Thai Eilenberg Buddha sculpture sets record

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NEW YORK—Bonhams established a world record price for a Mon Dvaravati bronze sculpture when the circa 8th century Eilenberg Buddha sold Sept. 11, 2012 for $674,500 at a Himalayan, Indian & Southeast Asian art sale.

The Eilenberg Buddha is the most important Mon Dvaravati sculpture to have appeared in the market recent years, and it could be argued that it is the finest example of its type still in private hands.

Eclipsing its previous record by more than three times, the rare Thai sculpture soared past its $250,000 to $350,000 estimate, and an international field of private collectors and institutions vied for it. The winning bidder was institution with a strong holding in important Southeast Asian art.

“The sculpture is a rare and important example of early Thai sculpture that is virtually unknown outside of institutional collections,” said Edward Wilkinson, Bonham’s specialist and consultant to the Southeast Asian, Indian and Himalayan Art department. “To have such a fine example, with impeccable provenance from the storied Eilenberg Collection, resulted in tremendous competition from around the globe.”

Dessa Goddard, head of Asian Art for Bonhams in North America, further noted, “This was a thrilling start to Asian week for Bonhams that will be following by important sales of Classical Chinese Paintings and Fine Japanese Art.”

About the Eilenberg Buddha

The treatment of the robe is unusual, in that it does not follow the classic tradition of the ‘full cape’ that is known to have originated from the Indian Gupta (5th/6th century). Here, the robe is arranged such that it leaves the right shoulder bare, in a style more familiar in the 6th-8th century Sri Lankan Buddhas and earlier Amravati (2nd/3rd century) figures. However, they favored robes delineated with parallel lines of fine pleats and figures with broad shoulders and smaller heads. The Mon Dvaravati style introduced a smooth diaphanous treatment of the robe, almost invisible across the androgynous body, and more balanced proportions of the whole figure. As noted by Jean Boisselier in The Heritage of Thai Sculpture, 1975, p. 73, “The school of Dvaravati may stand alongside the great Buddhist artistic traditions of India, so enduring were its innovations and so persuasive its influence on most of the art of Southeast Asia.”

In comparison with the large Mon Dvaravati standing Buddha in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (59.149), they both share the same facial shape, thick head of knotted hair and slender sensuous line of the torso. However, the Eilenberg Buddha has lower, more relaxed shoulders falling from a slender neck that provides a more natural and free-flowing line. Another closely related example is in the National Museum, Bangkok (see Sculpture of Thailand, Theodore Bowie ed., Asian Society, New York, 1972, no.5).

The Eilenberg Buddha is the most important Mon Dvaravati sculpture to have appeared in the market recent years, and it could be argued that it is the finest example of its type still in private hands.

For more information, visit Bonhams.

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