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Lot 153. Imperial underglaze-blue and iron-red enamel 'nine-dragon' dish, Qianlong seal mark and period. Sold for £536,750 (€ 615,800). Photo: Bonhams.

LONDON.- An exceptionally rare and large Imperial underglaze-blue and iron-red enamel 'nine-dragon' dish, Qianlong seal mark and period (1736-1795), sold for £536,750 at Bonhams Fine Chinese Art sale in London today (Thursday, 8 November). It had been estimated at £400,000 – 600,000. 

Bonhams Global Head of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Asaph Hyman said, “Only a handful of Qianlong seal mark and period examples of dishes of this impressive size and bold decoration are known to exist in either museum or private collections. This important dish encapsulates the exacting and refined taste of the Qianlong Emperor together with the high skill and artistry of the artisans.” 

The large dish had been in the collection of the British businessman and Hong Kong politician Sir David Newbigging who bought it on a trip to China in the 1960s. It had been consigned for sale from a European private collection, and had never before been offered at auction. 

Cf. my post: Exceptionally Rare Imperial 'Nine Dragon' Dish Top Lot At Bonhams Chinese Sale

The sale also featured an extremely rare Imperial 'Twelve Symbol' Dragon Robe, jifu Qianlong (1736-1795), which sold for £464,750 having been estimated at £100,000 – 150,000. Blue-ground Imperial robes were only worn by the Emperor twice a year during the performance of ceremonies aimed at invoking rain and good harvest at the Altar of Heaven This remarkable robe boasts important provenance having been acquired in Beijing in 1912 by Brigadier-General Offley Bohun Stovin Fairless Shore (1863-1922).  

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Lot 224. An extremely rare Imperial 'Twelve Symbol' Dragon Robe, jifu, Qianlong period (1736-1795); 144.5cm (56 7/8in) long. Estimate £ 100,000 - 150,000 (€ 110,000 - 170,000)Sold for £ 464,750 (€ 533,196). © Bonhams.

Cf. my post: Exceptionally Rare Imperial 'Nine Dragon' Dish Top Lot At Bonhams Chinese Sale

Ollivier Collection of Early Chinese Art 
At the sale of the Ollivier Collection of Early Chinese Art held at Bonhams on the same day (8 November) a rare pair of carved wood figures of seated bodhisattvas from the Song Dynasty sold for £512,750 against an estimate of £120,000-150,000. 

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Lot 8. A fine and rare pair of carved wood figures of seated bodhisattvas, Song Dynasty (960-1279); 44cm (17 2/8in) high. Sold for £ 512,750 (€ 588,265). © Bonhams.

The figures finely carved, each seated regally in meditative posture, vajrasana, with one hand held before the chest and the other in avakashamudra, wearing layered robes falling loosely around the chest and exposing elaborately carved necklaces, the serene facial expression detailed with half-open eyes and a gentle smile, framed by a pair of long pendulous earlobes beneath a foliate tiara securing a neatly drawn-up topknot.

Provenance: Mario Prodan Collection, Rome
Christie's London, 5 June 1995, lot 105
Jean-Yves Ollivier Collection.

Note: Elegantly proportioned and realistically carved, the present lot well illustrates the fine craftsmanship of Song dynasty carvers. The benevolent facial expressions, shown in the plump cheeks, downcast eyes and gentle smiles, together with free flowing draperies intricately sculpted by fine folds and contours, suggest that the present pair of figures depict Avalokiteshvara, also known as Guanyin, the benevolent Goddess of Mercy. 

Elegantly proportioned and realistically carved, the present lot well illustrates the fine craftsmanship of Song dynasty carvers. The benevolent facial expressions, shown in the plump cheeks, downcast eyes and gentle smiles, together with free flowing draperies intricately sculpted by fine folds and contours, suggest that the present pair of figures depict Avalokiteshvara, also known as Guanyin, the benevolent Goddess of Mercy. 

The present pair of figures would most likely have stood on an altar, venerated in connection with religious beliefs concerning the devotee's rebirth in the blissful Pure Land presided over by Amithaba Buddha. Introduced into China from India during the 2nd century AD, 'Pure Land' Buddhism was based on the belief that Amitabha granted rebirth of the dead in his wondrous realm to whoever meditated on him through chanting and prostration. The three main scriptures forming the core of the Pure Land teachings, namely the'Sutra of the Buddha of Immeasurable Life', the 'Sutra of Visualizing the Buddha of Immeasurable Life', and the 'Amitabha Sutra', all refer to Amitabha and Guanyin as capable of liberating the devotees from the Wheel of Samsara and allowing them entry into the Pure Land where they finally attained enlightenment.

As 'Pure Land' Buddhism grew in popularity during the 6th century, probably in response to the contemporaneous political instability and the resulting preoccupation with attaining enlightenment during such a perilous time, so did the prominence of Avalokiteshvara as 'the supreme saviour of all beings'.

Compare with a related wood figure of Avalokiteshvara, Song dynasty, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, illustrated by D.Pleidy and D.Stratham, Wisdom Embodied. Chinese Buddhist and Daoist Sculpture in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2010, no.27, p.125. Another example in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, is illustrated by R.Y.d'Argence, Chinese, Korean and Japanese Sculpture in the Avery Brundage Collection, San Francisco, 1974, pl.145.

A related but larger wood figure of Avalokiteshvara, Southern Song dynasty, was sold at Sotheby's Hong Kong, 8 October 2013, lot 3074.

Other highlights included: 

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Lot 28. A magnificent Tang Dynasty sancai-glazed model of a Bactrian camel that sold for £368,750/€ 423,057 (estimate: £300,000-400,000)© Bonhams.

Cf. my post: At Bonhams, Collection of Jean-Yves Ollivier, the unsung hero who helped end apartheid in South Africa

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Lot 31. A white marble head of Mahasthamaprapta from the Northern Qi Dynasty which sold for £308,750/€ 354,221 (estimate £250,000-300,000)© Bonhams.

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The Fine Chinese Art Sale and the sale of the Ollivier Collection made a combined total of nearly £6 million. 

On 27 November Bonhams is offering in Hong Kong three Chinese art sales: Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art; Tang’s Hall of Precious: The Durwin Tang Collection of Chinese Jades; and Exceptional Chinese Rhinoceros Horn Carvings from the Angela Chua Collection: A Lifetime’s Pursuit (Part I).