The Hosokawa Clan and Eisei Bunko (Eisei Archive). Photo: Sotheby’s
HONG KONG.- Sotheby’s Hong Kong will present Heirlooms of Chinese Art from the Hosokawa Clan at the Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art Autumn Sales on 8 October. Dating back to the 14th century, the Hosokawa clan has contributed many prominent figures to Japanese history and ranks among the most prestigious daimyo families. The sale presents an eclectic selection of outstanding porcelain, furniture, paintings and calligraphy, mostly focusing on the exquisite taste prevalent at the Qing court. Among the highlights are a meticulously decorated Qianlong celadon-glazed vase and a zitan hexagonal table intricately carved with Western-style floral scrolls made for the Imperial court. The sale will offer 30 objects, with a total estimate of over HK$38 million / US$4.9 million.
Ryoichi Hirano, International Senior Specialist for Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art and Deputy Managing Director, Sotheby’s, observed, “The taste of the Hosokawas has been refined over many generations and their collection shows great reverence for Chinese aesthetics. We call them bunjin, literati, in the traditional Chinese sense of the word. I am greatly honoured to have this opportunity to introduce these outstanding works of art and paintings from Japan.”
The Hosokawa Clan and Eisei Bunko (Eisei Archive)
The Hosokawa are a branch of the Seiwa Genji that trace their lineage back to Hosokawa Yoriari (1332 – 91), who fought alongside Ashikaga Takauji, and whose patriarch in early modern times was the powerful Sengoku-period daimyo Hosokawa Fujitaka (1534 – 1610). Fujitaka not only survived the constant warfare, but also found time for artistic pursuits—from waka poetry and the Noh theatre to the ancient tea ceremony. The family’s commitment to the arts and culture continues today.
Amassed over 700 years, the Hosokawa collection range from manuscripts to handscrolls, books to paintings. A number of pieces are on display at the Eisei Bunko (Eisei Archive), founded in 1950 by Hosokawa Moritatsu (1883 – 1970), the 24th-generation head of the Hosokawa family. The works in the collection—the living heritage of generations of the Hosokawa family, plus Eastern artworks assiduously assembled by Mortitatsu himself—amount to some 80,000 pieces in total, including eight that have been designated as national treasures and 32 important cultural properties. These range from an impressive variety of arms, armour and historical documents, to items associated with the tea ceremony, Noh masks and costumes, ink paintings and calligraphy, illustrated albums of flora and fauna, as well as paintings in the Chinese style. All these speak eloquently of the spirit of balancing military and cultural accomplishments that runs in every generation of the Hosokawa family.
A Carved Zitan “Floral Scroll” Hexagonal Table, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, 92 x 113 x 113 cm. Est. HK$6 – 8 million / US$770,000 – 1 million. Photo: Sotheby’s
While Ming dynasty furniture is characterised by the perfection of structure through sparsely-decorated designs, elaborate designs that merged European and Chinese forms and decorative motifs were intentionally chosen by the Qianlong Emperor in his desire to display imperial supremacy and grandeur. The importance of this table, likely employed as a games table, is indicated by the exotic zitan wood from which it is constructed. The most valued of all timber, zitan is characterised by its extremely fine and dense grain, which results in a pleasing heavy weight. The deep and subtle natural lustre is comparable to the texture of jade and develops with use; hence it is impossible to reproduce artificially. Its long growth period and limited availability in China made it particularly valuable and by the Qing dynasty measures were taken for its protection. Zitan tables decorated in this fusion of Chinese and European plant and styles are rare.
A Carved Zitan “Landscape” Couch-Bed, Qing Dynasty, 106 x 189.5 x 118.5 cm. Est. HK$5 – 7 million / US$640,000 – 900,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
The form of couch-beds can be traced back as early as the Han dynasty (206 BC-AD 220). Boldly carved with dramatic landscapes within frames fashioned to simulate bamboo trees, this grand couch-bed (luohanchuang) is an impressive display of furniture crafted in zitan which, with its jade-like silky texture, extremely fine and dense grain, subtle and deep lustre, was the favoured timber of the Ming and Qing Courts. Due to the size of beds and the scarcity of the material, zitan couch-beds are particularly rare. The revered material, thickly-rendered proportions and vast landscapes suggest that this bed would have graced the studio of an important male member of the imperial family. The vast landscapes and bamboo forms of this bed would have been appropriate for furnishing a studio as the scenes provided a form of escape from the duties of officialdom as well as serving as a means of inspiration for poems, paintings and meditations.
An Imperial “Landscape” Handscroll, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, Dated In Accordance With 1746. Frontispiece 10.3 x 30.1 cm; artwork 10.3 by 56.7 cm. Est. HK$4 – 6 million / US$510,000 – 770,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
During his 60-year reign, Qianlong distinguished himself with both civil and martial terms, as well as with an appreciation for cultural refinement and a love of literati life. As recorded in the Shiqu baoji xubian, the Qianlong Emperor painted this scroll of “autumn mountains in mist, with a lone gazebo by the water” during New Year in 1746 in the Chonghua Gong (“Palace of Double Brilliance”). Opening with layered peaks and the beautiful scenery along the facing banks of a river, the scroll continues with a riverside gazebo drawn in minimalist brushwork, with trees and rocks rendered in an impressionistic xieyi style.
A Reticulated Wood “Three Friends Of Winter” Ruyi Sceptre, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong Period, 38 cm. Est. HK$2 – 3 million / US$260,000 – 380,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
Intricately carved with the “three friends of winter”, the headpiece of the current ruyi sceptre is abundant with pine, and prunus is interspersed with bamboo on the shaft. As a work of art, it is finely executed, poetically elegant, yet naturalistically modelled. During the Yongzheng and Qianlong periods, the court had a great fondness for such naturalistically carved ruyi sceptres. Incised with a date denoting the first year of Qianlong period and an additional single character jin (“entrance” or “advance”), the current scepter is a rare example made shortly after the Emperor ascended the throne.
A Fine Doucai “Magpies And Prunus” Cup, Mark And Period Of Yongzheng, 6.9 cm, HK$1.2 – 1.5 million / US$150,000 – 190,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
This cup is notable for the skilful use of underglaze blue. Porcelain decorated in the doucai technique generally consisted of enamelling within pencilled underglaze blue lines; however the craftsman of the present cup has also expertly applied layers of cobalt to give texture and added three-dimensionality, as seen in the bodies of the birds (pictured above right). This style of decoration reflects the simple yet elegant style favoured by the Yongzheng emperor.
A Very Rare Celadon-Glazed Double-Gourd “Lotus Scroll” Vase, Seal Mark And Period Of Qianlong, 22.4 cm Est. HK$3 – 4 million / US$380,000 – 510,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
Striking for its elegant shape and carved decoration which emerges under a cool celadon glaze, this vase draws on celebrated porcelain traditions and reinterprets them to result in a rare and engaging piece. The form and decoration appear to have derived from early Ming moonflasks (bianhu) painted with flower scrolls in underglaze blue which were revived during the Yongzheng reign and continued into the Qianlong period. The crisp celadon glaze further reveals the Qianlong emperor’s admiration of Longquan celadon wares of the Song period and his encouragement of innovative approaches towards celadon glazes. Among those most admired by contemporary connoisseurs is the present fengqing, a pale bluish-green glaze. When applied to finely carved pieces, the thinning and pooling of the glaze on the raised lines and the recesses create very attractive contrasting tones as seen on the present piece.
An Extremely Rare Famille-Rose Brushpot Inscribed With Imperial Poems, Seal Mark And Period Of Qianlong, Dated In Accordance With 1736; 10.2 cm. Est. HK$2.5 – 3.5 million / US$320,000 – 450,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
This piece originally belonged to an exclusive set of five brushpots, each inscribed with six poems. A second brushpot from this group can be seen in the National Palace Museum, Taipei. The poems on the present brushpot are the first six of a set of 30 composed by the Qianlong Emperor, dated from before his ascension to the throne in 1736.
A Handscroll Painting Of Flowers By Yun Shouping (1633-1690), Qing Dynasty, Kangxi Period, Dated In Accordance With 1688; 29.7 by 331.5 cm. HK$1.2 – 1.8 million / US$150,000 – 230,000. Photo: Sotheby’s
A famous painter of the early Qing dynasty, Yun Shouping (1633-90) ranks as one of the six masters of the early Qing, and is notable for his mogu (“boneless paintings”, colour paintings devoid of outlines) paintings of flowers. This scroll, executed in light colours in a realistic style, depicts a total of ten flowers, namely pear flower, peach blossom, tree peony (detailed right), red poppy, herbaceous peony, mallow, banana flower, chrysanthemum, narcissus and prunus (detailed below). The passage of time can be seen through the varying seasonal blooms. The quiet elegance of white pear blossoms gives in to peonies. Later come autumnal chrysanthemums in brilliant reds, whites, and purples, followed by narcissuses with their extraordinary subtle fragrance, and at last a finale of elegant prunus painted in pure ink. This naturalistically painted scroll was in the collection of Yunli (1697 – 1738), the 17th son of the Kangxi Emperor, and later in the collection of Fang Junyi (1815 – 89), a presented scholar, as well as knowledgeable connoisseur and astute collector.