11 septembre 2021

Chinese Jade from the Junkunc Collection at Christie's New York, 23-24 september 2021

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 Stephen Junkunc, III, circa 1930.

Stephen Junkunc, III ranks amongst the most renowned collectors of Chinese ceramics and works of art, and is known for collecting a wide breadth of works of the highest standards of quality. At its height, his collection comprised over two-thousand examples of porcelain, jade, bronzes, Buddhist sculpture and paintings, and included two examples of the legendary Ru ware, of which only eighty-seven examples are known in the world. A superb Ru dish from the Junkunc Collection sold at Christie’s in 1992 and achieved a world record for a Chinese ceramic. (Fig. 1) The dish now resides in an important Asian collection. Christie’s has also been honored to have handled one of the outstanding paintings, a 13th-14th century landscape, Travelers in Autumn Mountains, in the style of the 11th century painter Guo Xi. (Fig. 2)

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Fig. 1 A rare and important Ruyao dish, Northern Song dynasty (AD 960-1127). Christie’s New York, 3 December 1992, lot 276.

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Fig. 2 Anonymous, Travelers In Autumn Mountains, In The Style Of Guo Xi (C. 1001-1090), (13th - 14th century). Christie’s New York, 22 March 1999, lot 178.

Stephen Junkunc, III was born in Budapest, Hungary, and emigrated to the US as a young boy. His father, Stephen Junkunc, II was a tool-and-die maker who founded General Machinery & Manufacturing Company in 1918 on South Aberdeen Street in Chicago, focusing on the manufacture of knife-edge fuel nozzle heads. In 1933, the company moved to North Keeler Street, where it still exists today. With the outbreak of World War II, GMMCO endeavored to help in the war effort by manufacturing various aircraft parts, specializing in aircraft engine seals. Their devotion to quality and service led to commissions to manufacture critical parts for cuttingedge jet engines. After over one hundred years, GMMCO still remains a family business.

Stephen Junkunc, III began collecting in earnest in the 1940s, and his most ardent buying period was in the 1950s and 1960s. His collecting was always informed by diligent study — he kept libraries at both his home and his office and read voraciously, whether quickly over a short lunch break or at a more leisurely pace into the small hours of the morning.

When acquiring objects for his collection, he only dealt with the most renowned dealers of the mid-twentieth century, including Bluett & Sons, Sparks, Yamanaka & Co., Ltd., C.T. Loo & Cie, Tonying & Company and Hisazo Nagatani. The Chicago based gallery of Yamanaka & Co., Ltd., which had opened in 1928 played a particularly strong role in Junkunc’s voracious passion for collecting. Nagatani (d. 1994), formerly the manager of Yamanaka in Chicago, was among the most influential to Stephen Junkunc, III, supplying works to the collection.

Junkunc kept his collection secure in a World War II bomb shelter in his home, and entering the rooms has been compared to the legend of Aladdin entering the cave—the visitor was immediately awed by the porcelain, jades, sculptures and other treasures on display. Such a variety of materials and wealth of artistry, in such unexpected surroundings, must indeed have been an extraordinary sight.

From his letters, it seems that Chinese ceramics were one of Junkunc’s first passions in collecting, and he set a standard for quality and dogged determination that remained unflagging throughout his collecting career. He wrote to dealers such as W. Dickinson & Sons in 1935, requiring them to seek out monochromes from the Kangxi and Yongzheng periods. Nothing but the best would do: only “cabinet pieces” of “very fine quality” would suffice. A similar request for peachbloom and underglaze-red porcelains was penned to Bluett & Sons in 1936, and another to H.R. Norton a few months later for “nice pieces in monochromes… but not the clumsy types with poor color. *

From ceramics, Junkunc turned his attention to other categories such as Buddhist sculpture, and also to earlyChinese jade carvings, which presented an opportunity for more scholarly study. Junkunc’s scholarly approach to Chinese art led him to forge friendships with preeminent scholars in the field, such as Alfred Salmony (1890-1958), a leading authority on Chinese jade and professor at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. Starting as early as 1950, Junkunc and Salmony discussed their shared passion for Chinese jades. Salmony had been planning an encyclopedic two-volume history entitled Chinese Jades of All Periods and selected pieces from Junkunc’s collection to be featured in the publication. Junkunc, along with English collector Desmond Gure (1905-1970), contributed to the research. Salmony passed away before the publication could be completed, but letters between Desmond Gure and Junkunc reveal that Salmony entrusted Gure and Junkunc to complete his publication. The first volume was published posthumously and was entitled Chinese Jade Through the Wei Dynasty, and included a number of jade carvings in the present sale. Other important works from the Junkunc Collection included in Salmony’s publication included an important Western Han dynasty jade beaker, which sold at Christie’s New York in September 2006. Other masterpieces of Chinese jade in the Junkunc Collection included an imperial set of ten white jades and a rare white jade figure of Buddha, which sold at Christie’s in March 2007 and March 2010, respectively.

With his breadth of collecting, exacting aesthetic standards and scholarly approach, Stephen Junkunc, III was a true connoisseur-collector. On his passion and commitment to collecting, Junkunc wrote: “it becomes a disease. But it’s the one thing in the world that never pales or becomes static. It always holds the challenge of more to learn.”

The legacy of Stephen Junkunc, III has been preserved through his generous donations to institutions throughout the United States. He frequently loaned works to the Art Institute of Chicago, and bequests from his collection can also be found in the Milwaukee Public Museum in Wisconsin and in the Lowe Art Museum at the University of Miami, Florida. His interest in Chinese art was continued by his son, Stephen Junkunc, IV, who has judiciously ensured that the next generation of connoisseurs and enthusiasts would have the opportunity to enjoy many items of his celebrated collection. 

A miniature greenish-grey jade carving of a horse, Yuan dynasty

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Lot 729. A miniature greenish-grey jade carving of a horse, Yuan dynasty (1279-1368); 1 ½ in. (4.2 cm.) long, cloth boxEstimate: USD 6,000 - USD 9,000. © Christie's 2021

The horse is shown in a recumbent position and is carved from stone of a greenish-grey tone with some russet areas. The back of the horse is drilled with a bull-nose perforation.

Provenance: Wu Dacheng (1835-1902) Collection (as cited in A. Salmony, Chinese Jade Through the Wei Dynasty).
Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection, before 1958.

LiteratureA. Salmony, Chinese Jade Through the Wei Dynasty, New York, 1963, pl. XXXIII-3.

A pale greenish-grey jade archaistic footed cup, zhi, Ming dynasty

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Lot 730. A pale greenish-grey jade archaistic footed cup, zhi, Ming dynasty (1368-1644); 3 7/8 in. (8.5 cm.) highEstimate: USD 20,000 - USD 30,000. © Christie's 2021

The cylindrical cup raised on three monkey-form supports is carved on the sides with a pattern of archaistic dragons between two decorative borders, and has an elephant head-form handle. The base is carved with a two-character inscription, yong bao (eternally treasured). The stone is of a pale greenish-grey color.

Provenance: Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection, before 1958.

LiteratureA. Salmony, Chinese Jade Through the Wei Dynasty, New York, 1963, pl. XXXIX-2.

A pale beige jade quatrefoil cup, Ming dynasty

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Lot 731. pale beige jade quatrefoil cup, Ming dynasty (1368-1644); 4 ¼ in. (10.7 cm.) across handleshEstimate: USD 15,000 - USD 25,000. © Christie's 2021

The cup is carved with ribbed sides and has two clambering chilong forming a pair of handles. The stone is of a pale beige tone with areas of russet.

Provenance: Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection, before 1958.

Literature: A. Salmony, Chinese Jade Through the Wei Dynasty, New York, 1963, pl. XXIX-2.

A mottled white and pale beige jade cup, zhi, Late Ming-early Qing dynasty

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Lot 732. A mottled white and pale beige jade cup, zhi, Late Ming-early Qing dynasty (1368-1644); 3 ½ in. (8.9 cm.) highEstimate: USD 12,000 - USD 18,000. © Christie's 2021

The cylindrical cup is raised on three feet carved in the form of a lion, an elephant and a ram, and is carved around the sides with an archaistic dragon and a phoenix against a ground of small bosses. One side has an angular handle carved with a clambering chilong. The stone is of a mottled white and pale beige color with chalky texture.

Provenance: Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection, before 1958.

Literature: A. Salmony, Chinese Jade Through the Wei Dynasty, New York, 1963, pl. XXXVIII.

A pale greenish-grey jade champion vase, Late Ming-early Qing dynasty

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Lot 733. A pale greenish-grey jade champion vase, Late Ming-early Qing dynasty, 17th century; 4 ¼ in. (10.7 cm.) across handleshEstimate: USD 60,000 - USD 80,000. © Christie's 2021

The vessel is carved as two cylinders conjoined by an eagle with outstretched wings, standing on the head of a stylized bear, the tail of each animal protrudes to the reverse to form the handle. The stone is of an even pale greenish-grey tone.

Provenance: C.T. Loo & Co., New York, 1941.
Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection.

LiteratureC.T. Loo & Co., Exhibition of Chinese Arts, New York, 1941, no. 337.

Exhibited: New York, C.T. Loo, Exhibition of Chinese Arts, 1 November 1941 - 30 April 1942.

A large pale greenish-white jade figure of Guanyin, Late Qing dynasty

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Lot 734. A large pale greenish-white jade figure of Guanyin, Late Qing dynasty20 ¼ in. (51.5 cm.) high with standEstimate: USD 200,000 - USD 300,000. © Christie's 2021

The standing figure, shown holding a coral branch and a pearl, wears long, layered robes that fall in graceful folds to the tops of the bare feet and are open at the chest to reveal a bead necklace centered by a chrysanthemum medallion. The face is carved with a serene expression. The hair is dressed in long tresses that trail onto the shoulders, below the large topknot which is centered by a figure of Amitabha Buddha. Together with a dark green jade stand carved around the sides with lotus plants amidst waves below a lotus petal border.

Provenance: Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection.

Note: The present Guanyin can be compared to a smaller green jade figure of Guanyin (28.8 cm.) in the Palace Museum, Beijing, illustrated in Zhongguo Yuqi Quanji - 6 - Qing, Hebei, 1991, p. 229, no. 336, where it is dated mid-Qing.

A white jade plaque, 18th century

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Lot 735. A white jade plaque, 18th century2 ¼ in. (5.5 cm) wide, cloth boxEstimate: USD 6,000 - USD 8,000. © Christie's 2021

The standing figure, shown holding a coral branch and a pearl, wears long, layered robes that fall in graceful folds to the tops of the bare feet and are open at the chest to reveal a bead necklace centered by a chrysanthemum medallion. The face is carved with a serene expression. The hair is dressed in long tresses that trail onto the shoulders, below the large topknot which is centered by a figure of Amitabha Buddha. Together with a dark green jade stand carved around the sides with lotus plants amidst waves below a lotus petal border.

ProvenanceRalph M. Chait Galleries, New York, 1946.
Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection.

A white jade figure of Guanyin, 18th-19th century

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Lot 736. A white jade figure of Guanyin, 18th-19th century6 in. (15 cm.) highEstimate: USD 8,000 - USD 12,000. © Christie's 2021

The bodhisattva is shown standing with body slightly swayed to the side while holding a scepter in the left hand and a scroll in the right hand. The hair is drawn up and secured by a headdress centered by a seated Amitabha Buddha. The stone is of even white color.

Provenance: Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection.

A pale greyish-white jade figure of Guanyin, Late Qing dynasty

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Lot 737. A pale greyish-white jade figure of Guanyin, Late Qing dynasty5 ¼ in. (13.5 cm.) highEstimate: USD 20,000 - USD 30,000. © Christie's 2021

The bodhisattva with a serene expression is shown wearing a flowing robe and pouring elixir from the small vase held in her right hand. The stone is of an even greyish-white tone.

Provenance: Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection. 

carved white jade pendant, 18th-19th century

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Lot 738. A carved white jade pendant, 18th-19th century1 ¾ in. (4.4 cm.) wideEstimate: USD 5,000 - USD 7,000. © Christie's 2021

The pendant is carved in the form of a fish beside seashells and a small frog. The stone is of an even pale greyish-white tone.

Provenance: Stephen Junkunc, III (d. 1978) Collection.

Christie's. Important Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art, New York, 23-24 september 2021 

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