T his week, Sotheby’s is privileged to present an extraordinary group of rare and exceptional Chinese archaic bronzes, jades, ceramics, porcelain and other works of art in two remarkable Chinese Works of Art live auctions.
Sotheby's Presents Asia Week New York 2022
Leading the sales is A Journey Through China's History. The Dr Wou Kiuan Collection Part 1, which features the distinguished encyclopedic collection of Wou Kiuan that celebrates art from over 4,000 years of Chinese history and culture — from Neolithic utilitarian vessels to paintings, calligraphy, imperial jades and porcelain, and more.
This season’s Important Chinese Art sale will be led by the Guo Ji Shi Zi Zu Hu from the late Western Zhou dynasty, a rare Xuande mark and period blue and white “dragon” “dice” bowl, and an unique hand-painted daguerreotype of Prince Sengge Linqin by Lai Chong dated to 1853, the earliest known dated photograph by a Chinese photographer.
Below are some extraordinary highlights from these auctions.
Lot 1 | An inscribed archaic bronze ritual food vessel cover, Late Western Zhou dynasty
No collection of Chinese art has ever come close to that formed by the emperors. Finding a work that can be traced to an imperial collection is the holy grail of Chinese art. Now, in the upcoming Wou sale is an inscribed bronze that can possibly be the same one treasured by the Emperor Huizong (r. 1100-1126) of the Northern Song dynasty (960-1127). The Wou cover and its inscription closely match a bronze cover illustrated in the renowned Northern Song dynasty imperial catalogue of the court bronze collection, which was compiled under the direct order of the Emperor Huizong.The likelihood of another bronze cover with this same inscription being preserved without its vessel is extremely slim. Read more here.
Lot 24 | A large and important imperially inscribed pale green jade ‘luohan’ boulder
This jade boulder is remarkable for its exceptional carving of the luohan dramatically set against the backdrop of a rough stone grotto, its large overall size, and of course for its imperial inscription. It represents a three-dimensional, sculptural version of a late Tang (618-907) painting which had particularly impressed the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736-1795). In 1757, during one of his Southern inspection tours, the Qianlong Emperor visited the Shengyin Temple in Hangzhou, Zhejiang, where he saw a set of paintings depicting the Sixteen Luohan by the painter Guanxiu (832-912). He recorded that he had seen himself the masterpieces of Guanxiu and, as a devotee of Buddhism, studied their content and reordered and reattributed the paintings according to his own teacher’s interpretation of their sequence. He went as far as penning colophons on each painting and commissioned reproductions of the images with their new inscriptions in various media, including stone engravings, jade carvings and textiles.
Lot 117| A yellow reserve blue-ground ‘gardenia’ dish, Mark and period of Yongzheng
Vibrantly enameled and echoing an earlier Ming dynasty design, blue and yellow dishes of this design are very rare.This design exists also in blue with white reserves only, but whereas the blue and white version may be based on prototypes of the Xuande reign (1426-35), the blue and yellow style was devised in the Yongzheng period. The Yongzheng dishes differ markedly in their technique from the Ming examples. While the Qing pieces show a speckled 'powder-blue' glaze that would have been blown onto the vessel surface through a tube covered with gauze - a form of application ideally suited for stencil reserves - the Ming prototypes show a thick, dark cobalt-blue glaze, where white reserves were much more difficult to achieve.
Lot 233 | The Guo Ji Shi Zi Zu Hu, Late Western Zhou dynasty, late 9th or 8th century BC
Considered one of the most important and significant archaic bronzes within the field of antiquarianism, the Guo Ji Shi Zi Zu Hu passed through a circle of prominent collectors and literati, including Wu Yun (1811–1883), Li Hongyi (1831–1885), and Zuo An (1864–1885), providing a glimpse into the spirit and zeitgeist of antiquarianism in China in the 19th and early 20th century. The hu was excavated from Fengxiang, Shaanxi province, during the Qing dynasty, and was most likely already discovered by the end of the Qianlong reign.
Lot 253 | A rare blue and white “dragon” “dice” bowl (Bo), mark and period of Xuande
Powerful yet elegant, bold yet refined, this present bowl exemplifies the celebrated aesthetics of blue and white porcelain produced during the Xuande period (1425–35). Following the Yongle Emperor’s (r. 1402–1424) initiation of unprecedented control of the kilns in Jingdezhen, the short but prosperous reign of the Xuande Emperor saw further refinement and innovation, elevating the level of blue and white porcelain production to new heights.
A Rare Piece of Chinese History: the ‘Dragon’ Dice Bowl from the Friedman Collection
Lot 287 | Lai Chong’s Daguerreotype: The Earliest Dated Photograph by a Chinese Photographer
The unique hand-painted daguerreotype offered here is the earliest known dated photograph by a Chinese photographer. Hidden behind the plate is a leaflet fragment with “Daguerreotype. From Lai Chong. Photographer. Shanghai-Kuling” in letterpress. “Lai Chong Zhao Xiang Hao (麗昌照相號)” is written on the reverse in Chinese. While this piece has been previously catalogued and exhibited as by a photographer named Lai Chong, it is now believed that the name refers instead to a Chinese-run photographic studio. Extensive notations in several hands identify the sitter as Prince Sengge Linqin (Sengge Rinchen / Senggelinqin) (1811–1865), a Mongol nobleman who served as the yellow bannerman under the Qing dynasty and commanded the Chinese forces during the Second Opium War. Taken in August 1853, when photography was in its infancy in China, this daguerreotype is a landmark in the history of photography in this region.
Lot 294 | An extremely rare pair of polychrome limestone figures of bodhisattvas
From the esteemed collection of Luis Virata, these two rare and exceptionally impressive sculptures embody many of the finest qualities of Tang dynasty (618–907) art. The figures are sensitively carved with slender, graceful features. They are remarkably sophisticated in their sculptural quality, their serene and compassionate faces with subtle smiles, voluminous coiffure neatly tied up in a spiral bun, bodies displayed in an elegant swaying pose, exposed torsos adorned with jewelry and scarves, and gracefully draped, thin flowing skirts. This magnificent pair of bodhisattva figures depicts heavenly beings imbued with a sense of human qualities.