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SAN FRANCISCO, CA.– A standing room only crowd of committed Chinese buyers bid on lot after lot to multiples of their estimates at Bonhams’ auction of Fine Chinese Art on December 16 in San Francisco. Fresh from the group’s discovery in the U.S., and subsequent sale of a rare and important blue and white Yongzheng vase in Hong Kong last month that brought over a stunning $9.8 million, the San Francisco Asian art team at Bonhams mounted a two-day auction of Fine Chinese and Asian Decorative Art. It featured bronzes and jades from a Northern California estate, fine jades and scholar’s objects from the collection of Frank and Georgia James, along with Ming and Qing porcelains, furniture, and Chinese paintings from private collections throughout the U.S.

A rare jade and brocade mounted sutra, late Qing/Republic period, from the Frank and Georgia James collection soared to $259,000 (est. $5,000-7,000), setting the stage for a buoyant sale of jade and hardstone carvings.

A jade and brocade mounted Buddhist sutra

A jade and brocade mounted Buddhist sutra, Late Qing-Republic Period. Sold for US$ 269,000 (€219,073). Photo Bonhams.

Four leaves of jade, both sides of each leaf with incised, gilt characters, the first leaf with a title in clerical script reading Fo Shuo Xian Zhe Wufu Dejing, with the eight auspicious Buddhist elements incised and gilt surrounding the title, followed by six leaves of the sutra in incised and gilt regular script, the final leaf with one hundred incised and gilt variations of the character ‘shou,’ the four leaves bound together in a yellow silk brocade mount with a fitted case, also in yellow silk brocade. 6 x 3 3/4in (15.2 x 9.5cm) each leaf

A fine white jade covered censer, 18th century, from a Northern California estate, sold for $221,000 (est. $20,000-30,000) to a determined Asian collector on the telephone. While lacking its knob finial, the elegant white cover and matching base were exquisitely carved with reserves of lotus flowers and raised on pad feet rendered as raised peony blossoms.

A finely carved white jade covered bowl,  18th century

A finely carved white jade covered bowl,  18th century. Sold for US$ 221,000 (€179,982). Photo Bonhams.

(cf. my post of december 5th 2014)

A jade and semiprecious stone mounted lacquer panel, decorated with scholar’s implements and vases in jade, cloisonné enamels and semiprecious stones achieved $245,000 (est. $25,000-40,000) after a bidding war on the floor between multiple paddles.


A gilt wood wall panel with elaborately applied decoration, Qing dynasty elements. Sold for US$ 245,000 (€199,527). Photo Bonhams.

The vertical composition enclosed by a hardwood frame with a gilt metal archaistic bracket at the top, the main panel displaying carefully arranged scholar’s implements and vases containing auspicious objects and flowers executed with materials of jade, hardstone, gilt and cloisonné enamel, porcelain, as well as ivory, horn, bamboo, and skillfully carved wood of various types, all set against a ground of gold leaf. 39 1/2 x 26 1/2in (100.3 x 67.4cm) overall dimensions

Note: This lot has been in the United States since December, 1969

This was followed shortly by the offering of a rare three-color lacquer quatrelobed vase, late 18th/early 19th century, the cover lot of the Chinese auction, with the rare subject matter of foreigners bringing tribute to the emperor and bearing exotic animals and objects along precipitous paths on an arduous journey. It was estimated at $60,000-80,000 and after a quick contest between three bidders it sold for $149,000.

A rare large three-color lacquer quadrilobed vase. Late 18thearly 19th century

A rare large three-color lacquer quadrilobed vase. Late 18th/early 19th century. Sold for US$ 149,000 (€121,345).

(cf. my post of december 5th 2014)

Buddhist bronzes were a mainstay of both sale days, with a rare Yongle marked gilt bronze figure of the Buddha standing out as the highlight of this collecting area. Undated in the catalog which contained a long footnote describing the nature of the debate, this piece was one of two Buddhist bronzes purchased by the owner from H. Medill Sarkisian in 1980. The first, a gilt bronze of Shadaksari, sold in September of 2013 for more than $1.3 million. This piece, offered at an estimate of $60,000-80,000, inspired a heated contest between four bidders, ultimately selling for $305,000 to a Chinese bidder in the room. The momentum continued throughout the offerings of Ming Buddhist bronzes, with lot after lot exceeding its high estimate.

A gilt bronze seated figure of BuddhaA gilt bronze seated figure of Buddha, Yongle six-character mark. Sold for US$ 305,000 (€248,391). Photo Bonhams.

(cf. my post of december 5th 2014)

Chinese snuff bottles were steady sellers throughout both days of the auction, with white jade bottles and overlay glass bottles bringing the strongest prices. An unusual blue and white porcelain dragon vase, Jiaqing mark, Late Qing dynasty (est. $20,000-30,000), inspired a bidding frenzy, ultimately selling for $317,000 to a bidder in the room.

A blue and white bottle vase with dragons and clouds Jiaqing mark, late Qing dynasty téléchargement (2)

A blue and white bottle vase with dragons and clouds, Jiaqing mark, late Qing dynasty. Sold for US$ 317,000 (€258,164). Photo Bonhams.

Molded with a flared rim to the long neck and body of compressed pear form raised on the flared foot, the walls painted with two dragons facing one another amid clouds and waves set between a cloud collar band below the rim and a squared S-scroll band along the foot, the recessed base bearing the six-character mark in seal script and all surfaces except the foot pad covered with a lustrous celadon-tinged glaze. 11 1/4in (28.5cm) high

Note: For a Jiaqing mark and period vase of similar form but decorated with three dragons contending for a single pearl and shorter in size, see Gugong bowuyuan cang wenwu zhenpin quanji, 2010, vol. 36 (Qinghua youli hong), cat. no. 143, p. 157 (17.4cm high).

Chinese paintings played a large part in the success of this two-day sale, with fresh-to-the market works by known modern artists hammered down in succession to eager buyers. A fan by Zhang Daqian and Pu Jin, depicting a bird on branch reversed by calligraphy, sold for $75,000 against multiple bidders.

Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) and Pu Jin (1893-1966)

Zhang Daqian (1899-1983) and Pu Jin (1893-1966), Bird on a Branch, 1935, and Calligraphy in Running Script, 1937. Sold for US$ 75,000 (€61,079). Photo Bonhams.

Folding fan, ink or ink and color on paper; the painting by Zhang Daqian of a Bird on a Branch, inscribed, dated yihai qi yue (1935, seventh month), dedicated to Menglin and signedZhang Yuan with five artist’s seals reading Dafengtang,Daqian wu yang, Sichuan Zhang Ba, Shuke, and Zhang Daqian; the calligraphy by Pu Jin of a Poem by Bo Juyi, inscribed, dedicated to Menglin, dated dingchou chang xia(1937, summer) and signed Xuezhai Pu Jin with one artist’s seal reading Pu Jin yin9 1/2 x 19in (24.2 x 48.2cm)

An early landscape by Zhang Daqian from a San Francisco collector sold for $106,000 (est. $12,000-15,000) and a group of paintings by Huang Junbi from the collection of Huang Gaonian caused considerable excitement during the exhibition and sale day. A stunning landscape by the artist, painted in 1943, brought $75,000 against multiple bidders. Works by Pu Ru, Li Kuchan, Deng Fen and Wu Hufan brought strong prices both days.

Zhang Daqian (1899-1983)

Zhang Daqian (1899-1983), Scholar in Landscape with Lone Pine. Sold for US$ 106,250 (€86,529). Photo Bonhams.

Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper; inscribed and signedDaqian Jushi Yuan with two artist’s seals reading Daqian da li and Zhang Yuan31 1/2 x 12in (80 x 30.5cm)

Provenance: private collection, San Francisco

Note: While this landscape is undated, the restrained style, together with the rather square calligraphy style, would argue for an early date of the late 1920s to mid-1930s. The artist’s inscription mentions following the painting styles ofDafeng (Zhang Feng 張風, active 1628-1662) and Dadi(Shitao 石濤, 1641-1707). The late Ming painter Zhang Feng was much admired by Zhang Daqian for his « strength and harmony. » As noted by Shen F. C. Fu, Daqian would acknowledge the influence of « Dafeng » when painting a landscape with small figures or a scholar in a cursory landscape with a single pine. See Shen F. C. Fu, Challenging the Past: the Paintings of Chang Dai-chien, Smithsonian Institution, 1991, pp. 96-98.

Commenting on the two-day auction, Dessa Goddard, Director of Asian Art, Bonhams U.S., stated, « Fresh, conservatively estimated, well-curated sales are the trademark of our auctions. They are an irresistible magnet which consistently draws new and seasoned collectors to Bonhams from wherever they are in the world. »