Published: July 11, 2006
A painted Tibeto Chinese Thangka dated 1479 was the climax of the 31st Special Auction of Asian Art recently conducted at Nagel’s. A Chinese buyer agreed to pay $340,000 for it.
As a Chinese inscription testifies, this picture scroll, painted on a dark green background with three large images of Vajradhara, Manushri and Shadakshari sitting above a lotus base, was made on commission for a prominent personality at the imperial court.
Most probably, the emperor donated the picture scroll to the most important Tibetan Buddhist monastery center at the time in Beijing. Later, it came to the residence of the Panchen Lama and in 1911 onto the art market in Beijing, where a member of the consigner’s family acquired it. The Thangka appears to be the earliest dated example of Buddhist painting in the second half of the Fifteenth Century still in private ownership.
On the whole, this three-day Asia auction sale, amply provided with more than 2,200 lot numbers, turned over $6.3 million. “I am glad that the auction went off so well,” Nagel expert Michael Trautmann explained. “We had a lot of very good knockdowns in the four- and five-digit price range, thus making up for the lack of top-quality objects in the six-digit range, which distinguished the Asiatica Auction in the autumn, and overall achieved a nearly equally good total result.”
On the very first day of the auction, the sale of Chinese furniture showed very good results. A Zitan screen (Kangxi/Qianlong period) bettered its top estimate nearly fourfold and went to a private English collector for $150,000. A huanghuali painting table (huazhuo) from around 1700 was bid up to $111,000 by a private collector from Beijing. A rare huanghuali square games table (qizhou) went to the Hong Kong trade for $77,000.
There was also great demand for several fine cloisonné objects, which attracted the attention of several people bidding at the auction and by telephone. For instance, a fine, large, cloisonné enamel censer with gilt-bronze handles from the Eighteenth Century was valued at $29,000, while another specimen with a lotus decoration (Qianlong) brought in $24,000. A cloisonné enamel incense set (Qianlong mark and period) garnered $34,250, and a large pair of cloisonné enamel vases with dragon handles went to China for $63,350.
As far as Chinese porcelain was concerned, an old rule of the market once again held true. Everything that was fresh on the market and favorably appraised was easily able to surpass expectations. This included, for instance, a large, carved, Fifteenth Century longquan baluster vase (Ming), which a Chinese buyer secured for $44,500. Or a very large, finely painted famille rose porcelain vase (Yongzheng) from a private Argentine collection, which went back home to China for $41,000. A pair of yellow-ground famille rose porcelain vases with fruits, symbols, branches and birds raked in $37,600, as did a fine imperial western subject Canton enamel vase.
Chinese porcelain appraised at a high level, including a coral-red leys jar, an imperial yellow-glazed molded “dragon” bowl and a pair of famille verte powder-blue vases and covers were able to be knocked down only subject to reservation for $308,200, $154,000 and $41,000, repectively. A rare imperial four-color glass vase made of Peking glass (Qianlong four-character mark and period) was taken over by a private collector from Shanghai for $65,000.
The Japanese netsukes were notable. A carved wood netsuke ofstanding Kwanyu, signed Hôjitsu, circa 1790-1873, was honored by aprivate American collector for $17,000. An ivory netsuke of aseated shishi holding a ball, signed Mitsuharu, Eighteenth Century,went to Japan for $20,500. A set of 16 no and kyogen theater masknetsukes made of wood are also worth noting; they were taken by aprivate Russian collector for $41,000.
A Chinese scholar’s object described in the catalog as a netsuke and only later identified by an inscription to be a Chinese item, presumably a dress fastener, was also highly coveted. The bamboo picture of a rock with scholars, late Nineteenth Century, was bid up to $24,000 by a private American collector against the Hong Kong trade.
Two of the inros were of note. A four case rogin-lacquer inro earned $18,800. A five case lacquer inro depicting ravens, signed Kawazumi, Nineteenth Century, stayed slightly below the estimate at $17,100. The knockdown of $29,100 paid for an unusual wood and ivory okimono of two boys working on a large oni mask was also surprisingly high.
The best result among the Chinese paintings offered at this sale was realized by a canvas of Roland Strasser (1895-1974). His “Tibetean Dancers” went for $85,500 to a private collector .
Typical of the situation on the market for Chinese art is the knockdown for the last lot number of the auction. A convolute made up of 130 Sotheby’s auction catalogs from the years 1968 to 1978 was bought by a dealer from Hong Kong for $7,700. There appears to be a great need in China for information on the history of the market.
All prices reported are converted from euros to US dollars and include the 33 percent buyer’s premium. For information, 11 649 69 0 or www.auction.de.
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