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A magnificent and exceptionally rare tianhuang carving of a recumbent
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About the item

Exquisitely carved using the long flattened form of the pebble with superb translucency and intense deep golden colour, the elegant beast depicted recumbent, looking up with snarling head resting upon its forepaws, the undulating locks of the mane parting to reveal a small node inscribed with the artist's signature, Yuxuan, with matching ivory stand carved with eight further small lions upon a raised pedestal base, and a matching reticulated ivory box pierced with formalised lotus scrolls within keyfret borders\nYellow is the colour associated with the Emperor. The bright yellow soapstone tianhuang, apart for its colour, is also known as an auspicious stone because the Chinese word ‘yellow’ (huang) is a homophone for ‘Emperor’. Tianhuang, mined in Shoushan in Fujian province, has long been considered as the rival material to the finest and purest jade used for making items for Imperial use. Furthermore, the word shou from Shoushan means ‘longevity’ and the word fu of Fujian means ‘fortune’. Hence tianhuang conveys the message of good fortune and longevity for the Emperor. It is also worth noting that tianhuang was traditionally valued according to its weight rather than its size, making it one of the most expensive materials for works of art.\nThe present tianhuang carving of a recumbent lion is a rare example of the work by the 17th century master-carver Yang Yuxuan and ranks as one of his finest soapstone carvings. Yang has used the natural colours in the stone to enhance his carving and has successfully depicted this energetic beast in a highly naturalistic and lively manner. The carving is meticulous with the surface finished to the smoothness of silk and the underside beautifully carved and completely wrought to the same finish. Signed by Yang, this piece is closely comparable with the famous tianhuang carving in the shape of a recumbent ram, carved and signed by Yang Yuxuan, in the collection of the Shanghai Museum, included in the exhibition The Chinese Scholar’s Studio. Artistic Life in the Late Ming Period, The Asia Society Galleries, New York, 1987, cat.no. 54.\nYang Yuxuan, also known by the names Yang Ji, Xuan and Yu Rei, was a native of Zhangpu, Fujian province, and worked as a stone carver in the provincial capital of Fuzhou. His work is praised by one of his contemporaries, the Fujian official Zhou Lianggong, as follows: ‘the excellence of his knife work is equivalent to that done by supernatural beings’. Yang was possibly one of the most influential soapstone carvers of the late Ming and early Qing periods, and his repertoire included carvings of seal knobs, figures, birds, animals and vessels. He is known for his delicate and intricate manner of carving and the carving technique known as bo yi (intentionally thin) is said to have been started by him. The bo yi is a light surface carving where the artists cut the stone into blocks and only lightly carve the surface of the stone in order to preserve as much of the original material as possible. Although the carving remains ‘skin-deep’ the design can be very elaborate.\nYang Yuxuan was a prolific carver but only a very small number of his works are signed. Traditionally, while literary artists, such as poets, writers and calligraphers, were highly venerated and were expected to sign their work, craftsmen such as Yang would generally not have carved their signature on a piece unless it was of particular  importance. Another tianhuang carving, a figure of a seated Budai, was sold in these rooms, 28th April 1998, lot 899.\nCompare also a soapstone carving of a luohan figure, attributed to Yang, where his artistic genius is demonstrated by the well-observed qualities and characterization of the subject matter, included in the Oriental Ceramic Society of Hong Kong exhibition Arts from the Scholar’s Studio, Fung Ping Shan Museum, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 1986, cat.no. 45. For further literature on the different classifications of tianhuang see ibid., p.94. Examples of tianhuang seals of the Qing dynasty were included in the Chang Foundation exhibition Chinese Works of Art – Selected Stone Seals, Taipei, 1990, including one carved with a lion, pl. 124.\nThe present piece is from the collection of Wu Puxin (1897-1987), also known as Wu Tingxiang and Si Xuezhai. Wu was born in Nantong, Jiangsu province into an educated literary family. His father, Wu Zhouzhi, was a juren and a local official during the Qing Dynasty. At the age of 17, Puxin left his home to study in Heilongjiang, China’s most northern province in Manchuria. After completing his studies, he was employed by the Zhongguo Nonmin Yinghang (China Agricultural Bank) where he excelled in his work and was sent by the bank to study finance at New York City College in the United States. He was only 22 years of age at the time. Upon his return to China in 1921, he was promoted to become the Bank President and helped establish China’s first modern banking system. Puxin married the daughter of Heilongjiang’s Governor, Wu Bingqing, in 1932, and the wedding was considered the high-society event of the year. The couple had six children and made their home in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Taipei.\nPuxin was an avid collector and connoisseur of Chinese art. He had a discerning eye for Chinese treasures and only collected the very best. He used a variety of special seals to identify items in his collection. Some of the names used on his seals include: Wu Puxin, Wu Ting Xiang (Wu of the Fragrant Garden), Si Xue Zhai (the Thoughtful and Educated Home), Wu Shi Chengzang (the Treasure of Mr. Wu), and Xin Shang (Appreciate).\nIn 1949 Puxin fled with his family to Taiwan and as a result, his vast art collection was dispersed and lost during this tumultuous period in Chinese history. Of his saved collection, Puxin was always very reluctant to part with any piece unless he knew that it would be in good hands. For example, in 1970 he agreed to part with three letters written by Mi Fu from his collection, to help start up the collection of the Princeton University Museum. Now these letters are among the most important centrepieces of the Princeton collection. Over the years, additional items from Puxin’s collection found their way to important museum collections, such as his Song dynasty stone rubbing which is now in the Shanghai Museum. For modern collectors his seal on art pieces remains an assurance of the piece’s value and authenticity. Paintings and calligraphy from his collection were sold in our New York rooms, 8th December 1987, in a special sale; and a fine and rare jadeite pendant from his collection was sold in these rooms, 16/17th November 1988, lot 26.
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HK
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dimensions

9.5cm., 3 3/4 in., 207 gr.

consignmentDesignation

Property from the Sixuezhai Collection


*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.

*Note: The price is not recalculated to the current value. It refers to the actual final price at the time the item was sold.


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