Strong Results for Snow, Sex and Spectacle at Bonhams Japanese Art Sale

The 341-lot Snow, Sex and Spectacle: Japanese Art across Six Centuries Sale, at Bonhams New Bond Street on 13 May, achieved a total of £1,172,769 that sold by lot 80% and by value 81%.

The top lot was an extremely rare aiban print of Natsu (summer) from the Edo period (1615-1868), circa 1769-1770 by Suzuki Harunobu. The work sold for £60,250 against an estimate of £20,000-30,000.

Suzannah Yip, Director of Japanese Art, said: "Snow, Sex and Spectacle' achieved eye-catching prices in all three categories announced by our Japanese auction's title. An extensive fresh-to-market private collection of prints with explicit erotic content was 98% sold, while a large group of snow scenes and poetic landscapes by Kawase Hasui—a towering figure of the twentieth-century neo-traditional print movement—did even better at 100%. The prices paid for the Hasui prints exceeded their total high estimate by 72%, confirming a long-term adjustment in the market for this artist, whose work now enjoys parity of esteem with earlier counterparts such as a print by Suzuki Harunobu (c. 1769-70) that made £60,250. We are thrilled particularly with the remarkable results achieved for the prints. ."

Other highlights of the sale were made up of snow landscapes, traditional sex scenes and a finely inlaid Iron vase and cover depicting historical scenes.

• The snow scenes formed part of a large private collection of works by Kawase Hasui (1883-1957), an artist famous for reviving the woodblock print with evocative landscapes depicting both the traditional life of Japan and the changing face of its cities. Snow at Tsukishima depicts a solitary figure making his way under telegraph poles through a snowstorm in a newly developed district of Tokyo. The lot is dated 1930, and sold for £7,650 against an estimate of £1,200-1,800.

• The sale offered 30 lots of racy erotic prints from some of the greatest masters of the shunga ('spring picture') genre, including a rare set of twelve scenes from the album 'Picture Book: Patterns of Couples' by Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), the most famous of all Asian artists. Rich in exaggerated detail and leaving nothing to the imagination, Hokusai's compositions combine tenderness and passion and depict a range of adventurous positions and locations. The rare set sold for £17,750 against an estimate of £6,000-8,000.

• No Bonhams Japanese sale is complete without a generous selection of masterpieces from the Meiji era (1868-1912), when the once-closed nation opened up to the world and pioneering craft entrepreneurs vied to produce impressive goods for global expositions and wealthy globetrotters. The top Meiji highlight was an impressive and finely inlaid Iron Vase and Cover with Historical Scenes by the Komai Company of Kyoto. Decorated with gold nunome damascene overlay and silver details, the vase depicts scenes from the civil wars that ravaged Japan in the second half of the sixteenth century. The vase sold for £31,500 against an estimate of £20,000-30,000.


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