Jules Speelman’s sumptuous gallery on Mayfair’s Mount Street has for decades attracted the world’s most discerning museum curators and collectors who ring his doorbell full of the tense anticipation of a treasure-hunt drawing to a close. On any given day, his unerring eye and acute sensitivity to form are on display in the smartly lit cabinets and pedestals that adorn the space. The showroom is an ode to threedimensional form in its many guises - sculpted, carved, moulded or cast. The breadth and quality of the material are overwhelming - exceedingly rare examples of Ming dynasty lacquer, richly patinated Yuan dynasty ivory figures, superb Qing jade carvings and cloisonné-enameled fantastical animals dialogue before the benevolent and watchful eye of a pantheon of ancient Buddhist and Hindu deities.
Jules has always been an avid collector and has on various occasions shared with a lucky few, items of outstanding beauty and rarity which he has enjoyed privately. However, with a change of emphasis in his collecting, he has decided to shed some much loved objects which are now presented in this catalogue, all fit for the most discriminating eye. A few sublime manifestations of animal and godly life are immortalised here, in bronze. The ten pieces, which span from the 13th to the 17th century, demonstrate the versatility and quasi-magical properties of the medium. Bronze was the first alloy to be discovered by prehistoric people: mixing copper, tin and lead, three soft metals, gives resilient bronze. Chinese civilizations have early on harnessed to the full the artistic potential of this resolute metal, but the Speelman bronzes presented here do not derive from the formal archaic tradition.
The richly gilt large Song dynasty figure of Avalokitesvara draws from a thousand year old tradition of Buddhist bronze figures. It represents the finest known example in the medium from this celebrated period, to the exception of its mate, formerly in the collection of Avery Brundage and housed today in the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. The two other Buddhist figures in the collection are excessively rare dated pieces from the Hongzhi and Shunzhi periods and enrich the limited body of known dated bronzes.
The sensitivity and fluidity of bronze is exploited to its fullest in the animals, particularly the Xuande period duck censer and the dated Chenghua deer cast half a century later. The former is perhaps the finest early 15th century known secular bronze and records describing Yongle and Xuande imperial banquets celebrating the Lantern Festival mention that “auspicious portents of lovely smoke rise forth from the golden duck censers”. The richly patinated massive bronze deer is an object of outstanding beauty and one would be hard pressed to conjure up a larger and more desirable piece from the prolific body of Ming dynasty bronze animals.
Many will remember the extraordinary group of early 15th century Buddhist bronzes from the collection of Jules Speelman that we were honoured to offer eight years ago. Given its exceptional quality, the present group has little to envy and bears witness to one of the most intuitive and astute eyes in the art world today.
8 APRIL 2014 | HONG KONG