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Bonhams breaks world records for Inro and Netsuke sold at auction in Japanese sale
A fine single-case lacquer inro By Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Meiji Period. Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- The world records for inro (traditional Japanese case consisting of nested boxes) and netsuke (miniature carving) sold at auction have both been broken during the sale of the Harriet Szechenyi Collection of Japanese Art that took place at Bonhams, New Bond Street on November 8th. The sale realised £4.6 million with 87% sold by lot and 96% by value.

Suzannah Yip, Head the Japanese Department at Bonhams comments "Today's auction at Bonhams is the most important and highest value sale of Japanese art ever held in Europe."

Recognised as one of the finest collections formed during the latter half of the 20th century, the Harriet Szechenyi Collection of Japanese Art revealed an amazing inventiveness and plethora of subjects, which caught the attention of an International audience at Bonhams.

As an animal-lover Harriet had a preference for animal models of netsuke; the sale was full of domestic and wild beasts, birds, aquatic creatures, reptiles and insects. Where human figures were represented in the collection, it was generally due to their association with an animal or imaginary creature.

The world record for netsuke sold at auction was broken three times during the sale: a rare ivory netsuke of two recumbent stallions by Masanao, one of the great Masters of the Kyoto period, sold for £169,250. Selling for £193,250, an ivory netsuke of a stag by another great Master of the Kyoto period, Okatomo, also broke the record. However, the joint-top lot of the sale was a stunning late 18th century ivory netsuke of a shishi (lion dog) that realised £265,250 after much enthusiastic bidding.

Other masterpieces within the sale at Bonhams included a superb collection of inro, due to Harriet Szechenyi's later interest in the Japanese art of lacquering.
A single case lacquer inro by Shibata Zeshin, one of the most famous painters and lacquerers of the 19th Century, also made a new world record selling for £265,250. The previous record for an inro sold at auction was broken by Bonhams in 2010, for an inro by Shibata Zeshin in Part 1 of the Edward Wrangham collection that sold for £162,000.

Although estimated at current market levels, many of the coveted inro and netsuke offered by Bonhams far exceeded their presale estimates.

A late 18th century ivory netsuke of a hare and two leverets, attributed to Tomotada realised almost ten times the presale estimate of £10,000 – 15,000, selling for £145,250. Other highlights included a rare wood netsuke of three monkeys by Naito Toyomasa that sold for £85,250 surpassing the pre-sale estimate of £18,000 – 20,000. An 18th century black lacquer four-case inro attributed to Ogawa Haritsu that sold for £97,250 against a pre-sale estimate of £97,250.

Neil Davies, Senior Consultant at Bonhams comments, “I have been associated with auctions of Japanese netusuke all my life, but I‘ve never had the privilege of handling such an outstanding group as these ones today. Harriet was a wonderful collector, and her exceptional eye completely explains the astounding prices that collectors from Japan, Europe, North America and Russia willingly bid today to secure these superb carvings.”

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