Exceptional prices set for a fearsome mask and a cloisonné enamel bowl at Bonhams London Japanese auction

Fine Japanese Art 17 May 2012
London, New Bond Street

Exceptional prices set for a fearsome mask and a cloisonné enamel bowl at Bonhams London Japanese auction

Fine Japanese Art 17 May 2012
London, New Bond Street

A striking red mask (tengu somen) forged out of a single piece of iron was one of the top lots in the Fine Japanese Art sale that took place on the 17th May at Bonhams, New Bond Street.

Estimated at £3,500 – 4,000, bidders fiercely competed for the coveted mask, which eventually sold for £121,250, establishing a new world record price for a mask sold in the West. The mask was in the form of tengu, a bird-like spirit who is often depicted with a reddish face and crow-like beak. In Japanese folklore the tengu is a protective, yet mischievous spirit and a popular mask subject. A mask such as this would have originally been used as an armor accoutrement in the 13th century, but later examples were made as showpieces for high ranking lords.

The top lot of the sale was an exquisite cloisonné enamel and partial plique-à- jour square bowl by Ando Jubei from the Meiji Period (1868-1912). The bowl displayed an extraordinary interplay of colors, with the subtle use of traditional design and received much interest from a coterie of international buyers. Estimated at £15,000 – 20,000, the bowl realized £145,250. This also established a world record price for the artist's work.

Further highlights included a 17th century six-panel folding screen, painted entirely in shimmering layers of gold leaf, depicting a bridge over Uji River. Reflecting the renowned beauty of the river and its surroundings, the screen sold for £115,250.

Works by Shibata Zeshin, one of the most ingenious lacquer masters of the Meiji Period, currently setting world record prices at auction, were also included in the sale. Having set a world record for the artist two days previously, Bonhams was delighted to present another extensive range of works by the artist, including a lacquer three-case inro (traditional Japanese medicine cases consisting of nested boxes)that sold for £79,250. A pair of rare lacquer paintings fetched £51,650, exceeding the presale estimate of £15,000 – 20,000, and a lacquer four-case inro sold for £49,250.

Suzannah Yip, Head of Bonham's Japanese department comments: 'We have set store at Bonhams by producing catalogs of unequaled academic credibility, and our two major auctions this week continued our exceptional record for 2011. Japanese works of art of outstanding quality, rarity or beauty continue to attract great interest from our top international private collectors and dealers, showing that the market, although selective, has emerged from a period of perceived weakness and is still keen for the best we can offer'.


Bonhams, founded in 1793, is one of the world's largest auctioneers of fine art and antiques. The present company was formed by the merger in November 2001 of Bonhams & Brooks and Phillips Son & Neale. In August 2002, the company acquired Butterfields, the principal firm of auctioneers on the West Coast of America. Today, Bonhams offers more sales than any of its rivals, through two major salerooms in London: New Bond Street and Knightsbridge; and a further three in the UK regions and Scotland. Sales are also held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Carmel, New York and Connecticut in the USA; and Germany, France, Monaco, Hong Kong and Australia. Bonhams has a worldwide network of offices and regional representatives in 25 countries offering sales advice and appraisal services in 60 specialist areas. For a full listing of upcoming sales, plus details of Bonhams specialist departments go to www.bonhams.com

  1. Suzannah Yip
    101 New Bond Street
    London, United Kingdom W1S 1SR
    Work +44 20 7468 8368
    FaxFax: +44 20 7468 5840

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