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Indian & Southeast Asian Art


10:15AM, September 20, 2002

Sale 7821

Catalogue cover with illustration of gray schist Buddha

Lot 16, "Buddha," gray schist, Gandhara, 2nd-3rd Century, 34 inches high

By Michele Leight

The offerings at Sotheby's Indian & Southeast Asian Art Auction September 20, 2002 are relatively small in number but very high in quality and are highlighted by a stunning group of gilded Tibetan statues.

The outstanding "Buddha," Lot 16, illustrated above and on the catalogue's cover,dates from the 2nd to the 3rd Century and is wearing a broadly pleated sanghati that falls over the plain base from the gathered loop in his left hand. His right hand, which is missing, would have been raised in "abhya mudra," a gesture of reassurance. His finely carved face is especially realistic bearing in mind that he was carved between the 2nd and 3rd Century AD, when Gandhara was a thriving civilization. His beauty and grace is a tonic in these strained times. "Buddha,"which is estimated at $100,000 to $150,000, was presented to the Charterhouse School, Surrey, England, in 1881, by Charles Pearson. It sold for $669,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. In a letter headed "Rawalpindi, 19th February, 1881," C. Pearson (O.C), District Inspector of Schools, wrote to Rev. G. H. Davies: "I have dispatched today the image of Buddha which I promised. You may expect to hear from Messrs. King & Co about a month after you receive this letter. I remember sending you some account of the Buddhist sculptures of the Peshawr Valley. This image of Buddha was given to me by the Khan of Dubyan, a village near Holi Mardan in the Peshawr District. It was found in a ploughed field with other remains of an image temple accidentally exposed a year ago." What is particularly nice about this work is the way his drapery cascades over the base.

Statue of Vishnu-Vasudeva-Narayana, Cambodia

Lot 6, Vishnu-Vasudeva-Narayana, Cambodia, Khmer, Ankor Wat Style, copper alloy, 12 3/4 inches high, 12th Century

The copper alloy "Vishnu-Vasudeva-Narayana," from Cambodia, Khmer, illustrated above, is in the Angkor Wat Style, 12th Century and represents Vishnu as the highest god of the Pancaratra sect of Vaishnavism. As the absolute and omnipresent Narayana,Vishnu is the ascetic - yogin - possessing a third eye and a high crown of hair, and as Vasudeva he represents the universal soul who creates the visible world with his four arms, and lastly, as Vishnu he represents the material world. Hinduism found glorious expression in copper statues like this and in the large sculptures and relief stone panels on the walls of magnificent Angkor Wat. Lot 6 is estimated at $15,000 to $20,000 and sold for $20,315.

Lotus Mandala of Hevajra, India

Lot 60, Lotus Mandala of Hevajra, copper alloy, Eastern India, 11 inches high, 11th/12th Century

"The Lotus Mandalaa of Hevraja," an 11-inch-high copper alloy sculpture from Eastern India, 11th/12th Century, is in the form of a lotus flower, supported by two bodhisatva figures.The eight petals of the flower open to display the eight-headed and sixteen-armed Hevraja, surrounded by eight dancing goddesses. It is an intricate, brilliantly conceived work of art, and the type of object many would associate with the mysterious trophies rescued from megalomaniac collectors by Indiana Jones types because of the powers they possessed. Intricately wrought animals, including a pig, tortoise, and lion,a kneeling archer, a monk and a monk's staff are only some of the elements in this amazing object. The more you look, the more you will find, and be amazed at the imagination of the creator of this piece. It has an estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It sold for $53,775.

Ritual bell, Cambodia, Vietnam

Lot 10, Ritual bell, copper alloy, Cambodia/Vietnam, 21 inches high, 2nd Century B.C.-2nd Century A.D.

Lot 10 is a copper alloy "Ritual Bell," 21 inches high from Cambodia/Vietnam, 2nd Century BC-2nd Century AD. The catalogue observes that it may have belonged to religious or political leaders. This graceful bell is decorated with continuous scrolled bands, and the hollow interior does not display any attachment to which a clapper might have been attached, suggesting it was struck from the outside. Dongson, a village in North Vietnam, was the site of a French archaeological dig, which unearthed the bronzes from this period. Similar examples found in Thailand and Indonesia have also been labeled Dongson. Judging by its fineness, this bell may have come from a more complex chiefdom society, rather than a simple village society. It has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $17,000.

Vaishnavite architectural surround

Lot 36, Vaishnavite Architectural Surround, Rajashthan, black stone, 59 inches square, 11th/12th Century

At first glance Lot 36, "Vaishnvite Architectural Surround," (Black Stone, Rajasthan, 11th/12th Century) appears to be a one-of a-kind gateway or door surround. Instead, it is an architectual element that would have framed a large central Vishnu. The name should ring a bell because Manil Suri's book entitled "The Death of Vishnu" has been on the bestseller lists for some time and is now available in paperback. Exquisitely carved in fine detail, it depicts the avatars, or emanations: these include Varaha, Narasimha and Vamana in the top left register and Parashurama, Ramchandra, Balarama and Buddha in the opposite register.The supporting columns contain varied tantric forms of the four-armed, seated Vishnu, and two standing forms at the base. Each looks inwards to the place where Vishnu would normally be seated. It is stunningly conceived and executed, even without Vishnu. Hopefully, whoever buys this gorgeous piece will already have or will purchase a divine Vishnu to accompany it - preferably a museum so that we may all delight in it. It has a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $32,500.

Detail of portrait of King Trisong Detsen, Tibetan

Detail of Lot 72, King Trisong Detsen (r. 755-797), distemper on cloth, Tibet, 30 by 20 inches (full work), 18th/19th Century

The first Tibetan Buddhist Monastary was founded during the reign of King Trisong Detsen , who reigned from 755 to 797 A.D. It was built in Samye. The wonderfully painted portrait, Lot 72, "King Trisong Detsen," (Tibet, 18th-19th Century), was painted in distemper on cloth. Time has not marred its rich pigmentation, as can be seen from the detail above. The king in his sumptuous robes and elegant turban is the centerpiece in an elaborate composition that includes a portrait of the Fifth Dalai Lama in the top register above the king's golden roofed palace. The exhuberant style of this painting is associated with the high court in Lhasa in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is modestly estimated at $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $23,900.

Lot 166, "A Palladian House, Calcultta," by Sunita Kumar, oil on canvas, 35 3/4 by 36 1/8 inches

Lot 166, "A Palladian House, Calcutta," by Sunita Kumar, (b.1942), is a grand and wonderful mansion in a city which was once called "The City of Palaces," because it was a showpiece for diverse and magnificent architecture. Calcutta's fascinating history has included being the capital of British India, and, more famously, the home of Mother Teresa, whose Missionaries of Charity began in this city, which was her home, and where she died. After initially devoting her works to Mother Teresa, with whom Ms. Kumar had a deep and significant relationship, the artist has recently drawn inspirition from the older buildings of Calcutta, which echo the past, but, as in "A Palladian House, Calcutta," Ms. Kumar's bright pallette and classical forms use these old buildings to convey a sense of optimism for the future of a city that has had its share of trials and is known for its poverty. Calcutta also has a reputation for tolerance, a love of the arts and culture, intellectual rigour and great hospitality. This lot has a modest estimate of $3,000 to $5,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $2,500.

Lot 143, "Untitled," by Jamini Roy, gouache on paper, 16 1/2 by 12 1/2 inches

The paintings of the Bengali artist Jamini Roy (1887-1972) are prized by connoiseurs - as well as by those who know exactly what they like and do not need anyone else's seal of approval. Many works by Jamini Roy are in the collection of The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersberg, Russia. The artist painted on media as diverse as jute, cardboard, canvas and paper, and in several different styles. The elegant, monochromatic "Untitled," (undated, gouache on paper), illustrated above, is a collector's piece: the universally beloved theme of a deer - and the spareness of execution - is both timeless and modern. It is estimated at $5,000 to $7,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $4,000. Two other paintings by Jamini Roy, Lot 144, "Krishna Stealing the Butter," (gouache on cardboard), estimated at $5,000 to $8,000, and Lot 145, "Gopini," (gouache on cardboard), estimated at $6,000 to $8,000, are brightly colored, figurative works in a traditional Indian style. At sixteen, Jamini Roy attended the Government School of Art in Calcutta, where the academic tradition of Lord Leighton and Alma-Tadema - a distinctly Western artistic tradition - prevailed. He mastered the required techniques, but creativity and originality flowered only when he began to draw on his own cultural traditions, resulting in the strong outlines and flat areas of color associated with many of his unique works of art. Jamini Roy was awarded the Padma Bhusan in 1955, and spent most of his working life in his home city, Calcutta, where he died in 1972. Lot 144 sold for $5,975 and Lot 145 sold for $7,170.

Vajradhara, Tibet

Lot 50, Vajradhara, gilt copper, silver and gems, Tibet, 14 1/2 inches high, 13th/14th Century

There is much to delight the connoisseur and the curious at this sale and the auction is highlighted by many gilded statues, including some 14th Century Tibetan works. The grace and beauty of the bodhisattva illustrated above belies his expression, which, on close inspection is somewhat wrathful! This gilt copper "Vajradhara" with silver and gems comes from Tibet and is dated to the 13th to 14th Century. It appears to be wearing only fine jewelry, and an ornate crown. His legs are effortlessly crossed and one gets the feeling that it would be no strain at all for him to have sat like that for hours without mishap.Vajradhara's arms are crossed at the wrist and hold the vajra and ghanta. Lot 50, estimated at $25,000 to $35,000 is an exquisite piece. It failed to sell and was passed at $15,000!

Vajrapani statue, Tibet

Lot 52, Vajrapani gilt copper, gems and polychrome, Tibet, 8 inches high, 14th Century

Another fine Tibetan piece is the highly expressive, gilt copper "Vajrapani" with gems and polychrome from the 14th Century. The 8-inch-high statue, which is Nepalese in origin, has a modest estimate of $35,000 to $45,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $32,500! The finely etched tiger markings indicate that he is wearing a tiger skin "dhoti," and also a flayed snow lion skin mantle, and the poor creature's head does appear beneath his right arm. These are the only fierce elements in an otherwise rather adorable "protector" of the Buddha, which is Vajrapani's job, and his absence of convincing "menace" is proper and fitting for anyone in Buddha's orbit.

Mahakala statue, Tibet

Lot 57, Mahakala copper alloy, gems and polychrome, Tibet, 15 1/4 inches, circa 14th Century

The outstanding gilt copper "Mahakala" with gems and polychrome is another Tibetan piece from around the 14th Century. The extremely charming, 15 1/4-inch-high statue manages to appear benign and imposing simultaneously, despite the necklace of severed heads visible on the scalloped hems of his luxurious robes. The multi-layered robes are incised with floral patterns and his other fine "accoutrements" include a jewelled necklace and belt, and a jewelled five-leaf skull crown and lapis earrings. The only thing missing from this fine bearded darmapala is an implement" which used to be in his hands. The style of this Mahakala relates to the sculpture from south central Tibet, where the Densati Monastary stood before it was destroyed. Photographs of this and other monastaries and temples in the area were taken by P. Mele in 1948, which have helped document their origins. Lot 57 is estimated at $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $196,500.

Mahakala statue, Tibeto-Chinese

Lot 63, Mahakala, gilt copper alloy, 12 1/2 inches high, Tibeto-Chinese, Early Ming Dynasty (1369-1644), 15th Century

A far more menacing gilt copper alloy "Mahakala," Lot 63 is Tibeto-Chinese, Early Ming Dynasty, 1368-1644. It appears to be in mint condition and is decorated with "lethal" components as well as decorative ones: coiled snake earrings, snakes entwined in his flaming hair and around his neck and waist, and the garland of severed heads all contribute to the sensation that this was definitely not a guy to mess with. Judging by the outstretched corpse beneath his feet, Mahakala had decided that his time had come, and it would have been interesting to know what his transgressions were to so enrage his avenger. The corpse is in fact a crowned divinity, who is lying face-up on a double lotus throne. The parallels to transgressions by certain "divinities" in our own time - who have attorneys - is interesting to ponder. One furious look from "Mahakala" would probably stop child-abuser's in their tracks.This lot has a modest estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $26,290.

"A Prince Reclining on a couch by moonlight" by Nidha Mal

Lot 113, "A Prince Reclining on a Couch by Moonlight" by Nidha Mal, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, 14 by 18 1/4 inches, Mughal, circa 1740

Indian miniature paintings are one of the great delights of Indian art; the Mughal Emperors and courtiers valued the arts highly, and patronized them, as is demonstrated by these exquisite paintings, jali screens, architectural panels - and unforgettable monuments like the Taj Mahal. The predominantly 18th Century watercolors offered for sale include the stunning "A Prince Reclining On a Couch By Moonlight," Lot 113, originally from the Carter Burden Collection. It was painted by Nidha Mal, a Mughal artist who worked in Delhi during the reign of Muhammed Shah (1719-48). He probably spent his last years in Lucknow, a city known for its glorious architecture. His works are characterized by extreme delicacy of execution, and, in this particular painting, an unusually monochromatic and subtle palette. Paintings by Nidha Mal are in the Binney Collection, San Diego, the Los Angeles County Museum, the Bharat Kala Bhavan, Benaras and the Prince of Wales Museum, Bombay. It has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $27,500.

Lot 119, Chand Bibi Hawking, Deccan, opaque watercolor on paper, 18 by 14 3/4 inches, 18th Century

Chand Bibi was the late 16th Century Queen of Ahmadngar, and as can be seen from the illustration above, she had a very elegant and sporting life: not too many ladies go hawking these days! The unusual punk-rock, acidic green, which predominates in this lovely painting, Lot 119, is the perfect backdrop for the graphically depicted horse and rider, who seems to have no trouble negotiating the reigns in one hand and a fierce bird clutching at her other outstretched wrist. The opaque watercolor on paper is 18th Century and has an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It failed to sell and was passed at $17,000!

Elephants were very much a part of the everyday life of a Mughal ruler or nobleman, and they often had their portraits painted, much as the British aristocracy had their dogs and horses - occasionally accompanied by their children - preserved for posterity on canvas. Frankly, the Mughal elephants, like the winsome English dog and horsey pictures, are sometimes more memorable than the rather dour looking Lords and Ladies, whose expressions seem focused on absolutely nothing on the distant horizon, though they always wore great clothes and knew exactly which part of their magical acreage to stand in front of. The Indian miniatures in this sale run the gamut of noblemen and women in pursuit of life's celebrations and elegant rituals, without a hint of stress, which is very restful especially because it is completely unattainable.

Lot 117, "Royal Elephant and Mahout," Lucknow or Faizabad (Attributable to Mihr Chand or Bahadur Singh, opaque watercolor and gold on paper, circa 1765-70), is estimated at $40,000 to $60,000, and was the work of one of the two artists mentioned, who painted at the court of Shuja-ud-Daulah, the ruler of Lucknow from 1754 to 1775. It failed to sell and was passed at $32,500. From 1765 the court was moved from Lucknow to Faizabad, and the period of stable government which ensued allowed gorgeous paintings like this to flourish. Pity the elephants name was not inscribed somewhere discreet, as was often the custom.

Howdah, India

Lot 101, Howdah, parcel gilt silver, tiger-eye, wood and velvet, India, 60 inches long, 19th Century

For those with elephants - or imagine having an elephant in the family - there is a very impressive "Howdah," (parcel gilt silver, tiger- eye, wood and velvet, India, 19th Century), Lot 101, designed to make the ride on the elephant a pleasant and, in this case, very noticeable event. The forward seat is flanked by two magnificent lions and fish - an eccentric combination but it works - backed by a panel displaying heraldic lions (always a winner, ask any six year old), flanking a shield. As might be expected, hunting scenes around the seat of the howdah depict turbaned figures with muskets and a lion attacking a deer.The whole amazing concoction is supported by "paw" feet. Now that's the way to arrive at an art opening in Manhattan, and Hammacher Schlemmer should buy it - for a mere $20,000 to $30,000. Even a New York Cab driver would be impressed.The howdah is the perfect "grand finale" to this sale, which should be a winner. It failed to sell and was passed at $17,000.

The high quality of the works in the sale is as impressive as the time span of this cultural heritage; artifacts range from the 2nd century BC to artists working in major Indian cities at the present time. Of note are the many paintings by Maqbool Fida Husain, (b. 1915), for example, Lot 164, "The Assasination of Gandhi," estimated at $10,000 to $15,000, and a wonderful canvas, Lot 170, by Bikash Bannerjee, a self-proclaimed painter-journalist entitled "Visit,"which shows a sort of Charlie Chaplin figure in the doorway, peering curiously at a pair of boots - his own boots - tied to a rope: "they rise out of reality" explains the artist and a desire to make a social statement. Intellectual rigour and art meet and succeed in this whimsical yet powerful painting, estimated at $10,000 to $15,000. Lot 164 sold for $10,158 and Lot 170 sold for $11,950.

Only about half of the offered lots sold, a very disappointing auction, for a total of $2,148,235.


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