Published: January 18, 2011
An anticipatory stillness prevailed in the gallery as anxious bidders awaited the offering of a Chinese album of ink and color paintings on paper by various Twentieth Century artists. Bidding ricocheted between the phone and the Internet until eager bidders in the gallery began jumping bids over the $32,500 opening.
The spellbound audience of Chinese dealers in the Skinner gallery in the Back Bay during the December 3‴ auction burst into applause when one of their own, representing a mainland China buyer, won an album of 25 leaves of ink and color paintings of landscapes, flowers and birds and calligraphic scripts. The price: a record breaking $1,227,000.
The album leaves were created by the stars of Twentieth Century Chinese art and came to auction from the collection of Pah-Yuen Wang for whom the pictures were made in honor of his birthday. Chinese bidders were particularly interested in the ten paintings by Zhang Daqian.
Wang had an extraordinary eye and was uniquely positioned to gather the best of the best. His collection brought exceptionally strong prices, allowing Asian arts specialist James Callahan to deliver yet another record breaking sale of Asian works of art. The total: $5.8 million, $1.9 million of which was from the Wang collection.
Wang’s collection was pretty much dispersed after his death in 1977, except for this material, which was stored and forgotten in a trunk in the attic. Family members showed it to Callahan and consigned it to auction.
Wang, whose name Pah-Yuen is also spelled Boyuan, established himself as the “Gold King” in early Twentieth Century Shanghai. As his fortunes grew, his interests extended to banking and real estate. His investments were wide ranging during his life, many motivated by his desire to preserve national treasures. He was also interested in painting and calligraphy, which he himself practiced, and as a patron of both arts, he was friends with many contemporary artists.
Another album of 26 leaves of paintings and calligraphic inscriptions from 1936 by Twentieth Century artists was not part of the Wang collection, but still sold to the same buyer for $154,050. A New York dealer paid $44,438 for another album dating from the 1950s, this one of nine leaves of paintings by Chen Dingshan, each with its own leaf of calligraphy by other artists.
A mountainous landscape painting “WANG” by Twentieth Century artist Zhang Daqian was inscribed to Boyuan (Wang) by the artist. It opened at $15,000 and raced along until it realized $424,000, again from the same buyer in the room.
A scroll by Eighteenth Century artist Zhang Ruocheng, depicting a figure in a landscape with inscriptions by other artists of the period, and later calligraphic inscriptions and seals, was also favored. Like the album, the scroll provoked frantic bid jumping by those bidders impatient with the bidding pace. The scroll sold for $130,350 to another Chinese dealer in the gallery.
Wang collected exquisite folding silk fan paintings. One example, by Wu Hufan depicting sunrise over the ocean, was a 1927 gift from the artist and bore calligraphy and one seal. It realized $88,874. A calligraphy leaf by Wu Hufan dating from 1931 sold for $11,850.
Another example from 1921 was painted by Gu Linshi on one side with an image of pine and prunus on a rockery and inscribed to Boyuan by the artist in 1921. The other side was decorated with calligraphy in seal script by Wu Changshuo; the fan sold for $24,885. Yet another fan by Feng Chaoran and Wang Luonian was dedicated to Boyuan and fetched $22,515. An example by Wu Hufan that was dedicated to Boyuan and depicted rocks in a creek realized $20,145.
A Nineteenth Century copy of the Eighteenth Century handscroll of paintings of the Chenghuai Garden depicting scholars in pavilions in a mountain landscape by Huang Yue and with calligraphy and seals fetched $23,700.
Fine jade performed well in the auction. A yellow green jade carving of a recumbent foo dog, executed in the archaic manner, sold for $65,175, while an Eighteenth Century carved green jade mythical animal brought $50,363. A large, 133/8 inches, jadeite plate in apple green with some lavender areas and a spot of orange brown jade skin sold for $47,400 .
Other Nineteenth Century standouts included a white jade plaque carved with a scene of a boatman sailing on a stream with ducks and geese on a wood stand carved with intertwined chilong that sold for $24,885, and a carved white jade vase in the form of an archaic drinking vessel with a stylized taotie mask with leafy bands that made $21,330. A lot of spinach jade Seven Treasures (a flaming pearl, an elephant, a sack, a horse, Avalokiteshvara, a civil official and a military official) all on carved zitan stands went for $16,590.
Bronzes, too, found favor with buyers as a Ming dynasty, Yongle period, (1403‱425) gilt bronze figure of Bodhisattva crossed the block. The figure is shown wearing a five-crested crown and seated on a double lotus throne with lotus stalks supporting a ewer on one side and a bird on the other. It realized $65,175. An Eighteenth Century Sino-Tibetan gilt bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara, the deity with 11 heads and 1,000 arms, brought $24,885.
Much of the material in the sale was Chinese, but there were a few exceptions: an Eleventh or Twelfth Century bronze stupa from northeastern India or western Burma with an articulated lotus blossom enclosing likenesses of the Buddha sold for $36,735. A Ninth Century East Indian bronze stele with an enthroned Buddha surrounded by attendants, asparas and devotees realized $14,220.
Two Nineteenth Century Korean giltwood Buddhas seated in the dhyanasana pose fetched $28,440, while an Eighteenth Century Chinese pair of gilt lacquered wood Buddhas, also in the dhyanasana position, was $15,405. From Tibet, a silver filigree ewer with cartouches with the Eight Buddhist Treasures (the wheel, the banner, the double fish, the precious vase, the parasol, the conch, the lotus, and the endless knot) and set with turquoise, glass, coral, lapis lazuli and garnet beads sold for $14,220.
Bidders really liked the lapis lazuli covered vase that they drove to $41,475. The vase was carved with bands of stylized taotie masks and animals, incised and gilded panels, six elephant head lugs suspending loose rings and Qianlong six-character marks. A 17-inch Nineteenth Century lapis lazuli recumbent horse drew $8,888.
An unusual Eighteenth Century Chinese pair of 24-inch lacquered wood vases in the form of gourds, each on three gourd-form feet entwined by vines of leaves, sold for $35,550.
Among the ivory objects of desire was a Nineteenth Century Chinese ivory covered jar carved intricately with kui dragon and other mythological animals and birds, with flanges and chilong lugs and a domed lid that sold for $27,255. A large Nineteenth Century Japanese ivory vase carved with the Seven Sages at the Bamboo Grove admiring a handscroll brought $10,073.
Choice Chinese ceramics such as two desirable bottle vases are headed back to China, as is much of the material in the 1,700-plus-lot sale. An Eighteenth Century celadon example with a globular body decorated with dragons amid clouds realized $27,255, while a large example decorated with peaches and blossoms and bearing the Guangxu mark sold for $21,330.
A Seventeenth Century Chinese ceramic censer with underglaze blue decoration of sages and attendants in a bamboo grove brought $20,145; a Nineteenth Century Chinese blue and white famille rose vase decorated with underglaze blue and overglaze enamel scenes of a group of travelers on horseback arriving at a gate bore the Qianlong mark on the base and realized $11,258.
One of the prettiest pieces of porcelain was the Nineteenth Century Chinese reticulated porcelain plate that was painted in the famille rose palette with the mythical flower baoxianghua surrounded by stylized lotus blossoms. It also bore the Qianlong mark on the base. Estimated $200/300, after several jumps in the bidding, it climbed to $20,145.
An imposing 32-inch Sancai glazed figure of a guardian in full and elaborate armor vanquishing a dragon sold for $20,145, and an Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century 20½-inch polychromed porcelain Buddha went for $15,405.
Early ceramics from the collection of Robert H. Ellsworth included a pair of Song dynasty (960‱279) bowls in an olive green crackled glaze and carved with a scene of two boys amid leafy scrolls that sold for $16,590. A Cizhou ware pillow of the Northern Song dynasty (960‱127) in a white glaze carved in the form of a trefoil and incised with peonies fetched $13,035, while a Jizhou ware vase from the Song/Yuan dynasties (Twelfth to Fourteenth Centuries) with carved plum branches with painted detail, all on a dark brown ground, brought $11,500.
A 4½-inch Chinese carved wood brushpot decorated with images of Shoulao and his attendant on a water buffalo and an Immortal and an attendant in a landscape stirred interest and sold for $21,330 against the estimated $300/500.
Kesi silk textiles, most with dragons, caused flutters of bidding cards. An Eighteenth Century woman’s kesi robe with roundels of dragons, peach and bats and rocky wave decoration across the bottom sold for $26,070. Another Eighteenth Century kesi robe with a dragon, bats and the Eight Buddhist Treasures on an orange ground realized $23,700, and an Eighteenth Century kesi robe with dragons, bats and shuangxi characters, clouds and the Eight Buddhist Treasures on a blue ground went for $17,775. A kesi panel with dragons and phoenix, scrolling peony and flaming clouds on an imperial yellow ground brought $14,220.
A group of about 100 snuff bottles, most from the Peabody Essex Museum to benefit the acquisitions fund, were highly sought after. An Eighteenth Century 2¼-inch green glass example with a surface of faceted planes, a carnelian stopper and the Qianlong mark on the foot sold for $10,665 to a phone bidder who bought consistently throughout the sale. A Nineteenth Century mottled white glass example with carved red overlay with a pale green stopper made $9,480, and an Eighteenth Century pale apple green jade example carved with baoxianghua and with a coral stopper brought $8,888. An early Twentieth Century rock crystal example painted on the interior with a battle scene and a military camp by Jing Zhongsan and dated 1914 brought $10,665 on the Internet. It had been consigned by a local Boston collector.
All prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 508-970-3000 or www.skinnerinc.com .
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