Japanese art from micro to macro
Miniatures and mountains top £2.3million sales at Bonhams

Fine Japanese Art including two masterpieces by Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959)
7 Nov 2013
London, New Bond Street

Bonhams exciting newly designed headquarters and salerooms provided the setting for the two days of Japanese auctions (6th-7th November) which achieved an impressive total of over £2.3million.

Suzannah Yip, director of the Japanese art department said: "It was a great pleasure to welcome our clients from all the over world to our elegant new salerooms which spectacularly enhanced the lots we were offering for sale."

The auctions included an encyclopaedic range of Japanese works of art from the miniature to the magnificent.

The top lot in the sale was Fuji, a unique, large-scale hekiga(wall painting) by one of modern Japan's greatest ceramic artists, Kitaoji Rosanjin (1883-1959) which sold for £146,500. The dramatic composition, executed by Rosanjin in 1953, depicts a majestic image of Mount Fuji soaring in the distance, glowing from the gold leaf background. The masterpiece was discovered in a rusting tanker in a Portuguese shipyard.

A set of twelve remarkable articulated silver insects by Takase Torakichi (Kozan, 1869-1934) fetched £98,500. A dragon fly, butterfly, beetles, praying mantis, cricket and hornet, each between 5cm-7cm in length, are intricately constructed with realistic with moving leg joints, head, wings and antennae.

Other top lots included an exquisite collection of over 100 decorative hair accessories from the late 19th/early 20th century which achieved £74,500. 72 of the ivory, tortoiseshell, bone, bamboo or lacquer pieces were owned by the famous Japanese artist Takeuchi Seiho (1864-1942). The collection comprised 132 kushi (combs), 20 kogai and 17 kanzashi (hair pins), 2 kesujidate (miniature combs) and 6 elegant ornaments for traditional Japanese styling, all embellished with carved designs and presented in a wooden cabinet.

To coincide with the British Museum's unprecedented exhibition of 'Shunga: sex and pleasure in Japanese art', Bonhams presented a selection of erotic woodblock prints, paintings and screens which caused excitement in the saleroom.

It proved a winning strategy. An 18th century print showing a kept mistress and her young lover making love behind a screen was estimated at £4,500-£4,800 but sold for £17,500 as two bidders engaged in a lengthy contest. The print, by Kitagawa Utamaro was taken from the album 'Poems on the Pillow' (Uta makura).

Part IV of The Edward Wrangham Collection of Japanese Art brings total so far to £6.2million

Part IV of The Edward Wrangham Collection sold this week on 6th November realised a sale total of over £811,000, bringing the total for the four sales held at Bonhams so far to £6.2million. Part V is due to be sold at Bonhams in 2014.

The collection is considered to be one of Europe's most important and comprehensive private collections of Japanese works of art.

The top two prices paid were for inro** by 19th century artist Yamada Jokosai.

A stunning gold lacquer three-case inro (Lot 177) decorated with formalised waves and lacquered with a map of Japan's provinces and surrounding countries in shades of gold, sold for £32,500. The ojime, or cord fastener, incorporates a miniature compass made from ebony and bone.

Also by Yamada Jokosai, a black lacquer four-case inro (lot 174) sold for five times its pre-sale estimate realising £25,000. The inro is lacquered with a girl tofu peddler who holds her cash book laughing at her unsuspecting male companion. He holds his basket of fish above his head and teases a hungry dog with a fish while a hawk flies away with one of his catch. The design is taken from an illustration in the woodblock-printed travelling guide to Kyoto, titled 'Famous Views of the Capital City' (published in 1780).

Edward Wrangham's first piece was given to him in 1936 when he was eight years old. He is considered to have been the last of the great British collectors. Wrangham continued to add to his collection until his death in 2009, sourcing works of art from all over the world. His collection, which was also published and written about by Wrangham himself, comprises over 1000 pieces of inro, netsuke and Japanese sword fittings assembled over many decades.

Colin Sheaf, Deputy Chairman and Head of Asian Art at Bonhams commented, "I am delighted that Bonhams held the only dedicated sale of Japanese art in London during Asian Art Week and the results speak for themselves. Bonhams continues to be the European market leader for Japanese art auctions."

    • The inro (literally meaning sealed case) is a traditional Japanese case consisting of a stack of small, nested boxes held together with chord that were used to carry small objects such as seals, tobacco and medicines. The netsuke is a small carving in wood or ivory that acts as a toggle with which to secure inro to the sash belt of traditional worn kimono. After humble beginnings as functional items, between the 17th-19th centuries inro and netsuke were developed by some of Japan's finest craftsmen into miniature works of art that can fetch extraordinary prices today. The world record for an inro sold at auction was broken in 2010 during Part 1 of the Edward Wrangham sale.


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 valuation 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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