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Lot 758. A Rare Shrine of Three-Gilt-Bronze Figures of Amitayus Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period Sculptures 30 cm; shrine 95 x 90 x 40 cm Est. HK$3 – 4 million / US$390,000 – 520,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong June series of Chinese Works of Art sales will take place on 2 – 3 June 2016. A dedicated sale titled Water, Pine and Stone Retreat – Playthings will offer scholarly objects from the esteemed collection assembled since the 1960s, many inscribed with rare marks revealing the original identities of the makers and those for whom the artworks were commissioned, while the Chinese Art sale presents private collections of ceramics and works of art from Asia and Europe, highlighted by an exceptional set of three 18th century gilt-bronze figures of Amitayus in their original wooden cabinet.  

WATER, PINE AND STONE RETREAT COLLECTION – PLAYTHINGS 
10am│2 June 2016
 
The fifth sale from this esteemed collection of scholarly objects, assembled since the 1960s, consists of 122 lots in a diverse variety of media, with estimates ranging from HK$5,000 to HK$3 million. Many are inscribed with rare marks that point to the exact maker or commissioner, and provide a window into the aesthetics and lifestyle of the literati class in the late Ming and Qing dynasty. The sale title, ‘Playthings’ (yiwan), pertains to a specific category of objects, usually of small proportion, intended to ornate the scholar desk or simply be enjoyed for their visual or tactile quality. 

Highlights: 

Zhou Zhu, the Ming-dynasty master carver, is famous for his technique of inlaying a wide variety of materials onto wood and lacquer. On the present box, and on others attributed to him, one finds coral, silver, gold, malachite, lacquer, different types of horn, mother-of-pearl and even gilt-bronze, suggesting that he had access to a wide range of crafts and materials within a single workshop. He also created stunning three-dimensional works by deploying multiple layers of inlay. His work was hardly rivalled even at the height of Qing-dynasty craftsmanship. The design on the box illustrates the legend of the master archer, Yang Youji, from the Spring and Autumn Period. In an imperial test for skilled archers, Yang was assigned by the emperor the highly challenging task of shooting an agile white monkey. Yang aimed at the spot where the monkey was going and successfully hit his target as it arrived. 

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Lot 88. An Inlaid ‘Hunters’ Zitan Box and Cover, Attributed to Zhou Zhu, Ming Dynasty, Jiajing Period (1522-1566); 9 by 25 by 14.9 cm, 3 1/2  by 9 7/8  by 5 7/8  in. Est. HKD 2 – 3 million / USD 260,000 – 390,000. Lot sold 3,440,000 HKD (442,797 USD). Photo Sotheby's 2016

exquisitely carved of rectangular form, the cover finely inlaid in mother-of-pearl, coral, jade, lapis lazuli and other hardstones with a hunting scene, depicting an archer taking aim at a monkey in the high branches of a pine tree on the far bank of a fast flowing stream, looked on by a sage and an attendant under the sun partially obscured by cloud, the interior with one removable tier.

ProvenanceSotheby's Hong Kong, 10th April 2006, lot 1632.

Notes: This exquisite box belongs to a small group of inlaid containers typically produced in precious zitan wood, and occasionally in huanghuali. The exceptional workmanship displayed here, especially in the quality of the beautiful inlay, suggests that it is by the hand of the Ming master carver Zhou Zhu, recorded in the writings of the Ming and Qing literati as having worked in Yangzhou in Jiangsu province during the reign of the Jiajing Emperor. He was famous for his invention of the technique of inlaying a wide variety of precious stones and other materials onto wood and lacquer. What distinguishes Zhou's works from others is his use of a much broader range of material and the complexity of the inlay itself. On the present box, and on others attributed to him, one finds coral, silver, gold, malachite, lacquer, different types of horn, mother-of-pearl and even gilt-bronze, suggesting that he had access to a wide range of crafts and materials within a single workshop. His inlay technique is extremely multifaceted, as he deployed inlay upon inlay and not just setting different material next to each other but creating a three-dimensional effect. He also used precious metals such as gold and silver, often creating stunning multi-layer works of art. Later versions, even very fine and complex works from the height of the Qing dynasty, rarely employed such a wide range of complex inlay techniques.

The design on the present box illustrates the legend of the master archer, Yang Youji, who lived in the Spring and Autumn Period during the reign of Chu Zhuangwang (590-560BC). In preparation for war, Chu initiated a series of tests for skilled archers in which Yang joined. Chu asked Yang to shoot a dragonfly without killing it, which Yang successfully achieved by shooting it in the left wing. Chu further asked Yang to shoot an agile white monkey, which even the best archers could not hit. Yang picked up his bow and arrow and aimed it at the place where the moving monkey had not yet arrived before successfully releasing it, revealing his ability to hit his target before actually hitting his target. 

The most comprehensive group of related inlaid-boxes can be found in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Bamboo, Wood, Ivory and Rhinoceros Horn Carvings, Hong Kong, 2002, cat. nos. 219-48. A box decorated with a hunting scene, most probably the work of Zhou, is published in The Palace Museum Collection of Elite Carving, Beijing, 2004, pl. 100, together with a container luxuriously embellished on all sides with gems forming flowers, fruits and birds, pl. 99.  

While Zhou's birth date is unknown, the Jiajing period attribution to his work is confirmed by an inlaid box that bears an inscription of a date corresponding to 1537 inscribed in red lacquer on the base, sold in these rooms, 8th October 2010, lot 2192, richly embellished with an inlay decoration depicting a scene from a Mongolian hunt. A cinnabar lacquer box depicting a similar hunt was also sold in these rooms in the same sale, lot 2213. The two boxes are undoubtedly the products of the same workshop and possibly made by Zhou himself. It is worth noting that the sides of the lacquer box mentioned above are richly carved with blossoming branches, not dissimilar in style to that seen on this box, suggesting that the idea for the decoration may have derived from carved lacquer vessels. Arguably the most outstanding work attributed to Zhou Zhu in any museum or private collection is the massive inlaid zitan box and cover sold in these rooms, 16th/17th November 1988, lot 256, and again, 4th April 2012, lot 179, from the Water, Pine and Stone Retreat collection.

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Lot 32. A Large Gold-Splashed Bronze Incense Burner and Stand, Tianniantang Zhi Hall Mark, Late Ming – Early Qing Dynasty. Est. HK$500,000 – 700,000 / US$65,000 – 91,000. Photo Sotheby's.

massively cast of compressed globular form, resting on a slightly concave countersunk base and rising to an incurving lipped rim, the shoulders flanked by a pair of protruding mythical beast heads suspending loose rings, liberally applied with irregular gold splashes of various sizes, the base with a four-character hall mark in a square cartouche in seal script reading Tiannian tang zhi, the circular stand cast with a pierced top and raised on three feet terminating in protruding roundels, similarly splashed overall with gold. incense burner (width) 38.5 cm, 15 1/8  in.; stand 24.5 cm, 9 5/8  in.

Provenance: Bonhams San Francisco, 20th November 2006, lot 6259.
J.J. Lally & Co., New York.

Notes: It is extremely rare to find a large gold-splashed incense burner of this size and quality, preserved with its matching stand. The proliferation of gold splashes suggests the present piece was made with no cost spared and for the table of a high-ranking official or an important scholar-literati. The stand adds an element of softness to the overall object. A gui-shaped incense burner of similar quality, preserved with its stand, was sold in these rooms, 8th October 2013, lot 3294.

The origins of gold-splash decoration remains a subject of speculation. Gerard Tsang and Hugh Moss in Arts from the Scholar's Studio, Hong Kong, 1986, p. 184, mention that the popularity of this surface decoration was possibly fostered by Xuande bronzes of the Ming dynasty where the appearance of the gilt-splashes was caused by the uneven surface patination of the vessel. Some scholars have linked gilt-splashed decoration on bronzes to the influence of the iron-brown splashes, known as tobi seiji, applied to qingbai and 'Longquan' wares of the Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. 

R. Soame Jenyns and William Watson in Chinese Art. The Minor Arts, London, 1963, p. 116, illustrate a bronze double vase with gold inlay in the form of splashes, pl. 50, which the authors describe as "decorated with elaborately simulated patches of apparent corrosion, the rough projecting parts consisting of pure gold, resembling un-worked nuggets and grains, inserted into the bronze". 

Compare the gold-splashed decoration on a bronze tripod incense burner from the J. de Lopes bequest and now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, illustrated in Rose Kerr, Later Chinese Bronzes, London, 1990, pl. 15 (right). See also a gold-splashed tripod incense burner from the collection of Ulrich Hausmann, sold in these rooms, 8th October 2014, lot 3407, and another from the collection of Robert E. Kresko, sold in these rooms, 6th April 2016, lot 3671.

An Imperial ‘Realgar’ Glass Facetted Vase, Qing Dynasty, 18th Century

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Lot 7. An Imperial ‘Realgar’ Glass Facetted Vase, Qing Dynasty, 18th Century; 15.7 cm, 6 1/8  in. Est. HKD 250,000 – 300,000 / USD32,000 – 39,000. Lot sold 725,000 HKD (93,322 USD). Photo Sotheby's.

of hexagonal section, supported on a low foot of conforming shape, the bulging body tapering to the waisted neck collared by a raised fillet below a flared mouth, the glass of opaque orange, yellow ochre and ruby-red colours swirled together to resemble the realgar mineral

Provenance: Christie’s London, 1st December 1997, lot 45 (one of a pair).

ExhibitedChina: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, The Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2005-6, p. 304, cat. no. 234 (right).

Literature: Emily Byrne Curtis, Pure Brightness Shines Everywhere. The Glass of China, Hampshire and Vermont, 2004, p. 73, fig. 8.9.

Notes: The pair to this vase was sold in these rooms, 8th April 2013, lot 112. Its form, made of glass simulating the striking orange-red coloured arsenic sulphide mineral ‘realgar’, is unusual although a pair of vases of this shape and colouration can be found in the British Museum, London, one of which is illustrated in Soame Jenyns and William Watson, Chinese Art. The Minor Arts II, London, 1965, p. 144, pl. 81. Jenyns and Watson in their cataloguing of the British Museum vases mention, ibid., p. 144, that they were originally part of the Sloane collection and came to the museum in 1753. Regina Krahl in China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, op.cit., p. 450, notes that the British Museum vases provide a useful terminus ante quem for the present example. Interestingly, the Sloane collection further contained a pair of bowls and four cups, made in glass simulating realgar. 

See also a set of ten realgar glass cups, acquired in Guangzhou and brought back to Europe on the Kronprins Christian in 1732, now in the collection of the Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen, included in Bente Dam Mikkelsen et. al. ed., Ethnographic Objects in the Royal Danish Kunstkammer, 1650-1800, Copenhagen, 1980, p. 218, nos. Ebc 71-82. The cups are of a similar group of realgar glass to this vase, with a dull ochre inner layer and vividly coloured outer skin of variegated scarlet and ochre with some hints of green. The scarlet, a colour introduced by the Jesuit missionary artist Kilian Stumpf working in the Imperial Glass Workshop around 1796, is in fact transparent ruby-red colouration. However, it appears a different colour when placed on top of an opaque yellow or ochre ground.

An inscribed Yixing Stoneware ‘Prunus’ ‘Stone Dipper’ Teapot and Cover By Yang Pengnian, incised by Qiao Zhongxi, Qing Dynasty, Daoguang Period, dated to the Jiachen Year (in accordance with 1844)

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Lot 5. An inscribed Yixing Stoneware ‘Prunus’ ‘Stone Dipper’ Teapot and Cover By Yang Pengnian, incised by Qiao Zhongxi, Qing Dynasty, Daoguang Period, dated to the Jiachen Year (in accordance with 1844). Est. HK$250,000 – 300,000 / US$32,000 – 39,000. Photo Sotheby's.

superbly potted resting on three stump feet protruding from the base, the slanted sides tapering towards the mouth, applied with a handle opposite a short straight spout, incised with decorations of a flowering prunus branch extending onto the cover, the reverse with a poetic inscription, dated to the 9th month of thejiachen year (1844), signed Daoren, the base with an impressed mark in the shape of a double-gourd enclosing the name of the teapot ji hu ('auspicious vessel'), signed by the artist at the base of the handle with a seal impression reading Pengnian and under the lid, Yiyuan; 14.5 cm, 5 3/4  in. 

Provenance: Sydney L. Moss Ltd., London, December 2001.

Notes: Yixing teapots made in collaboration between the master potter Yang Pengnian and Qiao Zhongxi encapsulate the greatest achievements of the literati art approach to teapot making, superbly demonstrating the skills of the potter in achieving harmony of form in the teapot, combined with exquisite calligraphic inscriptions and incised designs. They are also extremely rare. Another teapot of this classic ‘stone-dipper’ (shipiao) form, also made in collaboration between Yang Pengnian and Qiao Zhongshi, from the Bei Shang Tang collection, is illustrated in Li Jingkang and Zhang Hong, A Pictorial Study of the Teapots of Yangxian, Hong Kong, 1937, p. 37, and was also included in the exhibition The Bei Shan Tang Legacy. Yixing Zisha Stoneware, Art Museum, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 2015, cat. no. 32. It is extremely close in size, form and design, with three identical seals, differing only in the composition of the flowering prunus.

For a closely related teapot sold at auction, compare one by Yang Pengnian, but incised by Qu Yingshao, sold at Bonhams Hong Kong, 24th November 2013, lot 103, from the collection of Mr and Mrs Jimmy Sha. It shares the same classic form and is similarly impressed with a double-gourd ‘Jihu’ seal mark on the base, but incised with bamboo. 

Qiao Zhongxi was a scholar and native of Shanghai active during the Jiaqing and Daoguan reigns, famous as a connoiosseur of calligraphy. Like his close counterpart Qu Yingshao, he is known for commissioning teapots by Yixing master potters, including Yang Pengnian.

CHINESE ART 
Session I: 2 pm, 2 June│Lots 601 – 727 Session II: 10 am, 3 June│Lots 728 – 844 Session III: 2 pm, 3 June│Lots 845 – 943
 
This sale will offer private collections of Song ceramics from Europe and Asia, a private collection of jade carvings assembled since the 1970s, selected Ming and Qing porcelain and a European collection of works of art. Among the highlights is a private collection of ceramic plaques and screens by the Eight Friends of Zhushan from the Republican period. 

Highlights: 

Amitayus is perhaps the most popular long-life deity in Tibetan Buddhism, and is sometimes portrayed in a group of Three Long-Life Deities. Shrines dedicated to multiple images of the long-life deity Amitayus (immeasurable life) were popular in the Qing dynasty: at least five examples made of different materials are housed at the Summer Palace in Chengde. 

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Lot 758. Property from a Private French Collection. A Rare Shrine of Three-Gilt-Bronze Figures of Amitayus, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period. Est. HK$3 – 4 million / US$390,000 – 520,000. Photo Sotheby's.

the three figures of the long-life deity depicted appearing in sambhogakaya, or apparitional manifestation of the Buddha Amitabha (immeasurable light), wearing celestial adornments and with hands clasped in samadhi mudra holding a long-life vase (Tib. tsebum), each seated in vajraparyankasana on a tiered and angled pedestal with a tripartite screen behind finely decorated with golden motifs, the throne further placed within an elaborately carved nanmu shrine with a gilt-bronze ratna finial and three glazed windows framing the deities; sculptures 30 cm, 11 3/4  in.; shrine 95 x 90 x 40 cm, 37 3/8  by 35 3/8  by 15 3/4  in.

NotesShrines dedicated to multiple images of the long-life deity Amitayus (immeasurable life) were popular in the Qing dynasty: at least five examples are housed at Rehol, some in carved and gilt-painted wood like the present example and others in cloisonné and gilt metal, see Vicky Hsu, Jack Cheng, Lin Lin Chang, eds, Buddhist Art from Rehol: Tibetan Buddhist Images and Ritual Objects from the Qing Dynasty Summer Palace at Chengde, Jeff Hsu’s Oriental Art, Taiwan, 1999, pp. 62-3, cat. nos. 12-1, 12-2, p. 181, cat. no. 80, p. 203, cat. no. 92 (fig. 1), p. 215, cat. no 98. The collection at the Summer Palace contains at least a further four carved wood shrines housing single images of the deity, testimony to the popularity of Amitayus at the court of the Qianlong Emperor, ibid, pp. 191-3, cat. nos. 86-7, pp. 197-9, cat. nos. 89-90. The statues of Amitayus housed in the present shrine are painted according to Tibetan tradition with cold gold highlighting the bodies of the deities contrasting to decorative effect with the burnished mercury gilding of the robes, scarves, jewellery and lotus bases. The statues are located on a tiered and angled pedestal with a tripartite screen behind, all decorated with golden motifs, cf. the decoration of a carved and painted shrine at Rehol, ibid, p. 202, cat. no. 92. The throne is placed within an elaborately carved wood shrine with a gilt bronze ratna finial and three glazed windows framing the deities within, cf. the carving and windows of a shrine at Rehol, ibid, p. 215, cat. no. 98. The multiple similarities between the present shrine and those at Rehol might indicate Chengde as its possible place of manufacture: there is a preponderance of Amitayus shrines in diverse forms at the Summer Palace which is not seen at the Qing Palace in Beijing for example, or at other Buddhist sites.

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fig. 1: After: V. Hsu, J. Cheng, L.L Chang, eds, Buddhist Art from Rehol, Taiwan, 1999, cat. no. 92.

Amitayus is perhaps the most popular long-life deity in Tibetan Buddhism and appears here in sambhogakaya, or the apparitional manifestation of the Buddha Amitabha (immeasurable light), wearing celestial adornments and with hands clasped in samadhi mudra holding a long-life vase (Tib. tsebum). Here the deity is depicted in his more commonly seen emanation seated in vajraparyankasana: he may also be portrayed standing upright with his hands in samadhi mudra holding a patra begging bowl, often with hair reaching to the ankle to indicate longevity. Amitayus is sometimes portrayed in a group of Three Long-Life Deities that include Ushnishavijaya and the White Tara.

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Lot 747. Property from a Private French Collection. A pair of Huanghuali Barrel-Shaped Stools, Qing Dynasty, 18th Century. Est. HK$200,000 – 300,000 / US$26,000 – 39,000. Photo Sotheby's. 

each modelled in the form of a barrel, the circular top resting on a shaped apron extending into four curved legs bulging near the centre of the stool, all resting on a shaped ring base supported on four trefoil pad feet, the edges of the top frame and ring base bordered with studded bosses, the patina of a warm honey-brown colour accented with an attractive grain; 49 x 40 x 40 cm, 19 1/4  by 15 3/4  by 15 3/4  in.

Provenance: Compagnie de la Chine et des Indes, Paris, 25th April 1990. 

Note: See a similar pair of huanghuali stools in the collection of the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, illustrated in Wang Shixiang and Curtis Evarts, Masterpieces from the Museum of Classical Chinese Furniture, Hong Kong, 1995, pl. 19, where Wang compares them with a Ming-dynasty zitan drum stool in the Chengde Palace.

A Large ‘Cizhou’ Painted ‘Floral’ Meiping, Song–Jin Dynasty

Lot 665. Property from an Old Hong Kong Collection. A Large ‘Cizhou’ Painted ‘Floral’ Meiping, Song–Jin Dynasty. Est. HK$300,000 – 400,000 / US$39,000 – 52,000. Photo Sotheby's. 

elegantly potted, of slender meiping form, the exterior freely and boldly decorated in black over a white slip with floral blooms borne on leafy stems meandering across the vessel, all between horizontal bands encircling the neck and lower body; 43.5 cm, 17.5 in.

Notes: This meiping vase ranks among the largest 'Cizhou' wares and is most impressive for its superb bold painting and the strong contrast of black painting against the white-slip ground. Vases of similar form and black-painted decoration are very rare, although they are represented in a few famous collections worldwide, with variations in size, proportion and designs. The present vase is probably unique as no identical example appears to be recorded. 

There seem only two vases very similar to the present piece in form and design. One in a Japanese collection and slightly smaller, was included in Gakuji Hasabe, Toki zenshu, no.13, So no Jishuyo [Complete Series on Ceramics, no.13, Cizhou ware of the Song dynasty], Tokyo, 1958, pl. 33, and also illustrated in exhibition catalogue by Yutaka Mino, Freedom of Clay and Brush Through Seven Centuries in Northern China: Tz'u-chou Type Wares 960 - 1600 A.D, Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indianapolis, 1980, fig. 179, where Mino mentioned that vessels of this form were made at various kilns for use as wine jars from the 12th through the 14th centuries. It is further mentioned that vases of this type are often decorated with frond-like patterns painted with flicking brush strokes that radiate from the central point, a style that is characteristic of wares made in Yuxian, Henan province. The other vase, with a band of lotus petals around the upper shoulder, is included in exhibition catalogue Haku to koku no kyōen/Charm of Black and White Ware. Transition of Cizhou type wares, Osaka Municipal Museum of Art, Osaka, 2002, cat. no. 81. Also known is a meiping smaller and of different form, sold in our New York rooms, 12th March 1986, lot 235. 

Large ‘Cizhou’ painted ‘prunus’meiping, Song dynasty ©Palace Museum, Beijing

fig. 1: Large ‘Cizhou’ painted ‘prunus’ meiping, Song dynasty ©Palace Museum, Beijing.

Also related are a few meiping vases with comparable frond-like motif, but divided into sections by black horizontal bands. These include two in the Palace Museum, Beijing, respectively included in Zhongguo taoci quanji [Complete series on Chinese ceramics], Shanghai, 1999-2000, vol. 7, pl. 201, and in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum. Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), Hong Kong, 1996, pl. 152 (fig. 1); one ranked by the Japanese government as Important Art Work and illustrated in Charm of Black and White Ware, op. cit., cat. no. 82; one in the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Fine Arts, Kansas City and illustrated in Yutaka Mino, op. cit., cat. no. 68; one in the Idemitsu Museum of Art and included in exhibition catalogue Cizhou Ware of China - Its Charm and Taste, Idemitsu Museum of Art, Tokyo, 2005, cat. no. 3, and one sold in our London rooms, 10th June 1986, lot 163.

Lots 604, 635, 601, 603, 630 Selection of Early Ceramics from Private Collections Estimates range from HK$30,000 to 200,000 / US$3,900 to 26,000 

A Private Collection of Ceramic Plaques and Screens By the Republican Period Artists, the Zhushan Bayou (The Eight Friends of Zhushan) 
The works of the Eight Friends of Zhushan are among the most renowned of all porcelains from the Republican period. These talented artists, who gathered in Jingdezhen, were not only skilled in the classical techniques of fencai painting, but also steeped in the rich traditions of Chinese painting and influenced by Western and Japanese painting. Offering works by six of the Eight Friends, the present sale is truly a rare opportunity for collectors. 

The founding leader of the Eight Friends of Zhushan, Wang Qi (1884-1937) fused his experience in making dough figurines, sculptures and painting pottery, as well as influence of the illusionistic use of colour in Western porcelain, to create a pottery painting style that combined illusionism in faces and xieyi renditions of clothing. At once elegant and strikingly bold, Wang’s style is considered a breath of fresh air to Jingdezhen pottery painting. 

 

A Famille-Rose ‘Zhong Kui’ Screen By Wang Qi, Republican Period

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Lot 875. Property from the Riyue Xuan Collection. A Famille-Rose ‘Zhong Kui’ Screen By Wang Qi, Republican Period. Est. HK$500,000 – 700,000 / US$65,000 – 91,000 Photo Sotheby's.

the rectangular panel realistically enamelled with Zhong Kui with a bat flying in the background, the lower right corner with two seals reading Xichang Wang Qi and taozhai respectively, all set within a frame reticulated with floral scrolls and supported on a similarly carved stand with cusped spandrels; panel 41 x 31.5 cm, 16 1/8  by 12 3/8  in.

Literature: Ye Jianming, Min Guo Ci Ban Hua Jing Pin ji, Xiling Seal Engraver's Society Publishing House, 2009, p. 46.
Art in China, People's Fine Arts Publishing House, vol. 1, p. 135.