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Sotheby's Hong Kong unveils superb collections of Chinese art from Japan to be sold on 8 October 2013
Sotheby's Nicolas Chow presents Tang-dynasty dry lacquer head of Buddha from the collection of Sakamoto Goro. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong announced its Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Autumn Sale Series 2013 taking place on 8 October 2013 at Hall 3, Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre. In celebration of Sotheby’s 40th anniversary in Asia, the sale is curated to encompass a wide range of extraordinary and fresh-to the-market objects with illustrious provenances. The selection is led by two superb collections of Chinese art from Japan, Chinese Art Through The Eye Of Sakamoto Goro and Imperial Qing Porcelain – A Kyoto Collection, that have remained unseen for more than half a century. The series will also highlight the single-lot sale, The Cunliffe Musk-Mallow Palace Bowl as well as an extraordinary set of seals used by the Qianlong emperor before he ascended the throne. Altogether the series comprising five sales will offer over 400 lots with an estimated total value of over HK$750 million / US$96 million*.

Nicolas Chow, Sotheby’s Asia Deputy Chairman and International Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, said, “It has been 40 years since our former Chairman of Sotheby’s Asia, the late Julian Thompson, held the first sale of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel here in Hong Kong, and we will be celebrating this anniversary in October with an extraordinary array of the finest Chinese art. I am particularly proud to present part of the legendary personal collection of celebrated antique dealer Sakamoto Goro, which includes a superb Tang-dynasty dry lacquer head of Buddha, undoubtedly among the greatest masterpieces of Buddhist art ever to come to the market. Other formerly unseen treasures of Chinese art from Japan include a small group of the finest Qing-dynasty porcelain that we have recently discovered in Kyoto, which includes a magnificent celadon vase decorated with one hundred wishes of long life, possibly a birthday gift for the Qianlong Emperor. The pièce-de-resistance of our anniversary sale is a sublime Chenghua-period ‘Palace’ bowl that was first sold in 1981 by Julian Thompson and ranked among his favourite pieces from that revered period. With its elegant decoration of mallow flowers and leaves and its sensual silky glaze, it is a most delicate feast for the senses. With this landmark sale, we are proud to continue the tradition of excellence in Chinese art that has been the hallmark of Sotheby’s in Hong Kong.”

Sakamoto Goro’s career as an antiques dealer, collector and connoisseur has spanned almost 70 years. Sakamoto’s life has been a rags-to-riches tale. Since 1936 at the age of 12, Goro has worked in fields ranging from dried fish wholesaling to used clothing business before venturing into the antique business. He started by travelling from one antique market to another, buying what he thought had value and selling it in another, and pouring his energy into studying, visiting antique shops and buying as many art books as he could afford. In the summer of 1947 when he turned 24, Sakamoto set up shop in Tokyo.

Sakamoto forged his success with dogged determination, daring, constant study and what he calls his “fighting spirit”, which are illustrated by his readiness to mortgage his house and sell his entire inventory and, if necessary, his shop in order to make a purchase when truly extraordinary objects surfaced in the market. His prized purchases can now be found in renowned institutions including the Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo’s Hatakeyama Memorial Museum of Fine Art and the British Museum. Having recently celebrated his 90th birthday, he continues to search for objects of great beauty. The sophisticated and elegant collections of Buddhist sculptures and lacquerwares offered in the sale were assembled over the last 60 years by the legendary dealer.

Sakamoto’s 29-piece sculpture collection consists mostly of Buddhist stone sculptures from the zenith of Chinese Buddhism during the Northern Wei, Northern Qi and Tang Dynasties (6th – 10th century AD).

A Magnificent Dry Lacquer Head Of Buddha, Tang Dynasty, 49.5 cm. Expected to fetch in excess of HK$20 million / US$2.6 million
There is no other technique or material that can evoke the harmony and perfection of a divine face like the complex and sophisticated “dry lacquer” technique. This head of the Buddha is unique in every respect, including its size, and can be ranked among the world’s most moving religious images, yet retaining a worldly beauty quite independent of any religious connotation. In the modelling of the present head the sculptors displayed particular sensitivity and an uncanny understanding of the expressive quality of simple, sharp lines and soft, rounded curves. The production of dry lacquer figures starts with pasting layers of clay, hemp and lacquer onto a wooden model. The lacquer surface would then be sculpted, carved and painted and the wooden core removed at a final stage to leave only the thin skin of hemp and lacquer to form a light and delicate figure which could be easily transported and carried around in processions. Given the demanding production process and delicacy of the works, extant examples from the Tang dynasty are extremely rare, probably not exceeding seven sculptures, mostly preserved in a fragmentary state. The dry lacquer technique appears to have been practised only briefly during the Tang dynasty and was only occasionally revived in later dynasties, but never to the level of craftsmanship and artistry in the Tang dynasty. It was early on adopted, however, in Japan and there continued to remain important for centuries.

An Extremely Important Stone Standing Figure Of Avalokiteshvara On Lotus Stand, Northern Qi Dynasty, Dated To 576, 151 cm. Expected to fetch in excess of HK$15 million / US$1.9 million
This majestic, solemn Avalokiteshvara figure embodies the classic features of Buddhist sculpture in the Northern Qi period (AD 550-577), which was one of the most innovative and distinctive periods for the art of stone carving in China, when sculptors departed from the more elementary, foreign-influenced style of the Northern Wei period (AD 386-534) towards a distinctive Chinese Buddhist imagery. The present figure shows the even features and beatific expression characteristic of this period, and the forward-bent body displays the marked curve in profile that makes the solid stone torso come to life. The rich jewellery and ornamentation is represented in a modest fashion that lends gravity and dignity to the deity without veering towards ostentation.

The lacquer collection spans from Song Dynasty black lacquer dishes to Ming Dynasty cinnabar and mother-of-pearl inlaid pieces and Qingdynasty cinnabar lacquer.

A Group Of Eight Black Lacquer Dishes, Song Dynasty (to be offered as individual lots), 12.5 cm to 17.3 cm. Est. HK$80,000 - 120,000 / US$10,000 – 15,000 to HK$600,000 - 800,000 / US$77,000 – 102,000
Marked by their understated elegance and sublime perfection, lacquerwares flourished in the Song dynasty as a result of changes in the aesthetic culture and social structure brought about by the new regime. A close dialogue between monochrome lacquer and ceramics can be seen in the shapes and delicacy of the vessels. As illustrated in the present pieces, the unassuming shapes of the dishes and cupstand, colour and sheen of the surfaces and naturalistic forms closely correspond with contemporary brown-glazed Ding vessels strongly suggest that the potters sought to emulate the brilliance of their lacquer counterparts. These Song lacquers reflect a new phase of artistic creation that inspired both contemporary craftsmen and those in later dynasties.

The six pieces that make up this spectacular collection formed in Kyoto before the 1930s have not been seen on the market for over 80 years.

A Fine And Magnificent Celadon-Glazed “Longevity” Ruyi-Handled Vase, Seal Mark And Period Of Qianlong, 42.7 cm. Est. HK$10 – 15 million / US$1.3 – 1.9 million
This magnificent vase represents the height of ceramics production at the Imperial kilns at Jingdezhen, Jiangxi province, under the direction of China’s most famous superintendent, Tang Ying (1682-1756). It is an exceptional piece in many ways, outstanding for its fine celadon glaze, rare form and attractive relief design of one hundred shou (longevity) characters that conveys an auspicious birthday message. Only one other companion piece appears to be recorded – a vase in the Baur Collection, Geneva.

An Exquisite Pair Of Famille-Rose “Chrysanthemum” Dishes, Marks And Period Of Yongzheng, 17.5 cm. Est. HK$8 – 12 million / US$1 – 1.5 million
The present exquisite pair of dishes, decorated with chrysanthemum blooms in a painterly style, represents the Yongzheng emperor’s impeccable taste. He was a man of refined taste and these dishes, with their elegant form and extremely fine painting and enamelling, are true representations of “perfection in style”. The chrysanthemum blooms when many other flowers are destroyed by the cold months, hence in art it represents the season of Autumn and is the flower of the ninth moon. It is also a symbol of longevity because of its medicinal properties that are believed to extend one’s life.

A Sublime Blue And White “Palace” Bowl, Mark And Period Of Chenghua, 14.5 cm. Expected to fetch in excess of HK$80 million / US$10 million

The present bowl is archetypal of all aspects of porcelains of the Chenghua period (1465-87). The sensual pleasure of the touch of Chenghua porcelain is unmatched by those of any other period, and the smooth, pleasing surface texture of the present bowl is unrivalled in its tactility. Bowls with flower scroll decoration of the Chenghua reign are unique compared to those of other periods in the deliberate irregularity introduced to a seemingly regular pattern, which was considered a daring and unique concept for imperial works of art such as the present bowl. Applied both inside and out, the musk-mallow design, with its combination of softly rounded, multi-lobed flower petals and contrasting pointed, serrated finger-like leaves, is perhaps the most spectacular design among the various palace bowl patterns, many of which have a plain inside. The present bowl was one of three Chenghua palace bowls in the collection of the Second Baron Cunliffe of Headley (1899-1963), one of the most important collectors of Chinese art, and auctioned in 1981 by the late Julian Thompson, former chairman of Sotheby’s Asia.

As part of Sotheby’s Hong Kong’s 40th anniversary, this thoughtfully curated sale covers a wide range of materials from a massive gilt-bronze seated Yongle period Buddha to a set of Qianlong princely seals, as well as porcelains and jades from old private collections.

An Outstanding And Highly Important Massive Gilt-Bronze Figure Of A Seated Shakyamuni Buddha, Mark And Period Of Yongle, 54.5 cm. Expected to fetch in excess of HK$50 million / US$6.4 million
Gilt-bronze sculptures made in the imperial workshops during the Yongle period have now become recognised as among the most important works of art from the Buddhist world, characterised by their faultless casting and rich golden hue. The present Buddha is one of largest extant Yongle-marked bronze sculptures in the world and by far the largest yet recorded gilt-bronze figure of Shakyamuni Buddha. The Buddha’s earth-touching gesture recalls an episode from his spiritual biography in which he triumphs over Mara (maravijaya) just prior to his enlightenment. Showing no sign of having been ritually painted as is normal in Tibetan Buddhist practice, it was made in the imperial workshops possibly for local worship rather than as a gift to a Tibetan hierarch as was the case in many other examples.

An Exceedingly Rare And Fine Cobalt-Blue And Iron-Red “Mythical Beasts” Stemcup, Mark And Period Of Xuande, 8.9 cm. Est. HK$25 – 35 million / US$3.2 – 4.5 million
The present exquisite stemcup, decorated with the heavenly animals known as the “mythical sea creatures” riding on turbulent waves, is amongst the most successful and pleasing vessels designed for the early Ming court at the imperial kilns in Jingdezhen. While it is an extremely rare design with only three similar examples recorded, by embodying techniques of painting in both underglaze blue and overglaze enamel, this stemcup also represents an important innovation of the Xuande period. Furthermore, red enamel derived from iron oxide was substituted for the high-fired copper red to accompany the underglaze-blue decoration, allowing for a more accomplished and precise design in a clearer tone, with the two bright colours in sharp and brilliant contrast with each other. This method and decorative style unquestionably represented a key advancement in the history of Chinese painted wares.

An Outstanding Set Of Three Qianlong Princely Soapstone Seals With Fitted Zitan Box, Seals: Qing Dynasty, Yongzheng Period. Box: Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, Seals left to right: 6.5 cm; 6.2 cm; 5.7 cm. Box: 10.2 cm. Expected to fetch in excess of HK$80 million / US$10 million
These three seals, believed to be the earliest among all seal sets of the Qianlong emperor, were made and used while he was still a prince, before he ascended the throne in 1736. The historical importance of the set is confirmed by its utilisation as seen on many of the paintings and calligraphy by the prince. The majority of his princely seals were lost, and the present lot is the only recorded set in private hands. In 1733, the future Qianlong emperor, the fourth son of Yongzheng was announced to be Crown Prince and given the designation Changchun Jushi (“The Scholar of Everlasting Spring”), marking the beginning of Qianlong’s political life. Elegantly shaped and finely polished from precious tianhuang and Changhua soapstones, the set of seals in its original fitted zitan box brilliantly captures the glory of the Qing empire.

This collection covers a wide spectrum of classical Ming porcelain from a copper-red peony vase from the Hongwu period to blue-and-white pieces from the Yongle and Xuande periods and monochromes from the mid-Ming dynasty.

An Important Blue And White Ewer, Ming Dynasty, Hongwu Period, 32.5 cm. Est. HK$15 – 20 million / US$1.9 – 2.6 million
The present piece is an elegant example of Hongwu period blue and white ewers of this refined pear form. The establishment of an imperial factory in Jingdezhen in the second year of the Hongwu reign (1369) saw the court take control of the distribution as well as the range, style and quality of their wares, and the present ewer represents the bridge between the robust and dynamic style of the preceding Yuan period and the more regulated and refined style celebrated in early Ming-dynasty porcelains. Blue and white wares of the Hongwu period are rarer than their copper-red counterparts, which has been attributed to the scarcity of imported cobalt as a result of strictly regulated foreign trade.

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