Entitled Beauty and Beyond: Women in Chinese Art, the 64-lot auction held by Bonhams last week was the first of its kind in Hong Kong to highlight the beauty of women in traditional and modern art history of Chinese culture.
Each of the artworks, which encompass various art forms, pays tribute to the diversity and representation of femininity. Two of the star lots included a 16th / 17th century Guanyin figure. Century and a breathtaking jade pavilion, which was inspired by the famous Chinese play “Romance of the Western Chamber”.
Quite a number of the lots attracted fierce bids from interested collectors, with a handful of hair accessories selling well above their pre-sale estimates.
Lot 27 | Bronze figure of Guanyin inlaid in silver, 16./17. century
Height: 63 cm
- An Asian private collection
Estimate: HK $ 3,500,000 – 4,500,000
Realized Price: HK $ 4,377,500
Traditional Chinese ideals of female beauty evolved from a preference for plump and voluptuous figures in the Tang and Song dynasties (618-1127) to a slimmer appearance in the following era. Nonetheless, the body of the old women is largely preserved in religious figures, which are often the expression of different cultural values.
An example are Guanyin figures, which date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1912). Guanyin is the Chinese interpretation of the South Indian male bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. But according to the “Lotus Sutra” – one of the most important sacred scriptures of Buddhism, Guanyin embodies the limitless nature of the Bodhisattva and could appear in both male and female forms to go beyond gender.
Back of the present bronze figure of Guanyin
The Ming and Qing examples often portray Guanyin as a female deity, the present lot, for example from the late Ming dynasty, captures the goddess’s radiant grace and serenity, visible through her facial features and elegantly raised fingers which make up the mudras that signify charity and confidence. The fuller face preserved in the present lot is also reminiscent of the stylistic preferences of the Guanyin figures from the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368).
Lot 46 | Pale green jade “Romance of the Western Chamber” pierced boulder, Qianlong period (1735-1796)
- Sotheby’s Hong Kong, April 8, 2007, lot 828
Quotation on request
Realized Price: HK $ 3,502,500
The first runner-up in the sale was the present jade carving from the 18th century. Emperor Qianlong (r. 1735-1796) was known as a jade fanatic in Chinese history. Thanks to the influx of massive jade rocks from Xinjiang into China during his reign, jade carvings from the time of Emperor Qianlong were among the most sought-after pieces on the market.
The present lot is believed to be inspired by scenes from the famous Chinese play Xixiang Ji, or “Romance of the Western Chamber,” written by the Yuan Dynasty playwright Wang Shifu. The piece is based on the tragic love affair between Cui Yingying, the daughter of a high-ranking minister, and her young scholar named Zhang Sheng.
Take a closer look at the current lot
Carved in a three-dimensional architectural form with naturalistic execution down to the last detail, the openwork jade block represents the scene in which the female protagonist Cui Yingying sits in a pavilion and looks out of a round window at her lover. The painterly quality favored by Emperor Qianlong makes it an extremely rare piece.
The present jade carving was last auctioned in 2007 after 14 years, brought in HK $ 3.5 million (US $ 451,400) and goes into the collection of Hong Kong-based prominent art dealer and collector Robert Chang.
Lot 52 | Set of headdress and necklace with jadeite, pearl and gemstone inserts, 19th century
- Headdress: 19 cm wide
- Necklace: 58 cm long
Estimate: HK $ 600,000-800,000
Price realized: HK $ 940,000
The present set of headdress and necklace dates from the 19th century. The headdress is elaborately decorated with delicate, spring-drawn branches of flowers with jadeite, pearl, tourmaline, sapphire and other semi-precious materials, all of which lie within the beaded border and are adorned with a temple pendant on each side.
Emerald green jadite is cut into slices from decorative ornaments that lie flat against the arched frame of the headdress. The technology is called Guangpian, literally translated as “Guangdong Disk”, a technique that probably originated in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.
Take a closer look Guangpian Jadeite ornaments
Lot 30 | A jeweled headdress made of kingfisher feathers, dianzi, 19th century
Height: 18 cm
Estimate: HK $ 180,000–220,000
Realized Price: HK $ 877,500
A dianzi, or a “hat ring,” was a type of headdress usually worn by Manchu nobles on special occasions. During the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) dianziChinese imperial wives also wore them.
The basis of a dianzi usually consists of metal wires wrapped in black silk before a variety of decorations are applied to it.
The present headdress is ornately decorated with jadeite, tourmaline, pearl, quartz, coral and other semi-precious stones. The manner in which gemstones and pearls are attached to the base of the hat in various auspicious motifs, as well as the “double luck” pendants hanging on the forehead, suggest that the present headdress was used for weddings.
Further highlights of the sale:
Lot 1 | A golden repoussé “phoenix” tablet
Width: 32.5 cm
Estimate: HK $ 150,000-180,000
Realized Price: HK $ 377,500
Lot 42 | A famille rose “Magpies and Prunus” plaque, republic time
Dimensions: 60 x 38 cm
Estimate: HK $ 50,000-80,000
Realized Price: HK $ 227,500
Lot 32 | Headdress made of kingfisher pearls and rubies, 19th century 19th century
Width: 18 cm
Estimate: HK $ 40,000-60,000
Realized Price: HK $ 202,500
Lot 64 | Canton embroidered “Officials and Ladies” scarf, late 19th / early 20th century.
Dimensions: 149×159 cm
Estimate: HK $ 30,000-40,000
Price realized: HK $ 102,000
Auction house: Bonhams Hong Kong
Sale: Beauty and Beyond: Women in Chinese Art
Date: May 27, 2021