In a packed saleroom in New Bond Street last Thursday, Bonhams Fine Japanese Art sale delivered some spectacular prices which culminated in a sale total of over £1,700,000. With well over 80% of the lots sold by value, the auction not only produced the best result to date for its recently-established department, but also one of the best results in London for a mixed-owner Japanese sale in almost a decade.
Amongst the magnificent cloisonné enamel highlights was a brightly-coloured, rare and meticulously crafted full- size model of a go-ban (games board) – a hitherto, unrecorded, tour-de-force example of its type, epitomizing the finest workmanship and extraordinary technique of the artist Honda Kozaburo. One of the objects which attracted unprecedented pre-sale interest, it sold for an astonishing £216,000, against a pre-sale estimate of £25,000-35,000.
Go – the preferred game of Ancient Japan’s nobles and monks and today’s intellectuals – is widely considered to the world’s greatest strategic skill game. In the West, it is the best known Japanese board game and has featured in a number of books and films, most recently Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind.
Exceptional museum-quality ceramics in the auction which included three Kakiemon porcelain beauties (bijin) also generated very strong interest amongst Japanese, American and European bidders. Products of a bygone era of Japan’s feudal past, these bijin were exported to the West to decorate the grand interiors of European palaces, reflecting the popular European Chinoiserie style and tastes of the 18th Century. The rarest model sold was a seated bijin, similar to an unmounted seated figure in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum; it sold for a splendid £132,000 (estimated £50,000 – 70,000). Also from the same collection, and donning the clothing and hairstyle prevalent in Japan during the Kanbun era (1661-1673), a graceful bijin dressed in a kimono featuring a quintessentially Japanese design of wisteria trailing over the Yatsuhashi bridge sold for £52,800 (estimated £20,000 – 30,000). Similarly, a second model, wearing a beautiful outer robe scattered with clouds and falling maple leaves, fetched an equally impressive £52,800 (estimated £20,000 – 30,000).
The auction also comprised outstanding examples of sophisticated Japanese lacquer. An unusual matching gold lacquer and silver-inlaid ryoshibako (document box) and suzuribako (writing box) set, created by Chikueido Eishin (1849-1915) and estimated to sell for £25,000 – 30,000, reached a phenomenal £103,200; whilst a select group of finely-cast Meiji period bronzes, a Tokyo School bronze okimono group of a bear and cub by Kaniya Kuniharu (fl. circa 1869), considerably exceeded expectations to reach £33,600 (estimated £12,000 – 18,000).
Suzannah Yip, Head of Bonhams Fine Japanese Art Department comments: “We are absolutely delighted with the results. Although Japanese art has not undergone the same boom in popularity in recent years as its Chinese counterpart, nevertheless when really important pieces comes to auction, as illustrated in this auction, there is a knowledgeable and sophisticated nucleus of collectors ready to pay the highest sums for exceptional pieces. Unprecedented results were achieved across the board and we hope that this means that Japanese art, long admired for its extraordinary qualities of design and workmanship, is finally emerging from a long period of undervaluation. ” Enquiries on 0870 0273622