These lots have been imported from outside the EU for sale using a Temporary Import regime. Import VAT is payable (at 5%) on the Hammer price. VAT is also payable (at 20%) on the buyer’s Premium on a VAT inclusive basis. When a buyer of such a lot has registered an EU address but wishes to export the lot or complete the import into another EU country, he must advise Christie's immediately after the auction.
The Remarkable Sakamoto Goro
The Tokyo dealer Sakamoto Goro (b. 1923), born on the day of the Great Kanto earthquake, retired in 1978, but he is well known to colleagues in the Asian art trade, and to collectors and museum curators worldwide. Until just a few years ago, he continued to travel to auctions in New York, accompanied by his daughter Miya, who serves as his interpreter.
Equipped with six years of elementary-school education, the young Goro spent more than nine years as a fishmonger’s apprentice in Yokohama. Scrappy, feisty, energetic and single-minded in his dedication to make it to the top, Sakamoto tried his hand at black marketeering after the war, then moved on to become a dealer in second-hand clothing and, eventually, antiquities. He opened his first shop in Tokyo in 1947.
Sakamoto learned the art trade by trial and error, not from the customary route of going up the ranks as an apprentice or inheriting his father’s business. Instead, in the immediate postwar years, he sought out advice and guidance from many of the established art dealers, who were impressed by his pluck and doggedness. Soon, he was traveling the world from Cairo to Brooklyn in search of treasures (fig. 1). By 1972, when he was willing to go for broke, he paid a world-record price for a Yuan-dynasty Chinese porcelain wine jar at Christie’s in London, and was acknowledged as one of the foremost dealers in Japan. He has always contended that the price he paid that day was in no way too high. ‘Good things are expensive,’ he wrote. ‘The business of art dealers is to find these gems and reveal them to the world. Almost immediately following that sale, prices collectors were willing to pay for Chinese ceramics rose dramatically.’
Sakamoto’s Fugendo Gallery in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo sold Japanese, Korean and Chinese art to museums, dealers and collectors around the world. He credited his acumen in searching out fine objects made of lacquer to his friendship with Sir John Figgess (1909–1997) (fig. 1). Figgess, who became a director of Christie’s, London, was a collector of Chinese ceramics with an unerring eye for quality. He was also prescient in his early focus on lacquer. A British liaison officer at MacArthur’s Occupation headquarters in Tokyo, he subsequently served as a military attaché and then as a counselor to the Foreign Office in the British Embassy in Tokyo. He first visited Sakamoto’s shop around 1952, asking for help in forming a collection of lacquer. That unusual request spurred Sakamoto to devote himself to its study, as well. Their collaboration and connoisseurship resulted in the 1966 purchase by the British Museum of a rare thirteenth-century Korean lacquer sutra box inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Sakamoto sold early Chinese lacquers to the Tokyo National Museum and donated others to museums in Taiwan and Beijing. He sold superb red-lacquer Negoro wine bottles dating from the fifteenth century to the Suntory Museum of Art, Tokyo, and to Koyama Mihoko (1910-2003), the heiress to the Toyobo textile business, whose collection is now in the Miho Museum in Shigaraki.
Sakamoto closed Fugendo in 1989 and built himself a retirement home on the northern outskirts of Kyoto. The cold winters proved daunting, and he now lives in the hills above Odawara, known for its neighboring hot springs and milder climate. He still attends Tokyo auctions. In 2002, the Nara National Museum opened the newly built Sakamoto wing to house the 380 Chinese archaic bronzes he had donated.
For the unique story of the rags to riches struggle of this remarkable man, see Sakamoto Goro, Eight Parts Full: A Life in the Tokyo Art Trade, edited by Julia Meech and Jane Oliver, a special issue of Impressions (2011), the annual journal of the Japanese Art Society of America (www.japaneseartsoc.org).
Please refer to Asobi Catalogue 5546 for figures.
The Property of Goro Sakamoto
An Important Exhibition Panel by Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891)