Bonhams & Butterfields held its successful summer sale of Fine Asian Works of Art on June 23, 2008, in its San Francisco galleries. The 400-lot auction brought more than $2.7 million, exceeding the pre-sale expectations, with results demonstrating that the market for Asian art, particularly Chinese works of art, is as robust as ever. A Korean oil painting took top lot honors in the auction.
The bidding took on an active pace from the first lot of the sale, a grouping of four white jade snuff bottles in various circular, rectangular and oval forms, selling for $13,200 against a $2,000-$3,000 estimate. The snuff bottle section, comprised of ornately decorated and carved examples, was consistently strong, those sixty lots followed by an even stronger selection of jade carvings.
Jade highlights included a circa 1900 white jade Moghul style covered censer from a Bay Area collection, the 5-inch-wide example in a composed globular form, with colored stones encircling the shoulder and atop its budding branch-form handles sold for $42,000. A pair of small exquisitely carved jade and tourmaline works depict crickets climbing onto melon hanging from a vine. The Republican Period pair far exceeded their pre-sale estimate, selling for $54,000 (estimate was $2,000-$3,000). Multiple lots of jade brought strong prices, a bidder paid $42,000 for a 19th century white jade ring-handled vase, eight-inches high, of flattened yenyen type, while a dark carved “spinach” jade covered censer of the Qing Dynasty sold for $36,000, six times its pre-sale estimate.
The ivory section featured a beautifully carved circa 1870 export style ivory-inlaid four panel hongmu floor screen. The intricately carved ivory panels stand five-feet high featuring superbly embroidered bird and flora silk panels. Of great interest to several bidders, the lot brought a well-deserved $168,000 price. A set of four carved ivory Daoist guardian figures was offered, each 13-inch figure displaying a fearsome visage and expertly carved wearing elaborate armor and peaked crowns. The figures depict the Four Heavenly Kings of the four directions: East holding a stringed instrument, South raising a sword, North holding a cloth standard and West holding a white tiger. Bidding took only one direction – upwards – the lot selling for $48,000 (est. $18,000-$25,000).
The ivories were followed by offerings of Chinese cloisonné featuring a lovely pair of massive enamel-decorated cranes, the pair each reaching 89 inches high, selling for $144,000. Highlights within the bronzes and works of art offered included a cast bronze censer dated to the 18th century featuring high relief dragons charging through clouds that sold for $54,000 and an impressive gilt bronze seated figure of Dou Mu, the multi-armed Daoist “Dipper Mother,” which sold for $96,000.
Roadside Vendor, a small vertical oil on board painting by Park Soo-keun (1914-1965), was the highlight of the Korean works of art offered in the sale. The painting was acquired in Korea in 1967, brought to the US and presented as a gift to the consignor in that year. It was offered with the original copy of the 1965 memorial Park Soo-keun exhibition catalogue featuring the work. Competitive bidding via telephones from international clients competed with active floor bidders, resulting in the work doubling its estimate to sell for $204,000.
Noteworthy mentions from the porcelain section included a pair of blue and white porcelain deep dishes, Yongzheng mark and period, which sold for $27,000 and a pair of inverted bell form delicately enameled yellow ground porcelain bowls with famille rose decoration, Daoguang mark and period, that sold for $26,400.
Notable mentions from the Japanese section included an Oribe style stoneware footed platter (shaped as a Japanese manaita or cutting board) by Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959). The piece sold for $33,000. A Shibayama style enameled silver vase on an ivory stand featured the Takasaki Mizuyuki mark. Its high-relief dragon clasps a crystal ball while climbing the slender-waisted neck above conforming ivory panels decorated with inlays of mother-of-pearl floral motifs. The 11-inch-high vase brought $9,600.
According to department director Dessa Goddard, the Asian art department has had a very successful 2008 sale season thus far, with buoyant prices realized in each of its sales – from New York City to Hong Kong and San Francisco. The fall 2008 sale of fine Japanese works of art will take place in New York City on Sept. 19 at Bonham’s location at 580 Madison Avenue. That sale will feature a collection of inro and netsuke formed by the late Ann Swedlow Meselson of Los Angeles, Calif. The winter auction of fine Asian works of art will be held in San Francisco at Bonhams & Butterfields, scheduled for Dec. 9.