Chinese amber fish carvings, bronzes & porcelain figures shine in strong National Museum of Play single-owner sale

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Chinese amber fish carvings, bronzes & porcelain figures shine in strong National Museum of Play single-owner sale
Two Chinese Amber Carvings and An Agate Carving of Double Fish, 18th Century. Price Realized: $62,500.

CHICAGO, IL.- Property from The Strong National Museum of Play’s collection realized more than $821,600, doubling its expected estimate with extraordinary prices achieved for Chinese amber fish carvings, bronzes, porcelain figures and Japanese inro. Strong Diversions: Property from a Lifetime of Play spotlighted works from prominent collector and philanthropist Margaret Woodbury Strong, whose passion for learning and scholarship developed through her unique upbringing and global travel. Strong assembled one of the largest and most unique private collections of the 20th century, inviting visitors to her home as early as 1948. Her collection of over half a million objects formed the foundation of what would come to be known as The Strong National Museum of Play.

Strong’s mother, Alice Motley Woodbury, was a passionate collector of Chinese and Japanese objects d’art, and bidders were eager to secure items from her collection. Bidders had particular enthusiasm for the large collection of yatate and sagemono.

Chinese Amber Fish, Bronzes & Porcelain Wares

Leading the auction was a set of two 18th century Chinese amber carvings and an agate carving of double fish (lot 388), which sold for an impressive $62,500 against a presale estimate of $2,000-4,000. The red and white fish measure six inches in height and feature exceptional detailing.

Chinese bronzes were also among popular lots, such as a bronze 'lion' incense burner (lot 344) and an archaistic bronze vase, fanghu (lot 345), both of which shattered their estimates, selling for $31,250 and $28,125 respectively. A pair of late 17th century Chinese gilt bronze figures of standing officials (lot 350) were also top performers, selling for $16,250 against a presale estimate of $5,000-7,000. The quintessential Ming style of the figures, with finely cast official’s hats, flowing robes, and stunning gilding, made this lot highly desirable.

Porcelain items, such as a Chinese copper red glazed porcelain bowl (lot 394) which sold for $28,125, also achieved excellent prices. Made during the Yongzheng period, this bowl is an amazing example of one of the most impressive Chinese porcelain techniques in the history of Chinese art.

Japanese Inro

Japanese inro, cases for holding small objects, by Shiomi Masanari saw high demand in the auction. A 19th century Japanese gold lacquer four-case inro (lot 467) climbed well past is estimate of $1,500 - $2,500 to achieve $40,625. This inro is decorated in iroe-togidashi-e on a kinji ground with two mice, and is accompanied by a crystal ojime and a mouse-form netsuke. A large Japanese gold, red and black lacquer three-case inro in the form of a set of samurai armor (lot 460) sold for $16,250. Japanese inro in the form of armor are very rare, and unlike typical rectangular form works that come to market today, inro of this larger type are rendered with greater detail and form, indicating that this particular inro may have been made for Japanese Samurai.

An 18th century gold lacquer five-case inro (lot 466), also featuring a mouse, was another highlight of the sale. Selling for $9,375 against an estimate of $1,000-2,000, the inro features an illustration set on a kinji ground, and the interior is made of a nashiji lacquer. It is accompanied by a carved wood mouse-form netsuke signed Masanao.

Yatate from Alice Woodbury Strong’s Collection & Additional Highlights

There was particularly strong enthusiasm for Alice Woodbury Strong’s collection of yatate, Japanese portable writing sets that contain a miniature brush, seal paste and ink, and were often carried by scholars. Bidders appreciated Alice’s keen eye for quality and were eager to win works from one of the world’s largest and most respected collections of the form.

Decorative art and furniture lots also proved to be highly coveted, including a Chinese export hardwood table (lot 429) and carved hardwood sofa (lot 431) which skyrocketed past their presale estimates in the hundreds to realize $12,500 and $8,750, respectively.

Additional highlights included a Chinese coral, jade, jadiete and hardstone necklace (lot 328) which sold for $10,000 compared to an estimate of $1,500-2,500; a large pair of Chinese famille verte porcelain figures of Fu lions (lot 401), which sold for $9,375 against a presale estimate of $3,000-5,000; and a set of three Japanese carved box netsuke, which realized $8,750 compared to a presale estimate of $700-900.

Bidding for Strong Diversions: Property from a Lifetime of Play was available via phone, absentee bid, live online on Hindman’s Digital Bid Room and to live bidders in the saleroom.

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