Art.Auction logo

Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art


10:15AM, September 19, 2002

Sale 7822

Tomb guardian figure, Tang

Lot 32, tomb guardian figure, Tang Dynasty, painted gray pottery, 29 inches high

By Carter B. Horsley

This 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.

Double headed serpent, Tang

Lot 27, double-headed serpent, Tang Dynasty, pottery, 15 1/2 inches long

A fine companion piece to Lot 32 would be Lot 27, an unusual painted pottery double-headed 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.

One of a pair of earth spirits, Tang

Lot 41, one of a pair of sancai-glazed earth spirits, Tang Dynasty, 45 and 45 1/2 inches tall

No less 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.

Atlantean figure, Tang

Lot 31, Atlantean figure, Tang Dynasty, pottery, 25 1/4 inches high

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 loose 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.

Zodiac cockerel, Tang

Lot 40, Zodiac Cockerel, Tang Dynasty, pottery, 10 1/4 inches high

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.

One of a pair of horses, Tang

Lot 29, one of a pair of gray pottery horses, Tang Dynasty, 31 1/2 inches high

Not all 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 $174,500.

Horse, Han

Lot 26, red pottery horse, Han Dynasty, 51 inches high

They are 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.

Mother and child, Tang

Lot 45, Mother and Child, white marble, Tang Dynasty, 8 3/4 inches high

The cover 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.

Pair of equestriennes, Tang

Lot 39, pair of gray pottery equestriennes, Early Tang Dynasty, 16 1/2 inches high

For those 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.

Courtiers and Musicians, Tang

Lot 36, red pottery set of Courtiers and Musicians, Tang Dynasty, 13 and 8 inches, respectively

For many 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.

Buddha, Northern Qi dynasty

Lot 42, limestone statue of Buddha, Northern Qi Dynasty, 73 1/2 inches high

The back 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 $284,500. Although the statue is missing its hands and had some damage 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, Shandong Province.

Some early bronzes did not fare too well. Lot 4, for example, 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 eyes.

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 unusual."

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. Reid collection.

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.


Home Page of The City Review