S otheby’s is honored to present a single-owner online auction of a selection of works from the Junkunc collection, including jade carvings, early ceramics, porcelains, bronzes and scholar’s objects. One of the most important and well-known collectors of the 20th century, Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978), amassed one of the most extensive collections of Chinese porcelain, jade, bronzes, paintings and Buddhist sculptures of exceptional quality in America.
There are a handful of names in the world of Chinese art that are inextricably associated with works of exceptional quality. Stephen Junkunc, III is amongst these luminaries. The name itself is instantly evocative of a period during which some of the greatest Chinese treasures came to America. The Junkunc name today serves as one of the most important, and indeed desirable, provenances for Chinese art. Formed in America in the mid-20th century by Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978), the Junkunc Collection at its height numbered over 2,000 examples of exceptional Chinese porcelain, jade, bronzes, paintings and Buddhist sculptures; serving as a testament to a period of unprecedented wealth of Chinese material available in the West, as well as to an astounding intellectual curiosity and the means with which to buy internationally from the leading dealers in the field.
“Dear Mr. Junkunc: It was indeed nice to hear from you again after such a long interval, and I only wish I were able to supply you with even a few of the particular pieces you are asking for…”
By the early 1950s, Junkunc had amassed an impressive collection of Chinese works of art which by then was largely securely stored in the museum-like environs of a subterranean bomb shelter in the grounds of his home in Oak Park, Illinois. In a 1952 profile in the Chicago Tribune, the bunker is described as storing a ‘priceless hoard’, with ‘shelves weighted with priceless pieces of Chinese art, prizes produced thru a span of centuries. A record of a nation in tapestry, bronze, jade, pottery, robes, and lacquer'.
Throughout his lifetime, Stephen Junkunc, III worked closely with and actively supported the curators at American museums. He retained a particularly long-standing relationship with the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), repeatedly loaning works from his collection to exhibitions through the 1940s-60s. Works from the Junkunc Collection were also loaned to the seminal Ming Blue and White exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago, which traveled to the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1949, and to the Arts of the T’ang exhibition of 1956, at the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art. Junkunc’s generosity towards American museums also extended towards bequests, with gifts from his collection now housed in the Milwaukee Public Museum, Wisconsin, and the Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, Florida, near his Coral Gables summer home.