A magnificent and important large green jade carving of a water buffalo dating from 17/18th century and believed to be of Imperial origin heads Bonhams autumn sales in Hong Kong on November 27th. It is estimated to sell for HK$12,000,000-15,000,000 (£1m to £1.2m). Previously it was held in two important British collections and has been handled by esteemed London dealer Sydney Moss.
The handsome buffalo carved from an exceptionally large stone of rich celadon tone, lies placidly on its stomach with four legs bent underneath and its head turned to the left to gaze straight ahead with docile eyes.
Experts believe the buffalo was taken at the sack of the Summer Palace during the Boxer Rebellion in 1898 – 1900, when the Chinese violently rebelled against the Western presence and influence in their country.
Colin Sheaf, Bonhams UK and Asia Chairman, said: “Large jade animal figures are some of the most remarkable products of Imperial Chinese nephrite carving, laboriously created three centuries ago. This buffalo stands comparison with the best models that have come to auction in a generation.”
This important jade work from the renowned collections of Lt.Col. M.A. Johnson, Somerset de Chair and Jorge de Brito, is a remarkable feat of Chinese jade carving, achieving the astonishing combination of grace, strength, gentleness, majesty, naturalness and timelessness. Carved from a single block of richly-toned jade.
It is very likely that it once graced one of the imperial palaces based on the provenance of similar beasts known to have adorned these royal homes.
Jade has traditionally been association with immortality and spiritual power. It is not until the Song period that jade was more generally used as a material for sculpting the creatures of daily life, and whose use was not restricted to assisting in the afterlife. Such small jade carvings tend to have softer, more appealing and realistic features, and often a sense of playfulness.
The buffalo underpinned rice production and the rural economy and, as such, is emblematic of agriculture and spring time, and represents strength, endurance, hard work, prosperity and tranquillity.
Another aspect of the buffalo is its guardian function, stemming from the legend of the Emperor Yu of the Xia dynasty casting an iron ox to subdue floods. This connection was most notably represented in the huge bronze ox commissioned by the Qianlong Emperor in 1755 and placed gazing out over the Kunming Lake at the Summer Palace. Depicted in jade rather than bronze, with an eternally placid yet watchful expression, the present lot surely also observes and protects its owner. In its size and presence, it is a culmination of Chinese jade sculptural traditions, combining practical, spiritual and protective elements to a far greater extent than other buffalo carvings.
The sale of this single lot is accompanied by a handsome stand-alone hardback catalogue chronicling its history and background. It will probably become a collector’s item itself in the fullness of time!
Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Alan Johnson (born in 1909, commissioned into the army in 1930 reaching the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1953, served with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps)
Sold at Sotheby’s London, 29 May 1962, lot 139
Sydney L.Moss Ltd., London
Somerset de Chair (1911-1995), sold at Sotheby’s London, 27 November 1973, lot 54
Jorge de Brito (1927-2006)