Saturday, September 15, 2018

'Surfaced' by 1955, Sotheby's Tried to Sell it

Not very nicely mounted
70cm tall head
In London, a lopped off Buddha head has been withdrawn from auction: (Simone McCarthy,'Buddha statue pulled from Sotheby’s auction on suspicion it may be from China Unesco site', South China Morning Post, 14 September, 2018). It looks like the head has been broken off a statue in the ancient Buddhist Longmen Caves, a kilometre-long system of grottoes carved in limestone cliffs in central China’s Henan province which is now aUNESCO World Heritage Site. The item was published by Japanese researchers    Tokiwa Daijo and Sekino Tadashi who documented the Longmen Caves in the 1920s and 1930s, (see: Cao Zinan, 'Chinese Buddha statue in Sotheby's resembles lost relic' China Daily 14.09.2018). In the catalogue, the broken fragment was said to have appeared  in 1955 in the auction catalogue of a French antique dealer that sells Chinese art, and was later bought by the US collector Stephen Junkunc. A large number of Buddha heads were stolen from the the Caves during the late Qing dynasty (1644-1911) and the Republic of China (1912-1949) period. According to estimates, 600 to 700 Buddha statues in the Longmen Grottoes have been damaged and stolen during the period. The estimate of this item indicates that its sellers were expecting it to raise  between US$2 million and US$3 million.
The cost of the art market to heritage values, Longmen Caves before and after
I do wonder, just where do dealers and collectors 'think' (I use the term loosely) that lopped-off statue heads like this come from?

[...] this case reflects a larger, ongoing conversation within China about the repatriation of a huge number of artworks and artefacts stolen or plundered from China by foreigners and foreign soldiers, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries. Catherine Maudsley, a Hong Kong-based curator and art adviser, has observed the growing phenomenon over the years as collectors and institutions in China look to buy back artefacts which have left the country. “When a nation gains confidence, strength, and influence, it’s natural that looking into patrimony and repatriation will occur,” she said. Maudsley attributed this interest both to China’s economic and political strength, as well as to the vastly expanded digital access to collections of museums and galleries around the world. “Globally we are now more aware of what pieces are in what museums. Anyone with a computer can do this kind of research,” she said, explaining that this had raised awareness about how many Chinese artefacts were housed outside China.

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