The Irving Collection tops $31.9 million during Asian Art Week in New York

Strong bidding and sell-through rates seen across a sale series that totals $79,924,375


The Private Collection of Florence and Herbert Irving  was the highlight of a hugely successful week of Asian Art sales at Christie’s in New York. With further lots still to be offered in the Magnificent Jewels  auction on 16 April, the running total for the collection at the end of the Asian Art Week series stood at $31,908,375.

Lacquer, Jade, Bronze, Ink: The Irving Collection, a special evening sale, totalled $17,894,750, easily surpassing its pre-sale estimate. Registered bidders across Asia, Europe and the UK competed for a cross-section of 26 of the best examples from the Irvings’ most collected categories. Jonathan Rendell, Christie’s Deputy Chairman and Head of Sales Curation, described it as ‘a grouping recognised for its remarkable quality and beauty’.

An important and extremely rare imperially inscribed greenish-white jade ‘Twin Fish’ washer, China, Qing Dynasty, 1786. Diameter 10 in (25.4 cm), hongmu stand. Sold for $2,895,000 on 20 March 2019 at Christie’s in New York

The top price on the night was achieved with an important and extremely rare imperially-inscribed greenish-white jade ‘Twin Fish’ washer, which realised $2,895,000 (including buyer’s commission) after more than eight minutes of bidding.

Fu Baoshi (China, 1904-1965), Lithe Like a Crane, Leisurely Like a Seagull. Scroll, mounted and framed, ink and colour on paper. 17¾ x 26⅝ in (45.2 x 67.8 cm). Sold for $1,815,000 on 20 March 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Other notable results included a rare gilt-bronze standing figure of an Acuoye Guanyin, which sold for $1,935,000; a rare and finely carved red lacquer Daoist scripture box and cover, which achieved $1,035,000 against a low estimate of $150,000; a rare bronze figure of Shiva Nataraja that sold for $1,035,000, 10 times its low estimate; Shibata Zeshin’s The Narrow Road to Shu, was won at $275,000, more than nine times its low estimate; and Lithe Like a Crane, Leisurely Like a Seagull  by Fu Baoshi (1904-1965), which was bought for $1,815,000.

The Day Sale of works from the collection totalled $13,374,625, and was 97 per cent sold by lot.

A rare and finely carved red lacquer Daoist scripture box and cover, China, Qing Dynasty, Qianlong period (1736-1795). 13½ in (33.9 cm) high. Sold for $1,035,000 on 20 March 2019 at Christie’s in New York

‘From the global tours to the symposiums, exhibitions, and sales in New York, Christie’s has honoured the legacy of Florence and Herbert Irving and celebrated their enduring passion for Asian art,’ said Robert Kasdin, the former Treasurer and Chief Investment Officer of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and executor of the Irvings’ estates.

The Irvings generously donated an extraordinary number of pieces from their collection to the Met. ‘My hope,’ added Mr. Kasdin, ‘is that their legacy of collecting, their love and appreciation of these beautiful objects, and their commitment to supporting the mission of museums of art will now be passed on to a new generation of collectors.’

Li Dongyang (1447-1516), Fourteen Poems on Planting Bamboo. 10¾ x 511 in (27.5 x 1300 cm). Sold for $4,575,000 on 19 March 2019 at Christie’s in New York

The appetite among collectors for works of the highest quality was in evidence right the way across Asian Art Week, which totalled $79,924,375. The series opened with Fine Chinese Paintings  featuring a long handscroll of Fourteen Poems on Planting Bamboo  by the scholar-official Li Dongyang (1447-1516), which achieved $4,575,000 after a six-minute contest between seven bidders. 

Measuring 13 metres in length, Poems on Planting Bamboo  consists of 14 poems and essays written in standard, running, cursive, and seal scripts. The scroll not only achieved the top price in a sale that realised $7,808,500 (96 per cent sold by value), it was also the most expensive work in the entire auction series. 

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Gaifu kaisei (Fine wind, clear weather) [‘Red Fuji’]. 14⅞ x 10 in (37.8 x 25.4 cm). Sold for $507,000 on 19 March 2019 at Christie’s in New York

In the Japanese and Korean Art  auction, the top price was achieved with Hokusai’s Gaifu kaisei (Fine wind, clear weather) [‘Red Fuji’], from his famous series ‘Thirty-Six Prints of Mount Fuji’. The woodblock print sold for $507,000 against a high estimate of $120,000, contributing to a sale total of $5,822,125.

Other Japanese highlights included a pair of screens by Unkoku Toeki (1591-1644), Horses in a Mountain Meadow, which sold for $125,000, while Korean works performed exceptionally well, with a slip-inlaid celadon stoneware maebyong  from the Goryeo dynasty selling for $375,000; and Mountain Landscape with Rising Mist  from the first half of the 16th century realising $312,500.

Maqbool Fida Husain (1913-2011), Untitled (Horses), painted circa early 1960s. 50 x 81 in (127 x 205.7 cm). Sold for $1,035,000 on 20 March 2019 at Christie’s in New York

The auction of South Asian Modern + Contemporary Art  realised $5,842,625 (91 per cent sold by lot and 94 per cent sold by value), led by Maqbool Fida Husain’s (1913-2011) Untitled (Horses), which achieved $1,035,000.

There was serious interest in works by members of the Progressive Artists’ Group and their associates, as well as important works by other pioneers of modern South Asian art, such as Hemendranath Mazumdar, whose Untitled (Woman in Moonlight)  sold for $175,000 — more than five times its low estimate.

A painting of Vaishravana, Tibeto-Chinese, 18th century. Image 40¾ x 24⅛ in (103.5 x 61.4 cm). Sold for $447,000 on 20 March 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Works of Art  achieved $4,671,375 (92 per cent sold by value), headed by an 18th-century Tibeto-Chinese painting of Vaishravana, which sold for $447,000, more than 10 times its low estimate.

Other notable results included a bronze figure of yoga Narasimha from the 14th-15th century, which realised $435,000; a rare black ground painting of Mahakala Panjarnata from Tibet ($300,000); and a Tibetan silver and copper-inlaid bronze figure of Virupa from the 14th century, which sold for $250,00, over six times its low estimate.

Property from the Estate of Baroness Eva Bessenyey performed well, with many lots exceeding initial estimates, including a gilt-bronze figure of Vajravarahi, which achieved $137,500 against a low estimate of $30,000.

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The week closed with Power and Prestige: Important Early Chinese Ritual Bronzes from a Distinguished European Collection, which realised $4,551,500 (91 per cent sold by lot), and Fine Chinese Ceramics & Works of Art, which totalled $19,319,875. In the latter, the top lot was a rare exceptional ‘number three’ Jun jardinière, which sold for $3,015,000.

Contemporary Clay: Yixing Pottery from the Irving Collection, an online sale, realised $639,000 — more than three times the low estimate — and was 98.5 per cent sold by lot.

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