Over the past two decades, Christie’s has offered sublime examples of archaic jade carvings from the world’s greatest collections. Asian Art Week in New York ensures that tradition continues
The ancient Chinese considered jade the most precious of all materials, prizing it more than gold, silver or bronze. Sophisticated jade and lapidary production techniques had already been mastered by the Neolithic era, and the love of jade, which some anthropologists consider a defining characteristic of Chinese culture, has endured until the present day.
Earliest jades came in the form of ritual implements (such as bi discs and cong tubes), articles of personal adornment, small carvings, and various types of blades. The latter were used as weapons in Neolithic times because jade is a very hard stone, but likely served more as badges of office and emblems of rank.
An exceptionally rare pale greyish-white jade figural pendant, Qin-Han dynasty, 3rd–2nd century B.C. 2 in. (5 cm.) high. Sold for $209,000 in Dongxi Studio — Important Chinese Jade and Hardstone Carvings from a Distinguished Private Collection at Christie’s New York on 17 March 2016
As we outline below, Christie’s New York has been privileged to handle some of the most distinguished collections of archaic jades and has achieved outstanding results. In March, during Asian Art Week in New York, we will present outstanding archaic jade objects from the Dongxi Collection, including the example above.
The Sackler Collections
Dr. Arthur M. Sackler was one of America’s foremost art collectors whose interests spanned Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern, and Pre-Columbian art. His interests went beyond Asian Art to include European ceramics, sculpture, paintings and drawings from the medieval to the modern periods.
Among his philanthropic ventures are The Sackler Wing at The Metropolitan Museum, New York, The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery — a Smithsonian Institution museum for Asian and Near Eastern Art in Washington D.C., the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard, and the Arthur M. Sackler Museum in Beijing. In December 1994, Important Works of Art from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections sold in New York and realised an astonishing $4.9 million. This was followed by another landmark New York sale in March 2009, Fine Chinese Art from the Arthur M. Sackler Collection, which was the first in a series of further sales.
A rare pale greenish and brown jade bird-form finial/insignia. Shang dynasty, Anyang phase, circa 1200 B.C. Estimate: $15,000-20,000. Price realised: $146,500 on 18 March 2009
This bird-form finial/insignia is remarkable for the quality of the carving, the thinness of the jade and the translucent quality of the stone. Finials or insignias such as this exquisite example were used for personal adornment, possibly as part of a headdress. The perforations in the stone suggest that the bird would have been affixed to stand upright.
A very rare and unusually large dark green jade bi. Late Neothlitic period, northwest China, circa 2000 B.C. Estimate: $20,000-30,000. Price realised: $194,500 on 18 March 2009
The bi disc is one of the six ritual jades: bi (representing the heavens), cong (tubes, representing the earth), gui (ceremonial flat blades and axes, representing the east), zhang (ceremonial flat blades and axes, representing the south), hu (a vessel, representing the west), and huang (a flat arc of jade, representing the north). Of these ritual jades, the bi is perhaps the most important and one of the most enduring forms found in Chinese art.
A circular disk with a circular perforation in the centre, the bi was said to have symbolised the sun. Its exact function, and that of the other ritual objects, is unknown since these ancient cultures have left no textual evidence or documentation. The earliest bi discs, including this example, were left undecorated and were prized for their material. This very large dark green jade bi retains the original cutting line on one side and cutting marks on the walls of the central hole. The work is notable for its unusual size, 34.1cm. in diameter, and the variegated colour of the stone.
A rare small yellowish-green jade bangle. Warring States period, 5th century B.C. Estimate: $7,000-9,000. Price realised: $266,500 on 25 March 2010
Used for personal adornment, this bangle has sides carved in low relief with a continuous pattern of J-shaped scrolls alternately combined with either striated or scale pattern scrolls. The work achieved an outstanding price because of the lustrous quality of the yellow toned stone and the exceptional carving.
The Falk Collection
Pauline and Johnny Falk assembled their collection over six decades, beginning in 1935 when they travelled to Europe for their honeymoon. A trip to China in 1937 shifted their focus to Chinese art and their New York apartment soon became a meeting place for top scholars and advisors in the field. The Falks lent Chinese works of art to more than 25 museum exhibitions, and their collection was sold at Christie’s New York in two auctions in October 2001.
Two mottled opaque jade fish pendants. Shang/early Western Zhou dynasty, circa 1200-1000 B.C. Estimate: $4,000-6,000. Price realised: $18,800 on 16 October 2001
The similarities of the darker markings of the stone suggest that this pair of fish pendants were carved from the same section of stone. Each is finely carved with an elongated, thick body tapering towards the upper and lower edges and incised with circular eyes, curved gills, and dorsal and pelvic fins. Unlike most fish pendants, they are not flat but carved in the round. This pair was formerly in the collection of Alfred Schoenlicht and was shown in a number of major exhibitions.
The collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth
Few have made such a contribution to the study and appreciation of Asian art in the West than the collector, dealer, and scholar Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Embracing ancient bronzes and Ming furniture, fine jade, modern Chinese painting, and Himalayan, Indian, and Southeast Asian works of art, Ellsworth’s knowledge reached every facet of the Asian art historical canon. He was also a respected and passionate collector of English furniture, silver and European decorative arts. The seven consecutive days of sales of his collection in March 2015 achieved an exceptional $134 million.
A rare large bluish olive-green jade ge dagger-axe. Late Shang dynasty, 11th century B.C. Estimate: $100,000-150,000. Price realised: $233,000 on 17 March 2015
The stone traditionally prized as jade in China is nephrite, which had become the standard by Shang times. A translucent stone, nephrite occurs in a range of colours from white to green, grey, and even black; Shang jades vary in hue but typically are sea-green or bluish green, like this example.
The blade-type most commonly encountered among Shang jades is the ge dagger-axe. A pole weapon, the ge comprised a jade blade attached perpendicularly to a wooden shaft, the blade’s tang likely fitted through a slot at the end of the shaft, and the blade secured to the pole with a thong looped through the circular opening at the base of the tang.
A very rare white jade arc-shaped pendant, huang. Late Eastern Zhou dynasty, 5th-4th century B.C. Estimate: $60,000-80,000. Price realised: $197,000 on 17 March 2015
Tradition holds that the huang, a flat arc of jade, originated in the Neolithic period and was one of six ritual jades. The huang is associated with the north. By the Late Eastern Zhou dynasty (5th-4th century B.C.), however, the huang had been appropriated as an article of personal adornment and typically was incorporated into pendants that were strung with jade beads and other ornaments and that were suspended from the waist or shoulders.
Such pendants served as symbols of virtuous men and as emblems of rank. Apart from the symbolism of the jade and the beauty of the stone, the ancient Chinese appreciated the tinkling sound the jades made as they touched each other when the wearer moved.
Taste in the Late Eastern Zhou had come to embrace light colours, so that most jades of that era are pale greenish white or even white, like this huang, and often boast splashes of medium or dark brown.
The Dongxi Collection
On 17 March 2016, Christie’s New York will present Dongxi Studio — Important Chinese Jade and Hardstone Carvings from a Distinguished Private Collection. The collection will feature a number of exceptional and very rare archaic jade carvings, as well as a fine selection of later jade carvings from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
A very rare and superb pale greenish-yellow jade figural pendant. Western Zhou dynasty, 9th-8th century B.C. 3 in. (7.6 cm.) high. Sold for $100,000 in Dongxi Studio — Important Chinese Jade and Hardstone Carvings from a Distinguished Private Collection at Christie's New York on 17 March 2016
A major highlight from the collection is this pendant, dating to the 9th-8th century B.C. The thin, flat plaque is finely carved as a crouching humanoid figure shown in profile. The legs are drawn up beneath the coiled dragon which forms the arms and trunk of the body, and the head has a distinctive profile and long, upswept hair that forms a backward-facing, S-shaped dragon. Pendants of this type with humanoid and dragon motif, and of curved outline, are extremely rare.
Similar to the bird-form finial, formerly from the Arthur M. Sackler Collection, this humanoid pendant was most likely part of a larger and more elaborate headdress and would have been affixed to stand upright.
Main image at top: A rare and finely carved mottled opaque jade cong, Neolithic period, Liangzhu culture, 3rd millenium B.C. 3 in. (7.7 cm.) wide. Sold for $269,000 in Dongxi Studio — Important Chinese Jade and Hardstone Carvings from a Distinguished Private Collection at Christie’s New York on 17 March 2016
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