Hall Family Collection, England, since the 1950s.
The reclining buffalo, symbol of strength as well as tranquility, is a classic icon of Chinese painting. Its bucolic aspect evokes the simple and true life in the countryside, and as the reputed mount of the philosopher Laozi, the buffalo also has strong Daoist connotations. Animal sculptures, however, created for pleasure rather than for ritual or burial, are extremely rare in China in any medium.
As a jade artefact, a figure such as this is among the most impressive pieces produced in China since prehistoric times. Exactly when these - in jade terms - 'monumental' animal sculptures were made, is still a matter of debate. The almost excentric choice of material for this and similar buffalos, distinctly coloured and veined, might fit in best with a late Ming (1368-1644) date, while the masculine strength, elegance and simplicity of the sculpting are in tune with stylistic principles of the Kangxi reign (1662-1722).
Comparable figures are known from several fabled collections of the past, many of which are said to have come from the Summer Palace in Beijing. The present piece is perhaps the most 'life-like' of this small group, the unusual colouring of the stone in different tones of buff and grey being reminiscent of the actual animals' skin. The Jacob Goldschmidt buffalo was exhibited at the influential Ausstellung Chinesischer Kunst, Gesellschaft für Ostasiatische Kunst and Preußische Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1929, cat.no.1085; the Lord Gladwyn buffalo, sold in these rooms, 1st November 1966, lot 47, and now in the collection of Sir Joseph Hotung, was included in the exhibition Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing, the British Museum, London, 1995, cat.no.26: 19; the Oscar Raphael buffalo, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, formed part of the Oriental Ceramic Society exhibition Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1975, together with two other jade buffalos, cat.nos.395-7, one from the collection of Somerset de Chair; the Baron Lionel de Rothschild buffalo, later in the Eckstein collection, was sold twice in these rooms, 19th April 1937, lot 47, and 9th December 1948, lot 111; the Alexander Ionides buffalo, later in the Hotchkis collection, was also sold in these rooms, 20th May 1954, lot 101; and the Bulgari buffalo 11th June 1996, lot 190. Another buffalo from the Somerset de Chair Collection that sold twice in our London rooms, 18th July 1952, lot 50 and again 9th June 2004, lot 151.
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