INDEXMy highlight of 2015 — the list in fullRead more
Among the many wonderful works of art that have come through the Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art department in 2015, my personal favourite happens to be one of the smallest: a small but superb gilt-bronze figure of a seated bear, from the Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth.
Measuring just three inches in height, the figure represents a bear, an ancient and powerful symbol in Chinese culture, resting on his haunches, his tongue lolling, scratching at his ear with a raised paw. The bronze dates from the Western Han dynasty (206 BC – AD 8), and would have been used to hold down the corners of a scholar’s mat.
The history and technical élan of the work satisfied my intellectual curiosity, but my heart was captured by this sweet, introspective animal, his body contorted in an almost-human-like posture.
The bear also happened to be the first lot offered in the week-long series sales of The Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Every lot in the collection was offered without reserve, as stipulated by Mr. Ellsworth, which meant there was trepidation on the part of the various departments beforehand as to how the sales would fare.
Within minutes of the auctioneer opening the evening sale, however, bidding on the bear in the packed sale room shot up to over $2,000,000 before finally settling at $2,853,000 (against a pre-sale estimate of $200,000-300,000). The bidding for this bear set the tone for the rest of a magical evening sale — and for the rest of the record-breaking week.
A superb gilt-bronze figure of a bear, China, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C. — A.D. 8) 3 in. (7.6 cm.) high. Estimate. $200,000-300,000. Sold for $2,853,000 on 17 March
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