A rare large carved and painted wood figure of a horse, Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220)

Lot 1297. A rare large carved and painted wood figure of a horse, Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220); 34 in. (86.4 cm.) high. Estimate USD 60,000 - USD 80,000. Price realised USD 98,500. © Christie's Images Ltd 2011

Portrayed in mid-stride, the body carved from a single log with separately attached legs, tail, neck and head, all connected with wood dowels, the narrow head carved with sensitive eyes, pricked ears and open mouth, accented with red and black pigments, the legs with black-highlighted hoofs, metal stand.

ProvenanceJacques Barrère, Paris, 1990.

Note: This large wood figure of a horse, along with the large figures of horses made of bronze and pottery which were produced for burial purposes during the Han dynasty attest to the high esteem in which horses were held during the Han. It was during this period (206 BC - AD 220) that the local breed of horse was improved with the importation of a type of horse referred to as tianma ('celestial horses') from the Wushan kingdom and Ferghana. It was this new breed that was portrayed by the bronze and ceramic sculptors who managed to capture their strength and grace.

Large wood figures of horses of Han dynasty date appear to be far more rare than those in pottery or bronze, which makes sense as the material is vulnerable to decay. One other complete wood horse, of slightly smaller size (70.5 cm. high), in the collection of the Portland Art Museum, is illustrated by D. Jenkins, Masterworks in Wood: China and Japan, Portland Art Museum, 1976, pp. 20-1, no. 1, where it is dated 3rd century BC. In the catalogue entry the author notes that the figure is reputed to have come from Changsha, the site of the Kingdom of Chu. A related head and torso of a wood horse, also of smaller size, bearing traces of pigment and dated to the Han dynasty, is illustrated in the exhibition catalogue, Chine connue & inconnue, Musée Cernuschi, Paris, October 1992 - February 1993, pp. 114-7.

Christie's. Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Part I and Part II Including Property from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections, New York, 24 March 2011