QING DYNASTY, QIANLONG MARK
finely cast, the figure holding his three-legged toad in his right hand and a large gold coin to tempt the toad in his left, his face with thoughtful expression, eyes closed and a slight smile, wearing a long robe falling in deep folds down over his bare feet and incised with cloud-scrolls and lotus bands at the hems, inscribed vertically to the back with a four-character reign mark
This rare sculpture of Liu Hai is an exquisite and rare example of a Daoist figure made during the Qianlong period, a time when Buddhist figures were created in abundance. The sense of movement captured in the rhythmic folds of the sleeves of his robes and the naturalistic weathered face are characteristic of bronze sculpture created in the early years at the Zaobanchu (Imperial Palace Workshop) of Qianlong's reign. A related figure, and inscribed, 'From the Collection of Li Gangjun, made in the first year of the Jingkang period (1126); may my sons and grandsons treasure this forever', was sold in our London rooms, 23rd April 1963, lot 93; and another, but standing on a rectangular base, was sold at Christie's Amsterdam, 20th May 2008, lot 363, and again in these rooms, 8th October 2010, lot 2793. For a figure of Liu Hai with his toad and carrying a coin, but of more emaciated form and stylised robes, see one sold in our London rooms, 11th July 1972, lot 18.
Revered as a god of wealth and a suppressor of evil spirits, Liu Hai is a historical figure from the Han dynasty who was once a prime minister. Legend has it that he came upon a Daoist master who asked Liu Hai for ten eggs. The master subsequently stacked the eggs into the shape of a pagoda with coins in between. Through this exchange with the Daoist master Liu Hai became enlightened and was immediately transported into the world of the Immortals. Along with the coin, Liu Hai's pet three-legged toad is also a symbol of wealth, as the toad had had to be coaxed out of wells with gold coins by Liu Hai.
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