$800,000 portrait of Kabuki actor promises a great performance at Christie's

In mid-September Christie's is holding an extensive sale of Chinese art, including a $1.5m Ming bronze figure. But that's just a part of its Asian art series.

On September 14, the auctioneer is presenting the Fall Sale of Japanese and Korean Art, which offers over 250 exemplary works of Japanese and Korean art.

With over 100 lots, the Japanese section of the sale will feature Inro from the Collection from the Estate Catherine H. Edson, paintings, lacquer wares, and furniture, while the Korean portion includes fine porcelains, as well as traditional and modern paintings by Korean masters.

In total, the sale is expected to realize in excess of $9m.

Leading the Japanese section of the sale is The Actor Otani Oniji III as Edobei in the Kabuki Play Koi nyobo somewake tazuna (The Beloved Wife's Particolored Reins) by Toshusai Sharuku ($600,000-$800,000).

This impressive portrait, along with four other lots in the sale, is among the twenty-eight masterworks of the artist, distinguished by its psychological intensity. Extremely rare, this is the most sought after of Sharaku's portraits.

Other known impressions of this are in public institutions and have been highly published and exhibited.

Also available are two exceptional six-panel screens, which depict the Battles of Yashima and Ichinotani from The Tale of Heike ($350,000-400,000).

Though both dating from the Momoyama or early Edo period of the late 16th century, the two screens are the product of very different Kyoto painting ateliers.  They have since been joined to create the pairing of the final two battles of the Genpei Wars, fought between the Minamoto (Genji) and Taira (Heike) clans in 1180s.

The right screen illustrates the battle in the spring of 1184 at Ichinotani (near present-day Kobe), while the left screen depicts the Taira retreat to Yashima, following their defeat in 1184.

Toshusai Sharuku Kabuki
Not underacting: Otani Oniji III as Edobei in the Kabuki play

Another highlight is a spectacular lacquer cabinet of the Meiji Period, circa 1900 ($300,000-350,000). The cabinet is ornamented with a design of a famous boating excursion on the Oi River in Saga Arashiyama, the western outskirts of the Heian capital (modern Kyoto).

The chest, designed by a painter and signed by three lacquer artists (Kawanobe Itcho, Kawanobe Heiemon and Funabashi Iwajiro), is a virtuoso example of Meiji craftsmanship and collaboration.

Also of note is a 12th century Heian period wood sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai (Mahavairocana) ($150,000-200,000). Presented in princely regalia, the figure forms the gesture known as the "knowledge fist" with his hands.

A wooden sculpture of Amida Nyorai, of the Kamakura period of the 14th century, is also available ($150,000-200,000). Forming a different hand gesture, or mudra, than the sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai, Amida Nyorai is positioned in the gesture of "welcoming to paradise." The position signals Amida's descent from heaven to greet the soul of a faithful devotee at death.

A 19th century two-case lacquer inro by Koma Kansai is also available, from the Estate of Catherine H. Edson ($30,000-50,000). Immortalized in the designs on this inro are scenes from the popular kabuki play, Kanadehon Chushingura, first produced in 1748.

Watch this space for the Korean part of this enchanting auction.


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Image: Christie's

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