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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

March NYC Asia Week 2022 - Imperial Porcelain, Imperial Bronzes, and a Very Grumpy Monkey!

Updated: Feb 28, 2023

It's been a very busy March! During the beginning of the month, I was finishing up various Asian art appraisal projects while also preparing for my next April Asian art online sale at Heffel, Canada's national auction house. By the time you read this, the Heffel online sale will be live and feature approximately sixty carefully curated pieces of Asian artwork.

In mid March, I visited New York City for ten days to check out the Asia Week New York festivities. As many of you know, I try to visit New York a few times a year, and March and September are when the major Asian art shows are.

These shows include auctions at the International houses Bonhams, Christie's and Sotheby's, as well as more modest offerings at the regional houses Doyle, Heritage, and Hindman.

I wasn't able to view many of the art gallery openings due to a crazy schedule, but hopefully I will be able to visit NYC again in the coming months.

Overall, this edition of Asia Week featured very strong prices in the Chinese art categories including bronzes, porcelain, and jade carvings. There were also many incredible highlights in the Himalayan art department, particularly Buddhist sculptures.

It was also great to see the previews and receptions bustling with colleagues and friends from all around North America and Europe. We still have to wait for Asia to open up again before our colleagues out East can comfortably visit the USA.

Sotheby's featured many highlights and it was an incredible opportunity to examine a lot of these star objects. These are the types of items that rarely appear in the Canadian market.

Anthony Wu and early Ming Dynasty bowl

Image 1a. One of the top selling objects at Sotheby's was this large and extremely rare blue and white dice bowl. This piece featured a Xuande mark in the interior, which dated it to 1426-1435.

These bowls are extremely rare, especially ones of this size AND the fact it is decorated with Imperial dragons on the exterior. With its large size and thick potting, this bowl would have probably been used to play dice games.

The bowl came from the descendants of Leon (d. 1961) and Max (d. 1942) Friedman, two Romanian-American brothers who built an automobile empire in Shanghai.

The Xuande bowl was conservatively estimated at USD 600,000/800,000 and ultimately sold for an incredible USD 1.26 million!

Sotheby's Blue and White Xuande Period Ming Dragon Bowl

Image 1b. A close up of the bowl's powerful Imperial dragons. You can also see the wonderful details of the scrolling waves in the upper register, and the fine example of the 'heaping and piling' application of cobalt pigments to make lighter and darker gradations of colour.

Xuande Mark for Sotheby's Blue and White Ming Dragon Bowl

Image 1c. A detail of the bowl's interior 大明宣德年製 daming xuande nianzhi, which translates to 'made during the Xuande reign of the Ming Dynasty'.

Bronzes of all types were a major theme of this year's Asia Week New York. After Sotheby's successful sale of the MacLean Collection of archaic Chinese bronzes, more museum-quality examples started appearing on the market.

Sotheby's Zhou Dynasty Bronze Hu Vase

Image 2a. One of the seminal bronze pieces that was presented at Sotheby's was this Late Western Zhou Dynasty Bronze Hu Vase. Named the 'Guo Ji Shi Zi Zu Hu' and dated to the 9th or 8th Century BC, this vase is quite large in size and its provenance can be traced back to at least 1872.

The vase has been extensively published and its rarity is the inscription stating it is from the 'Zizu of the Ji Clan of the Guo State'. This refers to one of the important royal houses during the Western Zhou Dynasty. The vase showcases incredibly fine craftsmanship and is an incredible symbol of power. This bronze vase had a conservative estimate of USD 800,000/1.2 million and sold for a very strong USD 2.1 million.

Inscription for Sotheby's Zhou Dynasty Bronze Hu Vase

Image 2b. Interior view of the 'Guo Ji Shi Zi Zu Hu' and its inscription in ancient Chinese script.

Other important objects from this round of sales at Sotheby's was an important collection of Chinese artwork from the The Dr Wou Kiuan Collection. The collection is being offered in parts in Sotheby's New York, Hong Kong and London.

Dr Wou Kiuan (1910-1997) was a famous scholar and politician who served the Republic of China during the first part of the 20th Century. He received a doctorate of law in Paris, and because of the civil turmoil in China, he ended up in England where he became mainly a collector and ambassador of Chinese history and culture.

Throughout the 1960's, Dr Wou Kiuan collected archaic bronzes, jade carvings, porcelain wares, lacquer and paintings. His collection became so significant that he became an important member of London's Oriental Ceramic Society. He later opened his own gallery in the English countryside called the Wou Lien-Pai Museum.

Sotheby's yellow and blue Yongzheng dish

Image 3a. One of the items I really liked from the Dr Wou Kiuan Collection was this Imperial yellow and blue ground gardenia dish from the Yongzheng Period (1723-1735). These types of dishes are usually in blue and white colour combination, but this version had the nice and rare yellow tones applied to it. You can kinda see from the photo that all the florals and leaves are slightly raised and patterned as well.

There were some condition issues throughout the dish including multiple hairline cracks and chips, hence it had a relatively low estimate of USD 80,000/120,000. But because of the provenance and rarity, this dish sold for USD 277,200.

Mark for Sotheby's yellow and blue Yongzheng dish

Image 3b. A detail of the dish's base 大清雍正年製 daqing yongzheng nianzhi, which translates to 'made during the Yongzheng reign of the Qing Dynasty'.

Chinese jade carvings are still doing well these days as exemplified by an example also in the collection of Dr Wou Kiuan. Jades that fetch higher prices typically have to be larger examples, be carved from a high quality stone, and have Imperial connections.

Sotheby's Qianlong Imperial Luohan Jade Landscape

Image 4. Such was the case of this large 31.9 cm (12 1/2 inch) high pale green jade carving of a luohan boulder. It is dated to the Qianlong Period (1736-1795) and contains two imperially inscribed poems cited by the Qianlong Emperor.

The carving of the Buddhist ascetic (luohan) is well-detailed, as is the mountainous landscape he is resting in. This impressive jade carving sold for over twice its estimate at USD 1.071 million against an estimate of USD 400,000/600,000.

Christie's auction house also featured numerous highlights. Some of the most hyped was their own impressive offerings of Chinese bronzes.

Christie's Warring States bronze hu vase

Image 5. One of the exceptional bronzes at Christie's was this large faceted hu vase from the 3rd to 4th Century of the Warring States Period. Its rarity is in the many scenes that depict life approximately 2400 years ago. Here you can see mansions, figures dancing, chariots, and game hunting.

The background of the vase was sunken in during the casting so that a mineral-based paste was applied to give the vase an impressive two-toned contrasting colour. Some of the pigments of the paste still remain in the lower section.

Like many objects in this post, this archaic bronze vase was also conservatively estimated - this time at USD 400,000/600,000. In the end though, it sold for an astonishing USD 2.76 million.

Christie's bronze Dali Kingdom Guanyin

Image 6a. A wonderful bronze Buddhist sculpture was also offered at Christie's New York. This example is a rare gilt-bronze figure of Guanyin from the mysterious (and short-reigned) Dali Kingdom of Yunnan Province from the 11th/12th Century.

I have written in my past posts about Buddhist works from the Dali Kingdom, specifically ones from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and from the Iriving Collection. They are exceptionally rare and don't look much like other Buddhist pieces found in China!

This example of Guanyin, the Buddhist deity of compassion, shows immaculate craftsmanship within the details of the fluid drapery, jewelry and adornments on the crown. There are only a few comparable examples to this figure in existence, and this particular piece can be traced back to the legendary Shanghai/Paris/New York dealer C. T. Loo in 1924.

The figure would have been brilliantly gilded, but much of the colour has worn off over the past 1000 years. Nonetheless, it still managed to sell for USD 2.58 million.

Detail of Christie's bronze Dali Kingdom Guanyin

Image 6b. Detail of the Dali Guanyin's serene face with downcast eyes, and all the elaborate jewelry around the check and high crown. The centre of the crown depicts a small figure of Amitayus Buddha, the Buddha of Infinite Light.

Buddhist sculptures from the Himalayan region also sold well during March Asia Week. This Asian art category is still extremely popular category with collectors from Europe, North America and East Asia. Like their Chinese counterparts, to achieve the best prices, Himalayan Buddhist sculptures would have to be rare, large, and well-casted.

Christie's Tibetan bronze Maitreya

Image 7. This was the case of one such figure in the sale of Himalayan art at Christie's where they featured a large gilt bronze seated figure of Maitreya, the Buddha of the Future. This figure is from Central Tibet and dated to the 15th Century.

This sculpture is exceptionally well-cast and has an extremely large size of 50 cm (20 7/8 inches). The figure is seated on a detailed double lotus pedestal with legs in dhyanasana (lotus position) and hands in the mudra (gesture) of vitarka (teaching). The pose is naturalistic, the face is gentle, and the overall figure exudes wisdom. This large Maitreya sold for USD 415,800.

Bonhams Mall Period gilt bronze seated Green Tara

Image 8. Just up the street at Bonhams on Madison Ave was another amazing Buddhist sculpture, and one of the surprises of New York's spring sale. This figure of the Green Tara is actually one of the best pieces I have seen go up for auction in the last little while.

This Green Tara is from the Malla Period of Nepal, which was considered the Golden Age of Nepalese art. Dated to the 13th Century, the figure depicts one of the most important female protectors of the Buddhist pantheon.

I love the realism and the details in the casting, especially in the serene face and jewelled crown. The pose and gesture is extremely elegant and encapsulates a noble aura about her. Even the little details like the fingers and toes are just incredible to look at!

When I initially saw the estimate at USD 500,000/700,000 I thought that the final price would be within this range. However, after a prolonged bidding battle, this Green Tara ended up realizing an incredible USD 2.31 million!

Finally (and also) at Bonhams was one of the most interesting Japanese paintings I have seen. Since the monkey is my Chinese zodiac sign, I enjoy looking out for monkeys in Asian art, whether it is at museums, galleries or auction houses. But I have never seen one like this!

Grumpy Gibbon Painting by Sozan Ginkgo

Image 9a. Painted by Sozan Ginkgo (1799-1868), this simian is technically a gibbon (not quite a monkey!), but I am thoroughly impressed by the grumpy expression on its face and funny-looking feet.

The painting is basked on an old Buddhist tale where a monkey (or gibbon) is reaching for the reflection of the moon in the water thinking it is the real thing. But all is for naught and he eventually falls into the water. This is supposed to showcase that those who are unenlightened cannot differentiate between reality and illusions.

Grumpy Gibbon Painting by Sozan Ginkgo

Image 10a. The whole image of the grumpy gibbon's attempt at grabbing the moon from the water. The final price for this painting is USD 2,040. I probably should have bought this!

And that's it for this post! My next one will probably go through some of my sale highlights from my upcoming auction at Heffel, as well as my first trip to London England in over 2.5 years! Keep in touch!


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