D uring Sotheby’s New York auction of Important Chinese Art, a gilt-bronze figure of the Chinese Buddhist deity Cintamanicakra Avalokiteshvara dating to the late Tang Dynasty / Five Dynasties sold for $2.1 million, following a seven-minute bidding battle. The seller had brought the piece to an Antiques Roadshow appraisal event in St. Louis, recalling that she had purchased the work at a garage sale some 20 years prior for approximately $75–100. The work came to auction today with a pre-sale estimate of $60,000–80,000.
Perhaps the most popular and well-known Buddhist deity in China, Avalokiteshvara, or Guanyin, is known by worshippers in many forms, among them Ekadashamuka, Amogopasha, Shadakshari, Water Moon Guanyin, and more rarely, Cintamanicakra. As Buddhism evolved in China, Avalokiteshvara’s varied forms were introduced through the transmission and translation of different sutras. Cintamanicakra is often depicted in the same attitude as the present, holding in the six arms the wish-granting jewel (cintamani) in front of the chest, the dharma wheel (chakra) in a raised palm, the stem of a lotus in another hand, a mala in another, and the sixth planted down for support.
More Top Lots from Asia Week
The Important Chinese Art auction was a highlight of Sotheby’s ongoing Asia Week sales series in New York. Below is a look at the exceptional Chinese Works of Art that have highlighted the week thus far, with full series results available on 25 March.
Angela McAteer, Sotheby’s Head of the Chinese Works of Art Department in New York, commented: “We are extremely pleased with results achieved across our four auctions devoted to Chinese Works of Art this week. We saw great demand for works acquired by visionary American collectors, including important pieces from the fabled collection of Stephen Junkunc III, Kangxi period porcelain from the collection of Jeffrey P. Stamen, and Chinese jade and ceramics from the Robert Youngman collection. A group of jades offered on behalf of The Art Institute of Chicago was 100% sold, led by a beautiful and rare white jade imperial procession brushpot that achieved $2.1 million. Overall, we saw strong competition for Imperial works of art, with Chinese porcelain reigning supreme throughout the sales.”
In addition to the Cintamanicakra Avalokiteshvara figure, the Important Chinese Art auction was led by An Exceedingly Rare and Important Complete Set of the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment by the Qianlong Emperor that fetched $2.7 million – more than five times its $500,000 high estimate. Every detail in the production of this Sutra reflects the supremacy of imperial quality, executed to the highest standards overall. The present Sutra also has a long collecting history in the West, that can be traced to Bernard Alfred Quaritch, a German bookseller who opened a bookshop in London in 1847 specializing in old and rare books, which still exists today.
A group of Chinese jade sold by The Art Institute of Chicago was 100% sold, totaling $3.2 million. The group was led by A Rare White Jade ‘Imperial Procession’ Brushpot dating to the Qing Dynasty, Qianlong / Jiaqing Period. Fashioned from superlative quality stone and deeply carved in the round to form a virtual diorama, the work achieved $2.1 million – well exceeding its $1.2 million high estimate.
Our March auctions of Important Chinese Works of Art opened with a series of dedicated sales, beginning with an exceptional offering of Chinese gilt-bronzes, weapons, jade animals, Buddhist sculpture and pottery from the collection of Stephen Junkunc III, which brought $4.1 million with an exceptional 82% of all sold lots achieving prices above their high estimates. The sale followed Sotheby’s offering of Chinese Buddhist sculpture from Mr. Junkunc’s collection in September 2018.
Tuesday’s sale was led by An Extremely Rare Beige Jade Carving of a Mythical Beast Han Dynasty - Six Dynasties, which achieved $740,000 – well above its $500,00 high estimate. Figural sculptures such as the present work executed from the Han dynasty to Six Dynasties period were both a sumptuous display item for appreciation by the elite, as well as a reminder of the powerful supernatural forces latent in the world. A Tang Dynasty Large and Rare White Marble Carving of a Bodhisattva, previously held in the Cleveland Museum of Art, also reached $740,000 (estimate $600/800,000). Freestanding sculptures from this period are rare, and even rarer are those of this exceptional quality and carved from marble. Since the introduction of Buddhism in the first century AD, images of Buddha and bodhisattva were believed to be imbued with the spiritual presence of the deity they depicted and served as bridges between the deity and devotees.
Following the success of KANGXI: The Jie Rui Tang Collection in March 2018, this season’s selection of Kangxi-era ceramics from the Collection of Jeffrey P. Stamen featured a range of representative examples of major ceramic categories of the period. The offering was led by an Extraordinary, Fine and Large Inscribed Famille-Verte Brushpot that soared to $572,000 – more than four times is $120,000 high estimate. Brushpots of this large size in the famille-verte palette and bearing inscriptions are exceptionally rare. An essential item for a scholar, the present brushpot is decorated with an aspirational depiction capturing a moment of poetic inspiration. Scholarly-themed luxury wares gained popularity among the wealthy elite of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties, and were likely understood and appreciated by the fortunate few who could afford them as both spiritual inspiration and as a resounding statement of wealth and social status.
The series of Chinese Works of Art collection sales continued with a group of over 70 jades spanning 4,000 years of Chinese Art offered from the private collection of Robert Youngman. The group was highlighted by a Ming Dynasty Yellow and Russet Jade Figure of Zhou Yanzi, which achieved $150,000, more than double its $60,000 high estimate. The present carving depicts the Confucian parable of Zhou Yanzi, a boy who bravely cloaked himself in deerskin among a herd of does to collect milk to reverse his elderly parents’ blindness. A Qing Dynasty Archaistic Pale Celadon Jade Baluster Vase and Cover also achieved $150,000 - three times its high estimate of $50,000. Jade vases such as the present work proliferated during and after the Qianlong period, and can be traced to the Qianlong Emperor's fondness for innovative designs referencing archaic styles.