Lot 3011. A very rare large grey stone bear-form stand, Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220); 9 in. (22.8 cm.) high. Estimate HKD 400,000 - HKD 500,000Price realised HKD 500,000. © Christie's Images Ltd 2021

The seated bear is shown almost as if stretching, with right leg bent and the left extended and slightly bent, the claws of all of the paws curled under. The head is turned slightly to the side, and carved with mouth agape and ears pricked above ruffs of fur. A partially hollowed columnar tube rises from the bear’s back to above its head to a rim carved with a ridged band. There are blackish surface accretions overall.

Provenance: A German private collection, acquired prior to 1966.

Literature: Lubor Hájek and Werner Forman, A Book of Chinese Art: Four Thousand Years of Sculpture, Painting, Bronze, Jade, Lacquer and Porcelain, London, 1966. no. 117, p. 56.

Note: During the Han dynasty, the bear, which symbolises bravery and strength, was a popular image incorporated into various aspects of mortuary art, primarily as the stand of various vessels or furniture, but also seen with other animals and images of immortals in mountainous landscapes, meant to depict the realm of the immortals.

Extremely few stone bears from the Han dynasty have survived. A bronze bear in a very similar pose, attributed to the Tang dynasty, is illustrated in the Qianlong-period woodblock printed catalogue Xiqing Gujian, ‘Inspection of Antiques’. This very bronze bear is now preserved in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, and has been re-dated by the Museum to the Han dynasty, illustrated in The Refined Taste of the Emperor: Special Exhibition of Archaic and Pictorial Jades of the Ching Court, Taipei, 1997 pp. 70-71 (fig. 1). The Qianlong Emperor was so fascinated by this bronze bear he ordered court artisans to carve a white jade bear of the same design with a fanggu mark, illustrated ibid.

Only one other stone bear from the Han dynasty is known, which is a slightly larger example (29.2 cm.) from the Heeramaneck Galleries, New York, illustrated by A. Salmony, "A Chinese Jade Bear of the Early Han Period", Artibus Asiae, vol. X/4, 1947, p. 264, fig. 7 (fig. 2). Compare also to a pale celadon jade bear with a similar pose, dating to the Ming dynasty or earlier, sold at Christie’s London, 15 May 2012, lot 194.

Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, Hong Kong, 28 May 2021