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Shibata Zeshin 柴田是真 (1807-1891), Panel with design of farmhouse in the snow at Sano 雪中佐野(「鉢の木」)図蒔絵額面, Meiji era (1868–1912), 1883. Sold for £842,500 (€1,075,440). World record price for a work by ZeshinPhoto: Bonhams

LONDON.- Bonhams six Asian Art sales in London this week produced a number of stunning results for Japanese and Chinese art, confirming the strength of this art market sector. The company’s sales total of £11.2m was well ahead of other auction houses offering Asian sales this week.

Bonhams UK and Asia Chairman, Colin Sheaf, said: « The strong sales for Asian art in London reflect well on the company policy of treating sales of Asian art on a global basis. Japanese art is clearly most saleable at auction in London and New York where we hold our premier sales. Chinese art sales are split between Hong Kong, London, New York and San Francisco with every object being consigned to the city where it will sell best. This policy is succeeding as our exceptional sales in London and Hong Kong this month demonstrate. It has never happened before that a work of Japanese art takes top spot in this annual Asian Art in London week. »

The top Japanese work in Bonhams sales was by Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891), an artist admired by Western collectors for over a century. A very rare lacquer panel based on a Noh play, made in 1883 in imitation of Western paintings on canvas and executed in lavish silver on black lacquer, it had been estimated at £80,000–120,000, but after furious bidding made £842,500 in the Misumi Collection of Important Works of Lacquer Art and Paintings.

The three Japanese sales at Bonhams this week – The Wrangham Collection, the Misumi Collection and Fine Japanese Art – made a total of £3.4m over two days. The 16-item Misumi Collection was a white-glove sale and fetched £1,424, 500.

Suzannah Yip, Bonhams UK Director of Japanese Art, comments: « We are honoured to have been entrusted with the sale of this remarkable collection of lacquer and painting by an artist whose work is so admired both inside and outside Japan. This landmark sale underscores Bonhams status as the leading global auction house for truly important Japanese art. The Zeshin panel achieved the highest price paid for a work during Asian Art in London week and established a new world record price for a work by Zeshin. »

The top item in Bonhams three Chinese Art sales was a rare imperial gilt bronze ‘double phoenix’ vessel , from the Imperial Qianlong period (1736-1795) lavishly decorated with hardstone and glass. It sold for £482,500 against a pre-sale estimate of £50,000-80,000. The ‘double-phoenix’ vessel is an exceptional example of Qing magnificence at its peak. It exemplifies the sumptuous Imperial taste during the Qianlong period with no expense spared in its lavish production.

The three Chinese art sales at Bonhams – Asian Arts at Knightsbridge, The Roy Davids Collection and Fine Chinese Art made a total of £7.8m.


A rare imperial gilt-bronze and hardstone and glass embellished ‘double phoenix’ vessel and liner, Qianlong. Sold for £482,500 (€615,905). Photo: Bonhams.

Expertly cast as two phoenix perched symmetrically on rockwork and gazing proudly up at a gnarled trunk forming the neck of the vessel, the crests, eyes, neck feathers, wings and long curling tails of the birds intricately inlaid with glass and hardstones including finely banded agate, lapis lazuli and quartz enriching the delicately incised gilt-bronze body feathers, the trunk similarly embellished with ruyi-shaped stones, the liner fitting snugly into the open mouth, and further ruyi-shaped stones issuing from branches around the rockwork base, the underside incised with a double vajra symbol. 21.2cm (8 3/8in) high (2).

Provenance: a European private collection

Notes: The gilt-bronze and hardstone embellished ‘double-phoenix’ vessel is an exceptional example of Qing magnificence at its peak. It is exemplary of the sumptuous Imperial taste during the Qianlong period. It demonstrates the remarkable casting, chasing and lapidary skills achieved during this celebrated period with no expense spared in its lavish production. In form and technique it is inspired by archaic bronze inlaid vessels of the Han dynasty, thereby combining Qianlong-period craft opulence with the emperor’s call for inspiration by archaic periods and their associated respected morals. See the Qing Dynasty Compilation of Inspected Antiquities (Ning Shou Jian Gu, Xi Qing Si Jian), Vol.14, and related Qianlong period example, illustrated by The Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong Ltd., Art & Imitation in China, Hong Kong, 2006, Catalogue no.25.

The mythical phoenix, considered the King of Birds, is associated with the direction South and takes the ‘female’ yin position when coupled with its counterpart in the animal kingdom, the dragon, representing the ‘male’ yang position. This symbolism is further underlined in the present lot as the original sealed base of vessel is finely engraved with a beribboned double vajra piercing four ruyi-shaped cloud scrolls encircling a central Yin and Yang medallion framed by lotus blossoms. The Buddhist engraved decoration on the base would indicate that this vessel and others similar to it may have been made as ritual vessels.

A very similar, but slightly shorter, gilt bronze double-phoenix and tree trunk hardstone-embellished vessel, Qianlong, with a similar engraved base, is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (inv.no.M.743-1910). See also a similar example (19.5cm high) sold at Christie’s Hong Kong from the collection of Comte Fitick, on 29 September 1992, lot 911, which may be the pair to the present lot. Compare a related but smaller gilt-bronze and hardstone-embellished standing double-phoenix vessels, Qianlong, sold at Sotheby’s Hong Kong on 8 October 2009, lot 1734 (15.3cm high from the Rothschild Family Collection, Paris) and at Christie’s New York on 26 March 2010, lot 1179 (19.7cm high). However the present lot appears to be unique in retaining its original foliate-rim liner.

The menagerie of related mythical-beast vessels similarly cast in gilt bronze and finely embellished with hardstones, Qianlong, includes vessels in the form of a qilin variously cast either with a tree-trunk-shaped neck, a gnarled funnel or as an incense burner and cover with the head forming the cover; and ‘Yingxiong’ incense burners in the form of a bird atop a mythical beast. For examples from the collection of the National Palace Museum, see the one illustrated in A Special Exhibition of Incense Burners and Perfumers Throughout the Dynasties, Taipei, 1994, no.119; and also Christopher Bruckner Asian Art Gallery, Chinese Imperial Treasures from Temples and Palaces, London, Catalogueno.28, pp.82-85; and Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 23 October 2005, lot 396.

As the Emperor was symbolised by the dragon, the phoenix evolved to represent the Empress. The phoenix is said to appear only during the reigns of righteous emperors and in times of peace, therefore further symbolising peaceful and benevolent times and good fortune. The present pair of phoenix are cast standing beside a tree trunk; thus representing All under heaven, ‘tian xia’, further reinforcing the imperial context. A double phoenix multiplies this symbolism and its auspicious representations.

The second highest price in the Chinese art sales was £440,500 for a porcelain ‘lotus pond’ jar from a European private collection that had not been seen at auction for over half a century. The jar bears the mark of the Chinese Emperor Chenghua who ruled between 1464 – 1487. For centuries most Chinese connoisseurs have considered Chenghua period ceramics as the finest ever created in China.

Colin Sheaf, Bonhams Asia Chairman, says: « Three decades in the Chinese Art trade does not entirely prepare you for an object like this. When I saw it for the first time, after years of storage, it had that certain something, that charisma of the truly spectacular object which creates a frisson of excitement in anyone who knows about Chinese porcelain. »


An extremely rare and important doucai ‘lotus pond’ jar,Chenghua six-character mark and of the period. Sold for £440,500 (€562,292). Photo: Bonhams.