Sale-topping £92,000 bid for rare Korean genre scenes by Kisan
29/05/2019 News Stories & Press Release, Chinese, Japanese & South East Asian Art
LONDON: Rare paintings by revered Korean and Chinese artists spanning the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, emerged as the star performers in a diverse offering of Asian art held at Roseberys London in May. In addition to the paintings, the Chinese, Japanese & South East Asian Art sale achieved particularly strong sums for rare Chinese porcelain, exquisitely carved cinnabar lacquer and a group of arms and armour formerly exhibited at the British Museum.
Bill Forrest, Head of Chinese, Japanese & South East Asian Art Department, commented: The sale received a huge amount of interest, perhaps owing to the fact that it was an extremely varied sale, offering a large accumulation of Chinese porcelain, some good 18th century jades, a range of bronze objects from the Shang to Qing dynasties, a wonderful collection of scroll paintings and a private collection of Chinese weapons and armour. There is certainly no sign that interest in the rarest and best Chinese pieces is waning, but there is definitely greater emphasis being placed on condition, provenance, and rarity. Unusually, though, for an Asian Art sale, the top-selling lot was a set of fourteen Korean paintings on silk by the much-revered genre artist Kisan. These are heading back to Korea, after they were secured by a bid on the telephone of £92,000.
Six months after 16 silk genre scenes by Korean artist Kim Jun-Geum (late 19th-early 20th century), better known by his artistic name Kisan, sold in Roseberys’ November sale of Asian art for a remarkable £40,000, 14 more from the same series of genre scenes were discovered in the vendor’s attic (Lot 469). Despite containing two fewer works, the latest group made considerably more this time round. The buyer from the November sale was active again hoping to reunite the set, while other bidders were determined not to lose out a second time. In all, bids were taken from the internet, room and five phone lines before it fell to a buyer bidding via the latter for £92,000 – a reflection of their great value and rarity. Kisun’s creations focus on genre scenes of everyday life in Korea including its many rites, crafts and customs. These were already disappearing by the time Kisan was painting in the late 19th and early 20th century. His works were primarily acquired in port areas such as Pusan and Wonsan as souvenirs by Western travellers, who came in great numbers after Korea was forcibly opened up by Japan in 1876. Today they offer a rare glimpse into the forgotten ways of traditional Korean life and are valuable repositories of knowledge for ethnologists and cultural historians, with examples in The British Museum, the Rijksmuseum, The State Museum of Oriental Art in Moscow and the Smithsonian Institution in the US.
Another highlight from the category was an unusually large watercolour hanging scroll by Ren Yi (1840-1896), the son of a rice merchant who became a leader of the late Qing Shanghai school of painting (Lot 369). According to its inscriptions, the scroll was presented many years ago as a birthday gift. The combination of cranes and pine trees in the work – symbols of longevity in China –made it well-suited for such a gift.The inscriptions were written by He Tianjian (1891-1977) to a Mr Pei Liang - possibly Xiang Peiliang (1905-1959), a famous playwright and writer in the first half of the 20th century who was also one of the first that introduced the Bible, both the Old and New Testament, to Chinese readers. This provenance combined with the skilful and deft brush strokes characteristic of Ren Yi’s style ensured it drew multiple bids on the day. It was eventually knocked down for £25,000, well above the £1,000-1,500 estimate.
Elsewhere in the category, strong bidding emerged for a silk painting conveying the legendary splendour of a Han Palace by the Qianlong court artist Yuan Yao (active 1720-1780) (Lot 390). Spring Dawn in the Han Palace, dated 1740, was made using ink and colour on a piece of silk measuring 3ft 5in wide. Despite significant water damage and several tears and splits to the silk, it sold for £38,000 after a prolonged bidding battle between three phones. The sum was a significant improvement on the £3,000-5,000 estimate. A follower of the renowned landscape painter Yuan Jiang, Yuan Yao flourished in his native Yangzhou during the 18th century, becoming a court painter during the Qianlong reign of the Qing Dynasty. He excelled in the genres of landscape and boundary painting, specifically in the depiction of pavilions, pagodas and palace buildings. Most of his paintings are distinguished by the elegant and careful realist technique known as gongbi, although his contribution to Chinese painting, especially boundary painting, was not fully recognised until later in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Chinese Works of Art
A rarity among the Chinese ceramics came in the form of a Kangxi-period vase exhibiting an unusual and complex decoration (Lot 37). It featured an underglaze blue and copper red dragon around the neck, above a monochrome blue glazed body finely incised with decorative roundels. It was bought on the phone against an online bidder for £9,000 hammer, despite three small repaired chips around the rim. Forming part of a private collection of Chinese archaic bronzes in this sale was a ritual wine vessel or gu from the Shang Dynasty (13th-11th century BC) (Lot 261). Cast with taotie masks, it was hotly pursued over top estimate to £6,800 where it was secured by a distinguished collector from Hong Kong bidding on the phone. There were two stand out pieces of Chinese cinnabar lacquer originating from the same private source. Selling on top estimate at £5000 to a phone bidder was a small 18th century two-colour cinnabar lacquer box and cover finely carved with 'Three Abundances' (sanduo), peaches, pomegranates and finger citron – together symbolising blessing, long life and many sons (Lot 258). Vases featuring these symbols were often offered to the emperor, as they conveyed a wish to enjoy a long reign and remain forever youthful. The piece’s 18th century date and sanduo decoration were key to its appeal. The second lot was an exceptionally well carved 18th century Chinese cinnabar lacquer box decorated with the wonderful iconography of the so called ‘Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove’ (Lot 257). The box sold to another telephone bidder for £4000. The Seven Sages were a group of Chinese scholars and poets of the mid-3rd century AD who banded together to escape from the hypocrisy and danger of the political world, which had descended into turmoil following the fall of the Han Dynasty in AD220. The scholars chose to dedicate their time to poetry, music, Daoist-inspired discussions (as is the case here) and sometimes heavy drinking. The Seven Sages, which are referenced throughout Chinese and Japanese art and literature, have become emblematic of the retreat from public life and of the struggle of scholars against corrupt political practices and restrictive Confucian rules. References to the group were particularly popular in the transition period between the late Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties when social and political upheaval was rife, and many officials faced the difficult decision of whether to serve the new Qing dynasty.
Chinese Arms and Armour
In the sale were nearly 30 lots of Chinese weapons and armour from a private collection in London, where they had been since before 2000 (Lot 322-350). The collection sold for a total of £26,000, with most lots far exceeding estimates. Some of the pieces had been exhibited at the British Museum in 1994 as part of a larger exhibition titled ‘Chinese Arms and Armour’. A highlight was an early 20th century ceremonial temple sword with an engraved bone grip and brass mounts (Lot 322). The damascened blade was decorated with immortals and auspicious characters and bore a Qianlong seal mark. It sold together with a similar double sword for £2000 against a £200-400 estimate. There were also two double-handed swords dating from the 19th century and Second World War period, which sold for £440 against a £150-250 estimate (Lot 350).
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