A Rare Imperial Tribute Guangzhou Embellished Ivory and Tortoiseshell Fan, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period. Est. $100/150,000. Photo: Sotheby's

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s 23 March 2010 sale of Chinese Works of Art will feature paintings, ceramics, jades and furniture including a number of Imperial works from distinguished private collections. Among the highlights of the sale is A Fine and Rare Imperial ‘Zitan’ Stand and Base – zitan is widely recognized as one of the most luxurious of materials, so much so that it was said to be reserved only for use in the Imperial court (est. $180/250,000). Chinese painting is well represented in the auction and leading the selection is Bada Shanren’s Two Mynas on a Rock from 1692, a compelling composition from the artist’s golden period of creativity (est. $400/600,000). The auction is estimated to bring $6/8 million and will be on view from 19 March.

The Fine and Rare Imperial ‘Zitan’ Stand and Base (est. $180/250,000) is nearly identical to one in the Qing Court Collection, preserved in the Summer Palace, Beijing. The generous use of the thick zitan timber, and the intricately and deeply carved design, were extravagances justifiable only for imperial purposes. Used to hold jardinières or censers, the stand and base represent the very best of Qing dynasty furniture workmanship.

A Rare Imperial Tribute Guangzhou Ivory and Tortoiseshell Fan from the Qianlong Period, Qing Dynasty, is one of only a handful of such fans to have survived (est. $100/150,000). It was one of a group made in Guangzhou during the Qing dynasty as tribute gifts for the Emperor. Many that remain are in the collection of the Palace Museum in Beijing. The delicately plaited ivory set into a tortoiseshell frame and embellished with stained ivory, mother-of-pearl and kingfisher feather together create a whimsical composition of magpies among bamboo and butterflies.

Three impressive rhinoceros horn carvings are offered this season. Among them is a Large and Rare Rhinoceros Horn Cup, dating to the 16th / 17th century of the Ming dynasty. It depicts Shoulao, the God of Immortality on a crane descending to meet the Eight Daoist Immortals (est. $180/220,000). Of a magnificent size, the carving and beautiful honey tone make the figures loom out from the gently rounded surface of the cup.

Louis Cartier, the founder of the Cartier style, was also an avid collector of Asian works of art of the highest quality. One of the many objects in his superb collection was A Red Lacquer Case with Mother-of-Pearl Inlay, 19th century, Qing dynasty (est. $30/40,000). Cartier collected mostly between 1910-1930 after which he semi-retired and ceased collecting. His passion for Asian art is demonstrated by the influence it had over his jewelry designs, many of which featured Chinese motifs, forms and shapes.

Porcelain is well represented by A Rare Blue and White Jar dating to the Xuande period (1426-1435) of the Ming dynasty (est. $80/120,000) which comes from the Collection of Alfred Guntermann. Only four of these jars are known with two in the Palace Museum in Beijing and one in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.

An Impressive Pair of Spinach-Green Jade ‘Nine Dragon’ Alms Bowls from the Kangxi period of the Qing Dynasty, depict dragons clambering up from deeply carved thick clouds (est. $120/150,000). The design of the bowls is related to a massive jade vessel from the Yuan dynasty that has been mentioned as one of the wonders of the Mongol world, having been discovered by the Qianlong emperor in a temple where it was being used as a storage container.

Featured in this season’s selection of classical and modern ink paintings are two extremely rare works by the 17th Century individualist artist Bada Shanren (1626-1705) neither of which has appeared on the market for over 25 years. Two Mynas on a Rock painted in 1692 is a masterful depiction of two birds that is filled with layers of meanings and symbolism (est. $400/600,000). Bada painted the work in the early years of the new Qing Dynasty, a period that must have been difficult for the artist as a Ming loyalist. Mynas are known for their mocking calls so the choice of them as the painting’s subject hints at Bada’s disapproval of the new Chinese rulers. The artist had been forced to flee to a Buddhist temple in 1648 after his hometown of Nanchang was occupied by Manchus, who had formed the new Qing Dynasty. Bada was greatly influenced by Chan Buddhism as can be seen in his paintings, poetry and calligraphy from the period; in the present work the empty space around, and particularly above, the birds and rock suggest a deep understanding of the Buddhist ideas on the nature of emptiness and space.

Of the 179 known works by Bada, 167 were created between 1684 and 1705, the year he died –Two Mynas On a Rock is therefore from the middle of this golden period of creativity. The bold brushstrokes used to depict the birds and the slightly fainter color used for the rock create a compelling composition with a floating rock on which the gazing birds sit. This ability to use simple forms to express complicated ideas sets Bada apart from the artists that went before him and is a mark of his influence on future generations of Chinese painters.

Calligraphy in Xing Shu (Running Script) After Zhong yao’s “Zhang Le Tie” is a further highlight by Bada Shanren in the sale (est. $100/150,000). It was painted late in his career at a time when his calligraphy had significantly evolved. The work was formerly in the Collection of Wang Fangyu (1913-1997), a prominent scholar and collector of Bada Shanren.

Another painting that is fresh to the market is Scholar by Zhang Daqian, a painting that was once in the Collection of Xu Shihao, a famous lawyer and friend of the artist and which has not been offered at auction for over 50 years (est. $120/180,000). The painting shows a delicately painted figure holding a cane whose robes sway gently in the breeze. The work was created in 1950 in Hong Kong and has similarities to other paintings from the 1940’s and 50’s, after which the artist’s eyesight began to decline. An Album of Figures and Accompanying Calligraphy also by Zhang Daqian is a further highlight in the strong group of modern Chinese paintings included in the sale (est. $40/60,000). His calligraphy expresses his deep appreciation for master calligraphers before him and his ability to express his own unique understanding and vision through his brushwork.


Bada Shanren, Two Mynas on a Rock. Ink on paper, 41 ½ x 14 1/8 in. Est. $400/600,000. Photo: Sotheby's