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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Sublime Results for Red Fuji in my Heffel October 2022 Asian Art Auction!

Updated: Jun 2, 2023

And that's a wrap for my October Asian art auction at Heffel, Canada's National auction house! This is my fourth Asian art sale I helped Heffel put together and this edition featured just over 130 objects spread out over three sessions and included items from Japan, China, India and the Himalayan region.

The sale ran from October 6th to 27th across three of Heffel's galleries in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

The results were still strong despite some trepidation with the current economic climate, and the total sale realized just under CAD 250,000. As usual, the items that fared better tended to have very good provenance, were fresh to the market, and had conservative starting bids.

In the October Asian art sale, Japanese ukiyo-e (floating world) woodblock prints continued to shine. Last April, I sold Katsushika Hokusai's (1760-1849) iconic 'Under the Well of the Great Wave Off Kanagawa' for CAD 691,250. This print came from descendants of Toronto's prestigious Laidlaw family and set the record for a Japanese historical work of art in Canada.

This fall season, I was presented with the second part of the woodblock print collection from the Laidlaw family, with their star piece being Hokusai's 'Fine Wind, Clear Weather' (also known as 'Red Fuji').

Hokusai Red Fuji

Image 1. Here is an image of Hokusai's 'Red Fuji' in all its glory. Like the 'Great Wave', it is also from the series "The 36 Views of Mt. Fuji" and published circa 1831.

Whereas the 'Great Wave' is more of an internationally recognized piece, the 'Red Fuji' is historically for the Japanese tastes. It is sublime and showcases the sacred mountain itself with a revered status. The red tone of Mt. Fuji is from the reflection of the sun against the mountain during the autumn months.

Even though there were some condition issues with this woodblock print, it still realized a very respectful price of CAD 67,250.

Hokusai Snowy Morning at Koishikawa

Image 2. Another exciting Japanese woodblock print from the Laidlaw Collection from the Heffel October auction is Hokusai's 'Snowy Morning at Koishikawa'.

This is another image from "The 36 Views of Mount Fuji" and depicts a group of people seated in a teahouse staring at the newly fallen snow in their region, with Mt Fuji in the distance. This print is also quite rare and sold for CAD 31,250.

Japanese Edo Period netsuke of a kirin

Image 3. One of my favourite pieces from the Heffel sale was this outstanding Japanese ivory carved netsuke of a kirin. (Yes the same name as the Japanese beer!).

A kirin is a majestic chimera-like beast from Japanese folklore. It has the legs and antlers of a deer, and the body and head of a dragon. These beasts represent nobility, purity and well-being, and usually only appear during times of prosperity and enlightenment.

This sculpture is called a netsuke, which were miniature objects decorating the cords on inro boxes (more on these later). This particular example of a kirin netsuke is from the 17th/18th Century of the Edo Period. (You can see how worn the sides are!) The beast is seated on its haunches, and looks very magnanimous as it stares upwards towards the heavens.

With the current international restrictions on exporting and importing ivory, the market for old ivory netsuke have fallen significantly. Most of the collectors for these types of objects are in international centres like New York, Paris, London and Tokyo, but nonetheless, this kirin still sold for a solid CAD 6,250.

Japanese ivory shibayama inro, 19th Century

Image 4. This 19th Century Japanese shibayama inlay inro sold for CAD 7,500 at my October Heffel auction. In my opinion, it is of museum-quality item and is one of the finest examples of this type I have come across.

Inro (stamp cases) were used during the 15th to 19th Centuries to carry small objects like medicine and tobacco since traditional kimonos didn't have any pockets.

Better examples of inro were intricately designed. The common types were usually made of wood, bamboo and paper, but the finer pieces were constructed of mix-metal, ivory, lacquer or tortoiseshell. Inro contain a series of nested boxes, held together by silk cords and a fastener (ojime). Most inro would also have a netsuke (like the kirin) attached to the cord.

This example contains very delicate inlays of mother-of-pearl, coral, semiprecious hardstones, pearls, and lacquer, all on an ivory body. The inlays form a scene of a rooster and hen perched on a branch with blooming sakura cherry blossoms.

Landscape painting by Huang Junbi

Image 5a. In the Chinese art section of my Heffel sale was this rare landscape painting by the 20th Century modernist master Huang Junbi (1898-1991). Along with Pu Ru (1896-1963) and Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), Huang Junbi was one of the three renowned Chinese modernist painters who left China after 1949 to Taiwan. He also traveled quite frequently to Hong Kong and even made a long trek to Canada.

The artist is most known for his landscape paintings that feature atmospheric clouds and waterfalls. This painting is also contains a figure on a boat, an unusual subject since Huang barely depicts people.

I've sold numerous Huang Junbi paintings in the past, especially a rare set from Vancouver that was offered at my inaugural Heffel 2021 Asian art sale. However, this example had special meaning to me since it came from the collection of Professor Chau Yiu Kee, a good friend and client I have known for over a decade.

Professor Chau had Huang dedicate this work to him in 1973 while he was staying at the home of Lee Man Tat (1929-2021), the owner of Lee Kum Kee Oyster Sauce (one of the most popular brand of Chinese sauces and a staple at any Chinese supermarket). Professor Chau and Mr Lee were childhood friends when growing up in Macau.

The unique provenance of this painting and rare subject matter allowed it to sell for a very strong price of CAD 18,750.

Detail of calligraphy of landscape painting by Huang Junbi

Image 5b. Here's a detail of the calligraphy at the top of the painting with the dedication to the owner, Professor Chau, while the artist painted the work in the summer of 1973 at the home of Lee Man Tat.

Thank you again for reading my blog and I'll keep everyone updated about my upcoming sales at Heffel. By the time of writing this blog I would have flown to London already to check out all the Asian Art in London festivities. I will be back in mid November with news of my travels!

And feel free to send me an email if you have any questions or have any Asian art valuation or appraisal inquiries. More current news of my Asian art adventures and wherabouts can be found in my Instagram feed and website.


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