Mainland Chinese buyers repatriate Asian porcelain, bronzes, and jades

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This finely carved coral branch from a Chinese artisan blew away all expectations, bringing $46,360. Photo courtesy Bonhams.

Porcelain, bronzes, paintings and jades kept buyers active all day at Bonhams’ Asian Works of Art auction in San Francisco Aug. 30, 2011. As expected, Chinese works of art led the way, selling one by one to a roomful of Mainland Chinese buyers, eager to repatriate their cultural heritage.

A traditionally strong ivory section kept spirits high for the hardstone carvings and jades. The highlight of the jade section was a calcified jade carving of a recumbent horse. Conservatively dated to the 20th century, the strong graceful lines of the  elicate, but powerful carving combined with a stunning color of stone for tremendous effect. Potential buyers, both in the room and on the phones, kept the auctioneer at a galloping pace before the piece was finally hammered at $34,160.

Another, among many highlights, was a finely carved coral branch—a skilled Chinese artisan executed a stunning array of tiny branches and flowers spewing from a vase, with even a little cat hiding  midst the fronds. This imaginative composition smashed all  expectations, blooming into a $46,360 purchase price.

Traditionally a symbol of the ethics and virtue of statecraft since the Shang and Zhou dynasties, Chinese bronzes and metalwork continued to be de rigeur for a new generation of art connoisseurs eager to prove their virtù.

A bronze censer with elephant handles turned out to be a must-have for any new scholar-official in the making. With a base stamped with the honorific Xuande mark deemed essential by Ming dynasty manuals of good taste, this 18th/19th century version of a classic shape fetched a noble price, at $10,980. Dated to a similar period of manufacture, two bronze seals with dragon finials, inscribed ‘the official who proffers and explicates the classics,’ were also sublime examples of Qing dynasty metal work, and were worth every ingot of their purchase price of $15,860.

The mainstay of the Chinese section was devoted to one of the pinnacle achievements of Chinese art and technology: porcelain. Prices were consistently strong with a small blue and white porcelain vase, mark and period of Wanli, one of the many standouts. This rare  textbook Wanli example with sinewy dragons rendered in deep cobalt blue brought $26,840.

Reflecting the higher degree of control of both paste and glaze quality in the Qing, a blue and white rouleau vase, was decorated with a tightly composed masterwork of a figural tableau rendered in precisely layered hues. This stylistic opposite of the Wanli piece proved irresistible to buyers as well, bringing a majestic $46,360.

Japanese, Korean and Southeast Asian art also performed well. A painting of Bodhidharma, attributed to the 16th/17th century Japanese artist Kano Koi, was a suitably iconoclastic portrayal of the gruff Indian founder of the Zen school of Buddhism. A telephone bidder helped this piece achieve an enlightening price of $7,320.

A two-panel Nihonga school screen, Taisho/Showa period represented a more exotic subject matter of two Indian beauties, which brought a strong price of $5,490. Both of these items will be enticing appetizers for the sale of Fine Japanese Art, as well as the Sartin Collection of Asian Art, featuring fine Himalayan and South Asian Art, both to be offered in our New York showrooms on the 13th of September.

Bonhams will hold its next San Francisco-based Asian Decorative Arts sale on the 15th of November. Highlights will be announced in the weeks preceding the sale. Consignments are invited.


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