BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. – An exceedingly rare, ancient Chinese Eastern Han Dynasty solid nephrite jade bear, made between 475 B.C.-220 A.D. and exhibiting extensive calcification due to centuries of extended burial, sold for a little more than $8 million at a multi-estate antiques auction held Dec. 10 by Elite Decorative Arts, at the firm’s gallery located in the Quantum Town Center.
The nephrite (greenstone) bear was by far the top lot of the nearly 300 items that changed hands in an auction that grossed about $9 million. But the bear was also a bargain for the buyer who wished not to be identified – it carried a presale estimate of $10 million to $20 million, as reported in the Elite Decorative Arts pre-auction report. Such numbers have become commonplace for Chinese antiquities, which are now red-hot collectibles.
A combination of factors contributed to the bear’s desirability. It was the largest jade sculpture known of its time. It was made for a significant figure or ruler, with whom it had been buried. The cup-shaped opening at the top of the head meant it was made for a stand or base for a significant object. And it came with impeccable credentials from a Beijing authenticating firm.
“This is the second item we’ve sold for more than $1 million. No other auction house in Florida can say that,” said Chris Hayes of Elite Decorative Arts. About 120 people attended to bid in person, while more than 650 bidders registered online through LiveAuctioneers.com.
One other lot flirted with the $1 million mark but fell short: a magnificent Russian silver enameled box with an oval panel to cover showing a miniature landscape painting after Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin (Russ., 1832-1898), and a multi-colored enameled design of a prince with a sword and eagles. The box, with Fedor Ruckert workmaster marks, fetched $862,500.
Following are additional highlights from the sale. All prices quoted include a 15 percent buyer’s premium for in-house and telephone winning bids and 18 percent for online winners.
An 18th century six-piece Chinese relief carved ivory and cloisonné tea set gaveled for $10,620. The set consisted of a relief carved double gourd-shaped teapot with chicken spout and handle (6 1/2 inches tall), four cups with raised scroll design (each 1 3/4 inches tall) and a bronze and enamel cloisonné floral under plate with eight polychromed plaques.
An 18-karat yellow gold gem jadeite and diamond ring, comprising a translucent green oval cabochon stone with 26 colorless diamond baguettes in yellow gold all in a fancy cocktail ring mounting, slipped on a new finger for $9,735. The ring, a size 6 1/2 held the Arthur King maker’s mark and boasted a 21 total diamond weight (32.8 grams), plus a G.I.A. certification from 1967.
An original pastel gouache on paper rendering of a male and female figure in an abstract manner by Theo Tobiasse (French/Israeli, b. 1927) climbed to $6,785. The signed, matted and framed work measured 41 inches by 28 inches and had a saying that read, “Pomme d’Amour Pour Unique Folie” (which loosely translated means “Apple of Love for Unique Madness”).
An 8-piece Sevres French porcelain and cabaret service with silver overlay brought $4,485. The masterfully created set, produced in the 19th century, was an enchanting light blue, which contrasted against the silver mesh overlay design. The set included a covered pot (7 1/4 inches tall), a covered sugar (5 1/4 inches tall), a creamer, serving tray, two cups and saucers.
An 1888 oil on canvas rendering of cattle titled “Jealousy” by American artist Arthur Fitzwilliam (1819-1905) breezed to $4,140. The work, signed lower right and on verso by the artist, measured 13 1/4 inches by 21 1/2 inches and was framed. Fitzwilliam was a prominent member of the National Academy of Design and was generally renowned for his wildlife work.
A late 19th century Louis Comfort Tiffany Favrile (hand-made) glass trumpet vase with enchanting vine and leaf design and round ribbed base changed hands for $4,140. The vase was 14 3/4 inches tall and 7 1/2 inches in diameter and exhibited a beautiful glowing iridescent color. The bottom was marked with “3631 L.C. Tiffany – Favrile” while another mark said “14505.”
An original pastel and crayon on paper depicting two seated females by the Mexican artist Francisco Zuniga (1912-1998) went to a determined bidder for $3,894. The work was signed lower right and dated 1984, and measured 19 1/2 inches tall by 27 inches wide. It had been matted and famed and registered in Catalogue Raisonne of Francisco Zuniga, Vol. IV, #3280.
Two lots drew identical winning bids of $3,658. The first was a 19th century Meissen German porcelain figural group depicting a woman sitting in a seat with three children playing cards. The piece stood 8 3/4 inches tall. The second was a screenprint on paper depicting ocean water by the American/Latvian artist Vija Clemins (b. 1939). It was titled “Ocean With Cross #1.”
Rounding out the day’s top lots is a vibrant oil painting of a beach scene by Howard Behrens (Am., b. 1933). It sold for $3,540. The 47 1/2-inch by 47 1/2-inch painting was signed in the lower right hand margin.
Elite Decorative Arts has three big sales lined up through the early spring. A decorative arts and fine artwork auction will be held Saturday, Jan. 14, with a 1 p.m. (EST) start time. That will be followed by a decorative arts sale on Saturday, Feb. 25, also starting at 1 p.m. Then, on Saturday, March 17, the firm will hold an Asian art and objects auction, with a 6 p.m. start time.
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