T his March, in celebration of Asia Week New York, Sotheby’s presents an extraordinary collection of art spanning 4,000 years of history. Four live auctions are now on public view in the New York galleries before heading to the block from 20–22 March – followed by the online auction CHINA / 5000 YEARS, open for bidding now through 28 March.
Below, see just a few remarkable highlights, spanning from a Zhou dynasty jade ceremonial axe to contemporary masterpieces such as Maqbool Fida Husain’s Bulls (1961). Explore the full array of the art on offer by browsing the auction catalogues.
The week’s first auction, culminating with a live sale on 20 March, features modern and contemporary works of art from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. The auction’s star lot is Maqbool Fida Husain’s 1961 masterpiece, Bulls; other highlights include exceptional artworks by Sayed Haider Raza, Francis Newton Souza and celebrated sculptors Meera Mukherjee and Amar Nath Sehgal.
Maqbool Fida Husain
Maqbool Fida Husain’s Bulls ranks among the most recognizable and coveted works of this modern master. Executed in 1961, the painting graces the cover illustration of the artist’s seminal monograph from 1971, published by Harry N. Abrams. This expressive rendering of two bulls, a creature with notable agrarian and classical associations in India, captures the very essence of Husain’s practice, modernizing mythology to deliver an ultimately secular message.
“In my decade-long auction career, ‘Bulls’ is amongst the most important works I have had a chance to handle. The illustrious provenance, publication and exhibition history, together with its layered interpretation, reflect the painting’s significance. The painting’s return to auction this season represents a landmark moment for the market of Husain, who remains India’s most important and famous painter.”
Francis Newton Souza
John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, was famously rendered by the art greats of the 16th to 19th century – Titian, El Greco, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and Goya. In the current lot, we see the baptist through the brutalizing lens of the Indian modern master Francis Newton Souza. Painted in 1963, John the Baptist was exhibited at Souza’s 1964 solo show at Grosvenor Gallery, London: “The Human and the Divine Predicament.” This exhibition included some of Souza’s now most iconic and recognizable works, centering on the artist’s two seminal themes: sin and sensuality.
Sayed Haider Raza
Following the opening of the landmark Sayed Haider Raza retrospective at Centre Pompidou in Paris last month, Sotheby’s is honored to offer two exceptional and rare paintings: Houses, from 1951, and Untitled (La Ville), from 1952. From Raza’s “classic phase,” these landscapes are eerily beautiful and reveal influences from early Renaissance and “Sienese” townscapes, with Raza’s perfectly formed houses linked and suspended together along imagined streets and skylines.
Amar Nath Sehgal
Uprising belongs to an important series of powerful sculptures that Amar Nath Sehgal produced around 1957–58. Other works include Tyrannies of Colonialism and Cries Unheard, both now in the collection of the National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi. Characterized by architectonic and elongated forms with flat rhythmic planes and an economic use of materials, this grouping of sculptures is undoubtedly the crowning achievement of Sehgal’s career.
Celestial Colors, going to the block on 21 March, is an exceptional collection of monochromatic porcelains assembled under the expert eyes of Dr. Don D. Cadle and Ingeborg Pielenz Cadle, who acquired objects from some of the greatest collections of Chinese artworks.
Celestial Colors: The Cadle Family Collection of Chinese Monochromes
The present bowl, covered in a deep sacrificial-red glaze, exemplifies the peak of the Ming imperial kiln’s development in the Xuande period (1425–1425), a time unmatched in the proficiency of its ceramic craftmen. Given the highly fugitive component of copper that was deliberately added to the glaze, the production of a strong, even color was extremely difficult – hence the exceedingly rare surviving examples of wares with this glorious and exceptional red color demonstrated on the present bowl. Due to its high failure rate, the technique was short lived and practically abandoned after the Xuande reign. Although the Qing emperors attempted to revive the production of this copper-red glaze, the rich quality and opulent depth of the early Ming glaze remains unmatched in history.
Probably no porcelain glaze has been more admired ever than the lush, rich red of the early Ming dynasty (1368–1644), whose intensity and brilliance have been likened to rubies and whose satisfactory texture has evoked comparisons with crushed strawberries.
Flambé-Glazed Jun-Type Jar
Infused with a subtle elegance and technical perfection characteristic of Yongzheng porcelain, jars of this type are extremely rare. Under the Yongzheng Emperor’s keen eye, together with his thorough knowledge of the antiquities in the imperial collection, a profusion of experimental glazes on various forms was developed to capture the beauty of celebrated antiquities with a contemporary aesthetic suited to the Emperor’s taste. The form of the present vessel is particularly unusual, with crisply modeled florets applied beneath a raised horizontal rib and everted lipped rim.
Robin’s Egg-Glazed Censer
The present censer is a testament to the fine potting, exquisite glaze and elegant form that Yongzheng imperial ceramics are known for – all of which contributes to a refined subtlety. The thick glaze is evenly applied to the handsome censer and its variegated, mottled design achieves a sense of timeless elegance. The turquoise is further heightened with violet-red streaks, attributing the present censer to a group of highly regarded “robin’s egg” wares believed to represent the best of their type.
Sacrificial-Blue-Glazed Garlic-Mouth Vase
Gracefully proportioned and covered in a brilliantly intense blue glaze, the present vessel is remarkable for its slender, sinuous silhouette, considerable size and vibrant hue. As with many Yongzheng period monochrome wares, this piece displays the prevailing interest in archaism, evident in its suantouping shape. The rich, jewel-like, sapphire-blue glaze seen on the present vase is referred to as “sacrificial blue,” a name tjat derives from the use of vessels bearing this glaze color during sacrifices at the Imperial Altar of Heaven.
Clair-de-Lune-Glazed Apple-Shaped Jar
Elegantly potted, the present jar is remarkable for its perfection in form – its generous, rounded sides rise from a concave base to a narrow waisted neck, recessed into the shoulder to form a deep channel around the rim. Equally remarkable is the luminous clair-de-lune glaze that envelops the jar, complementing the rounded form to achieve a balanced harmony.
“Harmonious and sophisticated, the jar epitomizes the Kangxi Emperor’s pursuit of quality and technical excellence at the kilns in Jingdezhen. Moreover, the monochrome glaze and its simplicity can also be seen as a nod to ceramics of the Song dynasty, which were praised for their restrained aesthetic refinement.”
Also heading to auction on 21 March is Indian and Himalayan Art, highlighted by a group of eight masterpieces of Tibetan art from the Nyingjei Lam Collection, sold to raise funds to support medical and educational projects throughout Asia. Among the many masterpieces of Indian art are an exquisite Pala inlaid figure of Avalokiteshvara and a wonderful selection of miniature paintings.
Indian and Himalayan Art: Including Masterpieces from the Nyingjei Lam Collection
Figure of Milarepa
The exquisite silver image of Milarepa seated on a gilded-copper pedestal represents the acme of classical Tibetan style in south central Tibet during the 15th century. The glorious color combination of silver figure on a gilded copper base is a sculptural concept originating in eastern India during the Pala period. The style of the slim and elegant lotus petals on the gilt copper base are reminiscent of the smaller Yongle period (1403–1424) imperial bronzes bequeathed in large numbers to Tibetan hierarchs and monasteries, with which local artists would have been well aware. Thus, the diverse building blocks of a pure Tibetan sculptural style are evident in this silver masterpiece representing Tibet’s cultural hero, Milarepa.
“The Nyingjei Lam Milarepa is a true masterpiece, a perfectly balanced sculpture depicting Tibet’s most popular yogi and a superb synthesis of influences from Indian Pala and early Ming Imperial art. With an illustrious publication history and inclusion in museum exhibitions across three continents in the last three decades, it is a great privilege for Sotheby’s to be offering the Milarepa for sale this Asia Week.”
Thangka Depicting Milarepa
This extraordinarily detailed painting is a masterpiece of the Kham region of Eastern Tibet, depicting Milarepa, Tibet’s great yogi, surrounded by life story vignettes. It is in a Chamdo painting style, incorporating influences of Chinese landscape paintings, but retaining a distinct Tibetan identity. Its spacious composition is imbued with abundant negative space and brilliant depictions of the azure blue sky and verdant-green landscapes. It is a painting of superlative quality, the only thangka depicting Milarepa, who was said to have lived to over the age of 80. The detailed depiction of his cremation at the top of the painting is unique.
Thangka Depicting a Mandala of Vajra Nairatmya
This painting depicts the 15-deity mandala of Nairatmya, “Without Self,” the consort of Hevajra. The goddess is depicted at the center of a lotus that fills the palace grounds, with 12 goddesses of her retinue on the petals around her, one in the east gate and one in the west, together with four skull cups placed on long-life vases. The Nairatmya thangka is a pair to the Raktayamari mandala formerly in the Zimmerman Family Collection, and now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The inscriptions state that the mandalas were made for Kunga Legpa’s personal use, and the paintings may thus be dated to the second half of the 14th century.
Figure of Avalokiteshvara
This exquisite figure of Avalokiteshvara represents the epitome of the eastern Indian Pala period sculptural tradition that had lasting influence on the art of Tibet. And it must have been bronzes such as this – many of which found their way to Tibet in medieval times – that inspired the revival of the Pala aesthetic in the 18th century, where Chinese and Tibetan Pala style bronzes are often decorated with the same copper and silver textile design.
This painting depicts a scene from the tenth book of the Bhagavata Purana, which captures young Krishna’s penchant for mischief. After being caught repeatedly trying to steal butter by his foster mother, Yasodha, she tied him to a wooden mortar to keep him from trouble. This painting was likely executed by the master Manaku, older brother of Nainsukh, even if he was not responsible for completing the entire series. Manaku has been named as the illustrating artist for a Gita Govinda series completed in the 1730s, as well as the “small” Guler Bhagavata Purana completed between 1740 and 1750.
The week’s final auction is Important Chinese Art on 22 March. This year’s edition of the annual sale features porcelains, early ceramics, jades and furniture – led by an exceptionally rare jade ceremonial axe and important examples of huanghuali furniture.
Archaic Jade Ceremonial Axe
This jade axe, which is called yue in Chinese, is exceptional for the richly varied colors of the stone and the simple yet powerful silhouette. It is an embodiment of the ingenuity and imagination of the ancient Chinese jade carvers, who attained near perfection in working with this precious material using only primitive tools. As a symbol of power and prestige, jade yue are rare, and it is likely that the present axe belonged to a powerful person who was in the position to command such a important piece.
Part of Objects of Wonder: Chinese Art from the Guennol Collection.
“The Guennol yue is an extraordinary ancient masterpiece of ceremonial jade with a timeless aesthetic that blurs the boundary of the past and present.”
Ru-Type Lobed Arrow Vase
Elegant in both form and design, the present vase is a fine example of the technical perfection achieved by craftsmen working at the Imperial kilns in Jingdezhen during the Qianlong period. The Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795) is known for his love of antiquity. During his reign, earlier designs were revived and renewed, as exemplified by the present vase, which pays direct homage to the fabled Ru ware of the Northern Song dynasty. The vase’s rare and elegant form, with its long cylindrical neck and tubular handles, is inspired by archaic bronze vessels used for touhu, a “pitch-pot” game played from approximately 770 BC.
Part of Imperial Qing Porcelain from the Collections of Francis X. Schoonmaker and Job Male.
“This extremely rare Ru-type arrow vase is not only exceptional for its elegant potting and luscious glaze, but also for its impeccable provenance, which can be documented all the way back to the 19th century.”
“Huanghuali” Display Cabinet
Seventeenth-century examples of cabinets made specifically for the storage and display of art are very rare. The present form epitomizes the best qualities of huanghuali and the joiner’s art at its peak of technical and aesthetic achievement during the early Qing dynasty. The extravagant use of expensive huanghuali, a coveted wood admired for its golden hues, lively grain patterns and a density that permitted the use of remarkably slender elements to construct substantial pieces of finely carved furniture, compellingly suggests the wealth and refined taste of its owner.
Part of Chinese Furniture from the Personal Collection of the Late Sir Joseph Hotung.
Huan Fu Ding Gu
Remarkable for its tall, elegant shape and complex relief decoration highlighted by the neatly cast ground of leiwen spirals, this gu is an outstanding example of the late Shang dynasty bronze style, typical of the final stage of the development in Yinxu. Bronze gu, used as sacrificial wine receptacles, are known throughout the Shang dynasty, but it was in the late Shang period when bronze casting reached a new height that the vessel attained its final striking form. The inscription of the present vessel indicates the owner, who belonged to the Huan clan, made this precious ritual bronze for his father, Ding.
Figures of Luohan
Dated and inscribed Kangxi period bronze figures are exceedingly rare. The present pair of figures can be identified as luohan through their simple clothing, lack of jewelry, thin frames and striking facial features. Their pendulous earlobes, sharp cheekbones, pronounced foreheads and blissful expressions belie their ascetic lifestyle and inner spirituality. The figure seated on an elephant is Kalika (Qixiang Luohan), also known as the Elephant Riding Luohan, while the figure on the lion is likely Vijraputra (Xiaoshi Luohan), also called the Laughing Lion Luohan.
This season’s CHINA / 5000 YEARS online auction, closing 28 March, comprises a diverse selection of approximately 200 pieces of porcelain, textiles, early ceramics, bronzes, furniture and more. Highlights include a group of Qing porcelains from The Bernice and Silas Friedlander Collection, a selection of hardwood furniture from a Massachusetts private collection, a group of Ming and Qing blue and white porcelain from a New York private collection, and a variety of early bronzes from a Midwest private collection offered at no reserve.
Property from The Bernice and Silas Friedlander Collection
The Bernice and Silas Friedlander Collection includes early Qing dynasty porcelain from the Kangxi to Qianlong periods. The collection was assembled in the 1970s, acquired mostly at auction in London and New York. For the past five decades, the collection has been carefully preserved.
Property from The Bernice and Silas Friedlander Collection
Property from a Midwest Private Collection
This March, a group of early Chinese bronzes from a Midwest private collection will be offered, all at no reserve. The collection includes a diverse variety of works of art including mirrors, belt hooks, axle caps, blades and belt buckles ranging from the Eastern Zhou to the Tang dynasties.