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Smithsonian Snaps Up Rare Vase at Asian-Art Sales

The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which together constitute the Asian-art collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., announced that they had bought the top lot at Christie’s sale of Japanese and Korean Art in New York on Sept. 17.

NEW YORK—The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which together constitute the Asian-art collections of the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., announced that they had bought the top lot at Christie’s sale of Japanese and Korean Art in New York on Sept. 17. The work, a stoneware tea storage jar made in China during the late Southern Song or Yuan dynasty (13th–14th century), soared past its $100,000/150,000 estimate amid intense competition in the saleroom to sell for $662,500.

A museum spokesperson declined to specify the institution’s spending limit. “Everyone feels very happy that we were able to acquire it for that price,” she said. “It’s very reasonable,” considering the importance and rarity of the work, she added. The funds for the purchase came from a combination of money from the museum’s membership group and the Freer’s endowment.

According to a statement from the museum, the Chinese jar was shipped to Japan as a container for a commercial product. It “developed a distinguished pedigree in the hands of influential tea connoisseurs, collectors and rulers who used it for storing precious tea and displayed it in their tearooms between the 15th and 20th centuries.” The 16-inch-high jar, which has a mottled amber glaze, carries the name Chigusa, which, depending on which Japanese characters are used, is translated as “abundance of plants” or “abundance of varieties,” the museum said. Its being so named is an indication of its status in ­16th-century Japanese tea culture, in which highly prized Chinese objects were “often imbued with elaborate significance through practices such as naming them and adorning them with special accoutrements,” according to the museum.

A great deal of the jar’s value derives from the accumulated documentation and artifacts that accompany it, including inscriptions, letters, ceremonial accessories and storage boxes that help trace its provenance over the centuries. The jar will be added to the museum’s collection of premodern Japanese ceramics in the Freer Gal­lery. Plans for public exhibition will be announced next year.

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