A rare dated gilt-bronze figure of Liu Hai, mark and period of Qianlong, dated 1737


Lot 2793. A rare dated gilt-bronze figure of Liu Hai, mark and period of Qianlong, dated 1737; 46 cm., 18 in. Estimate 1,200,000 — 1,500,000 HKDLot Sold 1,700,000 HKD. Courtesy Sotheby's 2010.

finely cast standing on a square low base in the form of a table, holding his three-legged toad in his right hand and a large gold coin to tempt the toad in his left, his face with thoughtful expression, eyes closed and a slight smile, wearing a long robe falling in deep folds down over his bare feet and incised with cloud-scrolls and a lotus band at the edge, inscribed to the back Qianlong san nian ('Third year of the Qianlong period'), the stand inscribed Wu jin zhi zhao ('made from five metals').

Provenance: Christie's Amsterdam, 20th May 2008, lot 363.

Note: This rare sculpture of Liu Hai is an exquisite and rare example of a Daoist figure made during the Qianlong period, a time when Buddhist figures were created in abundance. The sense of movement captured in the rhythmic folds of the sleeves of his robes and the naturalistic weathered face, coupled with the meticulously detailed robe, are characteristic of bronze sculpture created in the early years at the Zaobanchu (Imperial Palace Workshop) of Qianlong's reign.

Only one closely related figure is known, but lacing the base and inscribed, 'From the Collection of Li Gangjun, made in the first year of the Jingkang period (1126); may my sons and grandsons treasure this forever', sold in our London rooms, 23rdApril 1963, lot 93. For another figure of Liu Hai with his toad and carrying a coin, but of more emaciated form and stylised robes and head, see one sold in our London rooms, 11th July 1972, lot 18.

Revered as a god of wealth and a suppressor of evil spirits, Liu Hai is a historical figure from the Han dynasty who was once a prime minister. Legend has it that he came upon a Daoist master who asked Liu Hai for ten eggs. The master subsequently stacked the eggs into the shape of a pagoda with coins in between. Through this exchange with the Daoist master Liu Hai became enlightened and was immediately transported into the world of the Immortals. Along with the coin, Liu Hai's pet three-legged toad is also a symbol of wealth. The toad had a love for water and of gold and had to be coaxed out of wells with gold coins by Liu Hai.

Sotheby's. Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art, 08 Oct 10 11:00 AM, Hong Kong