Friday, June 08, 2007

Asian Art at Sotheby's in Paris

Asian Art at Sotheby's in Paris

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Katsushika Hokusai, Kanagawa Oki nami Ura, From the serie 36 views of Mount-Fuji. Estimate : €15.000/20.000.

PARIS, FRANCE.-On June 14 Sotheby’s will stage their first-ever sale in Paris devoted exclusively to Asian art, featuring 182 lots from (mainly European) private collections – some in the same family since the late 19th century – and covering the arts of Japan, China and South-East Asia.

This inaugural sale will begin with 33 lots comprising over 200 prints by the greatest artists of the 18th and 19th centuries. Highlights include portraits of Kabuki actors by Katsukawa Sunsho (1725-92), notably Otani Hiroemon III (1726-90), estimate €2000/3000 (lot 14); and portraits of courtesans by the celebrated Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806), one showing Kasugano (Seiro series) with the fan painted with one of her poems (lot 14, estimate €5000/7000).

There will also be a number of prints by Japanese landscape masters, notably the iconic Great Wave at Kanagawa from the famous Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), shown in Paris at Galerie Berès in 1974 and the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in 1912 (lot 22, estimate €15,000/20,00); and an album containing 62 prints from the Hundred Famous Provincial Views (1859-60) by Hiroshige II, that has remained in the same French collection since the end of the 19th century (lot 33, estimate €30,000/40,000).

One of the most popular Japanese lots should be a pair of 17th/18th century six-fold screens whose beautifully preserved decoration, inspired by the famous 11th century tale by Lady Murasaki, shows bijin engaged in a variety of activities amidst trees, rocks and houses (lot 41, estimate €80,000/100,000).

CHINESE ART - The second part of the sale will be devoted to Chinese and Sino-Tibetan art (140 lots), starting with a fine array of Qing and Ming jades. The most in-demand will probably be the rust-toned celadon jade Ming crested bird (1368-1644) with its head on its wing and a peach-tree twig in its beak (lot 45, estimate €8000/12,000).

Several cloisonné enamel pieces are sure to attract the interest of international collectors. A Ming ‘Champion Vase’ formed by two adjoined tubular vases, connected by fantasy creatures in gilt-bronze, has decoration of remarkable quality (lot 55, estimate €8000/12,000).

A rare Ming Zun vase (Xuande Period, 1426-35), based on the form of archaic bronzes (estimate €150,000/200,000, lot 58), has naturalistic décor and is the sort of piece keenly sought-after by collectors. Just four similar examples are known today, one in the Palace Museum in Beijing.

A monumental Qing incense-burner with cover (Qianlong Period, 1736-95), on four feet with carved chimera heads, reflects the mastery of the cloisonné enamel technique attained by 18th century Chinese artists (lot 88, estimate €80,000/100,000). Despite the absence of a hallmark, this is unquestionably an imperial commission.

The sale will also offer a rich panorama of 16th-18th century Chinese imperial porcelain. Outstanding examples include a Qing falangcai glazed bowl on a ruby ground, bearing the Yuzhi hallmark (Kangxi Period, 1662-1722), consigned by a Japanese private collector. This was doubtless a prototype made in the imperial Beijing workshops, and combines subtle colouring with a free-flowing peony pattern (lot 161, estimate €150,000/200,000 ).

Other major pieces include a Ming 16th century blue-and-white porcelain ewer, with dragon and phoenix decoration, featuring the chang sheng bu lao symbol of ageless longevity (lot 142, estimate €60,000/80,000); and a pair of small 18th century Qing jars with the Chenghua hallmark, estimate €50,000/70,000 (lot 156).

A series of monochrome items reflect the style of porcelain prevalent under the three most important 18th century Qing emperors: a Kangxi covered potiche vase and dish in yellow glaze porcelain, respectively estimated at €8000/10,000 and €1500/2000 (lots 132 et 133); a bottle-vase with the Yongzheng hallmark, with the blue glaze typical of that emperor (estimate €6000/8000, lot 124); and four pieces (bowls, plate and bottle vase) with sang de boeuf glaze and the Qianlong hallmark, owned by the same family for several generations, with estimates starting at €1000 (lots 128-130).

A classic Qing bianhu pilgrim flask in blue-and-white porcelain (Qianlong Period, 1736-95) is likely to fire fierce bidding, and has an estimate of €60,000/80,000 (lot 182).

One of the stand-out Chinese works of art should be a monumental Tang stone sculpture portraying a seated Buddha in a traditional monk’s robe (height 3ft 9in/1.15m). The finesse and precision of the facial traits, and the naturalistic folds and relief treatment of the wavy hair, make this a rare example of the Tang style (lot 71, estimate €300,000/350,000). The story of Buddha and his miracles brought new iconographical and artistic conventions to China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.). Buddhist sculpture developed its own style, inspired by Indian codes; figures became incredibly natural and well-proportioned, in contrast to the rigid, static appearance of earlier Buddhist statuary.

The sale also includes a number of 16th-19th century Sino-Tibetan gilt-bronze statuettes, including a finely detailed 17th century Tibetan figure of a Dharma king in multi-layered robes, seated on a platform with his hands joined together, bearing the inscription Indian God Dharma, happiness, glory, virtue, prosperity (lot 123, estimate €60,000/80,000).

A 19th century Qing imperial embroidery, that has belonged to the same family since the sack of the Summer Palace in Beijing in 1860, is expected to bring €30,000/50,000 (lot 79). It is in perfect condition and will enchant all those who love the building – listed as a UNESCO world heritage site thanks to its ‘exceptional expression of the creative art of Chinese landscape gardening.’

The sale ends with a superb album of twenty 18th century engravings commemorating Emperor Qianlong’s conquests in Central Asia: an imperial commission evoking battle scenes, sieges, camps and banquets, as well as processions and ancient rituals (lot 181, estimate €15,000/20,000). This rare ensemble, owned by the same French family for several generations, is the smaller, second edition (1783-86) of the version commissioned by Emperor Qianlong from the engraver Helman. The original version (1783-85) ran to 16 prints, while the third (1783-88) comprised 24.

In 1765 Qianlong sent to France to order copper engravings based on drawings of his Oirat campaign (1755-59). Charles-Nicolas Cochin (1715-90), a member of the Royal Academy of Painting & Sculpture, was put in charge of the project; his engravings, produced in sets of 100 from 1767-74, were made from drawings and paintings by Europeans living in Peking: Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766), Jean-Denis Attiret (1702-68), Jean Damascene (?-1781) and Ignace Sickelpart (1708-80).

The commission was of great importance to France in its attempts to steal a march on the Dutch, British and Portuguese. Special precautions were taken after the printing to protect the emperor’s exclusive rights, with no copies allowed to remain in the hands of the engravers or printers in France. The ‘100 printed copies were sent to China, with only a handful reserved for the Royal Family and King’s Library, making the suite of the greatest rarity.’

After the success of the first edition, Helman produced a reduced version with extra plates, tapping into contemporary enthusiasm for China among Europeans by offering several pictures adapted from Chinese originals. Public awareness of China was considerably boosted as a result.

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