By Michele Leight
New York City - It is spring, and with the blossoms the arrival of Asia Week New York, an eagerly anticipated event that has now become a cultural phenomenon - even for a city that is a cultural powerhouse. Visitors from oversease are everywhere - China, India, Europe, Thailand, Japan - joining many Americans that come from all over the country to enjoy our city, bid on lots at New York's famous auction houses, attend lectures, and visit galleries showcasing Asian Art. Some are just curious to find out what Asia Week New York is all about. And what a cultural feast it is. Ancient artifacts from Asia with a patina that reflects their longeivity are a moving reminder of just how old these civilizations are - and many modern and contemporary artists from Asia are incorporating that incredible heritage into their work in innovative ways. There is just not enough time to savor it all.
Sotheby's New York March Asia Week features four sales: Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Indian and Southeast Asian Art, Classical Chinese Paintings and Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art. All include masterpieces at every price level. Results for indiviudal sales are posted in the sections devoted to them, included below.
The overall total for this week’s Asian art sales at Sotheby’s was $61,802,816, well over the pre-sale estimate of $29.1 to $41.3 million.
Henry Howard-Sneyd, Vice Chairman, Asian Art at Sotheby’s said: “I am delighted with the results of our week of Asian art auctions that exceeded the high estimate by over $20 million, to bring an overall total of $61.8 million. The results, especially the records set in the auction of Classical Chinese Paintings, reaffirm New York’s position as a global centre for the Asian Art market.”
Illustrated here are some of the treasures - and exciting contrasts - of Sotheby's March Asia Week New York.
Lot 291, "Standing Vishnu," circa 1105, is a glorious gilt on copper work of devotion with ages old patina, and one of the earliest Nepalese bronzes ever to come to auction. On the right is Lot 350,"Arhat" distemper on cloth, dated by inscription to 1735-1796, glowing with the intensity of hand-mixed and naturally sourced pigments that have withstood the test of time. It is inscribed in Tibetan, Mandarin and Mongolian, and is a depiction of a tolerant, multi-cultural and - possibly - inter-faith community. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes that "as per the Chinese inscription, the current work was hung in the Zhongzheng Hall, the then-epicenter of Tibetan Buddhist practice in Beiijings Forbidden City. Within the Forbidden City, there were more than 40 halls dedicated to Buddhist practice, in which Mongolian and Tibetan lamas, by imperial decree, carried out daily liturgical rite and scriptural recitation for the benefit of the Quianlong imperial family."
Anuradha Ghosh-Mazumdar, Vice President, Sotheby's Head of Department, Indian and Southeast Asian Art, described Lot 291, "Standing Vishnu," as one of the most talked about pieces of Asia Week. The spectacular gilt-bronze is described in detail in the section devoted to Indian and Southeast Asian Art in this review.
Both lots will be offered in Sotheby's Indian and Southeast Asian Art auction.
Lot 291 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $590,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. Lot 350, "Arhat, Distemper on Cloth, Sino-Tibetan, Quianglong Period," has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $80,500.
Centuries apart, two very different paintings share sublime sfumato and rigorous drawing (illustrated above). On the left, a detail of Lot 643, "Temples On Mountains of The Immortals," was painted in ink on paper as a hanging scroll in China between 1501-1583 by Wen Jia. The painting is illustrated in the section devoted to Classical Chinese Paintings in this review. On the right is a superb graphic painting by MF Husain (1915-2011), Lot 68, "Untitled (Horse)," a favorite subject of the artist. It will be offered in Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale.
Lot 643 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, and is from The Ching Yuan Chai Collection, the studio name given to the collection of Chinese and Japanese paintings bleonging to Professor James Cahill and his family. It sold for $1,314,500.
Lot 68 has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $62,500.
Sotheby's galleries glowed with Asian art treasures during previews, including magnificent paintings in all the sales - Himalayan and Tibetan thangkas, mandalas, Indian and Mughal Miniatures, sublime classical Chinese paintings in ink on silk and paper - as well as ancient bronzes, stone sculptures, devotional works from Tibet, India and Nepal, superb jades, and furniture.
China is world famous for ceramics spanning centuries, and Sotheby's "Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art" sale includes an iconic brushpot, Lot 93, "An Extremely Rare Famille Rose 'Heaven and Earth' Revolving Brushpot," Qianglong Seal Mark and Period. This amazing work of art is as exquisite as it is innovative, and all the more impressive because it was not just designed to be beautiful. It was intended to be used.
Lot 93 is illustrated at the top of this review, and again above, with Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby's Vice Chairman, Asian Art, who demonstrated how it revolved with great enthusiasm. Lot 94, (also) "An Extremely Rare Famille Rose 'Heaven and Earth' Revolving Brushpot, Qianglong Seal Mark and Period, is the pair to Lot 93 - not identical, but both feature phoenix, and other fine creatures, on an ethereal blue background, with a turquoise enameled interior. (Lot 94 is illustrated in the section devoted to this sale in this review). Regina Krahl writes in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale:
"Revolving and interlocking porcelains represent the last great triumph of the imperial porcelain kilns at Jingdezhen in south China, the most innovation of the Qianglong period (1736-95). At a time when the range of technical skills and inventive ideas seemed virtually exhausted, the potters experimented with the nearly impossible to impress their demanding imperial patron. Even in theory, to make vessels with loose parts out of porcelain - epitome of firmness and stability - seemed like a contradiction in terms. In practice, to assemble vessels with double walls from individual elements, fired to millimeter precision and neatly interlocking to assure their film hold and make them fully serviceable, yet to keep them freely movable, required not only ingenious design, but almost miraculous craftsmanship. Not surprisingly such masterworks of the potter's art are outstandingly rare. Only four other brush pots with movable components seem to be preserved, three of them in the Palace Museums in Beijing and Taipei" (from Trigrams Rotating for the Quianglong Emperor "...revolving as one wishes, for perpetual good luck..."
Lot 93 has an estimate of $120,000 to $150,000. It sold for $1,986,500. Lot 94 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $1,538,500.
The brushpots came from a Massachusetts private collection, and were each just 4 3/4 inches high. Bidding was ferocious for both pieces, and at one stage in the auction, the auctioneer asked for a bid from the room and was offered $100,000. Immediately, a Sotheby's specialist bidding for a client by phone yelled out " "$1 million."
The combined total for Lots 93 and 94 was $3.5 million, an astonishing result given the pre-sale estimates for each lot.
Illustrated above is "Lot 135, "A Fine Huanghuali Six-Post Canopy Bed," Jiazichuang, Ming Dynasty, circa 16th to 17th century, with its own "step-up stool, one of several beautiful pieces of furniture on offer in Sotheby's "Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art" sale. The catalogue for this sale notes that "intact canopy beds are extremely rare. Virtually none retain their original paneled tops." This bed is graceful, without being pretentious - and in superb condition given its vintage. It has an estimate of $350,000 to $450,000. It sold for $422,500.
Sotheby's is offering several magnificent ancient Chinese bronzes and works of art in various materials including jade, lapis, rhinoceros horn and lacquer. "Ancient" takes on new meaning in Asian culture, when (Lot 13), "A Rare Archaic Bronze Double-Owl Food Vessel" from the Shang Dynasty (12th century B.C.) is as stylish-looking as this finely crafted example - and, to make it even more delectable, it is inspired by those magnificent creatures - owls. Harry Potter would certainly approve. This fine vessel must have been used at extremely classy dinner parties. In the arts, "civilization" and "civilized" means having party dishes like this to impress the guests with. The peering owl-eyes, perky beak and rope-twist handle are very winsome touches. Lot 13 is also a technical marvel, perfectly cast and embellished by artisans without the sophisticated tools we have today.
Lot 13 has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $1,258,500.
Lot 208, "An Imperially Inscribed Finely Carved Spinach Jade Brushpot," Qianglong Period, (1795) is one of my favorite Asia Week highlights because it symbolizes mind-blowing creativity, technical virtuosity, it references nature and poetry, and it is eco-friendly and "green." The carved stand upon which it rests is a fitting base for such a gorgeous object:
"...the thick walls deeply carved and undercut around the exterior with a wondrous waterscape depicting two immortals and their attendant in two rafts returning from a herb gathering trip, two sages standing on a terrace overlooking the swiftly flowing waters, the entire scene punctuated with fantastic rocks and luxuriant trees creating a lush atmosphere, the characters yun bu fei ling (a cascade of clouds mermeating the grove) inscribed on a rock, the top of the mouthrim incised with a twenty-eight character inscription from a Quianglong poem, followed by the date, Qianlong yimao xia yuti (imperially inscribed by Qianglong during the summer of the yimao year) and the seal, hui xin bu yuan (the heart's delights are never far)...(Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
"The hearts delights are never far" if one can stare at something as beautiful as this every day. The "rim" is incised with this inscription (poem):
"Here common craft abandons its trade,
becomes erudite in antiquity,
And becomes a waterfall scene
on this brushpot.
The lattice lookout seems set
as if in seven-syllable verse,
Which could only be Taibai's
song of Censer Peak."
"The Quianglong emperor may have written the above poem while visiting the picturesque waterfall of Xianglu Peak, one of the four peaks at Lu Mountain in Jiangxi province...It is known that the Quianglong emperor possessed a superior connoisseurship of jade and insisted on examining every peice presented to him, which he categorized according to shape, color, quality and style. On many occassions, such as that seen on this brushpot, his response to jade carvings inspired poetic compositions, which was then inscribed on to the vessel." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Taibai was a famous poet whose poetry impressed the emperor. Love of poetry manifests in so many Chinese works of art.
Carved out of a solid piece of jade, this beautiful vessel is definitely worth a poem or two. Lot 208 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $1,426,500, many times its high estimate, and was sought after by at least five bidders.
One light-filled gallery was devoted to Classical Chinese Paintings - the debut sale of this category in Sotheby's New York March Asia Week series of events. A highlight of this sale is Lot 686, "Calligraphy in Various Script Forms by the Emperors of the Southern Song," 12th to 13th century, originally three separate fan leaves and one album leaf, now mounted as a handscroll that includes touching poems written by the first four emperors of the Southern Song Dynasty, the first being Emperor Gaozong, who established the Southern Song Dynasty in 1127.
Lot 686, Emperors of the Southern Song," 12th to 13th century, Calligraphy in Various Script Forms,"a handscroll, (third of four illustrated above), is one of 160 lots of fine paintings and calligraphy dating from the 12th to the 20th century that will be offered in Sotheby's Classical Chinese Paintings Sale. An ink on silk painting on three fan leaves and one album leaf now mounted as a handscroll, the third fan leaf bears the artist's inscription:
"A winter butterfly flutters along the luxuriant bank while a waterfowl plays in the sandy shoals."
The artist in this instance was the Song emperor Guangzong, documented on the collectors label: "Song emperor Guangzong's imperial brush in couplet form, running standard script..." (shown above)
Lot 686 has an estimate of $750,000 to $1,000,000. It sold for - be prepared - $5,682,500.
It seems that works of art that include poems written by emperors are spectacular best-sellers.
Fine modern and contemporary paintings and sculpture from South Asia - and paintings by 20th century Chinese artists - bring the creative flow of Asia's artistic heritage full circle to the present, offering even more exciting juxtapositions, such as the exceptional and rare (Lot 291) "Standing Vishnu" from Nepal created in the 12th century, and Lot 64, "Untitled (Shiv-Shakti Series)," a powerful piece by Gulam Rasool Santosh (1929-1997) that references the ancient Indian art of tantra, which the artist revitalized in the 20th century with a new vocabulary he created for tantric art based on geometrical abstraction. Lot 64 is illustrated in the section on "Modern and Contemporary Art" in this review.
Modern and contemporary artists from Asia are keeping their cultural history alive by incorporating its ancient myths and legends, spirituality, references to the world's oldest religions and love of nature in their work. India and China are now a major force in the world, and as they forge ahead in the 21st century there is greater interest in works of art from their past, and of present generation movers and shakers that are documenting their rapidly changing world - to international acclaim.
Illustrated above is Lot 57, "Jalashaya," a beautiful abstract by Sayed Haider Raza, who has been influenced by the mystical powers of nature throughout his life:
"The use of symbols is sanctified by an ancient and continuous Indian tradition of visual abstraction. The mandala and yantra are powerful visual aids to meditation and reflect the interconnected nature of the universe to the initiated viewer. By the mid 1980s, Raza's paintings had become tightly ordered geometric compositions that were very closely related to these ancient artistic diagrams, and the philosophical theories that they represent." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Lot 57 has an estimate of $200,000 to $400,000. It sold for $242,500.
The delectable Indian Miniature illustrated above, Lot 223, "Lovers On a Terrace," India, Lucknow, circa 1760, is far more luscious than the photograph conveys. These beautiful classic paintings have influenced more Asian artists than it is possible to name here, including many of the present-generation. Lot 223 has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000, and will be offered in Sotheby's sale of Indian and Southeast Asian Art. It sold for $92,500.
Only some of the wonderful works on offer at Sotheby's Asia Week New York are shared here, sadly it is not possible to include many more. This review continues in the order in which the sales are presented.
For some time Sotheby's has included works of art by South Asian artist's in their most presitigious Contemporary Art Evening and Day sales. These artists are now internationally acclaimed, their work sought after by global collectors, and they have received the ultimate accolade - for an artist - of major museum and gallery shows. This year Subodh Gupta will have three museum shows in three different countries. Anish Kapoor has already had several museum shows.
Contemporary art is without boundary today, and many selections in Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sales over the years reflect that. Asia itself is extremely diverse, but great artists look for ways in which they can communicate universally. Few if any artists welcome boundaries. For many reasons, some famous South Asian artists have lived and studied abroad, and their work is fascinating for its fusion of Eastern and Western influences. Most of the great Modernists of the Progressive Artists Group whose work features in this sale studied and lived abroad - including here in America - some maintaining a base in their homeland, or returning to it late in their careers. Some never returned, but held onto to their rich cultural heritage in their work. The Progressive Artist's Group in particular were influenced by artists like Picasso, Cezanne and Van Gogh, among others. Like Husain and Raza, so many of these artists also reference the vibrant colors of Indian Miniature painting - the luscious colors of India itself.
The next generation of South Asian artists are global citizens that reference migration and globalization in their work. Instead of distancing these artists from their heritage, however, globalization has made many of them acutely aware of it. Some are inspired to incorporate ancient themes and motifs into their art. The influence of spirituality and some of the world's oldest religions are inseparable from any discourse on Asia - including Asian art. Despite progress and globalization, India, for example, is steeped in religious and spiritual rituals that play out in every day life, from the inscense spiraling besides statues of favorite gods and goddesses in stores, to men laying down their briefcases at a shrine to bow their heads in prayer for ten minutes during a hectic work day.
For those that cannot live in their homeland, or must travel back and forth between hemispheres from necessity - family, work, education - being able to reference and share what was lost or left behind makes the world seem smaller, more connected.
The world is getting smaller. South Asian artist Zarina Hashimi (born 1937) has been New York based for decades, and she lived in several countries before that. Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary Art sale includes an installation by Zarina entitled "Home is a Foreign Place," (Lot 81), executed in 1999, a print series on handmade Japanese Kozo paper, mounted on Somerset paper.
Contemporary art often comments on our society and culture, and sometimes alludes to that which is endangered - animals, flora and fauna, tribes living in formerly isolated parts of the world, freedom. The list is endless.
In addition to re-interpreting the notion of "place" and its meaning in a globalized world, Zarina celebrates and incorporates a centuries-old tradition of hand-made paper in "Home Is a Foreign Place." Somerset paper is made by St. Cuthbert's Mill of England, and is the standard of excellence for printmaking papers - made from tree free 100% cotton lintners salvaged from the textile industry. Innovation that saves trees is possible in the 21st century. Artists help us become aware of many important things.
Another edition of this print series is currently on view at The Museum of Modern Art in New York, in a wonderful installation in the Contemporary Galleries that highlights "Works from the 1980s to NOW." (Reviewed on this site in Art/Museums).
Lot 81, "Home Is a Foreign Place," by Zarina has an estimate of $12,000 to $14,000. It sold for $50,000.
At the Indian Art Fair in Delhi in January 2012, it was evident that several contemporary Asian artists are incorporating Japanese hand-made papers into their work - as well as indigenous hand made papers. Indian artisans have made paper by hand forever, and some continue to do so, but their art is in danger of dying out. Japanese hand-made paper is among the finest ever created, requiring skilled artisans, and it takes a very long time to make. Time is perhaps the most endangered commodity in the 21st century. Artists help make us aware of that too.
Together with the work of modern giants like MF Husain, FN Souza, SH Raza and other members of of the Progressive Artists Group, there are beautiful paintings by artists of The Bengal School in this sale. In Sotheby's catalogue for this sale Priyanka Bannerjee, Sotheby's Head of Sale, Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art, writes:
"Of particular interest (however) are the under-represented modernist pioneers, those artists that had looked inward to the country's spiritual core for inspiration. We are pleased to offer significant works by Prabhakar Barwe. H.S. Gade, A. Ramachandran, G.R. Santosh, Sohan Qadri and Aavinash Chandra. We pay special tribute to Bengal, the heart of contemporary innovation since the beginning of the 20th century with works by artists such as Hemendranath Mazumdar, Bikash Bhattacharjee, J.P. Gangooly, Ganesh Pyne and Ramkinker Baij..."
Among other works of art, Prianka Matthew spoke about Lot 64, "Untitled (Shiv-Shakti Series)," by G.S. Santosh, the powerfully graphic abstract painting by G.S. Santosh illustrated above:
"Artists have their epiphanies - and that for G.R.Santosh can be traced back to a journey that he undertook out of, perhaps curiosity, but which changed his painterly and personal life. From an experience that can only be described as mystical, Santosh turned his exploratory journey as an artist into an inward looking process that would result in the revitalisation of the ancient Indian art of tantra..." (Kishore Singh, Art Features Editor, February 13th 2012, included in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Lot 69 has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $50,000.
Lot 39, Jagdish Swaminathan's sublime - organically geometric - "Untitled (Bird, Tree, Mountain Series)" depicts flowers, a hummingbird, and a hawk. Although hawks are very much an Indian motif, and evident circling in the skies throughout the sub-continent, it is unusual for the artist to include one in his work:
"The negotiation of geometric space is highly redolent of mandala principle central to esoteric Indian iconography. In the 'Bird, Tree and Mountain Series,' Swaminathan brings together aspects of the indigenous aesthetic, including Indian Miniature paintings with their simple compositions and forms, coupled with a bold use of color. In the 1960s and 1970s, Indian artists explored the manipulation of these esoteric symbols and concepts in the synthetic artistic movement of neo-tantrism." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Lot 39, "Untitled (Bird, Tree, Mountain Series)," by Jagdish Swaminathan has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $194,500.
Sotheby's Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art" sale includes property from over seventy private collections, some of which have not been seen in public for over fifty years. The auction features fine ceramics, jades and furniture, including a significant number of Imperial works of art. Fortunately for us, China's emperors were great patrons of the arts, so we can enjoy these wonders today.
Lot 93, illustrated at the top of this review, is the pair to Lot 94, illustrated here, also "An Extremely Rare Famille Rose 'Heaven and Earth' Revolving Brush Pot, Qianglong Seal Mark and Period." Like its pair, it is rich with Daoist and cosmological symbolism. The technical marvels were recounted earlier in this review, but here is more about the symbolism and wildlife that appear on both brushpots:
"...the upper revolving section painted on opposite sides with a pair of phoenix amidst multi-colored clouds, the lower section painted in blue enamels with a horse carrying sacred scriptures, galloping above turbulent seas from which emerge jagged rocks, two rocks sprouting sprigs of lingzhi and two others with resting tortoises, the parting waves revealing a branch of coral, a 'flaming pearl' and a rhinoceros horn, all against a pale blue enamel feathere-scroll ground executed in imitation sgraffito technique, slightly darker on the lower section..."
Lot 93, illustrated at the top of this review has an estimate of $120,000 to $150,000. It sold for $1,986,500.
Lot 93 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $1,538,500.
Chinese furniture is making quite a splash in the auction circuit. Two beautiful lots in this sale are illustrated above with Cynthia Volk, Sotheby's Specialist, Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, who highlighted them as exceptional and rare: Lot 142, "A Pair of Large and Rare Huanghuali Yokeback Armchairs," flank Lot 128, "A Fine and Rare Huanghuali Compound Cabinet," circa 17th century, both splendid in their sinuous lines and simplicity. Lot 127, "A Fine Huanghuali Yokeback Armchair (Sichutou Guanmaoyi), Ming Dynasty, 17th century is not illustrated,
Lot 142 has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $602,500. Lot 128 has an estimate of $250,000 to $400,000. It sold for $512,500. Lot 127 has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000.It sold for $542,500.
These are strong prices for rare Chinese furniture.
Illustrated below is a beautiful temple bell, Lot 70, "An Imperial Gilt-Bronze Archaistic Temple Bell, Bianzhong," Kangxi Mark and Period, Dated to 54th Year, Corresponding to 1715, one of a large collection of bells acquired by a Connecticut collector over the course of many years:
"Biangzhong were produced for the court during the Qing dynasty as an essential component of Confucian ritual ceremonies at the imperial alters, formal banquets and processions. The music produced by these instruments were believed to facilitate communication between humans and deities...Cast in equal size but varying in thickness, these bells were attached to tall wooden frames in two rows of eight as depicted by Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766) in his painting Imperial Banquet in Wanshu Garden (c 1755), included in the exhibition Splendors of China's Forbidden City. The Glorious Reign of Emperor Quianglong. The Field Museum, Chicago, cat.no. 101" (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Lot 70 has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $818,500.
Before ending this long list of delectable Chinese works of art - with many more highlighted earlier in this review - it seems appropriate to end with one of the most recognizable Chinese artifacts that often form the backdrop to some of the most celebrated homes in the world: the black lacquer screen. These screens are also technical marvels: gilding is exacting and painstaking, and lacquer takes a very long time to dry. The description of Lot 161, "An Eight-Panel Gilt-Lacquer Screen," Qing Dynasty, 19th century" (detail only illustrated below) in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale says it all:
"...Painted in gilding on a black lacquer ground with a festive scene of figures in an elaborate garden pavillion with buildings and pagodas on a riverbed, boats sailing past, with hills in the distance, all within a floral and key-fret scroll border, the reverse decorated with a variety of flowers and birds..."
Sounds like paradise, which is what this lovely screen manages to convey.
Lot 161 has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $30,000.
Today at Sotheby’s the Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Sale brought the outstanding total of $20,709,776, significantly exceeding the pre-sale high estimate of $16.8 million. The auction was led by two "Extremely Rare Famille Rose ‘Heaven and Earth’ Revolving Brushpots," with Qianlong seal marks and dated to the period (ests. $120,000 to $150,000 and $80,000 to $120,000) which brought a combined total of $3.5 million. There were also exceptional prices for jades, archaic bronzes, and furniture among other areas of the sale.
Henry Howard-Sneyd, Vice Chairman, Asian Art and one of today’s auctioneers commented: “Today’s outstanding total of $20.7 million showed that collectors are prepared to fight for objects with rarity and good provenance when offered at conservative estimates. Two Revolving Brushpots from the Qianlong period led the sale bringing a combined total of $3.5 million, many multiples of the high estimates. These astonishing pieces are the product of ingenious design and almost miraculous craftsmanship.”
At the preview, Henry Howard-Sneyd said it was the first time Sotheby's has offered Classical Chinese Paintings, "that have become very sought after." Illustrations of some of the paintings included in this sale make it easy to see why. They are softly rendered - in ink on silk or paper - exceptionally atmospheric, and they convey the ephemeral beauty of nature without fussiness.
While nature is a universal theme in art, these are instantly recognizable as Chinese paintings. It is a unique, timeless and beautiful style of painting governed by an indespensable medium - ink. Again, the quality of the brushes, ink - and the inkstone - are critical to the effects achieved in these amazing works of art. These inks were not ready made, but ground by hand.
Lot 644, "Landscape After Lu Guang," by Hongren, (1610-1663), is one of four beautiful paintings from a legendary collection:
"Ching Yuan Chai (Jingyuan zhai) is the studio name given to the collection of Chinese and Japanese paintings belonging to Professor James Cahill and his family. Professor Cahill is a world reknowned scholar and one of the most respected authorities on Chinese painting. The collection was assembled over a period of three decades, beginning in 1954 in Japan. The collection is particularly strong in works from the Ming (1368-1644) and Quing (1644-1911) dynasties...The studio name Ching Yuan can be interpreted as 'Studio of Gazing at the Abstruse' or 'Studio of [someone who is] Looking Hard at the Yuan Dynasty.' A total of four exquisite works offered in this sale belongs to Professor Cahill's daughter Sarah." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
"At the fall of the Ming dynasty the artist known as Hongren was ordained as a Buddhist monk. Born into an impoverished family in Shexian, Anhui, he passed the provincial examination which, under normal circumstances, would have led to an official career. With the fall of the dynasty in 1644, however, he chose to avoid political entanglements and instead of serving the new regime he became a monk. This was the path taken by many like-minded scholars of the time...Hongren spent the remainder of his short life in monasteries in and around the area of his birth. He became an important painter of landscapes and the leading artist of the Huangshan, or Anhui, School of painting..." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale).
Lot 644 has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,200,000. It sold for $1,874,500.
The magnificent painting illustrated above is Lot 643, "Temples on Mountains of the Immortals," by Wen Jia, (1501-1583), depicting temples situated in as idyllic a landscape as nature can provide:
"The composition is bisected along a diagonal, with the top half depicting a Daoist temple situated high atop treacherous mountain peaks, and the lower half focusing on a stalactite grotto - seen as a gateway to paradise in Daoist lore - from which a cascading stream flows. In the foreground of the painting, in front of the grotto, two scholars and their attendants are engaged in conversation. In the middle of the picture two travellers make their way up a flight of stairs built on stilts above cascading waterfalls. They will soon reach some sheltered pavilions where they can take a rest before resuming their pilgrimage to the Daoist temple at the top of the mountain. Wen Jia's painting is a masterful synthesis of Daoist symbolism, narrative description, and literary painting aesthetic." (Sothebys catalogue for this sale).
A detail of the stalactite grotto was illustrated at the top of this review.
Lot 643 has and estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It is also from The Ching Yuan Chai Collection. It sold for $1,314,500.
Painted in 1946 when the artist was almost 90 years old, Lot 700, "Eagle Perching On The Pine," is a "modern" Chinese work of art. Boldly executed, and bearing three seals of the artist, it was acquired directly from the artist by the recipient, and kept in the family ever since. Lot 700 has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,986,500.
Complementing spring, and the return of blossoms and foliage, the delicate beauty of Lot 678, "Flowers of The Four Seasons" (detail shown above) by Lu Hui, captures the fragility and ephemeral nature of flowers. "Signed Lu Hui, dated wuxu, the twenty-fourth year of the Guangxu reign (1898), spring, third lunar month, inscribed, and with one seal of the artist...(Sotheby's catalogue for this sale). Lot 678 has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $170,500.
Sotheby's Classical Chinese Painting sale achieved $35.2 million dollars, an outstanding result.
Today at Sotheby’s the auction of Fine Classical Chinese Paintings brought a total of $35,162,938, totally eclipsing the pre-sale estimate of $9.8 to 13.7 million. Estimates tumbled throughout the sale and nine lots sold for over $1 million. The auction was led by Lot 686, "Emperors of the Southern Song, 12th to 13th Century, Calligraphy In Various Script Forms" which sold for $5,682,500, several times the $750,000 to 1 million estimate. This was the first time Sotheby’s has included a dedicated sale of Classical Chinese Paintings in the March series of auctions coinciding with Asia Week New York.
Iris Miao, Head of the Classical Chinese Painting Department at Sotheby’s New York said: “I am thrilled with the result of today’s Classical Chinese Painting sale. Our total of $35.2 million is more than double the pre-sale high estimate, an exceptionally rare result in the auction world. Collectors and museums from across Asia and the US responded with enormous enthusiasm to this showcase of the finest Chinese paintings and calligraphy works dating from the 12th century to the 20th century, with collectors particularly seeking the most important pieces that came with notable provenance.”
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, bought Lot 752, "Eight Views of Huangshan," by Zheng Min (born in 1920), a major work in the sale, which sold for a record setting $2,322,500, well over the $200/250,000 estimate.
Commenting on the purchase Mike Hearn, Head of the Asian Art department at the museum said:
“The acquisition of this gemlike album by Zheng Min featuring eight
views of Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan) will
immediately become one of the highlights of the Museum’s major holdings of 17th-century Chinese paintings.”
Lot 753, "Thatched Cottage In The Southern Village (Nancun Caotang Tu)," by Wen Jia (1501-1583) is the artist's version of the famous composition by the Yuan dynasty master Wang Meng. The original Wang Meng painting is no longer extant but Wen Jia's copy sold for $5,122,500, many times the $200,000 to $250,000 estimate, and a new record for the artist at auction.
Lot 755, "Essay On Aspiration (Lezhi Lun), Painting and Calligraphy," Zhao Mengfu, attributed to 1254-1322, sold for $2,658,500 (with an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000).
Auction records were set for Wen Jia and Zheng Min.
The Indian and Southeast Asian Works of Art sale includes a stunning selection of Hindu and Buddhist works of art from Nepal, and a diverse selection of gems from India, Tibet - some with Sino-Tibetan and Mongolian connections - Thailand, and Cambodia. There are also many superb Mughal and Indian Miniatures, thangkas and mandalas, some very old but in immaculate condition - a testament to the genius of the artists and artisans that created them.
One of the most fascinating and beautiful works of art of the season - illustrated earlier in greater detail, and above - is Lot 291, "Standing Vishnu," dated by inscription to 1105 CE, created by the Newari metalworkers of the Khatmandu Valley in Nepal. This incredible bronze was highly praised by Anuradha Ghosh Mazumdar, Head of the Indian and Southeast Asian Art Department at Sotheby's New York, who described it as one of the most talked about pieces of this season. It is easy to understand why. This supreme work of art also has an extraordianry provenance. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes that Lot 291 was gifted by the King of Nepal, His Majesty Mahendra Bir Bikram Shal to the late Ambassador His Excellency Chester Ronning between 1954-65:
"His Excellency the late Ambassador Ronning was a renowned collector of Asian art, and a specialist in Buddhist and Hindu art and philosophy. He was born in Hubei, China, where his parents were missionaries with the China Inland Mission. He spoke Mandarin fluently and spent 25 years in China as a student, teacher and diplomat."
Anuradha Ghosh Mazumdar added a compelling anecdote about how, in the past, this statue would have been carried out in a procession, so loaded down with the garlands of devotees it was barely visible. Such descriptions bring ancient ceremonies and religious rituals - and a work of art like this - to life. While these rituals are still performed today, this richly patinaed "Standing Vishnu evokes images of a temple nestled against a backdrop of the ethereal, snow capped mountains of the Himalayas at a time when few people visited the spectacular region, and fewer even knew of its existence because it was so isolated. Himalaya means "abode of the gods" in Sanskrit:
"During the 'transitional period (880-1200 CE),' the Newari proclivity toward elaborate fire gilding and encrustation with semi-precious stones throughout was used to enhance the grandeur of form and divine proportion, further amplified by the later application of bright vermilion paste by worshippers:"
Sotheby's catalogue for this sale also elaborates on the rich symbolism emodied in this work of art:
"One-third of the Brahmanic triad in the Hindu pantheon, Vishnu, the sustainer, is worshipped in many forms. Revered for his heroic actions in the epic volumes of the Ramayana, the Mahabarata, and the Puranas, he is known chiefly through his avatars Rama and Krishna. Generally represented as a handsome, voluptuous youth and dressed in royal accountrments, Vishnu's two lower arms represent his involvement in the divine sphere. The mace in his upper hand symbolizes primeval strength; the conch in his lower left hand symbolizes the 'sound' of creation and the origination of the five elements; the flaming chakra in the upper right hand symbolizes the destruction of the ego through the following of one's dharma; and the lotus bud in the lower right hand symbolizes spiritual perfection" (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale). One last fascinating fact about ancient "Standing Vishnu:"
"Dr. Gautama Vajracharya explains that according to popular Hindu myth, Vishnu (i.e. Narayana) annually slumbers during the four months of the monsoon season, and wakes up on the twelfth day of the bright half of Kartika month. This is the exact day for the consecration of the image." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale)
Lot 291 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $590,500.
Anuradha Ghosh Mazumdar talked about Lot 290, ""Avalokiteshvara," gilt copper with polychromy, created in Nepal in the 9th to 10th century, also by Mewari metalworkers (it is illustrated "close-up" at the top of this review). The reason for its extraordinary, almost chocolate, color is attributed to the wearing away of the gilding after ritual use for many centuries, sumptuous work of art:
"...Traces of cold gold on the face of the sculpture, and remnants of blue polychrome in the hair suggest that the sculpture left Nepal for Tibet at some point in its history, where it was painted and gilt for veneration in the classic Tibetan style..."
Lot 290 is illustrated again (above) with Lot 289," Siddhaikavira Manjushri," another delectable work of devotion from Nepal, circa 10th century, standing 8 3/4 inches tall.
Lot 290 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $116,500. Lot 289 has an estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $92,500.
This sale includes memorable thangkas, mandalas and superb Indian and Mughal Miniatures. One of the most luscious was previously illustrated at the top of this review, Lot 223, "Lovers On a Terrace," with an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $92,500. These paintings have to be seen in person to appreciate their beautiful, jewel-like colors, a testament to the rigorous preparation of the pigments, which are all natural, created long before a single synthetic filler or substance entered the realm of fine arts. They look as fresh today as when they were painted.
Lot 350, "Arhat," a beautiful Sino-Tibetan thangka was illustrated at the top of this review, and another is equally superb, Lot 353, "The Arhats Panthaka and Nagasena" a thangka in distemper on cloth created in Tibet in the 18th century, that will be described and illustrated in the dedicated review of this sale. It is also unusually rich in foliage, flowers and landscape. It has an estimate of $15,000 to $20,000, which is very reasonable for a work of this quality. It sold for $92,500.
Lot 211, "An Illustration to the Mahabarata: Krishna and the Pandava Princes battle Demons," India, Kangra, circa 1820, is a fantastic and dynamic painting, formerly in the collection of Mrs. Lucille Ball Arnaz, illustrated here. It has an estimate of $12,000 to $18,000. It sold for $28,125.
One of the most winsome lots of the sale is illustrated below, Lot 252, "Standing Buddha," from Thailand, circa 13thto 14th century, created from copper alloy. It has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $50,000.
Further highlights of this include superb stone sculptures - notably a beautiful "Uma" from Khmer, 11th century - and more exquisite thangkas, mandalas and Indian and Mughal Miniatures, will be included in a dedicated review of this sale.
Top quality Khmer sculpture is achieveing record prices at auction.
Sotheby's Indian and Southeast Asian Works of Art totaled $3,804,726, well within the $3 million to $4.2 million pre-sale estimate.
Anuradha Ghosh Mazumdar, Head of the Indian and Southeast Asian Art Department at Sotheby's New York said:
"I am pleased with the results of today's Indian and Southeast Asian Works of Art sale. Our total of $3.8 million was comfortably within the estimate and reflects the stable market in this category. We saw vibrant bidding on the Indian Miniatures which drove many pieces above their high estimates. There was global interest in all sections of the sale with the Tibetan works particularly sought after by collectors from Asia. The two top lots - the sculptures of Vishnu and Uma - were completely fresh to the market which helped drive them to prices well over the high estimates."
A favorite "rest stop" for visitors during Asia Week New York was Central Park. Above: Central Park Reservoir, New York City, Photo copyright Michele Leight, March 2012
It is an unparalleled treat to see Modern and Contemporary South Asian and Chinese art set against the backdrop of the art and artifacts of their ancient civilizations, an opulent cocktail of ancient bronzes, mouth-watering ceramics, Indian gods, Tibetan lamas, Khmer goddesses, and shimmering gilt wonders from the Himalayan region - an all star cast complemented by thought-provoking pieces from present-generation Asian artists.
Where else would it happen but in New York City, a hot-house of history, culture and the arts, which are passionately supported here? During one very special week througout this city, auction houses and galleries, legendary institutions and world-class lecturers focus on treasures from Asia. It is a golden opportunity to enjoy a spectacular show...
The overall total for this week’s Asian art sales at Sotheby’s was $61,802,816, well over the pre-sale estimate of $29.1 to $41.3 million. An wonderful result for Sotheby's - and for New York City.
As the superb sales results of Asia Week New York demonstrate, New York has become a global center for the Asian Art market. If only this week could be longer. There is so little time to savour its many delights...
In addition to the auction houses - Christie's, Sotheby's, Bonham's, Doyle's, iGavel - at least 34 galleries participate in Asia Week, each telling different and fascinating stories about Asian artists of the past and the present. All are open to the public - some by appointment only - which represents an unprecedented opportunity to learn about the arts of Asia - and perhaps even purchase something. Stories abound of gods and kings, samurai and princeses, deities and buddhas. Some have inspired the contemporary heroes and she-roes we are are familiar with today, that originated in some of these myths and legends.
There are lessons to be learned from the incredible patronage of the arts in civilizations now long departed, whose leaders understood that the only way to preserve their heritage beyond their tenure was to ensure that their artisans and artists could live and work in peace - so they supported them. The fruits of their labor and inspiration now educate and inspire us, and hopefully succeeding generations. It is an incredible legacy.
Many wonderful lectures are offered during Asia Week. For more information about them, and participating auction houses and galleries, visit www.asiaweekny.com.