BONHAMS’ RECENT ‘Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Art’ auction held in New York fetched a total of $5.73 million. Himalayan works of art were hotly contested and top-quality ones in every section achieved high prices in the packed standing-room-only sales room.
The highest-selling lot of the evening was a 15th-century gilt copper alloy deity from a Vajrabhairava shrine, which sold for $893,000, soaring past its high estimate of $350,000. The sculpture comes from a private English collection and is an early 15th-century depiction of Surya (the Sun god). It belongs to a set of eight Hindu deities, which would have occupied the front edge of a throne for a monumental Buddhist sculpture of Vajrabhairava. Of this group of eight, five others have been identified in private or public collections, and two remain unknown.
Among the other top sellers was an outstanding gilt copper alloy figure of the prominent composite deity, Chakrasamvara, which fetched $605,000. The 15th-century masterpiece came from a private European collection and depicts the eponymous 12-armed male deity and the female deity, Vajravarahi, locked in a passionate embrace.
Then there was a 14th-century gilt copper alloy figure of Virupa, from Tibet or Nepal, sold for $581,000, almost five times its high estimate. The small sculpture is finely detailed and depicts Virupa, a former abbot of Nalanda monastery, and the first mortal master of the ‘Path with the Result’, a refined tantric practice, which can provide enlightenment in a single lifetime. The sculpture’s high copper content and fine modelling indicate the superior craftsmanship of Newari sculptors commissioned by Tibetan patrons; major Virupa bronzes of such exceptional quality exist only in museum collections.
A copper alloy figure of Avalokiteshvara, Swat valley, probably from around the eighth or ninth century, achieved $365,000, over 12 times its high estimate of $30,000. The figure wears patterned silks and sits on a lotus plinth. It holds a lotus in a gesture of charity. The Swat Valley served as an important repository for Buddhism after the Huns swept through the Kushan Empire in the sixth century. Spanning the seventh and 10th centuries, the small corpus of Swat bronzes produced demonstrates an adaptive artistic tradition responding to nearby regional styles, such as the Gandhara, Gupta and Kashmir.
A commanding 11th-century copper alloy Chola sculpture of Shiva Sukhasanamutri from south India realised $365,000. Coming from a private collection where it remained for over 20 years, this important bronze is an exceptional example of Chola sculpture produced during the rise of the empire.
On the sale’s success, Edward Wilkinson, consultant for the Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian Art department, commented, “These good results show the continuing demand for top-quality works in this sector. There was strong competition from collectors around the globe cementing New York’s position as a leader in the auctioning of Indian, Himalayan and south-east Asian art.”
Wilkinson also heads the Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian Art department at Bonhams, where he holds two specialised sales annually. Previously, he was worldwide head of the Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art at another international auction house from May 2000 through August 2003. Since joining Bonhams, Wilkinson has organised and presented several sales of note.
The recent auction also saw a carved schist head of Buddha from the ancient region of Gandhara, dated around the third or fourth century, which sold for $209,000, quickly exceeding its high estimate of $80,000. The sculpture is exceptional and exemplifies the remarkable Greco-Roman legacy in Gandharan sculpture.
A spectacular gilt copper alloy and inset Vajracharya crown, Nepal, circa 12th/13th century was another remarkable exhibit that achieved $161,000, well past its $20,000-$30,000 pre-sale estimate. The regal crown is triple-tiered and beautifully encrusted with gems and semi-precious stones. Elaborate ritual crowns of this type are worn by Newari Buddhist Vajracharyas, those who occupy the highest rank in the Buddhist community, when officiating religious ceremonies in Nepal.
Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world’s largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. Today, the auction house offers more sales than any of its rivals. The main sale rooms are in London, New York and Hong Kong. Sales are also held in the UK in Knightsbridge, Oxford and Edinburgh; in the US, in San Francisco and Los Angeles; in Europe, in Paris and Stuttgart; and in Sydney, Australia.
Among Bonhams’ forthcoming sales include a spectacular collection of arms and armour once owned by Tipu Sultan, the last king of Mysore, on April 21. The next Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art sale will be held in September.