tag archives: asian art

‘arguably the greatest example of early ming blue and white porcelain in private hands.’

sold for US$29.5 million.

the second-highest price paid at auction for ming dynasty (1368-1644) porcelain.

an exceptionally large, fine, and important blue and white lobed ‘fish pond’ bowl | mark and period of xuande (r. 1425-1435)

sold to an asian private collector for US$29.5 million | sotheby’s hong kong | 5 april 2017 | sale HK0766 | lot 101

now on loan to the long museum, shanghai, china, for an upcoming exhibition that opens on 28 april 2017

photo credits sotheby’s

when my husband, bob, and i lived in london, i had the pleasure of meeting many brilliant scholars while i was completing my post graduate studies and masters degree in asian art at the british museum and the school of oriental and african studies (soas) at the university of london.

regina krahl, an brilliant chinese ceramics scholar, wrote ‘fishes in the imperial pond’, the essay in the sotheby’s catalog.

she described the bowl as:

‘…unrivaled in its design, its painting quality, shape and size…’

the ‘fish swimming in a lotus pond’ design is inextricably associated with daoist literature.  in ‘the pleasures of fishes’, a famous passage from the 4th century BC daoist classic zhuangzi, fish are associated with freedom of expression because they swim wherever they choose.

if you had the freedom to buy whatever you choose, would you pay an unprecedented price for an object of unrivaled quality?

no limits:  zao wou-ki

asia society | new york, ny

9 september 2016-8 january 2017

sin título 41337.tif

zao wou-ki (1921-2013) | homage to chu yun—05.05.55 | oil on canvas | 1955 | private collection, switzerland

© zao wou-ki prolitteris, zurich | photo credit dennis bouchard via art summary

1967

zao wou-ki (1921-2013) | 09.07.67 | oil on canvas | 1967 | private collection, taiwan

© zao wou-ki/prolitteris, zurich | photo via asia society

cat-20_pour-mon-frc3a8re-wu-wai-_1965

zao wou-ki (1921-2013) | 05.03.65—for my brother wu-wai | oil on canvas | 1965 | chao 2000 trust

© zao wou-ki prolitteris, zurich | photo credit michelle geoga via asia society

1976

zao wou-ki (1921-2013) | 13.01.76 | oil on canvas | 1976 | private collection, taiwan

© zao wou-ki/prolitteris, zurich | photo via asia society

christie’s new york is selling an extraordinary collection of chinese furniture.

 the collection of robert hatfield ellsworth | christie’s new york | 17-21 march 2015

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

the extraordinary collection of robert hatfield ellsworth includes not only chinese furniture, but also buddhist art, scholar’s objects, and contemporary paintings.

 

polychrome wood figure of a seated bodhisattva | china | song-jin dynasty (960-1234)

this sculpture greeted guests as they entered robert ellsworth’s apartment

sold for US$ 1,685,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 58

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

as well as chinese bronzes, jades, and ceramics.

gilt bronze figure of a seated bear | china | western han dynasty (206 BCE-8 CE)

one of a set of four weights, used to anchor the corners of a bamboo seating mat

sold for US$ 2,853,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 1

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

along with japanese, himalayan, indian, and southeast asian art.

 stable with fine horses | one of a pair of six panel screens | japan | edo period (17th century)

sold for US$ 509,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 45

photo credit christie’s | wsj

the ellsworth collection is the largest private collection of asian art ever sold at auction.  the 2000 object collection will be sold during six live auctions and one on line auction held from 17-21 march 2015.

  III 

IIIIV

VVI

photo credits christie’s

i was thrilled that my recent trip to new york coincided with the auction preview, which is, not surprisingly, generating unprecedented crowds.  the auctions also seem to be generating unprecedented results.

robert ellsworth (1929-2014) was a prominent american asian art collector, dealer, and scholar.  he sold asian art from his 22 room new york apartment, located on fifth avenue near the metropolitan museum of art.  as an asian art dealer, ellsworth has been credited with establishing new collecting categories, such as ancient chinese jades, or chinese furniture from the ming (1368-1644) and qing (1644-1911) dynasties.  his clients included major museums, such as the met, the museum of fine arts, boston, the cleveland museum of art, the philadelphia museum of art, and the nelson-atkins museum.  plus, important private collectors, such as john d. rockefeller III, who donated his asian art collection to the asia society.

ellsworth’s publications include chinese furniture:  hardwood examples of the ming and early ch’ing dynasties, which is considered one of the chinese furniture reference books.

some of the most important pieces of chinese furniture in the ellsworth collection are huanghuali wood tables and chairs.

chinese furniture is usually categorized according to construction technique.  chinese tables usually have either corner legs or recessed legs.  corner leg tables can be either unwaisted or waisted.

huanghuali waisted rectangular corner-leg games table | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

robert ellsworth received this table as a 60th birthday gift

sold for US$ 1,205,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 44

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace, christie’s, lisa walsh | innerspace, and christie’s

chinese games tables are usually square.  this table is exceptional because it is the only known example of a rectangular games table with drawers.  the removable top and game boards are also unusual.

 recessed leg tables can have either plain or cloud shaped spandrels.

huanghuali recessed leg painting table | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

sold for US$ 3,525,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 42

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace
this painting table is exceptional because of the massive timber, generous width, and early date.

 huanghuali recessed leg table | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

sold for US$ 1,565,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 46

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace, christie’s, and lisa walsh | innerspace

chinese armchairs usually have either rectangular or round backs with either protruding or continuous crest rails.

pair of huanghuali ‘four corner exposed’ official’s hat armchairs | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

sold for US$ 2,045,000 | christie’s new york | 18 march 2015 | sale 11419 | lot 121

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace and christie’s


pair of huanghuali bamboo-form continuous horseshoe-back armchairs | china | late ming-early qing dynasty (17th-early 18th century)

sold for US$ 2,629,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 47

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace, lisa walsh | innerspace, and christie’s

this pair of horseshoe back armchairs is exceptional because the chairs have continuous back rails, which are quite fragile, and therefore extremely rare.  the round members, undulating aprons, and wrap around stretchers emulate bamboo, which was a less expensive material than hardwood.

a set of four huanghuali horseshoe-back armchairs | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

sold for US$ 9,685,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 41

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace
several unusual features distinguish this set of four armchairs from other horsehoe-back armchairs.

huanghuali horseshoe-back armchair | china | qing dynasty (17th-18th century)

sold for US$ 581,000 | christie’s new york | 18 march 2015 | sale 11419 | lot 139

photo credit christie’s

the extremely elegant curve of the crest rails.  the exceptional sweeping hooks of the handles.  the unusual three-part pierced backsplats.  and, the sublime grain of the wood, which suggests a mountain landscape.

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

do you think that these features make the four armchairs worth US$ 9,000,000?

whenever i visit somewhere that i’ve been, i always try to visit somewhere new.

so, during a recent weekend getaway to los angeles, CA, i finally visited the gamble house, greene & greene’s arts and crafts architectural masterpiece in pasadena, CA.

greene & greene | the gamble house | pasadena, CA | 1907-1909

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

several years ago, i collaborated with one of my interior design clients on a craftsman style renovation.  houses designed by charles rennie mackintosh, mackay hugh baillie-scott, frank lloyd wright, and charles & henry greene inspired the architecture and the interiors.

the gamble house is the most complete greene & greene residence still in existence, and the only one now open as a museum.  the original paneling, cabinetry, stained glass, fixtures, and furnishings, custom designed for the house by the greene brothers, still remain.*  the walls are still painted the original colors.  and, the furniture is still in the original location.

so of course, i booked the behind the velvet ropes tour of the gamble house to take advantage of the opportunity to closely examine the architecture and the interiors.

the gamble house | exterior

the architecture, the interiors, and the landscaping are fully integrated, which seems like a surprisingly modern concept, considering that the gamble house was built for david and mary gamble, of the proctor and gamble company (p&g), between 1907 and 1909.  the gamble house was built as a winter ‘cottage’.  so, it was designed for indoor-outdoor living.  the gamble family used the terraces on the first floor and the sleeping porches on the second floor of the north and west wings of the house as exterior living spaces.  the broad, overhanging eaves were designed to shelter the porches from the sun.  and, the house was oriented towards the west to capture the breezes from the arroyo seco canyon.

the gamble house | northeast and north elevations

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

for the west terrace, the greene brothers used arroyo boulders and clinker bricks to build a retaining wall, which raised the elevation of the terrace from ground to floor level.

the gamble house | northwest elevation

photo credit alexander vertikoff

they planted creeping fig vines along the retaining wall to ground the foundation.  and, they designed the terrace around two trees, which are no longer standing, by notching out the eaves of the overhanging roof, and building a well around the trees.  they contoured the water lily and goldfish pond to fit the contour of the tree well.  and, they engineered an overflow drainage system for the pond by perforating the stone and brick retaining wall.

the gamble house | west terrace

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

greene & greene often used clinker bricks in combination with local stone for foundations, retaining walls, or chimneys.  clinker bricks could be considered wasters.  but, the imperfection of the distorted shapes and the irregular colors of the over fired bricks appealed to the wabi sabi aesthetics of arts and crafts architects and designers, like greene & greene.  in addition to wabi sabi, arts and crafts architecture incorporated other japanese design principles.  for example, the front door of the gamble house has an extra low header and an extra wide door.  not only the horizontal proportions, but also the double T-shaped teak frame, are references to the torii gate outside the entrance to a shinto shrine.

the gamble house | front door

photo credit alexander vertikoff

torii gate | itsukushima shrine | miyajima island, japan

photo credit unesco | g boccardi

the front door has stained glass panes in either a california live oak tree or a japanese black pine tree design.  the glass was designed by charles greene and crafted by emil lange, who previously worked for tiffany studios in new york.  lange used the copper foil fabrication technique, popularized by louis comfort tiffany, to join the the laminated layers of iridescent stained glass.

the gamble house | front door

photo credits alexander vertikoff and randell l. makinson & thomas a. heinz

the gamble house | interior | first floor

the gamble house | first floor plan

north>

photo credit library of congress

entry hall

the entry hall integrates the interior of the gamble house with the exterior.  if you look at the first floor plan, you will
notice the asymmetrical alignment of the front and back doors.  the front door opens onto the porch on the east side of the house.  and, the back door opens onto the terrace on the west side of the house.  balanced, yet unbalanced.

the entry hall is paneled in teak with a hand rubbed finish.  the wall panels, frieze frames, and ceiling grids divide the surfaces into modular components.  the frieze and the ceiling are plastered, and covered in painted panels of stretched canvas.  on the south side of the entry hall, the wall panels conceal access to utilitarian spaces, such as the coat closet and the cellar stairs.

the gamble house | entry hall

photo credit greene & greene virtual archives (ggva)

more storage compartments are concealed beneath the seat of the settle, which is built into the stair alcove.

the gamble house | entry hall

stair alcove

photo credit ggva

the teak staircase is a complex cascade of exposed joinery.

the gamble house | entry hall

staircase

photo credit mark fiennes

in addition to emil lange, the greene brothers collaborated with other master craftsmen, including brothers peter and john hall.  peter hall built the stairs, the paneling, and the woodwork.  and, john hall built the custom furnishings that the greene brothers designed for the gamble house.

many of the furniture designs seem quite simple.  the materials, the construction, and the craftsmanship double as decoration.  but, many of the construction techniques are quite complex.  the honduras mahogany and ebony side table in the entry hall is finished on all four sides. the drawers, which hang from runners, push all the way through the apron of the table.  so, the drawers open from either the front or the back.

the gamble house | entry hall

side table | honduras mahogany|ebony | 1908

photo credit ggva

den

the entrance to the den is on the north side of the entry hall.  the den is paneled in oak, instead of teak, and has a pressed brick fireplace.  did you notice that one brick on the upper right side of the over mantle is set backwards to expose the ‘II’ maker’s mark?  perfectly imperfect, like the clinker bricks.

the den, along with two bedrooms, were originally furnished with stickley furniture.  the den furniture included david gamble’s rolltop desk, and his morris chair, plus the filing cabinets that he transported back and forth between p&g headquarters in cincinnati and the gamble house in pasadena.  the harvey ellis cabinet in the den is the only piece of the original stickley furniture that remains.  the rest was donated by the friends of the gamble house.

the gamble house | den

fireplace

photo credit mark fiennes

living room

the entrance to the living room is also on the north side of the entry hall.  the inglenook fireplace in the living room backs up to the brick fireplace in the den.  grueby tile, inlaid in iridescent stained glass with a trailing vine pattern, surrounds the firebox, which is flanked by a pair of built in display cabinets with stained glass doors and a pair of built in settles.

the gamble house | living room

inglenook fireplace

photo credit mark fiennes

charles greene designed five tree of life patterned rugs for the living room, including one for the inglenook.  he thought that the tree of life pattern created a connection with the tree pattern on the front door.  the rugs were woven in bohemia, now the czech republic, by j. ginzkey, who also made rugs for arts and crafts and wiener werkstatte designers charles francis annesley voysey and josef hoffman.

the gamble house | living room

living room rug design | watercolor on paper | 1908

living room rug | wool pile|linen warp|cotton weft | 1908-1909

photo credits the gamble house and the gamble house

a pair of teak queen post trusses separates the living room from the inglenook fireplace and the seating alcove.  both the separations and the furnishings divide the large living room into intimate areas for multiple activities.

the gamble house | living room

seating alcove

photo credit mark fiennes

the custom furnishings include a mahogany and ebony library table, with drawers like the side table in the entry hall,  accompanied by two tall side chairs.  mary gamble brought the tiffany studios bronze reading lamp, which has a tulip lampshade and a moth eye shade, from cincinnati to pasadena in 1909.

the gamble house | living room

library table | honduras mahogany|ebony | 1908

tall side chair | honduras mahogany|ebony|oak|metal|wool | 1908

photo credits ggva and ggva

however, most of the lighting was custom designed for the gamble house by charles greene.  the ceiling light fixtures that he designed for the living room are multi-functional.  they not only function as down lights, but also as up lights.  leather straps, secured with wooden wedges, suspend the fixtures from the ceiling brackets.

the brackets and the canopy are shaped like tsuba, the hand guards on japanese swords.  charles greene, who loved japanese art, collected tsuba.  part of his tsuba collection is now exhibited on the third floor of the gamble house.

the gamble house | living room

ceiling light fixture | mahogany|ebony|cedar|leather|stained glass | 1908

photo credit tim street-porter

mokkogata tsuba | iron | signed hosinasi toshikage and kao | edo period | 19th c

christie’s | south kensington | london, united kingdom | sale 7316 | lot 195 | 7 november 2012

photo credit christie’s

even though most of the custom greene & greene furniture is quite simple, some of it is more decorated.  an inlaid letter box sits on top of a desk, which is located on the left side of the inglenook fireplace in the living room.  on the front, the letter box is inlaid in ebony, ivory, and silver with the crane and rose gamble family crest.  two four lobed mokkogata tsuba panels frame the crest.  did you notice that a ‘gamble crane’ is also suspended over the built in settle in the entry hall?

the gamble house | living room

letter box | mahogany|ebony|ivory|silver|oak | 1914

desk | mahogany|ebony | 1914

photo credits the gamble house and the gamble house

the side panels of the letter box, which have tree inlays, conceal triangular drawers.

the gamble house | living room

letter box | side panel | mahogany|ebony|ivory|silver|oak | 1914

letter box design | side panel | graphite on paper | c. 1914

photo credits ggva and ggva

the teak paneling in the living room is also inset with tree and mountain, bird and flower, or cloud and wave decorative panels.  the carved and brushed redwood panels have been compared to rama carvings, which are part of the frieze construction of a japanese house.  since i have studied asian art, i think that a stylistic comparison could also be made between the carvings and japanese screens.  interestingly, the greene & greene virtual archive (ggva) describes some of the scenes as seagulls, beaches, and waves.  could the carvings be california coastal scenes, instead?

the gamble house | living room

carved redwood frieze panel

photo credit mark fiennes

pair of six-fold paper screens | ink and color on a gold ground | japan | edo period | 18th c

gregg baker asian art | london, united kingdom

photo credit gregg baker asian art

dining room

the entrance to the dining room is on the southwest side of the entry hall.  i shouldn’t have been surprised that the rose patterned stained glass screen above the built in mahogany sideboard in the dining room is illuminated by soffit lighting.  after all, the gamble house was built with all of the modern conveniences, including electricity, central heating, and ensuite bathrooms.

the gamble house | dining room

built in sideboard

photo credit tim street-porter

tsuba inspired decoration predominates the dining room.  lobed pendants subdivide the frieze above the sideboard, the windows, and the built in china cupboards that flank the fireplace, which has a motawi tile surround.  the canopy, brackets, and cap of the ceiling light fixture, custom designed by charles greene, also have re-entrant corners.  even the expandable base of dining room table, expertly engineered by henry greene, has lobed corners.

the gamble house | dining room

ceiling light fixture | mahogany|ebony|metal|leather|leaded art glass | 1908

dining room

base | dining room table | santo domingo mahogany|ebony | 1908

photo credits ggva tim street-porter and ggva

kitchen

the dining room connects to the kitchen through the butler’s pantry.  in the butler’s pantry, all of the upper cabinets have sliding doors.  and, one of the lower cabinets is equipped with an extra wide linen drawer, fitted with a roller for tablecloth storage.  both the butler’s pantry and the kitchen, which connects to the cellar through the service porch or the stairs on the south side of the entry hall, are fitted with custom maple cabinets.

the gamble house | kitchen

photo credit mark fiennes

guest bedroom

the entrance to the guest bedroom is on the south side of the entry hall.  this ensuite bedroom is where guests, who were not members of the gamble family, stayed.

 

the gamble house | guest bedroom

photo credits ggva tim street-porter and ggva

the furniture that charles greene designed for the guest bedroom is more embellished than the furniture that he designed for the public spaces of the gamble house.  the headboards and footboards of the nickel plated brass beds are engraved with trailing vines.  and, the maple furniture is inlaid with scrolling floral silver stringing.

 

   the gamble house | guest bedroom

footboard | nickel plated brass | 1908

crest | side chair | maple|figured maple|oak|ebony|silver | 1908

photo credits ggva and ggva

the legs of the desk and the dressing table have silver decorated stiles.  the front of the letter box on top of the desk, and the frame of the mirror on top of the dressing table are also inlaid with scrolling floral silver stringing.  and, all of the drawers have silver loop pulls.


the gamble house | guest bedroom

desk and letter box | maple|figured maple|oak|mahogany|ebony|silver | 1908

dressing table and mirror | maple|figured maple|vermillion wood|oak|ebony|silver|glass | 1908

photo credits ggva and ggva

even the sconces are inlaid with silver stringing and have silver straps.

the gamble house | guest bedroom

sconce | honduras mahogany|silver|stained glass | 1908

photo credit ggva

the gamble house | interior | second floor

the gamble house | second floor plan

north>

photo credit library of congress

hall

the second floor of the gamble house is furnished with fewer precious materials.  the second floor hall is paneled in cedar, instead of teak.  and, the paneling is only chair rail height, instead of header height.  on the east wall, two built in display cabinets are separated by a window seat with concealed storage compartments.  on the south wall, the built in wardrobe has spring loaded handles on the doors.  the top of the wardrobe is even stepped like the stair railing.

if you look at the second floor plan, you will notice another interior-exterior connection.  the hall has a back door, which opens onto the sleeping porch on the west side of the house.

bedroom

the entrance to the bedroom used by one of david and mary gamble’s three sons is on the north side of the hall.  amenities include a closet, a fireplace, and built in cabinets on the west wall, plus an ensuite bathroom, and a sleeping porch.  like the den, this bedroom originally had stickley furniture.

master bedroom

the entrance to the master bedroom is also on the north side of the hall.  amenities include an inglenook fireplace that backs up to the fireplace in the son’s bedroom, an ensuite bathroom, a sleeping porch, a walk in closet, and a built in wardrobe.  like the hall wardrobe, the doors have spring loaded handles.  but, the master bedroom wardrobe also has drawers, concealed in the baseboard, that the gambles used for shoe storage.

the linear band of the carpet repeats the headband and the ceiling band that frame the frieze.  with a double banded frieze, the greene brothers often chose three graduated colors for the walls, the frieze, and the ceiling.  if the plaster walls weren’t covered in painted canvas, they were sanded and washed with a transparent stain.

the gamble house | master bedroom

photo credit tim street-porter

even though they are also decorated, the master bedroom furnishings seem more similar to the furnishings that charles greene designed for the public spaces than for the guest bedroom.  the master bedroom furniture is decorated with pierced or applied ebony tsuba that overlay inlaid birds and flowers.  the inlays include fruitwoods, metals, abalone shells, and minerals.  the tsuba overlays are even outlined with brass pins.

the gamble house | master bedroom

footboard | black walnut|ebony|oak|metal|minerals | 1908

photo credit ggva

but, like the furniture in the public spaces, the craftsmanship seems to outshine the decoration.  the construction is quite complex.  did you notice the cross pegged finger lap joints on the ceiling light fixture?

 

or, the finger lap joints and ebony pegs on the graduated drawers of the chiffonier?

what about the varied sizes of the dresser drawers?

or, the compartmentalized interior of the fall front writing desk?

the gamble house | master bedroom

ceiling light fixture | cedar|abalone|leather | 1908

chiffonier | black walnut|ebony|oak|glass|metal|minerals | 1908

dresser | black walnut|ebony|oak|glass|metal|minerals | 1908

desk | black walnut|maple|ebony|oak|metal|minerals | 1908

photo credits ggva ggva ggva and ggva

bedroom

the entrance to the bedroom belonging to mary gamble’s sister, julia huggins, is on the southwest side of the hall.  julia huggins had simpler tastes.  so, her bedroom has a sleeping porch, but not an ensuite bathroom.  and, a franklin stove, which was never installed,** but not a fireplace.  she moved her brass bed from cincinnati to pasadena, and commissioned charles greene to design the wicker furniture that she requested for her california bedroom.

the gamble house | julia huggins’ bedroom

photo credits ggva and ggva

hall bathroom

the entrance to the hall bathroom that julia huggins shared with one of her nephews is on the south side of the hall.  the hall bathroom is actually separated into two rooms, a water closet, and a shower room.  all of the gamble house bathrooms are white.  so, the water closet and shower room doors have iridescent stained glass on the exterior, and white stained glass on the interior.

bedroom

the entrance to the bedroom used by another one of david and mary gamble’s three sons*** is on the south side of the hall.  like julia huggins’ bedroom, this bedroom does not have an ensuite bathroom or a fireplace.  and, it does not have a sleeping porch.  the built in cabinets on the west wall include a chest of drawers and a wardrobe.  plus, a sink, concealed in one of the wardrobe compartments.  this bedroom also originally had stickley furniture.

service quarters

the service quarters include a linen room, adjacent to the hall bathroom, and two bedrooms, now occupied by students from the university of southern california (usc) school of architecture, who have been awarded scholar in residence fellowships by the friends of the gamble house.

the gamble house | interior | third floor

the gamble house | third floor plan

north>

photo credit library of congress

staircase

the staircase to the third floor is located on the south side of the second floor hall.  the stained glass window at the base of the staircase is in outstanding condition because of the protected location.  originally, all of the stained glass must have been equally as iridescent.

the gamble house | staircase window

photo credit tim street-porter

billiard room

greene & greene designed a billiard room for the third floor of the gamble house.  but, the gamble family used it only for storage.

the gamble house | billiard room

photo credit mark fiennes

now, it is considered one of the most remarkable rooms in the house because of the king post truss construction.  if you look at the third floor plan, you will notice that the billiard room also has a 360 degree view.

can you think of a better way to integrate the interior with the exterior?

footnotes:

*except for one chair, which will eventually be returned to gamble house by the gamble family.

**julia huggins was unsure about the reliability of central heating, so she requested a backup franklin stove.

***their oldest son was already grown when gamble house was built.

the controversy is over.

two of the twelve bronze zodiac animal sculptures that once surrounded the fountain in the gardens of the old summer palace (yuanmingyuan), a qing dynasty (1644-1911) imperial retreat near beijing, have been returned to china by french billionaire francois-henri pinault.

the zodiac sculptures were not only the subject of circle of animals/zodiac heads, a public outdoor sculpture exhibition by chinese artist/activist, ai weiwei, but also, the subject of chinese zodiac, a jackie chan action movie.

ai weiwei | circle of animals/zodiac heads

exhibited 2 may-15 july 2011 | pulitzer fountain | new york, NY

photo credit arrested motion

christie’s sold the the two sculptures for 31.4 million euros (US$40 million) during the february 2009 auction of the collection yves saint laurent et pierre berge.  but, the buyer, a chinese national, withheld payment in protest.  so, the two sculptures remained in the collection of pierre berge until they were acquired by the pinault family.

bronze rabbit and rat zodiac animal sculptures | from the fountain at the yuanmingyuan | qianlong period (r. 1736-1795)

collection yves saint laurent et pierre berge | christie’s paris | 23-25 february 2009 | sale 1209 | lots 678 and 677

photo credits les cahiers d’alain truong
the pinault family controls kering, the french luxury brand group formerly known as ppr, which also owns christie’s.

coincidently, christie’s was recently granted a license to become the first independently operated international auction house in china. (the chinese operations of christie’s compititor, sotheby’s, are a joint venture with state-owned beijing gehua cultural development group.)

could this be a convenient coincidence?

click here to read related previous posts, new york times, wall street journal, and financial times articles.