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Indian, Chinese, Southeast Asian Art offered by Jasper52 July 17

Jasper52 will conduct a finely curated Asian antiques and antiquities auction on Wednesday, July 17, offering more than 50 lots of ancient Chinese artifacts, Indian jewelry, impressive Buddha statues that create a comprehensive representation of the Asian tradition.

Indian gold hair ornament, 19th century, 2 5/8in. diameter, repousse gold with resin fill, 79.8 grams. Estimate: $5,000-$6,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Lacquered wares cross many cultures

What started as a utilitarian need for watertight objects eventually became its own art form known as lacquerware. To keep wood, pottery tin and other metal objects watertight, layers of natural lacquer were brushed onto boxes, buckets, trays and other household items. Once dried, though, lacquer turns a distinctly dark black which is not always a designer choice of color. That’s why, over time, artistic designs were added to help make the item more decorative as well as useful.

Carved lacquer, known as diaoqi, is a buildup of many layers of different color lacquer and carved with small knives. Image courtesy Bally Auction and LiveAuctioneers

Lacquerware:  5000 BCE China, Japan, Korea

Around 7,000 years ago, sap from Toxicodendron vernicifluum, a tree grown and cultivated only in East Asia, was refined into a useable waterproof compound used to coat household items such as tableware, boxes, furniture, trays, bowls, screens and even coffins.

Known in China as a varnish tree, the sap is tapped by cutting into the bark and collected. Smaller branches are soaked in water and its sap is collected, all of which contains urushiol, the skin irritant in poison oak. Once exposed to air, the sap slowly turns black. After being strained and heated to remove moisture, the final product, lacquer, is stored in airtight containers ready to be brushed onto wood, tin or another metallic object.

A 17th century Chinese lacquerware dish in the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The process of applying lacquer is a time-consuming process, usually over several days. Each successive layer, 20 or more at times, is left to dry and harden before another layer can be applied. Curiously, in order for lacquer to dry it must be placed in a moist atmosphere such as caves, according to early Chinese accounts. This process can take as long as 18 days before a design can be introduced. This process was eventually spread to Japan and the Korean peninsula by the sixth century.

Decoration can include gold, silver, charcoal, white lead, and mother of pearl surrounding decorative plants, animals and intricately carved domestic scenes. Carved lacquer, known as diaoqi, started with a buildup of many layers of different color lacquer (red, known as cinnabar, green, brown and even purple) until it was quite thick. Once dried, an intricate design was carved by hand into the object.

Chinese lacquerware was prominent throughout each dynastic period with its process a closely guarded state secret. Exports of generally mundane consumer items began in the 17th century to Europe but by the middle of the 19th century Chinese lacquerware was no longer a stable export.

An example of a 19th century European ‘japanned’ tea tray on display at the Birmingham History Galleries, UK. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Japanning: 17th Europe

Chinese exported its lacquerware to Europe by the early 17th century, mostly to the Netherlands, Italy, France and Great Britain by the East India Company, but it was mostly utilitarian items, not its most noted artwork. Yet, Chinese lacquerware became popular at all levels of society. The process of lacquer production as practiced in East Asia for thousands of years was limited to the sap from the varnish tree which grew only there. And China wasn’t sharing its secret. An alternative needed to be developed.

A viable lacquer was finally discovered from the secretions of the female lac bug known as Kerria lacca. Mixed with ethyl alcohol, these secretions became known as shellac, which dries into a high-gloss finish.

Black lacquer as a base with Japanese motifs such as this 18th century pocket watch was made in the UK and is on display at the Walkers Art Museum in Baltimore, Md. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

With this discovery, Italian craftsmen saw an opportunity to expand a market for the popular East Asian lacquerware, particularly from Japan, by creating their own Asian-themed designs that they felt represented daily life there usually on heavily lacquered tin and ironware in stark black or red with gold painted decoration. Because Asian societies were generally closed to outsiders, particularly to Europeans, scenes depicted by Italian craftsmen were more imaginary than realistic.

Still, japanning, as the art form was known in Europe, became popular from the early 18th century until the late 19th century. Once its popularity declined by 1920, the focus moved away from japanning metal items to japanning bicycles. In fact, by 1887, the Sunbeam bicycle company was formed to create the ubiquitous black japanned bicycle with gold stenciled markings.

A painted toleware coffeepot that sold for $1,200. Image courtesy Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Toleware: 18th century Americas

By the time lacquerware was introduced in 18th century America, rolling mills were being perfected in Pontypool, England. Pressing bars of steel and iron between rotating wheels allowed for the cost-effective formation of plates, coated with tin, then stamped into household goods like trays, candle holders, breadboxes, plates and utensils for export and commercial trade.

Once formed, the goods were coated against corrosion with a special blend of linseed oil, an asphalt compound, turpentine and other industrial compounds. The final dark varnish (a version of lacquer) is called “japan black.” Henry Ford’s Model T was painted with “japan black” giving rise to his quote that “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants so long as it is black.” Once the varnish is applied to iron, steel or tin-plated items and cooled, the item is decorated similar to the Japanese lacquerware, known as japanning.

An example of a hand lamp that is varnished with basic ‘japan black’ without the added decoration that sold for $50. Image courtesy Conestoga Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Rather than import these items from England and France, communities in North and South America, particularly in 18th century New England (mostly Boston and Hartford, Conn.) and the Pennsylvania Dutch, manufactured, hand-painted and later stenciled their own tin, pewter and metal goods for trade and home use. It was called toleware from the French term tôle peinte or painted sheet and practiced as tole painting.

The production of hand-painted toleware lasted from early 18th century to late 19th century when its popularity declined. There has been a resurgence of tole painting from the late 20th century within communities as an individual art project with classes, workshops and even organized groups such as the Society of Decorative Painters or the National Society of Tole and Decorative Painters.

Collectibility

Acrylic paints have replaced the variations of natural and industrial lacquers common before 1950 or so. Their use is simply more efficient, cost effective to produce and is more conducive to innovation where the early lacquer was easily more time consuming and toxic to create.

Lacquers aside, in the end it is difficult to distinguish vintage lacquerware in any of its forms. The use of different lacquers might just help on an atomic level (which is why this article focuses on types of lacquer) but the decorations applied, styles used or even what colors are predominant simply don’t lend itself to specific periods, which can be easily categorized without knowing each local style. Even the carved lacquer of early China is faithfully reproduced today.

Varnishing with lacquer wasn’t limited to just household items. Furniture was also ‘japanned’ such as this chest of drawers that sold for $375. Image courtesy Dumouchelles and LiveAuctioneers

Still, certain characteristics do stand out. Japanned items from France in the 17th and early 18th century, for example, have a rougher surface and more rust from peeling varnish because they hand stamped their iron or steel plate which produced more uneven surfaces.

What do collectors like? Collectors like bright colors, intact inlays like mother of pearl or gold leaf, regional styles such as “thumb work” of the Pennsylvania Dutch, flowers, Japanese or Chinese motifs, or any number of combinations. Decorators love the blend of colors that stand out. Most examples after 1950 are widely available for under $100.

Since variation is the main theme of lacquerware, whatever its name, the first rule of collecting applies: Collect what you like first.

Japanese weaponry, artistry merge in Jasper52 sale April 24

Jasper52 will present a diverse sale of Asian art and antiques on Wednesday, April 24. Among the highlights are samurai swords, exquisite ceramics and colorful woodblock prints.

 

Kawase Hasui, ‘After Snow at Yoshida,’ woodblock print, 1944, 14½in. x 20in. Estimate: $3,000-$5,000. Jasper52 image

 

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

 

Samurai swords, armor ready for action in online sale Jan. 15

Japanese swords and armor are joined by additional Asian antiques in a Jasper52 online auction that will be conducted Tuesday, Jan. 15. Among the impressive items being offered are Chinese paintings, Buddhist figures, carved jadeite and tsuba sword fittings.

Wakizashi made by a great swordsmith Echizen Yasutsugu in 1603. Estimate: $5,500-$7,000. Jasper52 image

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Fine workmanship found in Japanese sword fittings sale Dec. 5

The unsurpassed workmanship of Japanese artisans is showcased in a Jasper52 online auction of antique Japanese sword fittings, including tsuba, kozuka and kashira. Pulled from a private collection, 70 exquisite lots will be sold Wednesday, Dec. 5.

Shakudo Japanese sword tsuba for tanto with raised and inlaid decoration of a dragon flying through wispy clouds, 2 3/16 inches high. Estimate: $700-$800. Jasper52 image

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Menagerie of Japanese netsuke parade in online auction Oct. 31

Netsuke are Japanese miniature sculptures originally used as toggles on the end of a cord that held a money pouch or inro. Evolving over time from their utilitarian purpose, netsuke have become an expressive art form in itself and a coveted collectible in the Asian community. Jasper52 will present an auction of premium netsuke on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Boxwood netsuke of a leaping wild boar, signed ‘Shuzan,’ 19th century, 2 1/8 inches long. Estimate: $5,500-$7,000. Jasper52 image

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Chinese paintings comprise Jasper52 art auction Sept. 26

Seventy-seven Chinese paintings, most of them from a collection in Amsterdam, comprise a Jasper52 online auction that will be conducted Wednesday, Sept. 26. Many of the paintings are on paper and done during the 20th century, while a few are oils on canvas. Some are classic Chinese scroll paintings more than 5 feet in length.

Chinese painting on paper, 20th century, 135 cm x 62 cm (54in x 24.8in), artist’s signature and seal. Estimate: $2,000-$2,500. Jasper52 image

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Treasures abound in Aug. 28 boutique auction of Asian art, antiques

With its tradition of elegant simplicity, Asian decorative art is universal in its appeal, transcending borders and influencing cultures on nearly every continent. For centuries, the Western world has embraced the rich legacy of paintings, ceramics and metal statuary of China, Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Korea and other nations. Jasper52 will pay tribute to the art and antiques of Asia with an August 28 auction featuring 74 high-quality lots. Absentee and live-online bidding is available through LiveAuctioneers.

Golden copper sculpture of the Buddha Sakyamuni, 18th century, 74cm high. Est. $12,000-$13,000

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Mongolian Art – Origins Etched in Stone

In Mongolia, located in East Central Asia and bordered by Russia to the north and China to the south, rock formations yield evidence of artistic expression and communication in the form of petroglyphs dating back to ancient times.

Such early examples of stone drawings and carvings discovered in the mountains of western Mongolia are reflections of what once were everyday experiences of indigenous people. These examples of artistic carvings, according to archeological researchers, date back to the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000 to 1,200 B.C.). Some of the most common motifs include hunting scenes with bears and deer; and Mongolian people depicted as hunters and gatherers, or during celebrations and acts of meditation.

Late 19th-century wool-on-cotton mat, made in Mongolia, 4 ft. x 2 ft. Image courtesy Jasper52

In addition to drawings and carvings on stone and caves, Mongolian artists have been known over the centuries for their creation of silver immortality vases, paintings on burlap and burlwood; woven rugs, and figures made of clay, copper, and bronze.

As time passed, Mongolian art continued to be shaped by the cultural influences of nomadic tribes and new settlers. The topography of the country influenced the scenery appearing in Mongolian art, such as mountains, deserts, forests, and upland mesas of the landlocked region. As the nomadic tribes traversed the country, aspects of their art went with them in the form of items called tsa-tsa and gau, which are portable shrines made of wood, clay, copper, and at times, silver. Meanwhile, the people from beyond Mongolia’s borders who established homesteads and worked and hunted on the same piece of land for a lifetime also were known to use silver, bronze, and gold in creating their artworks.

Chinese/Mongolian silver elephants inlaid with lapis lazuli and turquoise beads, circa late 19th- to early 20th century. Image courtesy Dallas Auction Gallery

Mongolian art is strongly influenced by religion and other beliefs, such as Buddhism, Shamanism, Islam, and Nestorianism. Be it statutes, paintings, jewelry, or textiles, over the centuries artists of this region incorporated deities and divinities into their creations. Although many Mongolian beliefs are shared by peoples in bordering nations, there are elements reflected in Asian artworks that are distinctly indicative of the location and tribe or people responsible for their creation, explains Terese Tse Bartholomew, in an article on asianart.com.

“The ornamentation, the shape of the lotus petals on the pedestal, and the way in which the base plate is inserted and held in place often give clues as to the country of origin,” writes Bartholomew. “Even within Mongolia, there were variations between the works produced in Inner Mongolia and Outer Mongolia. The sculptures of Zanabazar illustrate these differences.”

17th-century gilt bronze of Mongolian Bhais Aijyaguru, with inscription. Image courtesy of Golden State Auction Gallery Inc.

The Zanabazar of whom Bartholomew speaks is the revered Mongolian sculptor and artist Bogdo Gegen Zanabazar, who lived and created between the mid-17th and early 18th centuries. He became the first Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, or the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism in Mongolia, and the top-ranked lama in Mongolia. His work and leadership led to the development of the Zanabazar School of Sculpture of Outer Mongolia.

Within Mongolian artistry, motifs have specific meaning and symbolism. According to Bartholomew’s writings, there are five types of Mongolian artistic motifs:

  • Geometric: Eternity pattern, “happiness” knot, khan’s bracelet, ribbon
  • Zoomorphic: Friendly animals (elephant, monkey, hare, and dove), strong animals (lion, tiger, dragon, and a mythical bird Garuda), Asian zodiac animals (rat, ox, tiger, hare, dragon, snake, horse, ram, monkey, rooster, dog, and boar), a circle comprised of two fish – symbolizing yin and yang; and horn-like and noselike figures
  • Botanical: Lotus, peony, and peaches, which represent purity, prosperity, and longevity, respectively
  • Shapes of natural elements: Water, fire, and air
  • Symbols: Traditional symbolism of Tibetan and Chinese cultures including: the Eight Auspicious Symbols, Seven Jewels of the Monarch, and the Three Jewels

Antique miniature Mongolian thangka art, 2⅜ in. x 2½ in. Image courtesy Jasper52.

Mongolia’s most noteworthy artists of the 20th century are O. Tsevegjav, U. Yadamsuren, N. Tsultem and G. Odon, L. Gavaa, S. Choimbol, A. Senghetsokhio, B. Avarzed, Ts. Mijuur, Ya. Urjnee, S. Dondog, and D. Munkhuu.

Following a departure from communism and peaceful revolution in 1990, Mongolia adopted a democratic form of government. It is largely dependent on trade with neighboring China and Russia, its main industries being agriculture and mining. Mongolia also promotes tourism and capitalizes on the unique beauty of Mongolian art, both traditional and contemporary. With nearly three million people now living and working in Mongolia, and hundreds of thousands more visiting the country each year, art plays an increasingly important role in the present and future success of this intriguing Asian nation.

East Indian, Japanese art featured in online auctions May 22-23

While China gets the lion’s share of attention in Asian art, India and Japan are the focus of two Jasper52 online auctions taking place May 22 and May 23, respectively. The Indian art auction will consist of marble figures of Hindu deities, while the Japanese art auction features sword fittings and painted scrolls.

Higo School tsuba decorated in a plum tree and a hatchet motif, Edo period, iron, 72.9 x 69.9 x 6.2 mm. Estimate: $350-$400. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.