Later Chinese Bronzes from the Collection of Sydney L. Moss Ltd

By Sotheby's
The twenty-three Chinese bronzes here (lots 3667-3689), carefully selected and put aside by the gallery Sydney L. Moss over three decades, encompass all the major categories of post-archaic bronzes, including incense burners, archaistic vessels, hand warmers and religious figures, reflecting the refined taste of the official scholar elite from the Song to Qing dynasties.

Sydney L. Moss Ltd and later Chinese bronzes
Paul Moss

In 1991 Sydney L. Moss Ltd published The Second Bronze Age: Later Chinese Metalwork, an exhibition catalogue whose time we felt had come. We had managed to gather together a coherent group for a focused show, including its fair share of star works. It was quite a successful foray.

At that time we had recently experienced London dealer Michael Goedhuis’s 1989 show of Chinese and Japanese bronzes, and Rose Kerr’s 1990 book for the Victoria & Albert Museum, Later Chinese Bronzes. Discussions about metalwork hung heavy in the air. Prior to that activity, though, we had concentrated quite some attention on the material in our first exhibit of literati arts, 1983’s Documentary Chinese Works of Art In Scholars’ Taste, with its essay by Ulrich Hausmann, 'In Search of Later Bronzes', and our 1986 The Literati Mode, with another fine Hausmann essay, the first and I think only discussion of Chinese copper-bronze handwarmers in English: 'Keeping Warm in a Cold Study: The Warmer'. I recommend both essays, which have so far stood the test of time. All our Chinese art catalogues not restricted to painting and calligraphy – over the last 38 years – include later bronzes which we found original and individual, characteristics we have always prized over the classic.

It was our long-term association with Ulrich Hausmann that sharpened our intuitive attraction to what was evidently a wildly underrated area of literati works of art. His was and still is by far the most sophisticated approach to such material that we had come across, and I for one was extremely impressed by his insistence that the best later bronzes, as opposed to the merely decorative, were to be considered an organic literati material, with a “skin”. For many years we stored in a cupboard in our (then) Brook Street W1 gallery two entire collections of the “Song to Ming” type flower vessels – Ulrich’s and another – thinking with the encouragement of the owners to produce a reference work on them. To my regret, we never did; the values involved were not sufficient to cover the publication of a worthwhile book. But we learned a lot, meantime.

That same year, 1991, saw the emergence onto the international scene of a remarkable collector, Bob Kresko, of St. Louis (and Florida, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where my entire family went to visit the Kreskos one summer, my three sons convincingly dressed as cowboys). I learned only a little while ago that Bob passed away late last year, and I remain extremely sorry to hear it. He was an unusually uplifting and entertaining man, who supplied me with all my best jokes, and once he had a project he wasted no time or effort in putting it into practice. He instructed me to proactively go and buy for him all of the best later bronzes I could find; it was a liberation, like being unleashed. I have never enjoyed a plan coming together quite as much. Bob’s important criterion, apart from finesse and originality, was that his bronzes should be big and bold, or at least sprawl a little, and for that reason he passed up the opportunity to add a few exquisite gems of smaller stature. With that one proviso, he consistently bought everything special he was offered for over a decade, into the very early 2000s. It was a time when the New York auction market was giving up on classic old Chinese paintings, and that of the Chinese mainland had not yet started in earnest. I was delighted and relieved to have an area of endeavour with some prospect of unheard-of quality in which, if I didn’t know where every last masterpiece resided, at least I had a good idea of a few noteworthy doors to knock on. Again, I learned a great deal.

In 2008 the St. Louis Art Museum – which has long owned a stunning group of archaic Chinese bronzes – published Philip K. Hu’s Later Chinese Bronzes – The Saint Louis Art Museum and Robert Kresko Collections. It is an excellent book, with the proviso that, given Bob Kresko’s insistence on scale, they really needed to print it much bigger. If you read the book and then visit the collection you will be taken aback by the size and power of many of the star contenders. Other than that, the content is genuinely superior. To me, the material is of a different order altogether when compared with, for example, the 1993 Phoenix Art Museum publication on the Clague collection of later bronzes.

With Robert Kresko’s focus on cornering the market in fine, outsize later bronzes, especially vessels, we at Sydney L. Moss Ltd decided in the early 1990s that we should discreetly put away all of our remaining “The Second Bronze Age” works against the happy day when they would all turn out to be rare, valuable and all the more historically significant for having been included in our early presentation of such things. To this end, we also bought back a modest handful of those we had sold from our exhibition. When Mr Kresko stopped buying in the early 2000s, which took place upon the results of the mainland auction of Wang Shixiang’s collection being relayed to the Western world, we took it upon ourselves to determinedly acquire anything further we could find that qualified as extra-special. That is how the present selection came to be. We would (and probably will) persist with the ongoing slow growth of the group, because it’s more fun than any alternative; but I turn 70 in April, and my so-called semi-retirement becomes more of a reality, and while none of us is done yet, it feels like an appropriate time to clear the decks. Son and boss Oliver Moss is profoundly enthused by these works, but it is far from clear that current world availability will permit him to indulge as I did.

Not all of the Kresko later bronzes ended up in the St. Louis Art Museum; Sotheby’s Hong Kong offered several of them in 2016, just as it offered the pick of the Ulrich Hausmann collection in 2014. To us, those auctions represented the high point of serious availability of truly special later Chinese bronzes, and we envisage the current Sydney L. Moss Ltd selection as not only a celebration of the impact of our 1991 The Second Bronze Age exhibition but also a logical extension of that focused intent. Please enjoy.

Sydney L. Moss Ltd 珍藏中國晚期銅器

Sydney L. Moss 藝廊在過去三十寒暑,傾其熱忱,搜珍集寶,成就其青銅典藏。銅器二十三件(拍品編號3667-3689),上追蒙元,下攬明清,有熏爐、手爐、仿古器、佛道造像等,琳琅滿堂,訴述昔日文士的高華風雅。年屆七十,Paul Moss 有感已到榮休之齡,見及好友、客戶兼藏家郝思曼與 Robert Kresko 雅蓄晚期銅器的拍賣佳績,遂決定釋出所珍,供諸同好,並為此撰文,敍述其鑑藏之路。

Sydney L. Moss Ltd 與中國晚期銅器
Paul Moss

1991年,Sydney L. Moss Ltd 出版《The Second Bronze Age: Later Chinese Metalwork》展覽圖錄,那時我們意識到中國晚期金屬器的時代已經來臨。我們徵集得一組相關展品,其中不乏佳作。那次嘗試結果相當成功。

1989年,倫敦藝術商 Michael Goedhuis 舉辦了一場中國及日本銅器展覽。1990年,柯玫瑰(Rose Kerr)為維多利亞與艾伯特博物館撰寫了一本專著《Later Chinese Bronzes》;當時業界都紛紛討論金屬器,氣氛頗為熱烈。其實,在此之前我們早已開始關注金屬器。1983年,我們舉辦了一場以文人藝術為主題的展覽《Documentary Chinese Works of Art In Scholars’ Taste》,郝思曼(Ulrich Hausmann)為此撰寫論文〈In Search of Later Bronzes〉。1986年,我們又舉辦《The Literati Mode》展,郝思曼再撰一篇優秀論文,這是第一篇、也是據我所知唯一討論中國銅手爐的英文論文〈Keeping Warm in a Cold Study: The Warmer〉。目前為止,這兩篇文章都經得起時間考驗,我在此向大家推薦。在過去三十八年間,我們所有不限於繪畫和書法的中國藝術品圖錄都有收錄晚期銅器,它們很特殊,有時自成一格,而我們對這些晚期銅器的重視,乃至甚於經典作例。

We at Sydney L. Moss Ltd. decided in the early 1990s that we should discreetly put away all of our remaining “The Second Bronze Age” works against the happy day when they would all turn out to be rare.
我們在1990年代初決定低調收藏《The Second Bronze Age: Later Chinese Metalwork》展覽餘下的所有展品,期望有一天它們將全部成為珍稀瑰寶,並因曾出現在我們的早期展覽而更具歷史意義。


同年(1991年),一位來自聖路易斯的傑出收藏家 Bob Kresko 在國際收藏界嶄露頭角(他曾居佛羅里達州和懷俄明州傑克遜.霍爾鎮,我們一次夏天舉家去鎮上作客,我的三個兒子還維肖維妙地穿上牛仔服裝)。不久之前我得知他去世的消息,心裏不禁惋惜。他是一個有趣的人,總是能讓身邊的人精神煥發,我聽過最好的笑話就是來自這位仁兄。他一旦有了計劃,就會馬上實踐,全力以赴,絕不浪費時間。他曾委託我收購所有晚期銅器精品,這對我來說,感覺就像解除束縛一樣,終於可以奔放地追尋所好。我從未試過如此享受籌備一個計劃。除了在鑄工和獨特性方面有所要求之外,他還有一個重要標準,就是尺寸要足夠大、風格要雄渾,或者至少也得有點氣勢;因此我們沒有選擇一些尺寸較小的精品。直至2000年代初,在長達十幾年的時間裏,只要符合其條件的銅器,他都一一買下來。那時候,紐約拍賣市場開始放棄中國古典書畫,而這個板塊的拍賣在中國大陸還未真正開始。即使我不知道每一件精品傑作身在何方,但至少能夠找到好些線索,在過程當中也覓得一些前所未見的珍品,讓我深感欣慰。我又再一次學到了很多。

聖路易斯藝術博物館的中國古代銅器收藏之精,令人驚嘆。在2008年出版、由胡廣俊撰寫的中國晚期青銅器著作名為《Later Chinese Bronzes - The Saint Louis Art Museum and Robert Kresko Collections》。這書寫得非常好,而因為 Kresko 堅持收藏大型銅器,所以書的尺寸也特別大。如果您讀了這書並參觀過館藏,必會被這些銅器的尺寸和威嚴所懾服。除此之外,藏品質素也極為上乘。我認為, Kresko 收藏的銅器出類拔萃,例如與1993年鳳凰城藝術博物館出版的 Clague 收藏晚期銅器比較,分別顯然易見。

概因 Robert Kresko 主要收藏最上乘的大型晚期銅器, 我們(Sydney L. Moss Ltd)在1990年代初決定低調收藏《The Second Bronze Age: Later Chinese Metalwork》展覽餘下的所有展品,期望有一天它們將全部成為珍稀瑰寶,並因曾出現在我們的早期展覽而更具歷史意義。為此,我們還購回了少量在這場展覽上售出的展品。2000年代初期,王世襄先生的藏品在中國大陸拍賣的成績傳至西方,Kresko先生便停止入藏。我們毅然決定,如果覓得特別珍貴的佳品,便會購入收藏。這次挑選的藏品就是這樣來的。我們慢慢發展這組收藏(相信將來也會繼續),因為這比任何其他選擇都來得更有趣。但是,四月份我就邁入七十歲了,而我所謂的半退休已經漸成現實,儘管我們都尚未完成工作,但現在應是時候做好準備。小兒 Oliver Moss 是現任主理人,他對晚期銅器深感興趣,但現時市場上的供應能否讓他像我當年一樣沉迷,這就很難說了。

I turn 70 in April, and my so-called semi-retirement becomes more of a reality.

Kresko 收藏的晚期銅器,並非全部落入聖路易斯美術館收藏。 2016年香港蘇富比拍賣了其中幾件;2014年他們也拍賣過郝思曼精選藏品。對我們來說,這幾場拍賣代表了晚期銅器珍品現身市場的輝煌時刻。我們相信,這次 Sydney L. Moss Ltd 精選藏品上拍,不僅是我們1991年《The Second Bronze Age》展覽的重要紀念,也是我們收藏初心的延續。希望各位喜歡。

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