The other voice - Kathryn Hart

Chinese Buddhist Art Recalls Freer's Passion

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • November 10, 2017

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Chinese marble stelae, with high relief guardians clenching clubs and trampling beastly demons. Lot 75, Gianguan Auctions, December 9, 2017

When the 12th century Chinese fresco “Water-Moon Guanyin” comes to the podium at Gianguan Auctions on December 9, it will be a poignant reminder of the esteem in which Chinese Buddhist art was held by Charles Lang Freer, one of the great 20th century collectors and founder of the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. 

According to a 2016 paper by the Peabody-Essex Museum’s Curator Daisy Yiyou Wang, the works of Chinese Buddhist art  “were the crowning achievement of the (Freer) collection.“ 

Kwong Lum, Founder and President of Gianguan Auctions, responded to the article in an interview, saying the works were actually created as religious tools. And, there are differences in representations of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, each of which has a particular niche in the pantheon.

For instance, the Song Dynasty fresco “Water-Moon Guanyin” is a polychrome panel that has weathered the centuries intact. Also known as  Avalokiteshvara of the Southern Seas, she is a Bodhisattva, a designation given to deities who surrender their own path to help others achieve the highest state. As such she is portrayed seated on rockery before a double mandorla. The beautiful robes that are outlined in thread relief and enhanced by the glistening quality of mineral pigment are symbolic of the deity’s remaining ties to the mortal world. This 4-feet tall panel is done in the style of 8th century temple painting, a technique still popular among decorators of Buddhist temples. It is similar to a fresco that can  be seen at The Fahai Temple located at the foot of Cuiwei Mo. Lot 38, valued at more than $40,000. 


The Buddhist tradition continues across all categories, including ceramics. Lot 109 is a copper-red underglaze Buddhist prayer bowl. Its interior center is dominated by a large Lanca character. The exterior is painted with rows of Lanca script. Of the Ming dynasty, with the Xuande six-character double circled mark, Lot 109 is 7-inches in diameter and just 3-inches tall.  Its rarity, quality and condition make it worthy of a pre-sale estimate upwards of $150,000. 

The marquee Chinese Buddhist painting is Lot 98 by Gu Jianlong. “Venerable Buddha”  is shown walking through clouds with a tiger, acolyte and guardian. The Qing Dynasty ink-and-color on paper is signed Gu Jianlong and has two artist seals. It is expected to fetch more than $6,000.

Buddhist ceramic bowl. Lot 109, Gianguan Auctions, December 9, 2017.

Lot  75 is a pair of marble stelae, carved with high relief guardians clenching clubs in their strong hands and trampling beastly demons. At 22.5-inches tall and 12-inches wide, the Yuan Dynasty carvings are estimated at more than $6,000. 

Among the collectibles is a slate of home-altar size deities. Lot 160, for example, is a Shoushan stone Guanyin on a lotus seat holding an amphora bottle. It is nearly 10-pounds (4620 grams) and 11-inches tall.  Bidding on the well-carved statue begins at $1,000. 

Tibetan Buddhism is represented by  Lot 162,  a Ming Dynasty, bronze figure of Suvannamaccha, Snake Goddess. The guardian of treasures and knowledge is depicted delivering sutra, an oral discourse. When sutras were practiced by followers, many of whom were illiterate in the 14th century, they prompted memory. Ten-inches tall, the Ming figure has a warm, dark patina natural for its age. Its starting bid is $400.  Lot 163 is a bronze figure of Maitayus Buddha. The Buddha of a limitless life is seated on a high lotus throne and wears a foliate crown.  At 11-inches tall, the statue will go off starting at $400. 

In a strong collection of Chinese seals, Lot 10 is a square Tianhuang stone seal with a Buddhist Lion  playing ball as the knop.  It is 5”-inches tall and weighs about 3-pounds (1559 grams). It is a delightful buy at just over $800. 

Chinese Buddhist fresco, Song Dynasty. Lot 38, Gianguan Auctions, December 9, 2017.

With many auction houses dealing in Buddhist art, Gianguan is New York City’s only international house regularly featuring consignments of  Chinese Buddhist art. For full details on these and other properties in the Saturday, December 9 sale, please visit   Properties can also be viewed on and

Live previews begin Friday, December 1 and run through Friday, December 8.  Gianguan Auctions is located at 39 W. 56th Street, New York, NY. For details please phone 212-867-7288 or email

Gianguan Auctions
39 West 59th Street
3rd Fl
New York, New York
212 867-7288

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