An important 17th century grey-green jade water buffalo, known as the Atterbury Buffalo, after one of its previous owners, leads Bonhams Fine Chinese Art Sale in London on 12 May. It is estimated at £450,000-600,000.
As long ago as 1949, when this jade was sold by E.W.L.Atterbury, it was described as ‘magnificent’ and ‘important’ and it is highly likely that it was originally made for a Chinese Imperial Palace. There are very similar examples in the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the British Museum that have well documented Imperial provenances. It is extremely rare to find animals of such striking size, and exceptionally large jade animals such as the present lot – it is more than 12 inches long – form a very select and unusual group within the tradition of Chinese jade carving.
The buffalo has long featured in Chinese art, reflecting its agricultural importance and its significance as a sacrificial animal. Buffaloes are also recorded as having an important role in certain imperial ceremonies during the Ming and Qing dynasties, particularly in Beijing in the third lunar month, when the emperor personally ploughed three furrows within the grounds of the Temple of Agriculture and made sacrifices to mark the beginning of the agricultural year and ensure a good harvest.
The Cunliffe Collection
The same sale also features items from the famous Cunliffe collection, formed by the second Lord Cunliffe over two decades from the mid-1940s. This is the third selection of fine ceramics and works of art from the collection to be offered at Bonhams – the first sale took place in 2002.
A rare silver-inlaid bronze ‘champion’ vase Song/Ming Dynasty (£20,000-30,000). Inspired by archaic bronze vessels produced during the Western Han period, this vase encapsulates a highly auspicious symbolism conveyed by the combination of eagle, ying and bear, xiong, which form the rebus for ‘champion and hero’.
A rare underglaze-blue yellow-ground ‘gardenia’ saucer dish, Zhengde six-character mark and of the period (£20,000-25,000). Dishes depicting gardenia designs in cobalt blue on a yellow ground were produced from the Xuande through to the Jiajing reigns. Examples dating to the Zhengde period, however, are very rare.
Newly discovered ‘Chilong’ bottle vase
A rare imperial famille rose ‘Chilong’ bottle vase Qianlong seal mark and of the period (estimate £50,000-80,000) is particularly fine. Incorporating Western techniques and Chinese traditional designs, the present vase is a remarkable example of the ability of craftsmen during the Qianlong period. It also has an interesting present day history. It was brought to a Bonhams valuation day in Cumbria by the owner who had inherited it and had no knowledge either of what it was or how much it might be worth.
A particularly fine Qianlong vase to be offered for sale at Bonhams in London