LONDON.- Bonhams is offering an exceptional selection of Chinese ceramics and works of art in its Fine Chinese Art sale to be held on Thursday 10 November at Bonhams New Bond St, during London’s Asian Art Week.
Leading the early ceramic section of the sale is an exceptionally rare Ding tripod incense burner, dating to the Northern Song/Jin dynasty, 12th century, estimated at £80,000-120,000. Modelled after a Han dynasty bronze container, lian, and counted amongst ‘the five classic wares’, the Ding vessel is an elegant embodiment of the values of harmony, regulation and simplicity of the ancient Chinese past, highly regarded by the Emperors of the Northern Song and subsequent dynasties. The remarkable vessel has been preserved in a European private collection for decades.
Lot 6. An exceptionally rare Ding Yao tripod cylindrical incense burner, zun, Northern Song- Jin Dynasty, 12th century. Estimate £80,000 - 120,000 (€91,000 - 140,000). Photo: Bonhams.
Finely potted, the exterior of the cylindrical vessel decorated with three bands of horizontally-moulded ribs, supported on three short cabriole legs, covered overall with an exquisite glaze of attractive ivory-white tone, wood stand. 12.8cm (5in) diam. (2).
Provenance: John Sparks Ltd., London, by repute
A distinguished European private collection, and thence by descent.
Notes: The European private collection to which this exceptional Ding incense burner belongs, was formed by a highly discerning collector, mostly between the 1930s and the 1960s.
The pieces forming the collection were acquired from some of the foremost dealers of their generation, including in London John Sparks, Bluett's and William Clayton, in Paris L.Wannieck and Pierre Saqué and in New York Frank Caro (as successor to C.T. Loo). In a correspondence between John Sparks and the owner in 1930, the former was informed that a recently acquired piece has arrived safely despite the hard landing of the aeroplane...
The collection included a superb selection of Imperial yellow-glazed dishes ranging from the Kangxi to the Yongzheng period (which will be offered in our forthcoming Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale in Hong Kong), and stands as a testament to the connoisseur's eye of the collector.
The collection moved with the owner and her family across three continents, always beautifully displayed around the home to be enjoyed and admired daily.
The shape of the present lot was inspired by archaic bronze containers, lian, which were among the ritual implements aimed to present food and drink offerings to the ancestors during the Han dynasty. This archaistic shape was also produced in the Duyao glaze during the Northern Song period as exemplified in a related Ruyao tripod incense burner from the Qing Court collection, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), Hong Kong, 1996, p.2, no.1.
The distinctive shape appears to have survived in spite of the demise of the Northern Song dynasty. Examples were made at the Guan kiln, re-established by the exile Court in the suburb of the Southern Song capital Hangzhou. For a Guanyao tripod incense burner, Southern Song dynasty, in the National Palace Museum Collection, Taipei, seeDynastic Renaissance: Art and Culture of the Southern Song, Antiquities, Taipei, 2010, p.98, no.II-5. It is possible that the Ding kilns in Northern China, though fallen under Jurchen rule after AD 1127, would have continued to produce these vessels.
Dingyao tripod incense burners are extremely rare, but can be found in the Qing court collection. Compare with a similar Dingyao tripod incense burner, Song dynasty, of identical form supported on three legs and decorated with moulded ribs, illustrated in The Complete Collection of Treasures of the Palace Museum: Porcelain of the Song Dynasty (I), Hong Kong, 1996, p.40, no.34. Three more examples of Dingyao tripod incense burners, Northern Song/Jin dynasty, of various sizes are illustrated in Decorated Porcelains of Dingzhou: White Ding wares from the collection of the National Palace Museum, Taipei, 2014, pp.48-49, nos.II-5-7.
Another Dingyao tripod incense burner, Song dynasty, is illustrated by B.Gyllensvärd in Chinese Ceramics in the Carl Kempe Collection, Stockholm, 1964, p.140, pl.447; later sold at Sotheby's London on 14 May 2008, lot 238.
Fine porcelain Ming and Qing dynasty porcelain from the collection of the late Dr Arthur Spriggs will also be showcased. One of the highlights in the collection is a rare large blue and white incense burner, Chongzhen (1628-1644), estimated at £30,000-50,000. The incense burner is vividly painted in underglaze blue with a continuous scene of Daoist luohan figures, set within a riverscape.
Lot 30. A very rare blue and white 'Luohan' tripod incense burner, Tonglu, Chongzhen period (1628-1644). Estimate £30,000 - 50,000 (€34,000 - 57,000). Photo: Bonhams.
Provenance: Dr Arthur Spriggs (1919-2015), acquired in 1965 in Oxford, and thence by descent.
Note: This exceptional incense burner was the subject of an exchange of letters between Dr Spriggs and P.J. Donnelley who asked in his letter of 27 April 1971 permission to include the piece as a censer in a new book he was writing at the time together with Soame Jenyns.
The Imperial opulence at the height of the Qing dynasty, reaching its peak during the Qianlong reign (1736-1795), is represented in the sale by a magnificent imposing cloisonné enamel and gilt-bronze tripod ‘cranes’ incense burner and cover, estimated at £60,000-80,000. The remarkable incense burner would have once graced one of the Imperial throne halls, possibly in the Forbidden City. The striking vessel ingeniously combines the Emperor’s taste for antiquity with the opulent and flamboyant style of the Qing Court.
Lot 96. A magnificent and rare cloisonné enamel and gilt-bronze tripod 'cranes' incense burner and cover, Qianlong period (1736-1795). Estimate £60,000 - 80,000 (€68,000 - 91,000). Photo: Bonhams.
Impressively cast and supported on the shoulders of three cranes, the globular body colourfully enamelled with a continuous scene of lotus pond, depicting swimming, flying, resting and pecking egrets amongst foliate lotus leaves and upright sprays of lotus blossoms beside craggy rocks and patchy grass, all beneath a gilt band of lotus lappets to the waisted neck, flanked by a pair of finely cast handles in the form of a sinuous dragon grasping an enamelled shou character roundel, the reticulated domed cover finely decorated with three large ruyi-shaped lappets enamelled with lotus flower heads surmounted by a gilt bronze bud-shaped finial meticulously cast with a writhing dragon amidst scrolling clouds. 86.4cm (34in) high (2).
Provenance: a European private collection
Notes: The Qianlong Emperor was a keen collector of objects of the past, advocating to restore ancient ways, suggesting that craftsmen turn to antiquity for models which would enable them to imbue their designs with simplicity and honesty in order to achieve refinement and elegance.
The present vessel is a magnificent example of the Qianlong period, combining the archaistic form derived from the Shang and Zhou dynasties ding ritual vessel, with the opulent taste of the Qing Court, utilising the vibrantly colourful cloisonné enamel embellished with the gilt bronze dragon finial and handles. The master craftsman has further elevated the vessel, both in height and in extravagance by using three long-legged cranes instead of cabriole legs as supports.
The magnificent vessel is imbued with auspicious associations as often seen on other Imperial works of art. The cranes symbolise immortality and are often shown as companions to Shoulao, the God of Longevity. Paintings of cranes had been popular in the Imperial Court since the Northern Song dynasty, when the Huizong Emperor (1082-1135) himself painted an iconic handscroll, 'Auspicious Cranes', now preserved in the Liaoning Provincial Museum, Shenyang, and illustrated by J.Cahill, 3000 Years of Chinese Painting, New Haven, 1997, p.123, fig.114; Cranes were also a recurring subject in the paintings of the Jesuit Court artist Giuseppe Castiglione (1688-1766). Further symbolism is imbued in the lotus, as one of the Eight Buddhist Emblems, and bajixiang and its association with purity.
Compare a closely related pair of cloisonné enamel incense burners and covers with crane supports bearing similar dragon handles, Qianlong, said to have come from the Summer Palace, Beijing and sold in our Hong Kong rooms on 4 December 2008, lot 202. See also a closely related pair of cloisonné enamel incense burners and covers with crane supports but with upright cloisonné enamel handles, Qianlong, in the British Museum, London, one of which is illustrated by E.S.Rawski and J.Rawson, eds., China: The Three Emperors 1662-1795, London, 2005, pl.304; for another similar example see H.Brinker and A.Lutz, Chinese Cloisonné: The Pierre Uldry Collection, New York, 1989, pl.323; and compare a pair similar to the British Museum example, sold at Sotheby's New York, 18 March 2014, lot 359.
An exceptionally rare pale green jade farmer and buffalo group, 18th century, estimated at £40,000-60,000, is a superb naturalistic and graceful evocation of the scholarly longing for a recluse life in communion with nature and away from worldly obligations of the official-scholar elite.
Lot 63. An exceptional very pale green jade farmer and buffalo group, 18th century. Estimate £40,000 - 60,000 (€45,000 - 68,000). Photo: Bonhams.
The group skilfully carved as a farmer wearing a woven wide-brimmed hat and a mid-length cape above loose trousers, his face set in a benevolent expression, holding a crop in his right arm, hidden behind the back, and a rope threaded through the nostrils of a buffalo, standing beside an elaborate group of Taihu rocks defined by jagged outcrops and protrusions, the stone of pale celadon tone suffused with white areas and light russet inclusions, carved wood stand; 9.8cm (3 7/8in) long (2).
Provenance: a distinguished English private collection, acquired from S.Marchant and Son Ltd., London, prior to 2006, and thence by descent.
Notes: The exceptionally graceful modelling of the subjects and painstaking attention to detail, visible in the interlaced straw of the farmer's hat, the gentle folds of his garments and the jagged crevices of the pitted rocks, empower this outstanding jade group with impressive naturalism.
The present lot represents the farmer, one of the Four Noble Occupations comprising the Chinese hierarchical social structure (alongside scholar, woodcutter and fisherman). The water buffalo, superbly carved with a rope tethered through its nostrils, was crucial to all wet-rice cultivation societies and to a farmer's success, as such it formed a vital part of Chinese agricultural and economic life.
Even the emperor took a keen personal interest in farming. Once every year on the 15th day of the first moon he would ceremonially plough several furrows with oxen over a field to ensure that heaven would grant a bountiful harvest. In 1696, the Kangxi Emperor even commissioned the court painter Jiao Bingzhen to make the 'Illustrations of Agriculture and Sericulture' (Yuzhi gengzhi tu 御製耕織圖) to better understand the process of farming and weaving. Later, the Yongzheng Emperor commissioned another version of the same album, depicting himself as the farmer with buffalo ploughing the fields. This album, now in the Palace Museum in Beijing, is discussed and illustrated by E.Rawski and J.Rawson, in China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795, London, 2005, p.242.
To the literati, the motif of farmer and buffalo came to symbolise the ideal of a simple life far away from the scholar-official's obligations. The farmer stands next to the naturalistically carved and pierced rockwork, evoking the Taihurocks, reminiscent of mountains, abode of the Immortals, whose naturally high peaks and ability to produce water, the life-giving element, from the clouds swirling around them, were a manifestation of nature's vital energy.
Religion played a central role in China and within the Imperial Court. The Seventh Dalai Lama, Kalzang Gyatso, born in 1708, had the patronage of the three most important Emperors of the Qing dynasty, Kangxi (1662-1722), Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qianlong (1736-1795). An extremely rare cast gilt-bronze figure of the Seventh Dalai Lama, estimated at £40,000-60,000 is arguably one of the finest examples of Buddhist portraiture of the 18th century and is importantly cast on the reverse of the dais with an inscription reading “Veneration to the Ruler Kalzang Gyatso”. This figure is among a select group of Buddhist and Daoist bronze figures in the sale.
Lot 113. A very rare inscribed gilt-bronze figure of the seventh Dalai Lama, Kalzang Gyatso, 18th century. Estimate £40,000 - 60,000 (€45,000 - 68,000). Photo: Bonhams.
Seated in dhyanasana on three rectangular cushions intricately detailed with cartouches depicting sprays of blossoming lotus reserved on diaper patterns, his right hand raised in vitarkamudra and delicately pinching a lotus stem, his left hand holding a folded cloth cascading in numerous pleats, dressed in voluminous patchwork robes embroidered with lotus medallions and hems incised in floral scrolls, the face with engaged expression and steady gaze, flanked by pendulous ears, the reverse incised with an inscription in Tibetan reading 'Rgyal dbang bskal bzang rgya mtsho la na mo' which translates as 'Veneration to the ruler Kalzang Gyatso'. 21.5cm (8 1/5in) high
Provenance: a distinguished private European collection, acquired in the first half of the 20th century by repute.
Notes: This outstanding depiction of the Seventh Dalai Lama is one of the rarest and finest examples of gilt bronze portraiture in Tibetan art of the 18th century.
According to a legend, his birth in 1708 was accompanied by marvellous events, hence his name, Kelzang Gyatso, 'The Ocean of Good Fortune', bestowed upon him by his maternal uncle. The Lama received the patronage of the Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong Emperors.
When Kelzang Gyatso reached eight years of age, the Kangxi Emperor, following the precedents established by his father's relation with the Fifth Dalai Lama, sent representatives of the Court so that a combined Chinese-Tibetan-Mongol cavalry could escort the Lama to Kumbum. It was here that Kelzang Gyatso was enthroned and an Imperial proclamation was publicly read, affirming that 'this emanation is the veritable rebirth of the former Dalai Lama ... As the Omniscient One comes into the world like the sun, which cannot be blocked out with the hand, the light rays of his compassion and enlightened deeds embrace the whole world, so that the Buddha's teaching expands and increases.'
In 1720 the Kangxi Emperor sent his own fourteenth son, the prince Yinti, to accompany the Dalai Lama to Lhasa, together with leading representatives of Tibetan Buddhism at the Qing Court and Manchu, Chinese and Mongol military leaders. During the same year, Kelzang Gyatso was ordained by the foremost Gelug master of the day, the Fifth Paṇchen Lama, Lobzang Yeshe (1663-1737), who gave him the monastic name Lobzang Kelzang Gyatso (blo bzang skal bzang rgya mtsho).
During the Yongzheng period, the Emperor accepted the Dalai Lama's petition to the Court ordering that monasteries previously damaged in reprisals be rebuilt with Imperial funds, thus extending the Imperial patronage. He spent several years in exile, following geopolitical struggles and the increasing Manchu attempts to formalise their rule in Tibet, but returned in 1735 to Lhasa accompanied, under the order of the Yongzheng Emperor, with a royal entourage of five hundred religious, civil and military representatives, which included Changkya Rolpai Dorje.
Following the ascension of the Qianlong Emperor to the throne, Changkya Rolpai Dorje recommended the political assertion of the Seventh Dalai Lama in Tibet, which proved to be an unforeseen political success due to his personal reputation for learning and spiritual integrity as well as his status.
As an exponent of the Gelugpa, or Yellow Hat School, the Lama's teachings focused on the Mahayana principle of universal compassion as the fundamental spiritual orientation, and a systematic cultivation of the view of emptiness. In the field of politics, the Lama established a number of institutions, such as the Kashnak, a leadership cabinet that remained at the apex of the secular administration in Tibet until 1959. He also founded a school specialising in calligraphy, literary arts and astrology, the primary subjects required for Tibetan government service, and an archival office that regulated all aspects of Tibetan secular and monastic culture. His literary works, collected in seven volumes, include exemplary instructions for contemplation and advice for the Buddhist religious life.
Gilt bronze images of the Kelzang Gyatso are very rare. A smaller, and less elaborate, gilt bronze figure of the Seventh Dalai Lama, 18th century, is illustrated by E.Dinwiddie, Potraits of The Masters, Chicago, 2003,p.314, fig.87. Another gilt figure of the Seventh Lama is illustrated in the Beijing Capital Museum, The Goddess of Mercy in Buddhism - Chinese Ancient Avalokiteshvara bodhisattva, Beijing, 2008, p.238, fig28. See also a thangka depicting the Dalai Lama, 18th century, from the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated by D.Jackson, The Place of Provenance. Regional Styles in Tibetan Painting, New York, 2012, p.43, fig.3.16. For a gilt-bronze figure of Rolpay Dorje, 18th century, displaying similarly decorated cushions, in the State Hermitage, St Petersburg, see M.Rhye, The Sacred Art of Tibet, New York, 1991, p.276, fig.100.
A pair of rare and large portraits of a Nobleman and a Royal Lady, late Qing dynasty, is estimated at £40,000-60,000. The unique portraits are most probably of a princely couple from the Imperial circle of the Qing dynasty. They were previously in the collection of the late Amedeo Corio, President of the Institute of Fine Arts and the Leone Museum in Vercelli, Piedmont.
Lot 117. A pair of rare and large portraits of a nobleman and a royal lady, Late Qing Dynasty. Estimate £40,000 - 60,000 (€45,000 - 68,000). Photo: Bonhams.
Ink and colours on silk, both seated on gilt lacquered thrones and dressed in winter ceremonial attire, the male dignitary with a powerful gaze, wearing a blue-ground pleated robe embroidered with confronted dragons, a dark surcoat emblazoned with a central front-facing five-clawed dragon roundel, a tourmaline and jadeite necklace and a court hat with a gold finial inset with pearls and a ruby stone; his Imperial consort wearing three double-gourd drop earrings, a chestnut-ground dragon robe, a sleeveless vest decorated with four five-clawed dragons, three lapis lazuli, jadeite and tourmaline necklaces, a brown fur brim-hat above a silk headband and a red floss silk crown embellished with gold, pearl, kingfisher phoenix, and a gold finial inset with pearls and a ruby stone, framed and glazed. Each 180cm (70 7/8in) long x 90cm (35 1/2inch) wide (2).
Provenance: Amedeo Corio, President of the Institute of Fine Arts, Piedmont and Leone Museum in Vercelli, Piedmont, and founder of the Modern Art Gallery, La Spirale, in Milan in 1960.
Notes: Impressive in size and imbued with realism and ritual reverence, these portraits are rare visual documents relating to two of the highest-ranking members of Qing society and very possibly of the inner circle of the Qing Imperial Court.
The high level of social prestige suggested by the garments worn by the figures suggests that they may have been a princely couple.
According to the dress regulations, Huangchao liqi tushi, codified in 1759, only male princes of the highest orders could wear the blue ceremonial robe, chao pao, a roundel embroidered with a front-facing five-clawed dragon, achaozhu necklace made of precious stones, and a hat-finial embellished with pearls and a ruby stone.
By the same token, the clothes and accessories worn by the female figure are consistent with those prescribed for princely consorts; comprising the chestnut-ground robe, the dragon vest, chagua, the long kerchief, caishui, the three necklaces, the black silk headband and gold-filigree phoenixes. The three earrings worn in each ear lobe, a Manchu practice, suggest that the figure may have been among the daughters of distinguished banner families who were traditionally appointed by the Qing Court as consorts for members of the innermost Imperial circles.
The elaborate rendering of the garments, combined with the stark formality of the iconic pose of the figures, devoid of emotional dynamism and temporal specificity, indicates that the paintings served as a central focus of ritual activities aimed at paying homage to the ancestors.
The female portrait is closely related to a portrait of a Royal Lady, 19th century, sold in our New York rooms on 17 May 2014, lot 8136.
The clothing of the male figure closely compares with the robes worn by the seventeenth son of the Qianlong Emperor, whose portrait is in the collection of the Sackler Gallery, Washington DC, illustrated by J.Stuart,Worshipping The Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits, Washington DC, 2001, p.196, fig.26. In style, the present male portrait closely compares with one dated to AD 1888, depicting the Daoguang Emperor's son-in law, illustrated ibid., p.198, fig.44. See also a related tourmaline and jadeite bead court necklace, chao zhu, sold at Christie's Hong Kong on 1 December 2009, lot 2031.
Chinese furniture of the late Ming to mid Qing dynasty, made of the most prized woods, zitan and huanghuali, is highly sought after. Its elegant deceptively-simple geometric lines defy age and fashion. A rare huanghuali rectangular table with humpback stretchers, Ming dynasty, 17th century, is one such rare example, offered at £20,000 - 30,000. Harking back to the Imperial Court, is a rare zitan and lacquer cabinet, mid Qing dynasty, estimated at £30,000-40,000.
Lot 118. A rare huanghuali rectangular table with humpback stretchers, Ming Dynasty, 17th century. Estimate £20,000 - 30,000 (€23,000 - 34,000). Photo: Bonhams.
The smooth top panel set in a rectangular frame with moulded edge above a beaded shaped apron carved at the corners with foliate scrolls, raised on thick straight legs of rounded circular section joined by humpback stretchers. 140cm (55 1/8in) wide x 45cm (17 3/4in) deep x 83.2cm (32 3/4in) high
Note: Compare with a very similar huanghuali table, Ming dynasty, carved with similar humpbacked stretchers and relief decoration of to the apron, iillustrated by Wang Shixiang in Classic Chinese Furniture: Ming and Early Qing Dynasties, Hong Kong, 1986, p.148, no.94.
Lot 134. A rare zitan and lacquer cabinet, Mid Qing Dynasty. Estimate £30,000 - 40,000 (€34,000 - 45,000). Photo: Bonhams.
Set with four variously-proportioned irregular open compartments, all framed within openwork friezes and carved with archaistic scrolls, the sides with traces of lacquered floral scenes. 165cm (65in) high x 89cm (35in) wide x 42cm (16 1/2in) deep
Notes: Cabinets with multiple open compartments and shelves, such as the present lot, are intended for displaying curios and collections of the Court, as part of the furnishing for private chambers and studios in the Palace.
The meticulous details and workmanship demonstrated in the present lot may suggest that the cabinet was produced for the Imperial Court, likely as a pair. For a related pair of gilt-lacquered zitan cabinets, 18th century, in the Palace Museum, Beijing, see Splendour of Style: Classical Furniture from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, Taipei, 2004, p.167.
The archaistic elements displayed by its reticulated decorations conform to the flourishing trend of archaism during the Qianlong period, when the Emperor was actively involved in promoting the restoration of ancient values, which profoundly encouraged the implementation of archaistic forms and decorative motifs in art production throughout most of the 18th century and beyond. Compare with a related gilt-decorated lacquered zitan cabinet, mid Qing dynasty, the compartments similarly set with friezes carved with reticulated archaistic scrolls, illustrated in Classics of the Forbidden City: Imperial Furniture in Ming & Qing Dynasties, Beijing, 2008, p.34, no.27.
Complementing the sale is a fine group of yellow glazed and yellow and green enamelled bowls and dishes, dating from the 17th to the 19th century. They were collected by the Palmer family, which took its inspiration for collecting Chinese porcelain from the famous collector R.H.R. Palmer (1898-1970), Chairman of Huntley and Palmer. Another historical collection represented in this sale are works of art in lacquer and ivory collected by Harry Geoffrey Beasley (1881-1939). In addition to collecting Chinese art, H.G. Beasley was a great collector of Pacific anthropological material, and objects from his collections have been acquired by the British Museum, London, Pitt-Rivers Museum, Oxford, the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Cambridge, and the National Museums, Edinburgh. Many of the pieces were collected in the first decades of the 20th century and as such represent one of earliest collecting generations.
Asaph Hyman, International Head, Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art commented: “We are delighted to bring to light exceptional and remarkable works of art, collected over decades in many distinguished European collections, and now once more in the public domain to be admired by collectors worldwide."