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Chinese art through the eye of Sakamoto Goro: Sotheby's to offer a bronze owl
The owl has a unique and enormously significant place in early Chinese culture where it was perceived as a deity by the Shang people. Photo: Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s New York Asia Week series of auctions will be led by the prestigious single owner sale of A Very Rare And Important Bronze Owl-Headed Ritual Wine Vessel (Hu), from the collection of Sakamoto Goro on 18 March 2014. The piece dates from the Early Eastern Zhou Dynasty (c. 8/7th century BC) and is the only surviving owl bronze of this caliber. In addition to its extraordinary rarity, the vessel boasts a distinguished provenance dating back to the early 19th century, having at various times been in some of the world’s most illustrious private collections of Chinese Art. Estimated to fetch in excess of $4 million, the bronze is set to be the outstanding highlight of the March Asian Art sales at Sotheby’s in New York.

Dr. Tao Wang, Head of the Chinese Works of Art Department at Sotheby’s New York commented: “This bronze owl from the collection of Sakamoto Goro is one of the rarest examples of early Chinese bronze culture to have appeared at auction. With a history that includes some of the most renowned 19th and 20th century collections of Chinese Art, the provenance, form, iconography, and condition combine to make this one of the greatest objects I’ve handled in my career.”

The Owl In Chinese Art
The owl has a unique and enormously significant place in early Chinese culture where it was perceived as a deity by the Shang people. The screech call and nocturnal behavior fit perfectly a perception of abnormality in ritual and magic while the physical appearance is warrior-like. Indeed, it has even been suggested that Xuanniao, the mythical black-bird from which the Shang people originated can be associated with an owl.

A Distinguished History
The bronze and its inscription was published by Wu Yun, one of the most accomplished Chinese connoisseurs of the 19th century, one of over 100 ancient bronzes in his precautious collection. The bronze vessel was first collected by Li Meisheng, an eminent scholar-official in Suzhou and was allegedly rescued from a metal recycling store in Shanghai in 1861. In the 20th century the owl belonged to two renowned collectors of Chinese Art - Lionel Edwards and Baron Paul Hatvany. In the late 1970s it entered the collection of the British Rail Pension Fund from whom Sakamoto Goro acquired it at the landmark auction at Sotheby’s London in 1989.

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