By Michele Leight
One of the most iconic and moving sculptures to come to auction is The Emaciated Siddharta, Lot 240, "A Highly Important Gray Schist Figure of the Emaciated Siddhartha or 'Fasting Buddha,'" dating from the 3rd-4th Century, Gandhara. Brilliantly concieved and superbly carved, it is a rare masterpiece that depicts one of the most famous "enlightenments" in human history. Although Buddha is regarded as "divine" his journey began as a wealthy, sheltered prince. Unlike Christianity's famous manifestation of suffering - the crucifixion - in which Jesus died and was re-born but not in human form, Christie's catalogue for this sale cites that this image - or rather interpretation - of the Buddha suffering is "not a symbol of sacrificial death, but of defiance and liberation."
The Indian and Southeast Asian Art sale realized $11,211,938. The top lot of the sale was the 31 1/2-inch high Emaciated Siddhartha, or 'Fasting Buddha,' Gandhara, 3rd/4th century, realizing $4,450,500. Its estimate was "estimate on request."
Sandhya Jain Patel, Specialist of Indian and Southeast Asian Art, New York, said: “Today's sale, ‘a collection of collections,’ was recognized for exceptional works with unusual histories, each reflecting the distinguished eye of the connoisseur. Many works went well above its estimate, with the Emaciated Siddhartha selling for the second highest price for a classical South Asian sculpture. In addition, the total for this sale is the highest achieved for Indian and Southeast Asian Art to date.”
Buddha survived the deprivations and rigors of fasting and meditation, re-entered life as we know it, and in doing so founded a religion that spread across the world that has lasted till today. Buddha's quest for enlightment did not come easily, and is searingly depicted in this stunning work of art. Like Jesus, Buddha is so famous he has also inspired films, poems, paintings and literature. The catalogue for this sale includes a passage from "Siddhartha," a novel by Herman Hesse based on Buddha's life and enlightenment, that is taught - and one of the few that is eagerly read - by students in schools and colleges across the world:
"A goal stood before Siddhartha, a single goal: to become empty, empty of thirst, empty of wishing, empty of dreams, empty of joy and sorrow. Dead to himself, not to be a self any more, to find tranquility with an emptied heart, then the ultimate part of me had to awake, the innermost of my being, which is no longer myself, the great secret" (Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha, With the Samanas, 1922)
As might be expected, works of art like this are rare: "While Buddha's austerities are referred to in narrative reliefs illustrating his life, very few free-standing images exist in private hands, most notably an example in the bumper Collection, Calgary (www.bumpercollection.com/G8-large-fasting.html). Only a handful of images are known from excavations and are now in public collections, foremost the famous sculpture in the Lahore Museum, excavated in Sikri in 1889 in a shirine adjacent to the main stupa indicating its importance in the cultic function of the site, and a less complete figure in the Peshawar Museum, suggesting that very few were ever made, especially of such large size (K. Behrendt, The Art of Gandhara at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007, p. 57, and Fasting Buddhas, Ascetic Forest Monks, and the Rise of the Esoteric Tradition, 2010, p. 301f.). While images appear to span the entire Gandharan era, Behrendt most recently dates the larger images to the later phase" (Christie's catalogue for this sale).
Property from a Private New Jersey Collection, Lot 436, "A Gilt Bronze Figure of a Seated Buddha," Tibet, 17th Century, has enormous appeal, and a reasonable estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for $11,250. Lot 225, "A Gray Schist Relief of Buddha With Two Bodhisattvas," (estimate of $150,000 to $200,000), is from the Isao Kurita Collection. It is an absolute gem, carved in Gandhara in the 3rd century, and as graceful as it gets. Lot 225 sold for $182,500.
Two outstanding thangka's from Tibet are illustrated here. A detail from Lot 323, "An Important Thangka With The Footprints of The Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje," is a rare masterpiece created circa 1339, depicting two golden soles of a teacher's feet: "a tradition of commissioning drawings of a techer's feet appears to be an oral instruction coming down from Gampopa Sonam Rinchen, the teacher of the First Karmapa, Dusum Kyenpa, and also of Pagmodrupa Dorje Gyalpo, who wrote a famous early text descriving this practice. Currently there are only four paintings know - in the East or the West - depicting a Karmapa and footprints, this is one of them" (Christie's catalog for this sale). It is incredible to think that this painting has survived so many centuries in such beautiful condition. Lot 323 has an estimate of $280,000-350,000. It sold for $458,500.
Lot 80, gilt bronze figure of Indra, Nepal, 15th-16th century, foreground, with Lot 234, Thangka of Manjushri, rear
Lot 80, "A Gilt Bronze Figure of Indra," Nepal, 15th-16th Century, is from The James and Marilynn Collection that is reviewed separately. Illustrated behind Indra is another stunning 13th century painting in impeccable condiiton from Tibet, Lot 324, "A Thangka of Manjushri," with an estimate of $180,000-250,000. Inscriptions on the reverse include "a short verse by Shakyamuni Budda teaching monks and nuns to practice patience and fortitude on the path to achieving enlightenment and also to avoid causing any harm to others (Christie's catalogue for this sale). Both Lot 323 and 324 contain three inscriptions that are standard for blessing or sanctifying a painting. Lot 324, "A Thangka of Manjushri" sold for $482,500.
Christie's catalogue for this sale notes: "A lover of art from a young age, connoisseur-collector Isao Kurita had a hobby of collecting antique Tanba ware when he was just twelve years old, growing up in a small vilage outside of Kyoto, Japan. This early interest developed into a serious passion in the mid-1970's, as he began stopping regularly in Pakistan to explore Gandharan sculpture when returning from business trips to France. He then turned his attention to the stoires of Buddha's life, and how these stories from the scriptures were expressed in the sculptural medium. Today, Mr. Kurita has become widely recognized in the field ofr his scholarly contributions, including the publication of several seminal books, 'Gandharan Art 1,11 (1988), 'Buddha's Life Story (2006) and 'Beautiful Gandharan Buddhist Sculptures (2007)"
Lot 203, (estimate $1,500 to $2,500), "A Group of Five Stucco Heads," Gandhara, 3rd/4th Century are beautiful, (illustrated in the cabinet), with a reasonable estimate, and offer a great opportunity for a budding collector. They are also from the Isao Kurita Collection. Exquisite collections include high priced and reasonably priced works of art. It sold for $4,000.
Goddesses manifest everywhere in India and Southeast Asia, carved on magnificent temples, nestled in roadside shrines, garlanded with marigolds in small food stalls and shops in bazaars, enshrined with offerings of flowers in homes and places of worship. Even taxis, lorries and the whizzing three-wheeled autos that ply India's roads have a beloved goddess hanging from a mirror, or perched on the dashboard. Goddesses are symbolic of the renewal of life itself, revered for nurturing and defending the vulnerable. They are consorts of the gods, bound together in the dance of life that makes the world go round. Some are fierce, like Kali, (or Durga), ready to do whatever it takes to vanquish evil. The many manifestations of goddesses and their significance would take a lifetime to explore. Their allure and mystique has lasted into the 21st century.
Illustrated here are three examples of "the feminine divine," each endowed with their own special powers. Standing 22 1/2 inches high, "Lot 220, "A Highly Important Silver-Inlaid Bronze Figure of Durga Mahishasuramardini" was created in Kashmir in the 8th Century, has eight hands, several bearing weapons, and one holding the defeated dragon. Lot 220, with an estimate upon request, is from the Isao Kurita Collection, Japan, and was illustrated on the cover of "Goddess Durga: The Power and the Glory," by P. Pal (2009), and referenced on pages 85-87. Lot 220 passed, but hopefully it will return to the market.
Lot 441, "A Large Bronze Figure of a Dakini," Tibet, 17th/18th Century, is depicted dancing, and wearing a foliate tiara. It has a reasonable estimate of $10,000-15,000. Lot 441 sold for $22,500.
Lot 416, "A Bronze Figure of Parvati," from the 13th century (South India) has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It sold for $230,500.
"Parvati is the Hindu representation of female perfection in multiple identities as young maiden, wife, and mother. The present example is exceptionally well-cast and finished, each bead of her jewelry clearly defined and the striations of her dhoti hugging her undulating body in a natural yet idealized way that emphasizes her beauty, sensuality and fecundity. These endowments are not just physical but spiritual in envisioning the essence of the divine on a human scale" (Christie's catalog for this sale)
Illustrated above is Lot 420, "A Mottled Red Sandstone Figure of a Male Diety," India, Uttar Pradesh, Mathura, Kushan Period, 2nd Century. Christie's catalog for this sale notes: "Bodhisattva figures in the Mathura school have a somewhat different function than they do in Gandhara, initially being deities attending Buddha and often depicted as worshippers or bearing a fly whisk, as possible in the present example. The sensitive modeling of the body shows the coming of the Gupta age, displaying the quality of 'inner breath" (prana) and graceful elegance." Lot 420 has an estimate of $60,000-80,000. It sold for $290,500.
Fom the Dani Ghigo Collection, Lot 255, "A Pair of Sandstone Figures of Vishnu and Lakshmi," are a divine couple from Angkor Wat, created in the 12th century, with an estimate of $150,000-200,000. Lot 255 sold for $182,500.
Also from the Dani Ghigo Collection are an unusual and pair of Jain paintings, displayed belowLot 281 in Christie's galleries with Gandharan sculptures and reliefs, below. Lot 280, (left), "A Jain Painting in Jambudvipa," from India, Rajasthan, 19th Century, has an estimate of $2,500 (it sold for $10,000). Lot 281, "A Yantra With Durga," has an estimate of $2,000-3,000. (It sold for $2,750)
Commenting at a press preview on the incredible variety and range of Asian art and artifacts on offer at Christie's Asian Art Week this season, Hugo Weihe, Christie's International Director Asian Art, said:
"This is the largest sale we have ever put together for Asian Art Week, and it is also one of the best." Mr. Weihe said that the pre-sale estimate for the series of sales was in the region of $65 million, "but of course we hope to do better" he added with a smile.
The Indian and Southeast Asian Art sale realized $11,211,938, the highest total achieved for Indian and Southeast Asian Art to date.