Beauty and the Beast at Japanese Sale

21st November 2018

Two rare Japanese cloisonné enamel trays by 19th /20th century artist Namikawa Yasuyuki sold for more than four times their estimate at November’s auction of Japanese Art.

Collectively valued between £4,000-£7,000, they went under the hammer at £31,000, realising a final total of £38,750 with buyer’s premium.

Yasuyuki, a highly successful artist both in Japan and in the West, included King Edward VIII and Rudyard Kipling among his customers. He was held in such esteem in his native Japan that Emperor Meiji appointed him Imperial Craftsman to the Court in 1896, an honour bestowed on only a handful of artists.

The two small trays which measured just 11.8cm (4.5in) square were only two of the highlights of the Japanese auction, which featured more than 300 lots.

Also commanding an impressive selling price was a lacquered wood figure of Amida Buddha from the Momoyama/Edo Period. Valued between £3,000-£5,000 the figure sold for £8,500 with buyer’s premium taking the total to £10,625.

Amida Buddha, one of the five wisdom buddhas, was portrayed in the stance which would welcome the souls of the departed when they reached the Great Western Paradise. Sculptures and paintings depicting this subject were popular in the 12th century and were placed near the beds of dying devotees to bring them comfort.

Much less benevolent in appearance was an ingeniously realistic fully-articulated model of a snake from the Myochin School. Valued at £20,000-£30,000, it sold for £27,000 (£33,750 including buyer’s premium).

When the Meiji restoration of 1868 forbade samurai from openly wearing swords, metalwork artists had to diversify and find new markets in order to make a living. Many began specialising in okimono – display ornaments. Jizai okimono, such as this superbly crafted iron snake, were fully articulated metal sculptures many of which depicted animals. Measuring 124cm (4ft long), the lifelike appearance comes from a multitude of triangular hammered plates which simulate the scales while the hinged jaw opens to reveal a movable forked tongue.

The hammer total for the Japanese Art sale was £214,470 with the buyer’s premium giving a final total of £268,000.

Alex Aguilar, Japanese Art Specialist, said: “We are delighted with the results of the Japanese sale. The market for Japanese art has been rather slow in the last few decades and the success of this sale shows that it is picking up again. It is a very exciting time and we are looking forward to our next sale in May 2019.”

The Asian and Japanese Art sale made national headlines when The Northern Girl, a painting by Yang Fei Yun, formerly owned by the late Anita Roddick founder of The Body Shop, was sold on behalf of the Roddick Foundation for £1.7million.

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