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A Tale of Two Buddhas

This February I was I in Florida for a vacation and to go to an antiques show in Miami. There, with a dealer from Sarasota Florida I found two Buddha statues.  I was told they came from a Chinese family that had left China during the Cultural Revolution in the 1970’s and lived first in Long Island, and recently moved to Sarasota. They brought a number of things out of China with them, and these sculptures were among them. When I saw the Buddhas amongst antique European and American furniture and decorative pieces I did a double take, they were so out of context. But even so, I could tell they were real and bought them immediately.  It took a while to get them up to Hudson, they are large, and the mover who picked them up in Florida, only comes up to the New York area a few times a year. But get here they did after about a month, and fortunately, remained  intact.     When confronted with a piece in an unexpected […]

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Palmyra in the news again

Earlier this December, various media outlets reported that ISIS had retaken Palmyra. Other than a general expression of concern, no details were reported.  Clearly this is a terrible thing for those who care about art, and our common cultural history.  Here is a link to the article from the 12th of December: The Art Newspaper December 12, 2016 The New York Times reported this as well, and a few days later, a strange small piece relating how the US destroyed 14 tanks left behind by the Syrian army when the ISIS retook Palmyra: NY Times, US destroys tanks near Palmyra So the brief hope kindled when Palmyra was liberated from ISIS, has been crushed.  Not only did the Syrian army lose Palmyra in the first place, they couldn’t hold it, and their weapons were taken.  The incompetence and impotence of the Syrian army has been proven once again.  The U.S. bombed the tanks to keep them from being used against our allies in the area.  Why does this matter, and why am I writing about […]

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Stela re-appears in Paris

Limestone Stela of a Buddha, China, Eastern Wei 534 – 550 A.D. This stela was in a Stotheby’s New York sale titled, “Images of Enlightenment: Devotional works of Art & Paintings”, held September 16, 2015, lot 422.  It failed to sell, which was shocking to me as I posted here: http://tomswope.com/the-power-of-negativity/ It has reappeared on the market however. I was just in Paris, for a tribal and Asian art fair held in early September the Parcours des Mondes, Paris.  One of the best dealers in Asian art in Paris, participated in the fair, Jacques Barrere, who was featuring some very good early Chinese Buddhist sculptures. Later that same week, his gallery was also exhibiting in the huge Paris Biennale . The star of his offering at the Biennale was the same stela that failed to sell at Sotheby’s.   Sources who were at the Sotheby’s sale in New York where the stela had failed to sell, told me that the Chinese dealers were telling anyone who was willing to listen that the sculptures in the […]

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A Sui Dynasty Buddha Head

Head of a Buddha, China, late 6th Century A.D. 3/4 side view of the head above Side view of the head above I just acquired a large head of a Buddha, and wanted to share with my readers how I looked at it and came up the with dating through comparisons to established parallels. Pictured above, it is a life sized head at 12 1/2 inches high, carved of a dark grey limestone shot through with white veins, and retains traces of its original gold leaf and some paint, particularly the red on the lips.  It has a great archeological surface that has not been over cleaned. While at first glance it looks like all the other Buddha heads that one sees, this has certain stylistic features that help to date it rather precisely.  Let us start with the ushnisha, the cranial lump that is a mark of the Buddha. Here the ushnisha is distinctly marked as a separate cranial node but it is a low and wide unlike the high narrow high ushnisha seen […]

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Asia Week 2016

I wish I could do one of my posts on highlights seen during Asia Week, but this year the event has been destroyed by the actions of the US government misguided war on culture. I came to go to Asia Week to see the different exhibitions on Wednesday, and one of my first stops was to Gallery Vallois at 67th and Madison, where Dalton Somare was exhibiting.  He is a dealer I featured last year because of the extraordinary pieces he showed. This year, I found the doors shut and locked and we were not allowed in, the owner answered the door to say they were rearranging and to come back another day. I at first thought it a thin pretext to keep people away while he had an important client in and I thought it was rude and strange behavior for a public event such as Asia Week. Only at the end of the day did I learn that instead, the gallery had been raided by US marshals who confiscated a major sculpture they […]

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Another Poniatowski Gem

  Bulgari Necklace set with a carnelian intaglio I  recently returned from Florida, where I went to the big Miami Beach Antiques Show, which bills itself as the worlds largest indoor antique show, and it is big. I’ve been going for a few years now, I actually exhibited a few years ago but found my time was better spent as a buyer, rather than trying to sell there.  Early on, now more than 20 years ago, I went there with a friend, and discovered a Bulgari necklace set with an important Roman cameo portrait bust of Tiberius, which I was able to sell to the British Museum. So ever after, I’m on the look out for unrecognized ancient gems set in modern settings, or old ones for that matter.  The fair has grown if anything since years ago, they have added a whole jewelry annex with another several dozen dealers displaying.  This year, after having done the main rooms for several days I finally made it into the annex and there I found this necklace, […]

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Conflict Antiquities Symposium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Palmyran funerary relief in the Smithsonian Museum, Washington D.C.  Last Tuesday night, September 29th, I went to a seminar held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art titled: “Conflict Antiquities, forging a public/private response to save the endangered patrimony of Iraq and Syria”.  The title and program warned me that this was likely to be an exercise in blaming the antiquities market for the cultural destruction in the Levant, and it was. It was co-sponsored by the US Department of State, here is a link to the press release on it. Thrust of the speakers, who ranged from assistant secretaries of State, representatives from Homeland Security, agents of the Justice Department and high end attorneys for major museums and auction houses, was that the market for looted antiquities was the GREATEST threat to Syria and Iraqi’s cultural patrimony.  They went over the extensive looting taking place with aerial photographs of sites pillaged since the unrest in Syria and Iraq, and the rise of ISIS. However, their case is unconvincing to those involved in the antiquities business […]

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Civilization Under Attack, what can we do?

Still from ISIS video of the destruction of Nimrud in April 2015 There is a new force arising in the East, and it is undeniably evil, ISIS, also called Daesh, ISIL, and I am sure other names. By any name, the rise of ISIS is one of the most disturbing things to happen in my lifetime. And the world does nothing, or at least nothing effective to counter them and stop the killing of innocents, and now the destruction of our common human heritage. The provocation has been deliberate and intense, videos of the beheading, first of Western hostages one at a time, then mass decapitations of groups of men, one of the last available to be seen was the group beheading of a dozen Egyptian Coptic Christians a few months ago.  It is very hard to find these videos now online, as evidently the powers that be are suppressing their dissemination in the idea that these videos  are recruiting tools for ISIS. However I think everyone should see them, their barbarity is shocking and […]

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The power of negativity!

This past week was Asia Week at Sotheby’s New York and Christie’s.  The Sotheby’s sale had some exceptional and very good early Chinese Buddhist sculpture, Christie’s had almost nothing of that type.  The estimates at Sotheby’s were very high, I thought overly ambitious, but I was hopeful. Perhaps Sotheby’s was hoping to recreate the excitement and high prices generated by the Robert Ellsworth auction earlier in March of this year: http://tomswope.com/amazing-results-the-robert-ellsworth-sale-at-christies-march-2015/. The early Chinese Buddhist sculpture in the Ellsworth sale sold exceptionally well, going way over the conservatively low, but realistic estimates.  However, as I would like to see the field progress, I was hoping the high expectations at Sotheby’s would be realized.  I was unable to attend the sale in person, so followed it live online, as now anyone with an internet connection can.  It was a shocking experience, not a single one of the early Chinese Buddhist sculptures sold.  Below are the top three pieces: lot 422, Sotheby’s 16 September 2015 sale  The stela above has a single Buddha standing with a flame […]

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Early Chinese Buddhist Sculpture at Harvard

I finally got to Harvard  a week ago to see the newly re-opened Harvard Art Museums in the location of the former Fogg Art Museum, which is what I knew when I was a student.  Much lauded, this ambitious redo was just opened in November of 2014, but we all remember what this last winter was like, particularly in the Boston area. I wasn’t about to brave the blizzards and snowdrifts!  Designed by Renzo Piano, the renovations cost 350 million dollars and features what he calls, “the light machine”, which is in reality, just a big skylight. The result of this extraordinarily expensive renovation is quite ugly from the outside, the “light machine” towers above the old building like some sort of sci-fi smokestack or other mechanical thing.  However, fortunately, the galleries themselves are quite nice, and they are streaming with light generally, even when it doesn’t serve the art.  The galleries displaying their early Chinese Buddhist sculpture, the focus of this post, is a case in point. They are on the ground floor off […]

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Asia Week, New York, March 2015, over heard trash talk!

I was just in NYC earlier this week, to preview the Ellsworth Collection sale at Christie’s and see Asia Week. On view in different galleries, mostly on the Upper East Side, are a range of dealers, from Europe as well as New York and America, covering the full gamut of Asian art, from ancient to contemporary, and from Japan, Korea to Indian and Southeast Asian, and of course Chinese.  I focus on the few dealers who handle ancient art.  One of them was exhibiting at Friedman Vallois, on East 67th Street and Madison Avenue, from Milan, Dalton Somare. I am not familiar with them, but was very impressed with what they had on view, see below. Gandharan Head of a Buddha   Prominently featured and very well displayed was this immense colossal head of a Buddha, Gandharan, from India, 2nd to 3rd Century A.D.  Carved of grey schist, it is 68 cm tall, about 27 inches.  A fragment from a larger sculpture, possibly a composite sculpture, it is a very imposing head.  And beautiful. side […]

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Amazing results, the Robert Ellsworth sale at Christies March 2015

Robert Ellsworth was a pioneering dealer of Chinese and Asian art in New York from the 1960’s into the 1990’s. I unfortunately never got to know him, I did meet him briefly at an art fair, and was impressed by his emerald green jade set in a high karat gold ring. I was told by a friend who would know, that the jade was of such fine color and quality that it was worth 2 million, and this was in the 1990’s!  I never got to see his apartment, which was legendary, large and on Fifth Avenue, full of fine antique American and Chinese furniture and of course, Asian antiquities.  When he died last year, the extensive obituaries lauded his taste and importance as a dealer in early Asian art, and his social connections. Christie’s got his estate to sell, and did so just this week, in a series of  6 sales over 5 days, the last day being today as I write this.  The sale has been eagerly anticipated by myself and everyone involved […]

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