On The Square

Asia Week: The Holy Grail of Chinese Art Books at Skinner

By Anthony Wu, Asian Specialist

Mar 15,2021 | 11:00 EDT

It’s mid-March and that means another round of Asia Week in North America! Typically this event will bring hundreds of international collectors, scholars and art lovers to the New York area where they participate in the dozens of Asian-themed auctions, gallery and museum openings, and lectures.

With the abundance of global travel restrictions, this year will be much more subdued despite the USA’s progress with vaccinations. Many potential attendees will have to rely on a virtual approach – through apps including Zoom, Wechat, and Facetime – to preview the thousands of artworks on display. Here’s all hoping the world will have a semblance of normalcy in the coming months.

Skinner in Boston is one of the major stops on the Asia Week tour. This month, they will be offering their online Asian Works of Art sale from March 16th until March 25th. The auction consists of over 430 art objects from China, Japan, Korea, the Himalayan region and South Asia.

After selling a major Chinese blue and white bottle vase from the Yongzheng Period (1723-1735) in the fall of 2020 for $1.312 million, the Skinner auction is led by the extremely rare set of books, The Bishop Collection: Investigations and Studies in Jade.

Lot 1109, Bishop, Heber Reginald (1840-1902), The Bishop Collection: Investigations and Studies in Jade. Estimate $70,000-$90,000

Published in 1906 and limited to an edition of 100, the massive double volume set weighs in at an incredible 125 pounds! It celebrates the collection and connoisseurship of Heber Reginal Bishop (1840-1902), an American industrialist, entrepreneur and philanthropist. He made his wealth in the Cuban sugar trade before branching off into banking, mining and railroads.

Bishop was also a renowned jade collector and amassed the most legendary personal collection of Chinese jade carvings in the West during the second half of the 19th Century. These pieces were bequeathed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1902 and formed the foundation of the museum’s jade holdings.

Lot 1109, Bishop, Heber Reginald (1840-1902), The Bishop Collection: Investigations and Studies in Jade. Estimate $70,000-$90,000

The books are a work of art in themselves. In addition to having contributions by some of the most renowned jade and Chinese art specialists during that time, the tomes include dozens of original etchings, engravings and woodblock prints on the history of jade carvings, and feature examples from Bishop’s collection. Owning this set of books isn’t just the dream of any Chinese art collector, but they also belong in the pantheon of the greatest art books ever published.  At Skinner, these rare volumes are estimated at $70,000-$90,000.

Lot 1297, Embroidered Semiformal Robe. Estimate $3,000-$5,000

Also at the Skinner auction is lot 1297, a Chinese embroidered dragon robe. This attractive textile would have been worn by an official of the imperial court during the 19th Century. It features fierce gold-threaded dragons on a cloud-filled sky filled with colorful auspicious objects. This robe carries an estimate of $3,000-$5,000. In the porcelain section of the Skinner sale is lot 1028, a Chinese famille rose yellow ground vase. The vase is decorated with attractive phoenixes which symbolize the empress and femininity. These mythical birds are flanked by lotus blooms and scrolling vine throughout the body. The base is marked with a six-character Jiaqing mark, and the enamel work harks back to imperial yangcai (foreign-influenced colors) wares of the mid-18th Century. This vase is estimated at $2,000-$3,000.

Finally, at Skinner is lot 1185, a rare Korean silver inlaid bronze sun-dial dated to the 19th Century and estimated at $10,000-$20,000. These types of bronze sun-dials are extremely rare because the material was often melted down and reused during periods of conflict. The dial accurately measures the time of day and month, and all the script used to mark the measurements are inlaid in silver. This sun-dial was part of the famous collection of Georg Abeler (1906-1981) a goldsmith who founded the Wuppertal Watch Museum in 1958. The sun-dial was acquired directly from the son of Abeler in the early 2000’s.

View the full Timed Auction catalog for Skinner’s March 16th to March 25th online sale of Asian Works of Art.

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Anthony Wu is an Asian Art consultant, researcher, writer based in Toronto, Canada. After working eleven years as the Asian Art specialist at two of Canada’s largest regional auctions, he started his own art advising firm where he consults for various auction houses, museums, and private clients in Canada and the USA. He is a certified Chinese Fine Art appraiser with the Appraisers Association of America.