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One of the top items in Bonhams sale of Chinese Art is lot 169, estimated to sell for £60,000-80,000. A superb large pale green jade carving of a Buddhist lion and cub, dating from the 18th century. Photo: Bonhams. 

LONDON - Jade. the mysterious stone that comes in a range of colours from ice white to spinach green is a passion with Chinese art lovers and Bonhams next sale of Chinese art on May 15th is a good place to appreciate why this is so.

Bonhams, the third largest international fine art auction house holds Chinese art sales on four continents.

One of the top items in Bonhams sale of Chinese Art is lot 169, estimated to sell for £60,000-80,000. A superb large pale green jade carving of a Buddhist lion and cub, dating from the 18th century. Large jade animal carvings represent some of the finest jade products from the early Qing dynasty, leading to the heights of achievement associated with the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. Whilst real animal such as horses and elephants were popular, so too were mythical beasts such as the qilin, or the Buddhist lions as in the present lot.

The depiction here of a parent and cub, amusingly toying with a brocade ball, evokes thoughts of family strength and longevity. Carved from a large, even-toned green stone, the piece maximises the possibilities for the craftsman of the high quality stone newly available in the 18th century from Khotan, resulting in an impressively weighty sculpture which nevertheless retains a purity and playfulness to captivate the viewer.

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A superb large pale green jade group of a Buddhist lion and cub, 18th century. The even-toned pale green stone skilfully carved as a coiled Buddhist lion turning its head to the right, its large eyes framed by elegantly curling brows and the grinning mouth clutching the tassells from a large brocade ball balanced on its haunches, a playful cub lying on the lion's back resting its head on the ball and clutching at another ribbon, its thick tail in three tufts raised over its knobbly spine. 15.5cm (6 1/8in) wide. Estimate £60,000 - 80,000 (€73,000 - 97,000). Photo Bonhams.

Provenance: purchased from Mademoiselle Logé, 3 rue Bourdaloue, Paris, 1913
Roger Keverne Ltd., London, 16 June 2006, no.95
An English private collection

Exhibited: Musée Cernuschi, Jades et Pierres Dures de la Chine, March 1927
Musée Cernuschi, Les Fleurs et Oiseaux dans l'Art Chinoise, April 1929

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Large jade animal carvings represent some of the finest jade products from the early Qing dynasty, leading to the heights of achievement associated with the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. Whilst real animal such as horses and elephants were popular, so too were mythical beasts such as the qilin, or the Buddhist lions as in the present lot. The depiction here of a parent and cub, amusingly toying with a brocade ball, evokes thoughts of family strength and longevity (particularly associated with the long ribbons tied to the ball). In addition, the smaller and larger lion, 大獅小獅 dashi xiaoshi, can be viewed as the wish 'May you and your descendant achieve high rank', 太師少師 taishi shaoshi. 

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Carved from a large, even-toned green stone, the piece maximises the possibilities for the craftsman of the high quality stone newly available in the 18th century from Khotan, resulting in an impressively weighty sculpture which nevertheless retains a purity and playfulness to captivate the viewer. 

A related carving, slightly larger but of a single lion, is illustrated by R.Keverne, Jade, London, 1995, p.163, fig.90. See also a related white jade group of Buddhist lion and cub, 18th century, but slightly larger, illustrated inVirtuous Treasures: Chinese Jades for the Scholar's Table, Hong Kong, 2008, pl.104. Compare also a related carving of a Buddhist lion from the Bernard Sunley Collection of Fine Jade Carvings, sold in these rooms, 16 May 2013, lot 125.

Another fascinating jade item is lot 159 a rare Imperial pale green jade Buddha with tightly coiled curls, the stone of mottled pale green tone. The estimate is £90,000-120,000. Buddhism flourished in China during the Qing dynasty, and during the Qianlong period in particular. This interest was not merely a pragmatic result of the desire to enfold Tibet more closely into the Chinese realms, but also appears to have stemmed from a genuine enthusiasm exhibited by the Emperor himself.

Buddhist artefacts were consequently produced in large numbers for the Imperial Court, particularly for ceremonial gifts such as for the birthday of the Qianlong Emperor's mother.

The popularity at Court of this form of the Buddha carved in jade is apparent from a number of examples of the highest quality surviving in the Imperial Collections, most notably in the Palace Museum, Beijing.

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A rare Imperial pale green jade figure of Buddha, 18th century. Seated in dhyanasana, with both hands in a meditational mudra and holding a small Buddha within a shrine, the flowing robes with long sleeves layered over a dhoti and draped elegantly over the lotus base, the face with peaceful expression, the earlobes long, beneath a head of tightly coiled curls with prominent usnisa, the stone of mottled pale green tone. 20cm (8in) high. Estimate £90,000 - 120,000 (€110,000 - 150,000). Photo: Bonhams.

Buddhism flourished in China during the Qing dynasty, and during the Qianlong period in particular. This interest was not merely a pragmatic result of the desire to enfold Tibet more closely into the Chinese realms, but also appears to have stemmed from a genuine enthusiasm exhibited by the Emperor himself. Buddhist artifacts were consequently produced in large numbers for the Imperial Court, particularly for ceremonial gifts such as for the birthday of the Qianlong Emperor's mother. 

The popularity at Court of the form of the Buddha carved in jade is apparent from a number of examples of the highest quality surviving in the Imperial Collections, most notably in the Palace Museum, Beijing. See for example a fine celadon jade Buddha, of similar size to the present lot, illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum: Jade 8: Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2011, no.234, and other Buddhas illustrated ibid., nos.236-8. This Imperial association for such jade Buddhas is further evidenced by another related white jade Buddha from the Prince Kung Collection illustrated in the catalogue produced by American Art Galleries, The Remarkable Collection of the Imperial Prince Kung of China, New York, 1913, no.71.

Compare also a related Imperial pale green jade Buddha sold in these rooma, 8 November 2012, lot 3.

Finally, lot 175 is a rare and fine very pale green Qianlong jade bowl. It is estimated to sell for £60,000-80,000. The style and quality of this lot embodies much of the celebrated 18th century jade production under the Qianlong Emperor.

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A rare and fine very pale green jade bowl, Qianlong. The attractive stone of even tone and smoothly carved as a bowl with slightly flaring rim and a shallow recessed base, the plain sides contrasting with a crisply carved chilong curling its body inside the central well and entwined with leafy tendrils, wood stand. 11.6cm (4½in) diam. (2). Estimate £60,000 - 80,000 (€73,000 - 97,000). Photo: Bonhams.

Provenance: Baron Fould-Springer, Royaumont Abbatial Palace, France
S. Marchant & Son Ltd., London
An English private collection 

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The style and quality of the present lot embodies much of the celebrated 18th century jade production under the Qianlong Emperor. The stone itself is of remarkably even tone, and this is deliberately celebrated by the carver creating the smooth walls of even thickness, and the unusual gently recessed base. The crisp carving to the interior provides a pleasing contrast, and this carving with its interwoven layers of leaves above and around the dragon, demonstrates the technical virtuosity of the master carver.

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The technique of contrasting smoother areas with crisp relief carving was particularly favoured for the larger, often ring-handled, vessels known as 'marriage bowls', such as the magnificent example sold in these rooms, 16 May 2013, lot 143. The present piece is carved very much in similar vein, however it is unusual in its more intimate feel, sized to fit perfectly in two cupped hands, and the rounded flaring rim inviting the holder to look deeper inside the vessel. 

A related dish with similarly crisp treatment of the relief carving, but with shallower sides of lobed petal-form, is illustrated in Compendium of Collections in the Palace Museum: Jade 8: Qing Dynasty, Beijing, 2011, no.183. See also a similar bowl or brush washer with a double fish medallion in the well, illustrated by R.Kleiner inChinese Jades from the Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman, Hong Kong, 1996 no.103, p.124.