Chinese Works of Art

Thirteen years after the establishment of Knapton Rasti Asian Art and twelve London exhibitions later, we are proud to present our inaugural exhibition in Hong Kong, representing a new cycle in the Year of the Snake.

We are particularly pleased that this occasion coincides with a landmark moment in the history of Chinese art auctions, Sotheby’s 40th anniversary in Hong Kong.As in previous years, we have assembled a group of objects representative of a certain type of material that we handle. This year, we pay special attention to agate carvings, which we have always prized highly. Alongside this group we are also proud to present fine jade examples. The 2012 Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition curated by Jason Sun, ‘Colors of the Universe: Chinese Hardstone Carvings’ (16 June 2012 to 6 January 2013), was an overdue event showcasing the value of hardstones in Chinese art, when so much focus had been placed on jades for so many years. Sun rightly points out that hardstones were carved by the same master craftsmen who produced jades in the imperial palace workshops. Thus, in our view hardstones should be accorded a similar level of regard.

Additionally, the agate material presents a certain degree of difficulty to carvers with its many variations in colour, spots, blotches, layers and veins. Sun notes that only the most masterful of craftsmen, with their delicate artistic sensibility, were able to create exceptional pieces.The first example is a banded carnelian agate figural group (no. 58) in which the carver, with great skill and thought, has utilised the different tones and colours to highlight the features, much like a piece of jade would have been carved using the characteristics of the stone. The second work we highlight is the extraordinary brushwash er (no. 54) carved in superb detail with its original stand. There are few large agate carvings from the 18th century extant; accordingly, one of this size and quality is hard to come by. The stone is unusually clear and the carving shows that the artist has put great thought into the piece. Of the smaller pieces of agate some designs are rarely seen, such as the double deer pendant (no. 45), which shows a brilliant use of the stone’s contrasting colours, and the crane and peach group (no. 56) – both designs are more frequently found in jade carvings.We have always prized burnt jade or ‘chicken bone’ jade carvings, a fine example of which is the imperial incense burner and cover shown in the ‘Magic, Art and Order: Jade in Chinese Culture’ exhibition at the Palm Springs Desert Museum in 1990. The details of this work are a match for any example in the purest white jade. Jade handling pieces have traditionally played a large part in our exhibitions, and in recent years there has been a surge in interest from collectors both in East Asia and the West. The small creamy jade recumb ent pig (no. 4)grey jade beast (no. 18) from the collection of Lord and Lady Cunliffe. The stone, in a mottled colour favoured by Ming dynasty artisans, was carved with great skill and precision. By contrast, the white jade group of three rams (no. 38) from an Italian collection is of pure white ‘mutton fat’, but the fineness of carving is similar. This is comparable to a much smaller model of a ram (no. 37) in its purity of stone.We have, for many years, followed certain unforgettable and personally inspiring pieces, such as the yellow jade earcup (no. 8), from collection to collection. We first handled this piece in the 1990s when it was in the Gerald Godfrey Collection. Its subtlety, simplicity and purity typifies jades from the Song dynasty, when form and colour were more important factors than intricate detail and a profusion of carving. The combination of the size, soft polish, stone and even the weight from hollowing completes the beauty found in this great work of art.Finally, we bring attention to a similar simplicity in form and colour found in the red lacquer painting table (no. 67). The design of the straight lines echoing the deep red tone is well ahead of its time, and this piece will complement any modern décor. There are few surviving examples of lacquer furniture of this type, which was valued highly in the late Ming dynasty. Red lacquer was without doubt made for the imperial court, as the colour red was the principal colour of the Ming court and was found in palaces throughout China.