Published: November 21, 2006
Knowledgeable bidders sat up straighter in their seats when a selection of Chinese jade from the collection that had been gathered by the Berwind family came up for auction at Skinner’s October 21 Asian arts sale, the auction house’s best Asian arts sale ever.
The runaway highlight was an Eighteenth Century Chinese greenish white jade carving in the form of three rams that sold on the phone for $171,000. The group sat on an elaborately carved ivory stand that was stained black. Bidding had opened at $5,500 and bounced around between bidders in the room and several others on the phone until it got down to two phone buyers.
James Callahan, director of Skinner’s Asian arts department, said after the sale that he thought the piece might bring around $40,000. It was estimated at $6/8,000. The same phone buyer took a jade vase bearing a four-character Ch’ien Lung mark in Fang Ku form with Tao Tieh marks and archaic scrolling for $38,775.
The strength of the sale was the fine Chinese offerings from several esteemed collections including that of the Berwind family and of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Only a few Asian objects that were not Chinese in origin caught bidders’ interest.
A pair of brilliant translucent green jade table screens carved with sages amid mountain landscapes that opened at $10,000 sped to $116,000 from a dealer in the room. The screens dated to the Ch’ien Lung period and bore Li Shu inscriptions. They were estimated at $20/30,000.
The 5-inch Eighteenth Century Chinese cup in pale greenish white jade carved with a chih lung and a phoenix opened at $2,900 and sold for $105,000 to a phone bidder who jumped the bids by larger and larger increments.
A 7 ½-inch Eighteenth Century cylindrical jade incense case in a pale sea green was carved and pierced in high relief with a figure of a scholar watching a fisherman in a mountain landscape. It went for $64,625 to the same eager phone bidder who took the cup. That bidder also chased a 6¼-inch Nineteenth Century pale yellow jade vase and cover with dragon handles and finials and standing on four feet that went to $32,900 against the estimated $1/1,500. He or she also bought a jade vase, cover and stand with a Ch’ien Lung mark that was carved on the surface with a cat and a butterfly and on the interior with a water buffalo for $11,163.
A pair of jade jars with stands with the six character Ch’ien Lung mark inlaid with gold brought $47,000. The jars were carved with Tao Tieh marks and animal figures and were described in the catalog as “probably Nineteenth Century.”
A large jade covered jar and stand in a rich celadon color that bore the Ch’ien Lung mark sold in the room for $36,425. The body of the jar was carved with scholars riding to a mountain retreat; the top was carved with scholars viewing a scroll; and the sides were carved with lion mask handles, jump rings and chains.
A grayish white jade censer with animal form handles and foo dogs atop the lid sold on the Internet for $17,625.
A 4 ½-inch translucent white jade bowl with a small fissure to the edge was estimated at $800–$1,200 and opened at $500. It jumped immediately to $2,000 and then to $14,100.
Speaking after the sale, Callahan suggested an inverse correlation between low estimates and rocketship prices. The higher the estimate, the less spectacular the result.
A handsome Indian jade dagger hilt from the Mughal period in the form of a deep green horse head decorated with colorful crystals and turquoise stones was set in gold and silver. It sold on the phone for $18,800. A 4½-inch Mughal bowl carved in the form of a chrysanthemum and on a stand that was carved similarly sold for $5,288 to a dealer in the room, who was an active bidder for much of the sale. He also bought a 3¾-inch jade Mughal style bowl that was carved in the form of an open chrysanthemum for $2,233. It was estimated at $600/800.
The same dealer took an Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century pair of hanging lanterns, each made with 12 rectangular jade panels engraved with riverine landscapes supported by repousse gilt copper mounts, for $19,975. He got an early Twentieth Century jade ju-i, or scepter, that was carved with dragons, bats and clouds, with three inlaid rubies for $5,288.
A gray green jade covered box carved as a crane with ling chih had some old repairs but still soared to $10,575 against the estimated $800–$1,200.
A 9-inch Nineteenth Century celadon green jade brush rest carved in the form of a mountain with clouds, pine trees and rams in relief and three seals on the bank sold to an absentee buyer for $7,638.
An Eighteenth Century Lang Yao vase with a pale green rim above a deepening red glaze brought $64,625 from the trade. A pretty little sky blue porcelain vase with gilt lotus scrolls and a gold Ch’ien Lung mark was estimated at $400/700 and realized $4,700, even without the stand on which it had been photographed. A famille verte plate of the K’ang His period decorated with scenes of warriors and borders of flowering trees and aquatic life was a standout when it sold for $7,050.
An Eighteenth Century Chinese soapstone carving of T’ien Huang Shih in the form of Luohan by a rocky outcrop was broken but still sold for $30,550 against the estimate of $2/3,000.
A Peking glass vase in bright red cut to snowflake was carved with scenes of warriors in combat near a city and had Ling Chih handles sold for $8,813 and a 23-inch rhinoceros horn cup carved impressively with clouds, pine trees, peaches, ling chih, cranes, deer, monkeys and human figures brought $38,188.
Certain Chinese ivory pieces also attracted interest. A dealer in the room paid $15,275 for a Nineteenth Century six-panel folding screen. One side was carved with figures in palace settings and the other was engraved with Manchu court scenes. The same buyer took a large (18 inches) covered ivory vase carved with scenes of the Immortals on Po Shan for $9,988 after a competition with another Asian dealer in the gallery. He also bought a carved ivory melon that was highly carved in melons, flowers and foliage, with figures in garden scenes on the interior for $5,581.
An ivory brush pot of the Ch’ien Lung period was carved with scenes of warriors in palace settings with borders carved with symbols of the Eight Precious Things and sold on the phone for $11,750.
Another phone bidder got a 10¼-inch pair of Nineteenth Century ivory table screens that were carved and pierced with polychrome scenes of the Immortals for $9,400.
A Nineteenth Century Manchu woman’s horsehair headdress adorned with kingfisher feathers, tourmaline, jade, pearls, coral and rubies was considered rare and flew past the estimated $800–$1,200 to $24,675.
A Twentieth Century scroll painting signed and sealed by Pan Tien Shou was purchased by Robert Ellsworth from the artist’s estate in the early 1970s. Executed in ink and color on paper, it brought $44,063 from an absentee bidder.
Metalwork from the Ellsworth collection was highly sought. A Persian silver beaker from the Archmenid period of the Fourth Century BCE in the shape of a pomegranate decorated with winged bulls and lions over a base of 20 crosshatched petals sold on the phone for $38,188. The same buyer paid $36,426 for another example of the same period with repousse designs of winged bulls, sun motifs and geometric patterns.
A gilt bronze headrest from the Han period, between the Second Century BCE and the Second Century CE that was also from the Ellsworth collection, had finials in the form of stag heads and brought $7,050.
A Han period gilt bronze vessel whose surface was carved with a stag chased by a hunting dog realized $5,875 from a phone bidder and yet another phone bidder took a bronze scepter or mace with a silver surface and an attached chain for $2,468.
A T’ang period parcel gilt silver cup in the form of an open flower that brought $4,406 was from the Ellsworth collection as was a ritual bronze from the Warring States period in Tou form that fetched $6,463.
A selection of Chinese snuff bottles piqued bidders’ attention and brought very healthy money. A pure white example from the Eighteenth Century carved with a scholar contemplating a lotus pond had a vivid green stopper and sold for $14,100. A gray jade snuff bottle from the Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century was carved with a scholar in the mountains and had a blue glass stopper. It brought $5,875. An early Twentieth Century transparent smoky quartz example that was painted with figures on the interior was signed Yeh Chung San and sold for $4,700.
It was Japanese made for the Chinese market in the early Twentieth Century, but an inlaid white jade snuff bottle was the most desirable of the snuff bottles and it realized $19,975 against the $800–$1,200 estimate.
A Meiji Japan partial gilt and silver incense burner with finials and handles in the form of cranes and its body decorated with tortoises signifying longevity and waves was estimated at $1,5/2,000 and realized $28,200 from a determined buyer.
All prices quoted reflect the buyer’s premium of 17½ percent of the first $80,000 of the purchase price and ten percent thereafter. For information, 978-779-6241, or www.skinnerinc.com.
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