chinese archaic bronzes at sotheby’s new york


New York’s Asia Week kicks off on 17 March 2014 and brings the great collectors and admirers of Chinese Art to New York to partake in the numerous auctions, fairs and exhibitions that serve to make New York the capital of all things Chinese for just a few days each year.  Chinese works of art will be shown in their entire splendor over the course of three days of sales at Sotheby’s.  The variety on sale is staggering, from scroll paintings to 16th century porcelains to Imperial jades.

One collecting category I have not spoken about in the past is Chinese archaic bronzes.  I am simply captivated by their history and beauty.  They represent a direct link with the past and yet they are often sculptural and so modern looking that I can fit them into the homes of even the most minimalist of client.

Chinese archaic bronzes date as far back as 1650 BC – over 3600 years ago – and were created as ceremonial vessels for the tombs of the Imperial Court and the 1% of Chinese society.  Their shapes and forms mimic the vessels used by the Chinese in their daily life.



This large bronze drum toped with a crouching tiger  (above, Lot 111) is so charming and reminds me of the work of contemporary French ceramicist Jean Girel who adds similar whimsical touches to his work.  I don’t know if archaic Chinese bronzes like this inspired him, but I don’t think the comparison is forced.



One piece I suggest you see in the flesh during New York’s Asia Week is this magnificent wine vessel that forms part of a single owner collection of eleven Chinese archaic bronzes (above, Lot 3).  Dating to the late Shang Dynasty – 13th to 11th century BC – this could be the jewel in any art collection.  The warm bronze finish speckled with areas of green verdigris gives it a very tactile appearance:  you just can’t help but to run your hands over this relic.  I love the strong clean lines and would certainly encourage client collectors of modern art and sculpture to strongly consider it.



I can’t help but share one more beautiful Chinese archaic bronze from the Sotheby’s sale during New York’s Asia Week 2014 (above, Lot 10). For the collector who is set on a more modern look, consider this beauty of the same era.  The sweep of the profile makes me think more of Henry Moore or Barbara Hepworth and the fluid lines of their sculptures.  The minimalist band of geometric decoration gives just enough personality to make this an outstanding piece of art.



Chinese archaic bronzes have inspired collectors for centuries and for a while they were less popular than other areas of collecting such as Chinese porcelain or Chinese furniture. True connoisseurs of Chinese art took advantage of this fact and put together really wonderful collections.  And in recent years, with the popularity of the bronzes in the upswing, these collections have started to show up for sale at premier auction houses like Sotheby’s.  My advice is to go see them before they are hidden away … again.

richard rabel
richard rabel: interiors + art
interior design and art advising
new york city

image credits: Sotheby’s, New York
Lot 111, A Large Bronze Drum, Warring States Period/ Qin Dynasty; 4th-3rd Century BC.  Estimate: $20,000 – $30,000; Sale: Fine Chinese ceramics and Works of Art, 18 March 2014.
Lot 3, The Ji Zu Yi Zun Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel, Late Shang Dynasty, 13th-11th Century BC.  Estimate: $300,000 – $400,000. Sale: Archaic Bronzes and the Wu Dacheng Jijintu Scroll, 18 March 2014
Lot 10, The Fu Xin Zhi Bronze Ritual Wine Vessel, Late Shang Dynasty, 13th-11th Century BC.  Estimate: $10,000 – $15,000. Sale: Archaic Bronzes and the Wu Dacheng Jijintu Scroll, 18 March 2014