Every fall, the Asian art market turns its attention to London. Asian Art in London is an annual, 10-day affair that includes auctions, exhibitions, lectures, and events that celebrate the expansive world of Asian art, providing a stable platform for the field in the European sector (the comprehensive list of participants can be found on the event’s website). The event runs from October 31 through November 9, and the associated Gala will be held on Tuesday, November 5, at Bonhams’ Bond Street location.
The top auction houses will be presenting world-class items this week, from stunning pieces of Chinese porcelain to delicately rendered Japanese woodblocks. This article will preview some of the stand out pieces coming up at the major auction houses – Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Bonhams – along with offerings from local European auction houses.
Unlike the latest edition of Asia Week in New York, where there was only one Japanese sale, the London Sotheby’s location is presenting many sales of Japanese works of art. The selection ranges from woodblock prints with starting bids under 2,000 GBP to ceremonial weapons, furniture, silver, scrolls, and porcelain with starting bids that exceed 100,000 GBP. One high-end woodblock coming to auction is the ever-popular Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai, as well as his Shower Below the Summit, which captures Mount Fuji from the west amid a summer rainstorm (pictured below).
A rare piece of porcelain offered by Sotheby’s depicts a seated Samurai in the Kakiemon style—a widely popular porcelain style during the Edo Period. There are only two other examples of this specific Kakiemon model recorded, making it a unique finding on the auction block.
In addition to their Japanese line-up, Sotheby’s is also presenting a sale of Imperial Porcelain from a Private Collection and a sale of Important Chinese Art. The porcelain hitting the auction block includes excellent examples from China’s most prolific eras of creation, including the Qianlong and Qing dynasties. The Chrysanthemum dish depicted below belongs to the Yongzheng period and bears the associated mark, its unusual bright green glaze making it an attractive option for collectors. Intricate jades, red lacquer pieces, bronze votive figures, and other remarkable works constitute the remainder of the Chinese Art sale.
In contrast to its counterpart, Christie’s is presenting a Japanese and Korean art sale online rather than providing an in-person option. Bidding opens below 1,000 GBP, so this sale is more accessible to collectors of varying levels. The in-house auctions taking place this week include a sale of fine Chinese works and a unique sale of Chinese trade paintings from the Kelton collection.
The ancient ritual vessel depicted above comes from the collection of legendary dealer C.T. Loo, and dates to the late Shang Dynasty. The tripod figure portrays taotie masks above each leg, zoomorphic faces commonly found on these types of objects in the Shang Dynasty. Other highlights from this sale are Qi Bashi’s Peaches and Chrysanthemums and a rare Imperial Bianzhong from the Qianlong Period.
China Trade Paintings were represented by selections from the Kelton Collection, which is according to the auction house, is “the first substantial collection of paintings in this category to come to auction for a generation.” In addition to their aesthetic value, these works document the times in history— between 1750 and 1850— when Western merchants were flocking to the East to trade in exotic wares such as tea, spices, and silk.
This portrait by Lam Qua, who trained under George Chinnery (1774–1852), the first English painter that settled in China, is an excellent example of the artist’s Westernized portrait style. He was considered a master of the genre and became popular with the Western community in and outside of Asia.
If you are in search of Tibetan artwork, Bonhams’ sale of Chinese art features many works from the kingdom of clouds. Illustrated below is an uncommon figure of the Naga King Karkota of the ancient Indian snake-human Naga cult that was incorporated into Buddhist legends over time.
Two Japanese art auctions will be held at Bonhams, each offering a diverse array of objects. The first sale of only 26 lots presents masterpieces from a Royal Collection, featuring adorned medicine and food containers, lacquered wood panels, scrolls, and other unusual works. To be offered in this sale is a 20th-century iron model of a snake by Tanaka Tadayosh, known for his craftsmanship of serpentine creatures.
The second sale of Japanese art boasts a multitude of different mediums and styles. Wood carvings of animals from the Edo period and decadent lacquer works appear alongside Meji era porcelain and colorful woodblocks (including a Kikukawa school Shunga print). This cabinet ( depicted below), in the form of a shrine has been attributed to the Komai Company of Kyoto, a family of sword makers who developed their own technique used to adorn guns, daggers, and sword furniture.
Regional Auction Houses
Even though the large international auction houses have a massive reach in the market, it is still essential to pay attention to regional auctions as they will often come across unique works that never appear on their larger competitors’ radar.
Lyon and Turnbull auction— one of the few auctioneers presenting Islamic works along with traditional arts of Asia— is taking place November 6th.
Larasati Auctioneers, who, unlike most of the competion, are presenting a Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art will hold their sale on November 8th.
Lastly, Woolley & Wallis will present three sales from November 12th-13th: Fine Chinese Paintings & Works of Art, Japanese Works of Art, and Asian Art.
For a comprehensive look at all the participating auctions in Asian Art in London, click here.