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Live Auction: 8 April 2023 • 10:00 AM HKT • Hong Kong

The Legacy of HIRANO KOTOKEN 8 April 2023 • 10:00 AM HKT • Hong Kong
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My friendship with Ryoichi Hirano stretches almost as far back as the twenty years he has spent assembling this beautiful collection of Song ceramics. As is often the case in our profession, our strong bond was initially forged over shared emotions marvelling at an object, or occasionally disapproving one, and over the delight in debating the nuance of a glaze colour or the trim of a footring. Over our years of friendship, I saw appear on his shelf or casually displayed on his desk many of the Song ceramics that we are presenting in this catalogue, but it is only recently that I have had the joy to see the group in its entirety. Ryoichi’s character and his taste are inseparable in my mind and this fine assemblage of ceramics presents itself like a journal, a travelogue of places and people, of moments in time, that charts the last twenty years of his life spent chasing the subtleties of the Song potter, whether in a modest black-glazed splashed tea measure, precious miniature Jun bubble bowl or the power of a superbly carved Cizhou vase. Every acquisition, no matter how small or significant, was handled with the same obsessive care and sensitive eye. A majority of the pieces in the collection have been in Japan for a long time, some of the celadons and black wares for nearly a millennium, others were acquired in Europe and America.

This group crystallises what many recognise as a distinctively Japanese aesthetic in Song ceramics, one that has been shaped over the centuries and moulded after heirloom ceramics passed down since the Song dynasty in Japan and after Chinese thought systems introduced to Japan around the same time. Indeed, the aesthetic taste one associates with Japan today represents in some way the purest form of ancient Chinese aesthetics, uncorrupted by the vicissitudes of dynastic change that have plagued China’s history.

For the better part of the 20th century, the Hirano family name has stood for high aesthetics in Chinese art and it is indelibly associated with some of the world’s greatest collections and masterpieces in the field. Ryoichi Hirano, third generation of this illustrious dealership, has chosen to present his collection of Song ceramics as an homage to Hirano Kotoken and to his late father Tatsuo Hirano who sadly passed away before the publication of this catalogue.

May this sale contribute to the legacy of one of Japan’s legendary dealerships.



Ryoji Hirano (1910-88) and Ryoichi Hirano

As the third-generation successor of Hirano Kotoken, I grew up around Chinese antiques. I already knew as a child that art is something to be cherished because of our family business, but it took a little while before I realised the pleasure of appreciating art and its significance in people’s lives. I learned that art is a necessity as I visited art museums around the world and was exposed to original works of art, and I gradually came to take pleasure in gaining a deeper appreciation of them. To me, art is something irreplaceable. The joy of always having art around me enriches my mind and my life.

In terms of exploring and determining the nature of beauty, I think no other subject is more difficult or interesting than Song dynasty ceramics. Through the subtle differences in the glazes, designs, and shapes, Song dynasty ceramics emanate an inexplicable sense of tension and an incomparably refined, noble air. It is precisely these nuances that have continued to mesmerise generations universally. Also, Song ceramics are perhaps the most difficult subject for collecting. Unlike other well-established collecting categories, collecting high-value works doesn’t necessarily guarantee an exceptional collection in the field of Song ceramics. It is through carefully selecting pieces - one by one - that the collector’s attitude towards beauty and way of life is embodied in the collection. Only through coming into contact and parting with different pieces would one’s own distinct aesthetics emerge. The extent to which one’s collection sets itself apart depends on one’s commitment and luck, but that is where the true joy in collecting lies and that is how collections move people.

This collection of Song dynasty ceramics represents one form of beauty I currently hold close to my heart. I hope I am able to convey the timeless and graceful aesthetic permeating Song dynasty ceramics that has evidently stood the test of time.

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