NEW YORK - Driven by strong international bidding, Sotheby’s Asia Week sales series (18-20 March), hammered down a stellar $56 million, easily exceeding its $34 million to $48 million estimate. “Now, the market for Asian art is stronger than ever, with steep prices across the board,” says Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby’s Vice Chairman North America. “Our sales this week proved that more and more collectors globally are coming to New York to acquire Asian art.”

The Tian Mian Fu Yi Jiao. An Important and Very Rare Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel. Late Shang Dynasty, 13th-11th Century BC. Sold for $2,405,000.

Evidence came early in the week at the Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art sale, where eight bidders chased a Yuan Dynasty molded blue and white barbed rim dish (est. $200,000–$300,000). The winner was London dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi, who paid $4.2 million. “It’s a real rarity with only one or two others like it in Western museums,” says Howard-Sneyd. Another rarity was a Wucai fish jar with a frieze of golden carp swimming among aquatic plants and lotus blossoms ($845,000). More delicate still was a cylindrical vase in a subtle celadon hue, which sold for $665,000 against a $150,000–$250,000 estimate. 

A Rare Wucai 'Fish' Jar, Jiajing Mark And Period. Sold for $845,000.

Also in high demand in the sale were bronzes. A Tian Mian Fu Yi Jiaoan bronze ritual wine vessel on three blade-like legs with a mottled green patina dating from the Late Shang Dynasty, 13th-11th century BC blazed past its $400,000–$600,000 estimate and racked up a robust $2.4 million “We traced that bronze back to the Qing Imperial collection and that kind of provenance underscored its importance in historical terms,” explains Howard-Sneyd. Also from the Late Shang Dynasty, a Ji Zu Yi Zuna bronze ritual wine vessel, boldly cast and decorated with masks, upright horns, hooked jaws and dragons, climbed to an impressive $1.3 million, well over its $300,000–$400,000 estimate.

The Ji Zu Yi Zun. A Superb And Important Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel, Late Shang Dynasty, 13th-11th Century BC. Sold for $1.3 million.

Why the sudden craze for archaic bronzes? “Today, collectors, especially Chinese collectors, are seeking examples that are really historical documents in their own right. It’s a major trend,” Howard-Sneyd says, adding that five years ago, prices for such bronzes of note hovered in the $400,000 range.

Furniture took center stage in the fourth and final session of the sale. Connoisseurs and interior designers alike favored examples of classic Ming furniture with spare lines. A 17th-century huanghuali painting table tagged with a $250,000–$350,000 estimate was snared for $695,000. Then a diminutive huanghuali stand sold for $256,000, far exceeding its $25,000–$35,000 estimate. Demonstrating the allure of 19th-century styles was a gilt and black lacquer six-panel screen that had belonged to the first Viscountess Furness. This lavishly painted example brought $75,000  (est. $20,000–$30,000). “It’s the best of its kind,” notes Howard-Sneyd.

A Rare Molded Blue And White Barbed Rim Dish. Yuan Dynasty, 14th Century. Sold for $4.2 million.

At the Modern and Contemporary South Asian Art sale, Vasudeo Gaitonde’s sublime 1962 Painting No. 3 went for $2.5 million against a $2 million to $3 million estimate. The much-admired painter will be the subject of a major retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York this fall.

Vasudeo Gaitonde’s Painting No. 3 sold for $2,517,000.

Gilt bronzes, thangkas and Indian miniatures were fiercely coveted in the Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art sale. There a 15th-century Tibetan-Chinese gilt-copper alloy figure of Tara sailed past its $300,000–$500,000 estimate and sold for $1,025,000.  Plus, a 13th-century Tibetan thangka depicting Phagmotrupa with His Previous Lives and Lineage went for $269,000 against a $25,000–$35,000 estimate. “The Chinese are now exploring this specialty and that’s totally new,” says Howard-Sneyd.

Very Fine Gilt Copper Alloy Figure Depicting Tara sold for $1 million.

At the Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy sale was marked by heated bidding over such lots as Wang Shouren’s 1514 ink on fifteen-page album of the poem “Parting at the Ye River.”  That ink on paper work surpassed its $60,000–$80,000 estimate and hit $2 million. Others of note from that sale included Shen Zao’s 1419 handscroll Ode to the Dancing Crane which was predicted to make $30,000–$50,000 expectation but hit $520,000.