NEW YORK—Intense competition for great objects and strong demand from Japan and mainland China helped fuel record totals for Asian art at a series of spring auctions held, during what has come to be known as Asia Week, by Christie’s and Sotheby’s from March 29-April 1. Christie’s posted $26.3 million, its highest Asian art total to date and comfortably above last year’s total of $20 million. Sotheby’s took $17.8 million, more than double its year-ago figure of $8.3 million.
Observes James Lally, president of J. J. Lally & Co., Manhattan: “The impact of buyers from mainland China was an important dynamic this week. . . . And Japanese buyers, who laid low for some time, have come back strong to bid on Song dynasty (960-1279) pieces.” Lally suggests that the rising market has been a trend “for some time now. People are bidding for the high end of Chinese ceramics rather than for moderately priced items.” An exhibit of early Chinese ceramics at his gallery was sold out by more than half, he reports, citing interest from buyers in town for the auctions as well as for the International Asian Art Fair and the Arts of Pacific Asia show, which were held the first week in April.
Philip Constantinidi, director of Eskenazi Ltd., London, which exhibited Tang dynasty (618-906) works at New York’s PaceWildenstein gallery from March 28-April 9, says private collectors “are in a mood to spend money on quality.” He adds that gallery owners on the whole were upbeat this season about auction sales since “estimates were reasonable and some of the Christie’s lots were priced low.”
Sotheby’s total encompassed sales of fine Chinese ceramics and works of art ($13.36 million) and a $4.4 million sale of Indian and southeast Asian art. Christie’s sale breakdown was: $9.47 million for Chinese ceramics and works of art; $7.2 million, Indian and Southeast Asian art, including modern and contemporary art; $5.6 million, Japanese swords; and $3.9 million, Chinese snuff bottles.
At Sotheby’s in the fine Chinese ceramics and works of art category, Eskenazi Ltd. bought a rare copper-red pear-shaped vase (Ming dynasty, Hongwu period, 1368-98) for $2.03 million (estimate: $300,000/500,000); and a large carved “Ding” foliate dish (Northern Song dynasty, 960-1127) for $1.53 million (estimate: $400,000/600,000).
A Chinese private collector picked up a rare set of ten Imperial Bannermen paintings (Emperor’s Honor Guard), attributed to Jin Tingbiao, inscribed by the Qianlong emperor, Qing dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-95) for $1.02 million (estimate: $100,000/150,000).
Bronze from India Stars at Sotheby’s
In the Indian and southeast Asian art section a rare, early-seventh-century bronze image of the goddess Prajnaparamita, or Saraswati, in copper alloy with silver-and-copper inlay from the Gilgit region in northwest India, set a record at $553,600 (estimate: $400,000/600,000).
Robin Dean, head of Sotheby’s Indian and Southeast Asian department, was “happy to see continued interest in rare and important Himalayan material,” adding, “We saw a rejuvenated Indian miniatures section, with several lots selling many times over their top estimates and a continued aggressive market for modern Indian paintings.”
Maqbool Fida Husain’s acrylic-on-canvas painting Shatranj ki Khiladi (Chess Players), signed in Bengali, fetched $144,000 (estimate: $90,000/120,000); and the late Francis Newton Souza’s oil-on-canvas Landscape, signed and dated “Souza 62,” fell for $132,000 (estimate: $60,000/80,000). Both works were purchased by private European collectors.
At Christie’s, among the top ten in the Chinese ceramics auction was a 16-inch-high polychrome-glazed lobed jar, with a Jiajing period (1522-1566) mark, which was acquired for $598,400 (estimate: $300,000/500,000) by a private buyer. A “numbered” Junyao “hexagonal tripod” Narcissus bowl (Song/Jin dynasty, 12th-13th centuries) went for $396,800 to an east Asian dealer (estimate: $100,000/150,000). Theow Tow, deputy chairman, and Tina Zonars, head of the Chinese art department, reported that “the sale was anchored by several private as well as museum collections that were offered,” adding that results indicate “a continuous and strong market demand for quality, freshness and provenance.”
The sale of Indian and southeast Asian art, including modern and contemporary art, established six new auction records by Indian artists Prabhakar Barwe (1936-1995), Bikash Bhattacharjee (b. 1940), Atul Dodiya (b. 1959), Chittrovanu Mazumdar (b. 1956), Akbar Padamsee (b. 1928) and A. Ramachandran (b. 1935).
Stated Hugo Weihe, Christie’s international director of Asian art and head of its Indian and southeast Asian department: “The sale was another milestone for Indian art. The modern and contemporary section totaled $3.7 million from 94 lots, the highest total ever, and was 95 percent sold.”
A European collector bought a sandstone torso of goddess Uma (33 inches high), Khmer, Angkor period, Baphuon style, 11th century, for $486,400, against a high estimate of $350,000; and an Asian buyer picked up a gray schist head of the Emaciated Siddhartha (81⁄2 inches high), Gandhara, second-third centuries, for $284,800, more than three times the high estimate of $80,000.