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Japanese tea services create a ritual that renews

Japanese tea ceremony utensils usually feature the Five Elements in Taoism – water, earth, wood, fire and metal – as does this nine-piece metal set from the 19th-century Meiji period. The set achieved $13,000 plus the buyer’s premium in December 2020. Image courtesy of Mosaic Art & Antique and LiveAuctioneers

Our day-to-day world demands so much attention. Family, friends, work and community take all the time and energy we can give, and beyond. Focusing on ourselves and appreciating the natural world is less of a priority – at least that’s what we sometimes think. But what if taking time for ourselves involves nothing more than a ritual revolving around a cup of green tea? Can a simple brewing ceremony provide a revitalizing respite? A 400-year-old Japanese tea ceremony might be exactly what we need.

A Japanese reflow iron kettle earned $2,400 plus the buyer’s premium in June 2022. Image courtesy of Eastern Art Auction House and LiveAuctioneers

Japan was a warring nation through most of its early history. Emperors, shoguns and samurai kept the politics of war as state policy for centuries. Then in the 12th century, matcha tea arrived in Japan via China along trade routes. At first, the powdered green tea was used by Buddhist monks in training; its relatively high caffeine content kept them invigorated and alert through long days of meditation and reflection. Once the powerful and the influential embraced the beverage, they mounted increasingly elaborate and costly tea ceremonies to demonstrate their wealth and status. A gift of handmade tea utensils became the prize of choice for elites to bestow on favored retainers, and these pieces were cherished, collected and proudly displayed.

A handmade pottery Japanese tea ceremony set by Rokkaku Ayako, decorated with simple designs and colors, realized NT$250,000 (about $7,800) in August 2020. Image courtesy of Mu Chun Tang Auction Co, Ltd. and LiveAuctioneers

By the 15th century, the elaborate ceremonies were draining both economically and spiritually, and the Japanese were ready for an alternative. Sen no Rikyu, a Buddhist adherent well-versed in ancient tea rituals, created a simpler, more inward-looking tea ceremony called wabi-cha, which he thought could help lead almost anyone to the Zen state of enlightenment. It shouldn’t be just for the elite anymore, he reasoned. As time passed, the spare, sedate tea ceremony Sen no Rikyu developed became the center of Japanese culture, politics and religion.

To achieve a more complete Zen vision, however, the wabi-cha ceremony can be replaced by a fuller, highly-ritualized tea ceremony known as chado. This ceremony, performed by tea masters, takes about four hours, can accommodate up to 1,000 guests and involves no less than 19 separate tea utensils made from bamboo, clay, metal and ceramics. Each step of the tea ceremony can require decades for a master to learn, and every movement is anchored in the Four Philosophies of the tea ceremony: Harmony, Respect, Purity and Tranquility, with the most important being Harmony.

A circa-1960 travel poster from Northwest Orient Airlines showing the simplicity of the tea room sold in August 2020 for £130 (about $144) plus the buyer’s premium. Image courtesy of Antikbar Original Vintage Posters and LiveAuctioneers

The smaller wabi-cha tea ceremony is centered on achieving a sense of balance, beginning with the overall setting. Walking to the teahouse past flowered gardens, koi ponds and streams emphasizes the harmony of the natural world that each visitor should contemplate and absorb.

A calligraphy scroll by Master Hongyi, painted in vermilion ink on paper damask, achieved $1,800 plus the buyer’s premium in September 2022. Image courtesy of Japan-Miyako-Collection-Art Auction Co. and LiveAuctioneers

Entering the tearoom without speaking, a guest first notices a kakejiku, a hand-painted hanging scroll, which sets the reverent tone for the ceremony to come. The scroll usually features calligraphy of a poem written specifically for the season, time of day or theme by a Buddhist monk or a tea master. Scenes of Japanese life or a nature scene are also featured and are always hung vertically on cloth or heavy paper that can be rolled and easily transported. Relevant decorative painted scrolls appearing at auction are typically works by prominent Japanese artists such as the 19th-century painter Kinsen Kishi or the early 20th-century artist Tomoyo Jinbo. Within the same foyer a small ceramic vase is set with a branch of flowers posed in its natural state, not formally arranged, to acknowledge the spiritual simplicity of nature each guest is encouraged to recognize.

‘Rain, Beauty and Hydrangea,’ a 1938 Tomoyo Jinbo woodblock print, sold for $600 plus the buyer’s premium in January 2021. Image courtesy of Ukiyoe Gallery Japanese Woodblock Prints and LiveAuctioneers

Once the scroll and the vase are admired, the guests enter the tearoom, which is just as minimalist and stark as the alcove entrance, with only a tatami mat of rice straw for each guest and the utensils for the tea ceremony arrayed in the middle of the room. During the ceremony, the host sits in the center of the room, surrounded by the tea utensils, and performs the ritual without assistance.

This traveling tea ceremony set from the middle of the 18th century, aka the Edo period, attained $600 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2019. Image courtesy of Thomaston Place Auction Galleries and LiveAuctioneers

Once each guest has greeted the host with a bow, they in turn greet the other guests in the same way, without conversation, to demonstrate Respect, the second philosophy of the tea ceremony. Throughout the proceedings, the guests only converse about the beauty and craftsmanship of the tea, the utensils used in the ceremony and the scroll and flowers in the alcove. No other topics are considered in the interest of maintaining the respect of each guest. Everyone samples tea from the same vessel to show communion with each other and the host.

Purity is the third element of the tea ceremony, which is exemplified by the preparation of the beverage and the tools used for the purpose. The charcoal that heats the brazier and by extension the iron kettle for brewing the matcha tea is of a certain grade and is arranged in a very precise manner. Each cup is ritualistically cleansed with separate woven cloths – one to wash and one to dry – to reflect the purity of nature itself.

The main feature of a chado tea ceremony is the iron tea kettle known as a chagama. This example sold for €200 (about $213) plus the buyer’s premium in September 2019. Image courtesy of Carlo Bonte Auctions and LiveAuctioneers

All tea ceremony utensils are made from organic materials to represent the Five Elements in Taoism — water, earth, wood, fire and metal. Most pieces feature little or no flourishes, but those that are decorated speak to the idea of adding a pleasant reinforcement rather than to impress. Auctions tend to feature vintage pieces such as iron and bronze kettles in calligraphed wooden boxes to be presented as gifts as they once were during the Shogun period. Sometimes, individual utensils appear at auction, as such pieces are still given as gifts.

An eight-piece Japanese silver tea service realized $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Bohemia Auction & Appraisal and LiveAuctioneers

The overall experience of the tea ceremony is intended to imbue the guests with Tranquility, the fourth philosophy. The modern world should seemingly disappear while the ritual plays out. During the ceremony, guests may briefly step outside the tea house to appreciate the color, vibrancy and solitude of the natural surroundings that should also be appreciated in everyday life. Once they return to the tea house, the proceedings begin again. 

An eight-piece Japanese silver tea service realized $5,500 plus the buyer’s premium in March 2020. Image courtesy of Bohemia Auction & Appraisal and LiveAuctioneers

The Four Philosophies of the Japanese tea ceremony are inherent in the deliberate simplicity of its utensils and the minimalist setting that guests enjoy. You can opt for a four-hour chado ceremony, but if you prefer a wabi-cha with fewer than five guests, or perhaps something just for yourself, that works, too. The Four Philosophies of the tea ceremony can be honored and expressed in many ways, delivering a fulfilling ritual that heightens and renews personal well-being. 

Rich selection of Asian art and objects slated for auction, July 27

A Japanese Showa period iron teapot, a Tibetan gilt bronze Buddha statue, and a scroll landscape painting by Chinese artist Shi Lu will jockey for top lot status in Jasper52’s Modern Asian Art Collectibles auction, which will be conducted on Wednesday, July 27 at 2 pm Eastern time. Absentee and Internet live bidding will be available through LiveAuctioneers.

Other items of note in the 331-lot sale include ink-on-rice-paper works by Zhang Daqian; Japanese Meiji period bronze vases; an 18K gold and coral pendant brooch; a hardwood incense burner sculpture from the Qing dynasty; a pair of Japanese bronze Buddha sculptures; and a group of nine delicate green jade rings.

Also included is a Qing dynasty painting on silk by Li Gonglin; a landscape painting on a rice paper scroll by Li Keran; a selection of paintings of horses, rendered on rice paper scrolls by Xu Beihong; and a rice paper scroll painting by Qi Baishi.

Tibetan 19th-century gilt bronze Buddhist statue of Green Tara, est. $700-$800

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Modern Asian Art and Collectibles offered in Dec. 14 auction

On Tuesday, December 14, starting at 9 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will hold a sale of Modern Asian Art and Collectibles. Among the 298 lots will be a Chinese jade Hetian double rings incense burner; a vintage pair of jade Chinese Hetian divine beast seals; a Chinese crystal snuff bottle with an inside painting of a lion and a monkey; an openwork Chinese gilt red glaze ruyi porcelain incense burner; a Chinese Zitan wood white glaze porcelain Kwan-yin shrine statue; a jade Chinese Hetian Kwan-yin statue with a gold wire enamel base; a jade Chinese Hetian Dragon wine cup on three legs; a Chinese gilt bronze Buddha head statue; an openwork Chinese bronze Fortune Dragon incense burner; and a large Chinese porcelain gilt edge iron red glaze Phoenix and Dragon Turtle design vase, among dozens of others.

Chinese porcelain gilt edge iron red glaze Phoenix and Dragon Turtle design vase, est. $1,500-$2,000

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Qi Baishi: telling stories through brushstrokes

Four framed scrolls by Qi Baishi, titled ‘Flowers of the Four Seasons: Wisteria, Lotus, Chrysanthemum and Prunus,’ sold for $217,600 in March 2021 at Hindman in Chicago. Image courtesy of Hindman and LiveAuctioneers.

Anyone familiar with Chinese art history would be familiar with Qi Baishi (1864-1957), the renowned painter whose whimsical depictions of common objects and creatures made him a darling among collectors and art aficionados. Largely self-taught, Qi Baishi painted everything from animals to scenery to figures to vegetables. He was particularly fond of painting shrimps, fish, crabs, frogs, insects and peaches, which he rendered using heavy ink, bright colors and vigorous strokes that express his love of nature and of life.

A Qi Baishi scroll titled ‘Cricket & Leaf’ sold for $312 in April 2021 at Converse Auctions in Paoli, Pa. Image courtesy of Converse Auctions and LiveAuctioneers.

Qi Baishi was not born into privilege not by a long shot. He grew up in a large peasant family in Xiangtan, Hunan, as a sickly child who only attended public school for one year. At the age of 14 he decided to become a carpenter, but when he discovered a copy of the book Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden, it sparked a desire in him to create art. He initially painted the human form, recruiting anyone he knew to pose for him. Later on, he received formal training in the gongbi mode, which emphasized fine brushwork and meticulous detail, and his subject list expanded.

A Qi Baishi painting titled ‘Chen Banding’ sold for $4,750 in Canadian dollars in June 2017 at Bowen Auction in Markham, Canada. Image courtesy of Bowen Auction and LiveAuctioneers.

He was taught that every aspect of painting mattered, from the subject matter to the way the ink was applied to the paper. Subsequent mentors steered Qi Baishi toward landscapes, which he executed with precision. Although he was trained in gongbi, he abandoned the approach and started painting in the freely expressive xieyi (“sketching thoughts”) style. He once said, “Paintings must be something between likeness and unlikeness, much like today’s vulgarians, but not like to cheat people.” He focused on life’s smaller things and not the larger landscape.

Qi Baishi was not his real name; he was born Qi Huang, but chose Baishi (Chinese for “white stone”) as a pseudonym. It wasn’t until he was in his forties that he ventured beyond his home province to see and experience more of China. Already adept at the arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting and seal-carving (he once described himself as “the rich man of three hundred stone seals”), he came upon the Shanghai School, which was popular at the time, and was taken under the wing of Wu Changshuo, who inspired many of Qi’s subsequent works. About 15 years later, another influential teacher, Chen Shizeng, mentored him until he finally settled down in Beijing, in 1917.

A Qi Baishi Chinese traditional painting, signed and featuring red seals, sold for $156,000 in December 2018 at Lauren Gallery in Roswell, Ga. Image courtesy of Lauren Gallery and LiveAuctioneers.

Tommy Curtis, the president of Lauren Gallery in Roswell, Georgia, said Qi Baishi is without a doubt one of the best-known artists in China. “He began painting while still a teenager, and with no formal training,” Curtis said. Although Qi Baishi was best known for his painting and calligraphy, he considered his seal carvings his best work. Some of his major influences were the early Qing dynasty painter Bada Shanren and the Ming dynasty artist Xu Wei.”

Qi Baishi’s works are highly prized by collectors today. His paintings sell for between $20,000 to more than one million dollars,” Curtis said. “The value is based on the story of the painting as well as the colors and provenance. It does seem that his paintings are increasing in value.”

Qi Baishi watercolor painting of a group of carp, which sold for $193,600 in May 2015 at Eden Fine Antiques Galleries in Marietta, Ga. Image courtesy of Eden Fine Antiques Galleries and LiveAuctioneers.

Mel Delzer, president of Eden Fine Antiques Galleries in Marietta, Georgia, said Qi Baishi’s works are known for their spontaneity and freshness. “Their value depends on the theme or story of the painting, the complications, the variety of colors and, of course, provenance. His paintings have been on a steady rise, excluding the 2020 pandemic market,” Delzer said.

It is estimated that Qi Baishi produced anywhere from 8,000 to 15,000 distinct artworks. Of these, 3,000 are in museums. Since 1993, more than 16,000 of his paintings have appeared at auction. In 2011, an undated painting that was only attributed to him, titled Eagle Standing on Pine Tree, sold for $65.5 million. In 2017, his 1925 painting Twelve Landscape Scenes, which had solid authentication, soared to a staggering $140.8 million.

Jasper52 sale revels in the glories of Japanese woodblock prints

The Japanese began printing with wooden blocks sometime in the eighth century, but only in 1765 did they come up with a process that permitted printing in full color. That innovation, credited to Suzuki Harunobu, allowed for a golden age of ukiyo-e, the Japanese term for woodblock prints. The images caused a sensation all over the world, and influenced prominent artists such as Mary Cassatt, Vincent Van Gogh, and most notably, Claude Monet.

On June 30, beginning at 8 pm Eastern time, Jasper52 will offer 153 lots of Japanese woodblock prints.

https://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/105934768_utagawa-hiroshige-1797-1858-tree-bridge-gokanosho

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

CHINESE GINGER JARS ADD SPICE TO DECOR

Kangxi period ginger jar depicting a gathering of Chinese figures, which realized €11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy Veilinghuis de Jager and LiveAuctioneers

Ginger jars Chinese high-shouldered, ovoid, lidded, utilitarian porcelain vessels were long used to store and transport oil, wine, salt, and spices. Decorative ones, however, date from the Ming Dynasty era (1368–1644). Created in mineral-rich Jingdezhen-area kilns, such jars were produced for domestic use, bestowed at festive ceremonies, or destined for the Chinese Imperial court. Large quantities of ginger jars were also exported to Europe.

Ming porcelain ginger jar featuring eight Immortals against a landscape, which sold for $2,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2018. Image courtesy Sofe Design Auctions, LLC and LiveAuctioneers

Many ginger jars feature underglaze cobalt blue images of scrolling foliage, warriors, phoenix birds, or sinuous dragons set against milk-white grounds. Others, known as “three-color,” or sancai jars, display deep violet, yellow, and turquoise floral motifs defined by cloisonne-like raised lines. Eye-catching five-color wucai jars have underglaze blue designs enhanced with bold, overglazed yellow, green, and red enamel detail.

During the decline of the Ming Dynasty, the Jingdezhen kilns not only lost Imperial support, but were largely destroyed. However, they and other private kilns regained artistic and technical distinction under the auspices of Kangxi (1661-1722), an early Qing Dynasty emperor. As the demand for porcelains increased, production evolved into specialized, more efficient subsets – e.g., mining, mixing, and shaping. Firing at extremely high temperatures created pieces that were glossier and brighter than those of the Ming era.

Imari export glazed ginger jar, which realized $2,200 plus the buyer’s premium in 2020. Image courtesy of Rago Arts and Auction Center and LiveAuctioneers

With the expansion of Chinese maritime trade, merchants protected delicate exports, such as silks and tea leaves, by lining ship holds with rows of sturdy, waterproof porcelain jars. These commonly held precious spices, including ginger, a staple of Chinese medicine and cuisine. Because the British associated these vessels with treats such as ginger beer, ginger biscuits and gingerbread, they commonly called them “ginger jars.” Due to the fact that they were obviously finer than locally produced porcelain, they became valued more for their beauty than their contents.

Once ginger jars had become coveted decorative items, Chinese potteries exported them by the millions. Those depicting traditional blue-and-white figures, florals, or landscapes are not only most common, but remain the most desirable—especially if they still have their original lids.

Chinese famille rose foliage ginger jar, which sold for $5,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2019. Image courtesy Bernards Auction Gallery and LiveAuctioneers

Antique ginger jars are often classified according to their dominant color palette. Those featuring vibrant shades of green, a type that emerged during the Ming dynasty, are known as famille verte. Ginger jars featuring famille verte elements against a ground of yellow, a hue reserved for high-ranking Qing officials, are known as famille jaune. Famille rose, another ornamental jar type, features motifs such as birds, peonies, prunus, or chrysanthemums in pale pink to ruby-red tones.

Chinese export famille verte ginger jar depicting warriors in a garden, which sold for $11,000 plus the buyer’s premium in 2015. Image courtesy Alex Cooper and LiveAuctioneers

From the mid-1700s, China began flooding the European market with their lucrative ginger jars – dubbed “Chinese Imari” vessels – which were inspired by exceptionally fine porcelain items that had long been popular in Japan. These highly glazed pieces typically feature blue underglaze oriental motifs adorned with overglaze fauna, flora, and figures in vivid shades of green, yellow, red, and black.

Because porcelain ginger jars associated with particular historical eras frequently were copied by subsequent generations of ceramicists, they may prove difficult to date. Some bearing Kangxi reign marks, for instance, were actually produced centuries later to honor that vibrant artistic era.

Carved cinnabar covered ginger jar with figures against landscape, which garnered $1,300 plus the buyer’s premium in 2011. Image courtesy Midwest Auction Galleries, Inc. and Live Auctioneers

Following an ages-old tradition, Chinese craftsmen also decorated ginger jars with highly detailed three-dimensional designs carved in red-orange cinnabar, a sap derived from the Chinese lacquer tree. Numerous examples depict opulent peony blossoms amid scrolling leaves, vines, or bamboo branches. Others portray charming images of villagers in popular pursuits set against lush Chinese landscapes. But those featuring auspicious five-clawed dragons or raised bat motifs against finely wrought so-called “diaper” or geometric latticework grounds may be most desirable of all.

Today, antique ginger jars, whatever their style, are not restricted to private collections and museums. Whether gracing entrance halls and mantelpieces or repurposed as vases or centerpieces, they lend an air of classic Chinese elegance to any interior design.

Japan’s finest woodblock prints offered in online auction Feb. 24

A Jasper52 auction composed of vintage Japanese woodblock prints set for Wednesday, Feb. 24, will include what is considered by some to be the most beautiful work of its kind ever printed in Japan. A Book of Drawings of Flowers and Birds by Imao Keinen (1845-1924) contains 164 large oban format prints in four volumes.

Imao Keinen (1845-1924) ‘A Book of Drawings of Flowers and Birds,’ Series 164, 1891-92, large oban-sized prints in four volumes, approximately 15 x 10in each volume. Estimate: $14,000-$17,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Jasper52 presents fine Asian jewelry April 14

A select collection of fine antique Asian jewelry is offered by Jasper52 in an online auction that will take place Tuesday, April 14. Gold rings, necklaces, bracelets and uncommon forms—most set with precious gems and pearls—are featured.

A gold and diamond bangle. Estimate: $5,500-$7,000 Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Swords, netsukes on the rise in Asian arts auction April 8

Antique Japanese bladed weapons and finely carved netsukes are the featured attractions in an Asian arts auction that will be conducted online by Jasper52 on Wednesday, April 8.

Japanese tanto, Mino province, signed Kanenori, 1532-1555, 11¾in. Estimate: $4,000-$5,000. Jasper52 image

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Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.

Large Burmese Buddha graces Asian art auction Dec. 26

Jasper52 will conduct a finely curated Asian antiques and antiquities auction on Thursday, Dec. 26, bringing together ancient Chinese artifacts, impressive Buddha statues and much more, creating a comprehensive representation of the Far East tradition.

Shan Buddha, Burma,18th century, wood with lacquer, 24in with mount. Estimate: $3,500-$4,000. Jasper52 image

View the auction here.

Learn more about the auction on Auction Central News.