By Michele Leight
Sotheby's Asia Week in New York includes many fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, including a sale of Classical Chinese Paintings, the first dedicated New York auction in this category in over a decade, and fine examples of Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art. Henry Howard-Sneyd, Vice Chairman, Asian Art and Sotheby’s specialists introduced highlights of each sale including Lot 299, "A Rare And Important Large Archaic Ritual Bronze Food Vessel (Hu)," Late Shang, Early Western Zhou Dynasty, illustrated above, formerly in the collection of Sadajiro Kawai, Lot 51, Luo Ping’s handscroll "Morning Parting at Lugou" formerly in the 20th-century collection of Cheng Qi and Lin Lang, and Lot 26, "Eglise," by SH Raza, that was painted in 1962, the same year Raza travelled to the US, a trip in which he encountered Abstract Expressionism via the New York School of painters. The pre-sale exhibitions open in Sotheby's galleries on September 9, 2011.
Sales are presented in chronological order, and each sale has a dedicated review on this site.
On Tuesday 13 September 2011 Sotheby’s will present Fine Classical Chinese Paintings, the first dedicated New York auction in this category for over a decade. The sale is made up of 80 diverse works from the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as a small selection of modern and contemporary works that were executed clearly in the classical manner, such as Lot 81, "Spring Mountains Wrapped in Misty Fog," by Li Huayi, a stunning work that was exhibited at "Tall Mountains, Flowing Rivers: A contemporary Landscape Invitational Exhibition," at Lin Haisu Museum in Shanghai in November 2002. The pre-sale exhibition opens on Friday 9 September.
Lot 81, "Spring Mountains Wrapped in Misty Fog," by Li Huayi, 2002, ink and color on paper, 70 1/2 by 37 5/8 inches
The sale is led by Lot 47, "Running Script Transcription of an Epitaph, written for Minister Chen Xinyi by Dong Qichang," (not illustrated), the most influential artist of his time. The eight-leaf album, which has been expertly kept in its original 1850s mountings, was appraised by its then famed collector Kong Guangtao as “…genuinely stately and thoughtful in spirit, so fluid and elegant as if executed with divine power”. Lot 47 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $782,500.
Another highlight of this sale is Lot 51, Luo Ping’s handscroll "Morning Parting at Lugou," (not illustrated) which was at one time in the famed 20th-century collection of Cheng Qi and Lin Langan. It was painted in 1779 and renders minute details using light ink and meticulous brushwork. The work is one of the highlights of a new dedicated Classical Chinese Paintings Sale. Lot 51 has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $386,500.
Illustrated above is Lot 23, "Thatched Hut in Autumnal Mountains by Dong Bangda," who was admired and highly praised by Emperor Qianlong. The grandly composed landscape executed on silk is executed in free, refined brushwork.
Sotheby's catalogue for this sale includes an inscription by the artist:
"Wild rivers paired with the sky, clear and crisp,
Autumnal woods, tinted with the yellow glow of daylight;
The hermit wonders who is to keep him company,
The gull and heron are unaware of each other's presence.
In the year of guihai (1743), ten days after the summer solstice, imitated the brushwork of Dachi Daoren (Huang Gongwang) and made this piece. (I then) asked the venerated grand senior Mr. Xingweng to review and comment on it. Your brotherly junior Dongshan, Dong Bangda."
Lot 23 has an estimate of $180,000 to $250,000. It sold for $386,500.
The painter of Lot 40, "Seated Portrait of a Prince in Casual Wear" remains unknown, but there is no doubt that the extremely finely and gracefully portrayed gentleman was from the imperial lineage. The painting is particularly notable for the level of detail with which the artist has depicted the rug and lacquered throne in the paintin.
Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes:
"The early Quing court portraits were clearly influenced by the Bochen School, epitomized by the late-Ming figure painter Zeng Jing (1568-1650). In the mid-Qing, Western oil painting techniques were introduced into the court by European artists, including Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), Jean Denis Attirent (1702-1768), and their followers. Beginning at this time, a hybrid style developed, characterized by an increased emphasis on chiaroscuro, and a decrease in relying primarily on ink contour lines to render the faces."
Lot 40 has an estimate of $90,000 to $120,000. It failed to sell.
The sale also includes two exquisite paintings of Daoist and Buddhist subject matter: Lot 70, "Portraits of Jade Emperor and the Heavenly Kings" (estimate $60, 000 to $80,000; it failed to sell), and Lot 71, "Heavenly Deities of Land and Water," (estimate $5000 to $7,000; it sold for $16,250). Besides the vibrant and vivid brushstrokes and coloring, each painting bears an inscription and a specific date, the former being commissioned by one of Jiajing emperor’s concubines in 1545, and the latter dedicated to Longshu Temple on Putuo Mountain in 1617, the forty-fifth year of Wanli reign.
Another highlight is a selection of Wu School fan paintings, epitomized by the four masters. Among the leading works from this part of the sale is Lot 59 "Boating" by Tan Yin (estimate $40,000 to $60,000; it sold for $140,500), and Lot 56, "Random Thoughts During Spring Rain, Poem in Running Script" by Shen Zhou (estimate $18,000 to $25,000; it sold for $98,500). Below is a delicate tribute to Mother Nature, attributed to Ma Lin, entitled "Viewing the Waterfall." Lot 42 has an estimate of $7,500 to $10,000. It failed to sell.
Illustrated at the top of this review, with accompanying "detail" image, is Lot 299, "A Rare And Important Large Archaic Ritual Bronze Food Vessel (Hu)," Late Shang/Early Western Zhou Dynasty, that was was formerly in the collection of Sadajiro Kawai and is one of the only archaic Hu bronzes of this size to have appeared on the market in recent times. Cast in the form of taotie mask, featuring a dragon with bluging eyes that dominate the overall design, "their sheer size conferred status, and vessels of such large size were prerequisites of high-ranking members of Shang and Western Zhou society" notes Sotheby's catalogue for this sale Lot 299 has an estimate of $2,500,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell.
Another food vessel inspired by dragons is Lot 267, "A Rare Archaic Bronze Ritual Food Vessel and Cover (Fangyi)," from the Shang Dynasty (12th to 11th century BC) is beautifully incised with the parts of dragons - hooked jaws, feet, and horns: "Of all ritual bronze shapes cast in the Shang Dunasty the fangyi is one of the rarest. A distinctly Shang bronze form, vessels of this type first appeared in the early to mid-Anyang period (ca. 1250-1046 BC)" notes Sotheby's catalogue for this sale. Lot 267 has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 293, "A Rare 'Famille Rose' Model of a Stupa," is a beautifully modeled and finely enameled work of art created in the 18th century. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes:
"This exquisitely enameled stupa shows the luxurious nature of Buddhist implements created for the palace. The Qing emperors were devoted followers of Tibetan Buddhism and while ritual anc ceremonial implements were created under heavey supervision to ensure they adhered to canonical prescriptions, they often combined Chinese art styles and valuable materials suited to the imperial court."
Lot 293 has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $422,500.
Beautiful Lot 291, "A Carved Stone Stele" illustrated above, depicts the Buddha seated on a lotus base, flanked b two smaller bodhisattvas. The reddish sandstone distressed by age was once painted. Lot 291 has an estimate of $120,000 to $160,000. It failed to sell.
Among several stunning screens in this sale is Lot 145, "A Magnificent Twelve Panel Coromandel Screen with Deer, Flower, Birds and Mythical Beasts," from the Qing Dynasty, Xangxi Period, each panel 107 7/8 inches high and 21 inches wide. This garden of delights is as fantastically conceived as it is technically masterful, "brilliantly carved with a lush and idyllic landscape, the center with a pair of spotted deer under a tall pine tree nestled by an outcrop of rocks from which sprout luxuriant peonies, ruyi fronds, narcissus and magnolia, beside mandarin ducks and exotic birds darting about..." notes Sotheby's catalogue for this sale.
Lot 145 has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $302,500.
In front of the screen is Lot 130, "A Fine and Rare 'Huanghuali' Waisted Daybed (Ta)" from the 17th century, a gracefully proportioned work of art that is incredibly modern in design. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes: "Daybeds are extremely rare, and this example appears to be unique." Lot 130 has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 193, the magnificent bed illustrated above, looks as if it was made for a king, and it was - and it could only be used by the emperor. Lot 193, "An Imperial Carved Cinnabar Lacquer Low-Back Bed (Luohan Chuang)" was created in the Quing Dynasty (18th century), and is elaborately carved with five-clawed dragons and bands of flying bats amidst vaporous clouds. It has an estimate of $150,000 to $250,000. It failed to sell.
Illustrated below is Lot 192, "A Rare Eight-Panel Cinnabar Lacquer Screen Signed Kuisheng," Qing Dynasty, 18th to 19th century, that has an estimate of $120,000 to $150,000. It sold for $230,500.
Lot 166, "A Pair of Large and Rare 'Huanghuali' Yokeback Armchairs (Sichutou Guanmaoyi)," from the 17th century are marvels of engineering, as well as being exquisitely, and sparely designed. Their large size does not denote the largness of the sitter, instead "large yokeback chairs were called meditation chairs (chanyi) in the fifteenth-century carpenter's manual 'Classic of Lu Ban' (Lu Ban jing)' because their size is suitable for meditating in the lotus position" (Sarah Handler "Austere Luminosity of Chinese Furniture," Hong Kong, 2001, p.57, cited in Sotheby's catalogue for this sale). Lot 166 has and estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,500,000. It failed to sell.
The adorable twins illustrated above, Lot 328, "A Rare Pair of Lacquered Bronze Figures of Kneeling Boys," hold large cymbals, and are luxurously dressed in silk robes, are, according to Sotheby's catalogue for this sale, unique: " Twin boys are highly auspicous in Chinese art conveying the wish for many sons and grandsons." Lot 328 has an estimate of $180,000 to $220,000. It failed to sell.
Many more fine Chinese works of art are described in a separate review on this site.
Maqbool Fida Husain passed away in June, 2011, and Sotheby's Modern and Contemporary South Asian art sale includes many fine paintings by the master, including Lot 22, "Rape," an important and iconic oil on canvas circa 1970.
Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes:
"In many of his paintings, Husain demonstrates his inclination toward the faceless woman. This distinct quality alludes perhaps to an overarching feminine or mother principle, rather than of an individual entity or experience. Burdened by the loss of his mother at the age of one and a half, and his subsequent inability to recall her face, Husain's treatment of women throughout his career reveals a mixture of tenderness, nostalgia and reverence."
Lot 22 has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It failed to sell.
Dynamic and energetic, the cover illustration, Lot 26, "Eglise," by Syed Haider Raza, is typical of the artists abstract period, painted in 1962, the same year Raza travelled to the US, a trip in which he encountered Abstract Expressionism via the New York School of painters:
"Throughout the 1950s in France, Raza painted the landscapes of Europe in semi-abstracted forms, but with identifiable architectural features that provide a cosntant link to human activity. His favored dark palette - such as in Eglise - is highly reminiscent of the Ecole de Paris. As Raza's work progresses, these identifiable elements disappear and more light and vivid color emerge." (Sotheby's catalogue for this sale.)
Lot 26 has an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $362,500.
Lot 33, "Man With a Sitar," by Maqbool Fida Husain, formerly in the collection of the actor, director and musician, Alan Arkin, was given to the current owners by him in gratitude for their kindness and friendship when Arkin was a young performer living in New York, struggling - as most artists do - to make ends meet. Sotheby's catalogue for this sale notes that Arkin saw himself as the central figure with the sitar "endlessly pouring out his storeis and struggles to them. The musician and sitar player are instantly recognizable leitmotifs for the artist. From the end of the 1950s and to the late 1960s, Husain painted a number of workds related to Indian classical music and dance. Ragamala paintings in the classical tradition are visual interpretaions of Indian musical modes, each raga relating to a specific emotion. The moods of lovers and the precise erotic flacors of each meeting are expressed through color, form and symbols, which themselves relate to classical Indian music and literature."
Lot 33 has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $146,500.
A complete review of this sale, including Indian Miniatures, is included on this site.