Published: June 19, 2018
Review and Onsite Photos by Rick Russack, Additional Photos Courtesy of Tremont Auctions
NEWTON, MASS. – Jim Callahan, partner and Tremont’s Asian expert, said that the firm’s June 2-3 sale finished a little stronger than he expected. There was, he thought, surprising strength with Twentieth Century Chinese pieces, especially paintings, bronzes, carvings and ceramics. Early material did particularly well, as did some agarwood carvings. The highest priced item in the sale, a Fourteenth Century Korean painting, brought $114,000 and an archaic bronze bowl, Eighteenth Century or earlier, sold for $44,460.
The Korean painting was cataloged as “Buddhist Image, Korea, Koryo period or early Yi, late Fourteenth Century. Ink, mineral pigments and gilt on cloth. Image of The Water Moon Viewing Kwanon, seated on a fantastic rock above crashing waves. Large gilt halo in the background. Two figures in the foreground.” The overall size was 48 by 40 inches, and it had a significant repair. Before the sale, Callahan said he was uncertain how the repair might affect the price and if bidders would agree with his dating. “Sometimes these paintings were copied, identically, in the Seventeenth or Eighteenth Centuries. Based on what I know, I think it’s of the period, but I’ve estimated it very conservatively, and we’ll see what the buyers think.” The painting was being carefully examined during the preview. The buyer is in Korea and it is likely that he had an associate examine it for him. Callahan said, “He’s pleased with his purchase and has been in touch with the gallery.”
When Brett Downer was asked before the sale about his favorite item, he selected an archaic bronze pan with handles. He said, “It doesn’t have a high estimate, but it’s my favorite piece. It has a great look and feel, and it’s early. We’ll see what happens.” Downer’s choice was a good one, and he was right about the conservative $1,200 estimate. It sold for $44,460. The piece was described as an “archaic ritual bronze, Chou style, Eighteenth Century or earlier.” Another early bronze vessel, even earlier than the piece above, also did well. It was a ritual vessel from China’s Warring States period (Sixth-Second Centuries BCE). Described as an “archaic ting form with a surface decorated with intertwining kuei dragon scrolls,” it measured 12 by 9 inches and achieved $9,945. An archaic style bronze jar with a cover, cataloged as “archaic style, you, with rams heads and birds, Chou style,” reached $11,170.
Agarwood carvings were popular with bidders, and a large Nineteenth Century carving of a landscape scene with an archery contest taking place finished at $23,400. It was 17 by 11 inches on a fitted rosewood stand. A well-carved smaller example, 4½ by 3 inches, depicting a landscape with figures in a mountain landscape, brought $2,808. An agarwood brush pot with carved flowers went out for $3,276, and a carved bamboo brush pot dating to the Eighteenth Century, carved with scholars playing chess in a pine grove, earned $2,223.
Chinese ceramics were led by a Nineteenth Century famille rose jardiniére decorated with bats, endless knots and stylized lotus scrolls, which brought $15,210. A large covered jar, cataloged as “marked Kuang Hsu, and possibly of the period,” sold for $7,605. It was 17 inches tall and decorated with the “Hundred Butterflies” motif. An attractive Nineteenth Century 5-inch teapot with a mustard yellow monotone glaze realized $3,978. A cream-colored Thirteenth Century, Liao period, Tzu Chou stoneware vase, 14¼ inches tall, with brown decoration of children playing and flowers, achieved $7,020.
Josh Chamberlain, Chamberlain Antiques, Amherst, N.H., specializes in Asian antiques and discussed the sale a few days later. “I thought it was a very strong sale,” he said. “They did very well with prices. Nearly everything in the sale had good age. That’s not always the case. A lot of it was in the mid-level price range, and that’s easy to sell. Jim Callahan knows the material well, and made sure that it was right. He estimates conservatively, and I think that encourages buyers. High estimates turn off potential buyers. And estimating market value for Asian things today is tricky. The Chinese collectors are very aggressive and have no hesitancy in strongly going after what they want. Many are younger than the collectors at most Americana auctions, and they know what they want. They’re buying back their heritage. Several of the Asian buyers in the room work with dealers in New York and China, so they may be a little more willing to ‘reach’ for good items.” Interestingly, when Chamberlain was asked which was his favorite piece in the sale, he chose the same archaic bronze pot that Downer had said was his favorite.
Callahan had said that he was surprised at the high level of interest in Chinese material from the Twentieth Century. Late in the sale, there were two Twentieth Century ink and watercolor scrolls. One was a mountain landscape with a waterfall. It was signed Wei Zixi (1915-2002) and sold for $11,115. The other, similarly framed, was also signed, although the artist was not named, and it was dated 1978. It brought $53,820. Both had very low estimates. Also doing well was a Twentieth Century famille rose bowl with a Yung Cheng mark (of a much earlier period). It was decorated with peaches and bats and went out at $6,435. A Twentieth Century famille rose planter marked “China,” decorated with phoenixes and flowers, earned $1,117.
After the sale, Brett Downer said he agreed with Chamberlain’s comments about younger buyers. He said, “The demographics are different with Chinese buyers. They tend to be younger than the buyers at our Americana sales. They know what they want; they examine things carefully and form their own opinions of value. The catalog estimates are routinely exceeded. That’s fine. We were using three internet platforms, and the phone bidding was strong. There were a couple of times that I just stood there and watched as internet bidders competed with one another. There weren’t a lot of bidders in the room, but those that were there bid aggressively and bought several pieces. All in all, a good sale.”
Prices are given with buyer’s premium, as reported by the auction house. For information, www.tremontauctions.com or 617-795-1678.
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