Published: April 10, 2007
On March 20 at Sotheby’s, there was applause after an extended bidding battle when an important and rare archaic bronze wine vessel and cover (fangjia), late Shang dynasty, Thirteenth⁅leventh Century BC, from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., was purchased for a remarkable $8,104,000 by UK dealer Roger Keverne on behalf of Compton Verney, a museum outside Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The fangjia wine vessel, which set a new record for Chinese art at Sotheby’s New York, was the top lot of the two-day various-owners sale of fine Chinese ceramics and works of art on March 19′0, which featured 480 lots of Chinese archaic bronzes, ceramics, stone sculpture, jades and rhinoceros horn carvings that totaled $35,298,700.
Additionally, Sotheby’s March 18 single-owner sale of the Concordia House collection of fine Chinese jades and important works of art from a Midwestern family, brought $5,137,160, more than one and a half times its high estimate, on March 19, bringing the sales total for Chinese ceramics and works of art to $40,435,860, shattering the previous record for Chinese art sales in New York.
Twenty-three works from the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, sold to benefit the restricted endowment for the purchase of works of art, brought a total of $18,358,000.
Joe-Hynn Yang, head of Sotheby’s Chinese works of art department, said, “Our two-day sales, which shattered the previous record for Chinese art sales in New York and set a new record for Chinese art at Sotheby’s New York, were exhilarating and represented a high point in my career at Sotheby’s. Both of our cover lots †our top two highlights in the sales †will enter museum collections and will be available to the public. We are particularly honored that Sotheby’s was the conduit through which the custodianship of these world-class masterpieces passed from one museum to another.
The market responded selectively but with feverish and often vocal bidding for the diverse works on offer; the competition was strong for the most important jade seal ever to be offered in the West and the most significant offering of rhinoceros horns ever to be offered at auction, as well as for the beautiful selection of classical Chinese furniture and outstanding Song and Qing porcelain. The intense enthusiasm for jades and scholarly objects reinforced the demand for those categories that we witnessed in the sale of the Concordia House collection.”
Another highlight of the sale of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery pieces was an important and rare massive limestone chimera, Six Dynasties, first half of the Sixth Century, which sold for $5,472,000, a record for a Chinese stone sculpture at auction, to an Asian private collector on the telephone, after a lengthy battle involving at least six bidders. This magnificent work is an extremely rare example of early secular stone statuary for mausoleums or “spirit roads” in China. A pair of such beasts would have flanked the triumphal way leading to the tumulus (hill-tombs) of emperors or princes of the Liang Kingdom.
A rare limestone seated figure of a “pensive” maitreya, Northern Wei dynasty of the early Sixth Century achieved $1,361,600, selling to Eskenazi Ltd, one of at least seven bidders who participated in an extended battle. The maitreya is carved in the distinctive style characteristic of the Longmen Buddhist cave temples in Henan province, which represent the zenith of monumental stone carving works achieved by Chinese sculptors from the Northern Wei to the Song dynasty. A Sixth Century limestone wall fragment of a Flying Apsaras Playing the Drum was also purchased by Eskenazi Ltd for $1,059,200.
Another highlight of this offering is a Middle Western Zhou massive archaic tripod food vessel (Li), circa late Tenth or Ninth Century BC, which realized $1,025,600, selling to an American private collector.
The cornerstone of the various-owners section of the sale was a highly important imperial jade “dragon” seal, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736‱975) from the collection of Mrs James W. Alsdorf, which sold for $1,608,000 to an Asian private collector. The square seal, made for the personal use of the Qianlong emperor, is exquisitely carved from deep celadon-jade and is surmounted by a pair of dragons.
Also highlighting the sale was a magnificent carved celadon-glazed vase embellished with beautifully painted floral panels which commanded $1,160,000, selling to an Asian dealer, together with a very fine Yongle period (1403‱425) meiping vase painted in soft tones of underglaze blue with a single undulating lotus stem, which sold for $1,048,000, to an American private collector.
Also featured in this sale were a number of outstanding “You Kan” libation cups, including one finely carved with a reclining scholar and a poetic inscription signed “You,” which sold for $540,000 to an Asian dealer, and another depicting chickens and signed “You Kan,” which brought $480,000, selling to an Asian dealer.
Prices reported include the buyer’s premium. For information, 212-606-7000 or www.sothebys.com .
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