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Outrageous! UCLA Breaks Donor Agreement to sell rare private Japanese garden

May 3, 2012

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, Bel-Air, California.

UCLA, as a recent Huffington Post article points out, is trying to sell what the Los Angeles Times says is “among the rarest post-World War II private Japanese gardens in the country.”  The big problem is, UCLA agreed to maintain the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden “in perpetuity.” That was the agreement they made with Edward Carter who provided UCLA with the means to purchase the site in 1964.  Carter also gave the university his home, which he said they could sell and use proceeds to create a maintenance endowment for the garden, named in honor of his wife.  UCLA affirmed the “in perpetuity” terms in 1982 and again in 1999. Carter is well known in Los Angeles for his leadership role at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and for having been a UC Regent for 36 years, including a term as the chair of the board of regents.

Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, Bel-Air, California.

After Edward and Hannah Carter passed away, UCLA had got a Superior Court judge to overturn the “in perpetuity” terms and have listed the garden and the house with Coldwell Banker.  In fact, as the Huffington Post article points out, UCLA had been planning this for several years, so it makes this revelation about the university’s behavior all the more reprehensible:

In a May 1, 2009, letter extending his “sincere condolences” to Anne Caldwell, one of Hannah Carter’s children, UCLA Chancellor Gene Block wrote: “Her name and legacy will live on through the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden, a beautiful reminder of her gracious and giving spirit.”

The article goes on:

UCLA was already making preparations to sell the garden well before Chancellor Block sent his letter of “sincere condolences” with assurances that Hannah Carter’s “name and legacy will live on through the Hannah Carter Japanese Garden.” Frederic Fransen, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, pointedly called UCLA’s actions in the Carter case a “bait-and-switch.”

A coalition of organizations and Hannah Carter’s children are actively trying to prevent the sale of this site, which could be determined on May 23.


May 2, 2012

Edvard Munch, The Scream

HYPE, HYPE, HYPE … SOLD! Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” …  Details about the sale here.

Newly Discovered drawing by Pieter Bruegel the Elder Unveiled in Antwerp

April 30, 2012

The drawing of a mountain landscape with two travellers is the first unknown drawing by Bruegel that has appeared since the 1970s. Pieter Bruegel de Oude, ca. 1558, Museum Mayer van den Bergh © Musea star Antwerpen.

Art Daily carries this story about a newly discovered drawing by Pieter Bruegel the Elder going on view June 16 at Antwerp’s Museum Mayer van den Bergh as part of the exhibition Pieter Bruegel Unseen! The Hidden Antwerp Collection.  Along with the drawing, the exhibition, on view through October 14, 2012, will feature the museum’s two paintings by the Flemish master: Dulle Griet (Mad Meg) and Twaalf Spreuken (Twelve Proverbs) and, for the first time ever, some 30 prints by Brueghel. Some additional details about the new discovery:

In late 2011, [Manfred] Sellink, curator of the exhibition, Director of Musea Brugge and for years a researcher of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s body of work, received a photo of a drawing from a private collector’s collection. Sellink and Martin Royalton-Kisch, former curator of the British Museum Department of Prints and Drawings, came to the conclusion, after a thorough study, that the landscape drawing belonging to the private collector could indeed be ascribed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

Comparisons of the paper type with drawings from the same period and an ultraviolet light test lent weight to their conclusion. For example, it appeared that the newly discovered landscape drawing’s paper was of the same Italian origin as the paper that Bruegel used during his journey to and stay in Italy from 1552 to 1554. In addition, ultraviolet light made traces of a signature visible in the bottom left corner.

The drawing of a mountain landscape with two travellers is the first unknown drawing by Bruegel that has appeared since the 1970s. The landscape drawing has all of the characteristics (composition, image structure and drawing technique) of Bruegel’s self-drawn pieces from the 1552-1555 period.

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Dulle Griet (Mad Meg)

Five Old Masters in Milan – UPDATED

April 27, 2012

Lot 24 Giovanni di Ser Giovanni Guidi, lo Scheggia (S. Giovanni Valdarno 1407-1486 Firenze)
Scena di trionfo all’antica
tempera e pastiglia dorata su tavola: 41×51 cm
sul retro scritta antica a colore A.Orcagna; etichetta antica “A.Orcagna Costume of Piccolomini family; due timbri doganali datati 1951.
Estimate: €40,000 – €60,000 ($53,006 – $79,509) HAMMER PRICE €70,000

Tucked into the May 30, 2012, sale of Old Master paintings at Christie’s in Milan are a few pictures worthy of attention.  Lot 24 (above) by lo Scheggia is the sort of cassone panel with themes grand, triumphant and celebratory for which he was famous.   This one appears to have been severely cut down — it would originally have been a long horizontal composition of a procession — so it resembles a predella panel in scale.  It has some grime on it, but should clean well. That said, one has to like lo Scheggia, who I generally find to more irksome than interesting.

Next up, in a very busy and overbearing (original) frame, is this gentle, winning and deftly articulated Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Simone Cantarini.

Lot 36 Simone Cantarini (Pesaro 1612-1648 Verona)
Riposo in Egitto
olio su rame, in cornice originale intagliata e dorata: 28×37,5 cm
Al retro della cornice, iscrizione antica “Boschi” e i numeri di inventario 32 e 61; bolli in ceralacca non identificati

Lot 36 Simone Cantarini (Pesaro 1612-1648 Verona)
Riposo in Egitto

The contrast between the body language of the relaxed Christ child, draped in Mary’s arms while staring out to the viewer, and the intense conversation between Joseph and Mary is fascinating in its naturalism and animates the composition.  The mule at left, a necessary compositional balancing element, I suppose, is poorly handled almost to the point of being intrusive.  This painting could also benefit from a light cleaning (look at the filthy varnish in the sky).

Lot 45 (below) is a Caravaggisti work by Trophime Bigot, a French painter one doesn’t often encounter.

Lot 45 Trophime Bigot (Arles 1579-1650 Avignone)
Cristo deriso
olio su tela: 72×97 cm
Estimate: €80,000 – €120,000 ($106,011 – $159,017) THIS LOT OPENED AT €50,000 AND BIDDING STOPPED AT €60,000 AND IT FAILED TO SELL.

Here’s a portion of the Wikipedia entry about the artist:

Bigot has always been known from his documented altarpieces in Provence, but the English art historian Benedict Nicolson was the first to propose that he was identical with the artist called Maître à la chandelle (Candlelight Master), who was active in Rome, producing relatively small candle-lit scenes with heavy but subtle chiaroscuro in a style similar to that of Georges de la Tour. Nicolson connected a figure documented in Italy as variously Teofili Trufemondi/Trofamonti/Troffamondi/Bigotti with this artist, and suggested these were Italian versions of Bigot’s names. This theory was much disussed, and for a while many believed that there were two Trophime Bigots, father and son. It is now generally accepted that the two artists were the same man, who painted in two different styles according to the different demands of the Roman and Provençal markets; “It seems, however, that Bigot was simply adapting to new circumstances.” However acceptance of this theory is notably lower in Italy; the Galeria Doria Pamphili in Rome still attribute the boy with candle above to “Maestro Giacomo”, and the National Gallery at Palazzo Barberini hang works attributed to Bigot and the Candlelight Master in the same room, with the assertion that the styles and lighting are different.

This next work by Pietro Liberi is beautifully painted, romantic and elegiac.  He was active in the Veneto which is evident from the restricted palate (think Tintoretto and Veronese) and handling of paint.

Lot 49 Pietro Liberi (Padova 1605-1687 Venezia)
Compianto su Cristo morto
olio su tela
99,5×160,5 cm
cornice antica intagliata e dorata
Estimate: €40,000 – €60,000 ($53,006 – $79,509) TWO PHONE BIDDERS PUSHED THE BIDDING FROM AN OPENING OF €30,000 TO THE HAMMER PRICE OF €65,000.

An intriguing quality is gauzy treatment of the figures, suggesting otherworldliness and divinity, juxtaposed with the realistic depiction of the Crown of Thorns and nails in the foreground and the crisp edge of the white drapery.  The face of Christ is elegant, placid and sufficiently nuanced to suggest it was painted from a live model, while Mary and her attendants, the angels and putto look more like stock figures, which is effective in focusing attention back on the image of Christ.

The use of diagonals is well done. The strong downward left to right made up of the angels’ faces and the body of Christ, contrasts with the strongly implied right to left created by Mary and Christ’s heads, which are thrown back in opposite directions thus forcing the viewer’s eye.  This directionality is augmented by the largest and most clearly articulated angel’s wing.  Christ and the sheet on which he rests are also the brightest portion of the canvas, surrounded by literal and metaphorical darkness.

The treatment of some details, such as the hands of the Christ figure, is uneven.  The left hand is compositionally complex and a beautiful study in naturalism, while the right hand (and forearm) verges on clumsy.  This and other minor reservations, notwithstanding, I find this painting really intriguing and appealing. Here’s a segment from the Wikipedia entry about the artist: Liberi was born in Padua, his earliest training was with Alessandro Varotari (il Padovanino). He traveled extensively in Italy. During a voyage to Istanbul, he was captured into bondage for 8 months by pirates from Tunis. He was nicknamed il Libertino due to his frequent choice of salacious themes in cabinet pieces.”  Clearly, this in not one of his salaciously-themed cabinet pieces.

The last work is newly discovered, a Saint John the Baptist by Nicholas Regnier.

Lot 54 Nicolas Regnier (Maubeuge 1588-1667 Venezia)
San Giovanni Battista
olio su tela: 257,5×196,5 cm
Estimate: €400,000 – €600,000 ($530,057 – $795,086) BIDDING ON THIS LOT STOPPED AT €270,000 AND IT FAILED TO SELL.

Compositionally, this may derive from Caravaggio’s painting of the same subject now in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, though that work is more dynamic.  Nevertheless, this monumental canvas, with it’s obvious condition issues, is impressive.  For more about this artist, here’s part an informative and well illustrated entry on the artist from the Art Tribune:

Régnier was thought to be born in 1591 according to a mistaken reading of a birth certificate. In fact, he might have been born in 1588, certainly before 1593 in any case. After his first training under Abraham Janssens in Antwerp, documented only by Sandrardt, the young painter left for Italy. He stopped in Parma in 1616-1617 before arriving in Rome.
Unfortunately, there are no known works from his early years. Thanks to his master Janssens, and also perhaps Lionello Spada whom he must have met at the Farnèse court in Parma, Régnier soon became familiar with the Caravaggesque movement. Once in Rome (between May 1617 and Easter of 1620), he shared lodgings with David de Haen and Dirk Baburen, both of whom belonged to this school.

Along with Valentin de Boulogne, Régnier was one of the main adepts of the Manfrediana Methodus, a term which designates a Caravaggism reinterpreted through the prism of Bartolomeo Manfredi’s style. Régnier quickly oriented his manner towards a pursuit of refinement and gracefulness, which Annick Lemoine calls “a poetics of seduction” or “a Caravaggism of seduction”. In this, he is in direct opposition to the Northern Caravaggisti such as Honthorst and Baburen, whose art reflects an almost caricatural earthiness. After settling down in Venice, Régnier’s style became even more suave, influenced by the Bolognese painters, particularly Guido Reni who became one of his principal models.

After looking over these works, and judging simply from the online images, were I to take one of these paintings home, it would be the Liberi. It is wonderfully captivating.

Stolen Art & Antiquities returned to Italy

April 27, 2012

NOVELLARA 1511 - 1587
oil on copper
16 7/8 by 11 3/4 in.; 43 by 30 cm.
ESTIMATE 1,000,000-1,500,000 USD
Lot Sold: 1,497,000 USD ($1.3 million hammer price + buyer's premium)

Yesterday at the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC, a ceremony was held to repatriate art and antiquities that had been stolen or otherwise illegally exported from Italy, this painting by Lelio Orsi among them.

It’s a weird painting, and that’s the single note I wrote in my Sotheby’s catalogue for January 24, 2008 sale of Important Old Master Paintings and Sculpture, which is the last time I saw the work.  Turns out, according to Voice of America, it was was “smuggled into the US through false customs documents.”  Here’s the VOA News report which includes commentary by  Renato Miracco, the embassy’s extraordinary cultural attaché.

Along with the Orsi painting, pages torn from illuminated choirbooks and antiquities looted from archaeological sites were returned in a ceremony that included Department of Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano and Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero. Looting Matters has additional coverage.

Here’s the complete entry from the 2008 Sotheby’s catalogue:


Victor Spark, New York; Private Collection, New York.


V. Romani, Lelio Orsi, Modena 1984, p. 38, footnotes 55 and 56, p. 113, reproduced fig. 23, and p. 170;
F. Frisoni, in E. Monducci & M. Pirondini eds., Lelio Orsi, exhibition catalogue, Reggio Emilia, Teatro Valli, December 5, 1987 – January 30, 1988, pp. 140-41, cat. no. 124, reproduced;
D. Ekserdjian, “Lelio Orsi, Book Review,” in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXX, no. 1024, July 1988, p. 539, reproduced fig. 62;
F. Cappelletti, in The Dictionary of Art, London and New York 1996, vol. 23, p. 574.


This exquisite copper is an extremely rare work by the idiosyncratic Emilian artist Lelio Orsi. The son of a painter, Orsi worked for much of his life in Reggio Emilia but in 1546, following accusations of his involvement in a murder plot, he fled back to his native Novellara. He stayed there for over a decade, traveling briefly to Venice in 1553 and to Rome in 1554-55. Orsi’s eccentric style successfully blends Correggio’s vivid use of colour, Raphael’s classicism, and the contorted forms of Michelangelo and Giulio Romano.

Although he was a prolific draughtsman and decorator, relatively few easel paintings by Orsi are known. This painting is unique in Orsi’s oeuvre, both for its subject matter and support: the use of copper is highly unusual. In a private communication, David Ekserdjian has pointed out that he believes this to be one of the earliest known paintings by any artist to use copper as a support and Vittoria Romani concurs, saying she is not aware of any documented works by Orsi on copper, nor of coppers by any other artist at such an early date.1 The sensuality of the subject matter, the preciosity of the copper support, and the intimate scale of the work all indicate that this painting was almost certainly commissioned by a private patron. The brilliant use of colour – bright blue sky with a burst of yellow above – and contorted mannerist forms are reminiscent of Correggio, whom Orsi much admired and emulated.2 Although dated to between 1546 and 1553 by Romani, who first published the picture, this copper has more recently been dated to shortly after 1560, by comparison with Orsi’s Conversion of Saint Paul drawings in Oxford and Cleveland, both of which are closely related to a Michelangelo design.3 A date of execution close to his Roman sojourn seems reasonable, given the overriding influence of Michelangelo and Raphael in this copper, but Orsi’s eccentric interpretation tempers the Michelangelesque tension and contortion of the figure of Diana with the Raphaelesque classicism and stillness of Leda. The neighing horses find parallels in Michelangelo and Giulio Romano, and resemble others in Orsi’s graphic oeuvre, further supporting a date of execution around 1560 or shortly afterwards.4

According to Greek mythology Leda – the wife of Tyndareus, king of Sparta – was seduced by Jupiter after he came to her by the river in the form of a swan. As a result of their union she laid an egg (or two, according to different accounts), from which hatched the heavenly twins Castor and Pollux, and the mortal Helen and Clytemnestra. The theme of Leda and the Swan, popular in classical antiquity but relatively rare in Cinquecento painting, is unique in Orsi’s own oeuvre. The two most famous Renaissance treatments of the subject by Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo are lost and known to us today only through copies, drawings and engravings.5 These differ considerably in spirit from the present work, for in these Leda is shown as a willing participant in the seduction;

Leonardo’s Leda smiles and allows the swan to place its wing protectively around her, and Michelangelo’s Leda is in the throes of a passionate embrace and appears to be kissing the swan’s beak. Orsi’s treatment of the subject is unconventional and much more unsettling. First of all the setting is not terrestrial but celestial: where Leonardo places Leda in a lush landscape beside a river, Orsi’s Leda stands on a cloud, in a sky of the deepest blue. The episode was said to have taken place at night and the figures are bathed in a supernatural light.6 Leda, dwarfed by the enormous swan, surrenders to Jupiter; her vulnerability emphasized by the protective pose of her hunched back and bent legs. She makes no attempt to fight or scream, and the neighing horses and fretful hounds beside Diana provide the only expression for Leda’s silent anguish.

The classicizing pose of Leda, so in contrast with the mannerist treatment of Diana above, is not surprising given the artist’s frequent recourse to classical sources. Orsi was obviously captivated by antiquity: he copied the Torso Belvedere and used it for the man lower left in a drawing of the Allegory of Summer in the Louvre;7 and one of the Dioscuri forms the basis for the man leading the horse in the Conversion of Saint Paul drawings in Oxford and Cleveland.8 In this copper the distinctive poses of Leda and the swan derive from a classical relief (see fig. 1). A 17th-century engraving (see fig. 2) of the composition by Jan de Bisschop (1628-1671)9 is, like Lelio Orsi’s painting, most likely based on Roman models of the relief. Since Orsi probably first visited Rome in the 1540s and went there again in 1554-55, it is quite plausible that he saw a Roman copy of the bas-relief in Rome; something which would further support a date of execution for the copper circa 1560 or shortly afterwards. Although Leda and the swan’s positions directly derive from this relief, Orsi has made the design entirely his own: whilst Bisschop introduces a palm tree to the left of his engraved composition Orsi has retained the simplicity of the original design, increasing the drama by outlining Leda and the swan against a brilliant blue sky. This serves to emphasize Leda’s exposure and vulnerability, the rich flat colour of the background contrasting with the delicate modeling of both Leda’s flesh and the swan’s feathery texture.

Despite his idiosyncratic and instantly recognizable style, the corpus of Orsi’s firmly attributed paintings remains surprisingly small. This is probably due to the fact that Orsi was not given his due attention until the latter part of the 20th century – he only gets a brief mention by Malvasia in the 17th and by Tiraboschi in the 18th century – and this is even more surprising given his reputation, attested to by the epitaph on his tomb – ‘in architectura magno in pictura maiori et in deliniamentis optimo’.10

1 See Romani, under Literature, p. 38, footnote 55.
2 For Correggio’s influence on Orsi see, for example, the latter’s Ecce Homo in Montpelier, Musée Fabre, which closely resembles the painting of the same subject in the National Gallery, London, by Correggio (to whom the Montpelier picture was once attributed): see Frisoni, under Literature, p. 184, cat. no. 157, reproduced.
3 Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, inv. no. 422A, and Cleveland, The Cleveland Museum of Art, inv. no. 51.348; see Frisoni, op. cit., pp. 141-42, cat. nos. 125 and 126, both reproduced. Orsi’s interest in Michelangelo at this time also manifests itself in paintings copying Michelangelo’s designs: see, for example, Orsi’s Annunciation (private collection) that repeats a composition adopted by Marcello Venusti, after a Michelangelo drawing (Frisoni, ibid., p. 151 and p. 166, cat. no. 140, reproduced).
4 As well as the Oxford and Cleveland sheets, compare Orsi’s sheet of Fight between horses and Fight between lions and men on horseback, both in private collections: Frisoni, ibid., p. 145, cat. nos. 131 and 132, both reproduced.
5 Leonardo’s design, a source of inspiration also for his pupils Cesare da Sesto and Giampietrino, shows Leda standing and apparently smiling, with the swan’s wing drawn protectively behind her. Michelangelo’s interpretation also shows Leda as a willing participant: she reclines, with her left arm hanging limply beside her, and although the swan has forced itself upon her she gives in to the seduction, apparently without a fight despite her muscular body.
6 The goddess Diana, who was the daughter of Jupiter, symbolizes the moon (as the crescent on her forehead suggests).
7 Cabinet des Dessins, Louvre, Paris, inv. no. 10380; see M. Pirondini, in Monducci & Pirondini, under Literature, p. 56, cat. no. 11, reproduced.
8 Frisoni, op. cit., pp. 141-42, cat. nos. 125 and 126.

9 See Ekserdjian, under Literature, p. 539, reproduced fig. 61. The relief may also have been known to Cesare da Sesto, either directly or through contemporary engravings, for a similar composition (albeit with Leda’s head turned to the viewer) is recorded on a sheet in his sketchbook in the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York (see M. Carminati, Cesare da Sesto 1477-1523, Milan 1994, p. 252, cat. no. D28, reproduced).

10 ‘Great in architecture, better in painting, and best in drawing’; cited by Ekserdjian, op. cit., p. 539.

Upcoming sale of Cambodian Antiquities with Shaky or Non-Existent Provenance – UPDATED

April 25, 2012

Lot 522, Provenance: ??
A FINE SANDSTONE HEAD OF A MALE DEITY. Khmer, Pre Rup style, 10th c.
Height 35 cm.
Estimate: CHF 20 000.- / 30 000.- (€ 16 670.- / 25 000.-)

UPDATE – The online auction catalogue for this sale has the same result for all of the lots in this article: “Unsold / no responsibility is taken for the correctness of this information.”  It’s unclear whether these lots failed to sell or if they were withdrawn from sale.

The May sales of Asian art and antiquities at Galerie Koller in Zurich include a selection of Cambodian antiquities that have shaky or non-existent provenance (i.e., history of ownership).  Given the ongoing tussle over the disposition of a possibly looted Khmer statue currently with Sotheby’s, why would an auction house offer up works for which there is no clear provenance?  On pages 188-193 of the auction catalogue there are several items, including a beautiful bust (Lot 522, above) that should have the auction house and potential buyer’s very concerned.  Five lots have no provenance whatsoever, four have the nebulous provenance “Swiss private collection” (the Swiss Freeport system has too often been abused as a method for laundering the provenance of antiquities), and two are listed as having been purchased in the mid to late 1980s, before Cambodia’s 1993 law nationalizing its cultural heritage, but well after the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property was adopted in November 1970.  As the New York Times reported, ‘In 2004 the Association of Art Museum Directors declared “member museums should not acquire” any undocumented works “that were removed after November 1970, regardless of any applicable statutes of limitation.”’ The International Council of Museums (ICOM) Red List of Cambodian Antiquities at Risk warns specifically about the types of work Koller is offering.

To be fair, there could be good, clear title to all of these items that includes documented provenance demonstrating their original export from Cambodia was legally done.

Since most of these works don’t have anything near that (at least not published in the catalogue), potential buyers should avoid them.

Lot 523, Provenance: Swiss private collection.
Khmer, Bayon, 13th c. Height 27 cm. Wood stand.
Estimate: CHF 9 000.- / 12 000.- (€ 7 500.- / 10 000.-)

Lot 524, Provenance: Purchased at „Au Vieux Venise“, Paris, 1989 (invoice available).
A SANDSTONE HEAD OF VISHNU. Khmer, pre-Angkor, 7th/8th c. Height 24.5 cm. Probably slightly retouched.
Estimate: CHF 10 000.- / 15 000.- (€ 8 330.- / 12 500.-)

Lot 525, Provenance: ??
Khmer, 11th/12th c. Height 36 cm.
Estimate: CHF 6 000.- / 8 000.- (€ 5 000.- / 6 670.-)

Lot 526, Provenance: ??
A GREY SANDSTONE SHIVA LINGAM. Khmer, Angkor Wat style, 12th c. Height 44.5 cm.
Estimate: CHF 6 000.- / 9 000.- (€ 5 000.- / 7 500.-)

Lot 527, Provenance: ??
A SANDSTONE TORSO OF A MALE DEITY. Khmer, Angkor Wat, 12th c. Height 46.5 cm. Stand.
Estimate: CHF 5 000.- / 8 000.- (€ 4 170.- / 6 670.-)

Lot 528, Provenance: ??
A BRONZE FIGURE OF BUDDHA MUCHALINDA. Khmer/ Lopburi, 13th c. Height 24 cm.
Estimate: CHF 2 000.- / 3 000.- (€ 1 670.- / 2 500.-)

Lot 529, Provenance: Swiss private collection.
A FINE BRONZE FIGURE OF PRAJNAPARAMITA. Khmer, 12th/13th c. Height 17 cm.
Estimate: CHF 4 000.- / 6 000.- (€ 3 330.- / 5 000.-)

Lot 531, Provenance: Swiss private collection.
A BRONZE STANDING FIGURE OF BUDDHA. Khmer, Lopburi, 13th c. Height 20.5 cm.
Estimate: CHF 4 000.- / 6 000.- (€ 3 330.- / 5 000.-)

Lot 530, Provenance: Swiss private collection, purchased in Chiangmai 1986.
A BRONZE STANDING FIGURE OF BUDDHA. Khmer, Lopburi, 12th/13th c., height 30.5 cm. Wood stand.
Estimate: CHF 2 000.- / 3 000.- (€ 1 670.- / 2 500.-)

True! “One of the most beautiful exhibitions I have ever seen”- NY Times, Ken Johnson

April 24, 2012

Itō Jakuchū
Mandarin Ducks in Snow, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of
30 vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766
1759, second month
ink and colors on silk
142.0 x 79.8 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The
Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

“Colorful Realm of Living Beings”, the rather humble sounding title for a collection of 30 18th century Japanese hanging scrolls by Itō Jakuchū on view at the National Gallery of Art is actually an astonishing artistic achievement; and all hyperbole aside, this exhibition really is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The ebullient New York Times review does not oversell the wonder of Colorful Realm.

Many layers of genius — including technical proficiency, compositional bravado, knife edge balancing of verisimilitude and exaggeration, and remarkable juxtapositions of color — are involved in these works, which stem from Chinese and Korean bird and flower painting precedents.  Jakuchū (1716-1800) not only mastered those earlier works through copy and repetition, he expanded the vocabulary of fauna depicted, created winning and delightfully amusing tableaux and established new artistic boundaries within the confines of a centuries old artistic tradition.

The series, started in 1757, took a decade to complete and resided in the Shōkokuji Monastery in Kyoto.  Jakuchū originally gave 24 scrolls to the monastery and later added the remaining six.  He also created the Śākyamuni Triptych, scroll paintings of The Buddha Śākyamuni, Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, and Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, which are also on view at the gallery.

A five minute gallery video provides a look at the installed exhibition, an interview with the exhibition’s curator, and excerpts from the press reception and Buddhist ceremony that opened Colorful Realms.

Jakuchū’s compositions range from airy (as in Lotus Pond and Fish and the exhibition’s earliest and most traditional work Peonies and Butterflies) to outrageously congested (Nandina and Rooster and other chicken and rooster scrolls). Indeed, the artist’s use of chickens and roosters, ordinary fowl, is among his many compositional innovations.  He find in them both humor (as he does with the small octopus clinging to the tentacle of a larger octopus in Fish), and a striking protagonist.

It is the technical virtuosity that absolutely astounds — the intricate and delicate depiction of flora and fauna, the commanding brushwork and the death defying articulation of texture. In addition, Jakuchū painted on the reverse of many scrolls adding depth, texture and ambiance to the tableaux.

Itō Jakuchū
Roses and Small Bird, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of 30
vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766
c. 1761-1765
ink and colors on silk
142.6 x 79.7 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The
Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

Itō Jakuchū
Lotus Pond and Fish, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of 30
vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766
c. 1761-1765
ink and colors on silk
142.6 x 79.7 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The
Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

Itō Jakuchū
Nandina and Rooster, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of 30
vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766
c. 1761-1765
ink and colors on silk
142.6 x 79.9 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The
Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

Fish, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of 30 vertical hanging
scrolls, c. 1757–1766
c. 1765-1766
ink and colors on silk
142.6 x 79.4 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The
Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

Itō Jakuchū
Wild Goose and Reeds, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of
30 vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766
c. 1765-1766
ink and colors on silk
142.6 x 79.3 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The
Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

File name: 3234-001.jpg
Itō Jakuchū
Peonies and Butterflies, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set of
30 vertical hanging scrolls, c. 1757–1766
c. 1757
ink and colors on silk
142.0 x 79.8 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The
Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

Itō Jakuchū
Old Pine Tree and Peacock, from Colorful Realm of Living Beings, set
of 30 vertical hanging scrolls
c. 1757–1766, c. 1759-1761
ink and colors on silk, with gold
142.9 x 79.6 cm
Sannomaru Shōzōkan (The Museum of the Imperial Collections), The
Imperial Household Agency, Tokyo

Itō Jakuchū
The Buddha kyamuni, from Śākyamuni Triptych, c. first half of the
ink and colors on silk
142.4 x 79 cm
Jōtenkaku Museum, Shōkokuji Monastery, Kyoto

Itō Jakuchū
The Bodhisattva Mañjuśrī, from Śākyamuni Triptych, c. first half of
the 1760s
ink and colors on silk
142.4 x 79 cm
Jōtenkaku Museum, Shōkokuji Monastery, Kyoto

The Bodhisattva Samantabhadra, from Śākyamuni Triptych, c. first
half of the 1760s
ink and colors on silk
142.4 x 79 cm
Jōtenkaku Museum, Shōkokuji Monastery, Kyoto

The entire series is on view through April 29, 2012 as part of the centennial celebration of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to the nation’s capital.  The gallery is seeing record numbers of attendees and has extended visiting hours for the final days of the exhibition.

That the scrolls survive and as a complete set is a near miracle (think of all the 14th and 15th century Italian altarpieces that were chopped up and sold off one predella panel and pinnacle at a time, so that they now exist like the scattered relics of so many dismembered saints).  That the entire set has been allowed to travel outside Japan for the first time ever is another near miracle bordering on divine intervention.  That you only have days left to see it means don’t delay.

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