1978., pt.
295. A smaller figure of a seated lady, reputed caved from white
jade but probably also of white marble, was excavated from a Tang
tomb at Naniwangcun, Chang'an county, Shaanxi province.Two male
figures of hunters, also carved of white marble , were recovered
from the tomb of Yang Sixu who was buried in AD 740 in Dengiapocun
near Xi'an in Shaanxi province, and are today preserved in the
Museum of Chinese History, Beijing.The lot has an estimate of
$150,000 to $200,000. It failed to sell.
enamoured of horses, of course, Lot 39 is a delightful and stately
pair of gray pottery equestriennes, early Tang Dynasty, that are
16 1/2 inches high and have a modest estimate of $30,000 to $40,000.
The lot failed to sell.
collectors of antiquities Tanagra figures of dancing draped female
figures are irresistible and they are likely to be enchanted with
Lot 36, a painted red pottery set of courtiers, musicians and
dancers, Tang Dynasty. The five courtiers are 13 1/2 inches high
and the six musicians are 8 inches high. This lot has a conservative
estimate of $40,000 to $50,000 and is extremely charming and inspiring.
It failed to sell.
The auction also has two pairs of Tang Dynasty painted pottery
figures of a courtier and his lady. Lot 30, the larger of the
two, with figures 37 1/2 and 36 1/2 inches high, is being sold
as a pair and has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000 while the
other pair is being offered as individual lots: Lot 33 is a 22-inch
high courtier and has an estimate of $35,000 to $45,000; and Lot
34, is a 22-inch-high court lady with an estimate of $65,000 to
$75,000. All the figures are rather plump and Lot 34 is the most
attractive. Lots 30, 33 and 34 failed to sell.
cover illustration of the catalogue was Lot 42, a large limestone
figure of Buddha, Northern Qi Dynasty. The 73 1/2-inch high statue
has an estimate of $250,000 to $300,000. It sold for
Although the statue is missing its hands and had some
to its left arm, it is very elegant and serene. The catalogue
noted that it is very similar in its carving style to the sculptures
discovered at the site of the former Longxing temple at Quinzhou,
Some early bronzes did not fare too well. Lot 4, for
a ram's head tripod ritual food vessel from the Shang Dynasty,
13th-12th Century B.C., one of the few works the auction with
listed provenance, failed to sell. It had an estimate of $40,000
to $50,000 and the 10 1/2-inch high vessel was divided into three
lobes each with a ram's head with raised curling horns and bulging
Lot 6, "a very rare archaic bronze ritual wine vessel"
from the Eastern Zhou Dynasty, Warring States Period, also failed
to sell. The 11-inch-high bronze had an estimate of $120,000 to
$150,000 and the globular kettle was cast as a winged beast standing
on four clawed feet with shoulders cast with false wings in the
form of five feathers rising from a curled snake.
A more traditional work, Lot 11, a pair of archaic bronze ritual
bronze wine vessels, Eastern Zhou Dynasty, Late Spring and Autumn
Period, also failed to sell. The lot had an estimate of $150,000
to $180,000. The catalogue maintained that the design was "highly
Some works fared well. A delightfully graceful gray pottery figure
of a dancer from the Han Dynasty, Lot 23, had an estimate of $12,000
to $15,000 and sold for $19,120.
Many of the Song Dynasty ceramics failed to sell, although Lot
723, a black ding cupstand, 4 3/4 inches in diameter, sold for
$147,000, way over its high estimate of $60,000, and Lot 98, a
Yingoing foliate-mouth vase, Southern Song Dynasty, was an exquisite
form with an icy blue glaze and sold for $37,045, nicely over
its high estimate of $30,000.
Lot 143, a large hexagonal teadust-glazed base, Yongzheng sealmark
and period, 26 inches high, had an estimate of $35,000 to $30,000
and sold for $109,940, and Lot 148, a Ming-style blue and white
vase, Quianlong sealmark and period, 17 3/4 inches high, had an
estimate of $45,000 to $55,000 and sold for $101,575, and Lot
149, a yellow-ground famille-rose double-gourd vase, Qing Dynasty,
18th Century, 12 1/2 inches high, had an estimate of $30,000 to
$40,000 and sold for $345,000 and was formerly in the Ogden R.
Among the major disappointments of the sale was Lot 108, a early
Ming underglazed red vase from the Ming Dynasty, Hongu Period,
12 5/8 inches high, that was estimated at $180,000 to $250,000
and failed to sell, and Lot 107, a early blue and white vase from
the same period, 12 3/4 inches high, that was estimated at $40,000
to $60,000 and failed to sell.