Live auction begins in:
March 22, 01:00 PM GMT
400,000 - 600,000 USD
A rare pair of dated and inscribed parcel-gilt bronze figures of luohan
Qing dynasty, dated Kangxi jiawu year, corresponding to 1714
Vijraputra, seated on a lion, cast to the back with the inscription Kangxi jiawu guiyue Gusu Wangmen Zhushi gongfeng (Respectfully offered by wife Zhu of the Wang family of Gusu on the eighth month of jiawu in the Kangxi reign); Kalika, seated on an elephant, cast to the back with the inscription Kangxi wushisan nian bayue chuba Wangmen Zhushi gongfeng (Respectfully offered by wife Zhu of the Wang family on the eighth day of the eighth month in the fifty-third year of the Kangxi reign) (2)
Height 7 in., 18 cm
Collection of Georges Dubail (1845-1932), acquired in China before 1906.
Christie's Paris, 13th December 2017, lot 72.
法國外交官呂班 (1845-1932) 收藏，1906年之前得於中國
Dated and inscribed Kangxi period figures are exceedingly rare. Compared to most contemporaneous figural bronzes that survive today, the inscriptions on the present pair provide a wealth of information surrounding their context of production. The stylistic similarities and identical name of the donor on both figures suggest that they were made together, perhaps as part of a larger set, for the same patron. Together, the inscriptions record that a lady by the maiden name of Zhu, who married into the Wang family in Gusu, an old name for Suzhou, commissioned these bronzes in the jiawu, or 53rd year, of the Kangxi period (1714).
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 bely 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. The endearing, approachable demeanor of the figures and animals, together with the broad, flat treatment of drapery, are characteristic of 17th and early 18th century Chinese bronze sculpture. Compare the drapery and expression on a gilt-bronze figure of a luohan illustrated in Rose Kerr, Later Chinese Bronzes, London, 1990, pl. 71.
For a closely related gilt-splashed figure seated on an elephant, also likely Kalika, cast in a very similar manner to the present and holding a scroll, attributed to the 18th century, compare one sold at Christie's New York, 22nd March 1999, lot 85. Another bronze figure depicting the same subject from the collection of Roger Keverne, attributed to the 17th or 18th century, sold at Bonhams London, 7th June 2021, lot 621. Compare also a 17th century bronze 'luohan and elephant' incense burner from the same collection and sold in the same rooms, 11th May 2021, lot 232. See also a gilt-bronze triad group, likely depicting Avalokiteshvara seated on a lion or qilin, exhibiting similar facial features to the present group, attributed to the 17th or 18th century, sold at Christie's London, 4th December 1995, lot 197. For an earlier example of a luohan riding a lion, compare a gilt-lacquered wood figure attributed to the Yuan/Ming dynasty, sold in our Hong Kong rooms, 1st June 2015, lot 745.
Other comparable parcel-gilt bronze figures include two figures of standing immortals attributed to the 17th century, exhibited in The Second Bronze Age: Later Chinese Metalwork, Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, 1991, cat nos 10 and 11, and another 17th century pair of immortals sold at Christie's New York, 25th March 1998, lot 80. For a dated gilt-bronze Buddhist figure from the Kangxi period, albeit of very different design, compare a figure of Dipankara dated to 1662 in the RISD Museum, Providence (accession no. 1989.110.62), published on the Museum's website.
The present pair of figures were formerly in the collection of the French diplomat Georges Dubail (1845-1932). Dubail visited China for the first time in 1876, and over the course of his illustrious career, worked for the Minister Plenipotentiary in Beijing, the Consulate in Shanghai, and oversaw the direction of the Legation in Beijing supervising the construction of the Longzhou-Nanning and Beijing-Hankou railway lines. He concluded his diplomatic career in China as Minister Plenipotentiary, returning to France in 1906 with the Chinese and Japanese works of art he collected during his time in East Asia. In 1907, Dubail was part of the Franco-Chinese Friendship Association, which welcomed Chinese students like Deng Xiaoping and Nie Rongzhen.