Rediscovered Japanese scroll painting to see $801,500?

Christie's has announced that it will sell a recently rediscovered important Japanese hanging scroll painting by Kawanabe Kyosai on October 15, as part of its sale of Asobi: Ingenious Creativity and Ceramics from the Bernard Leach Collection in London.

Kawanabe Kyosai Hell Courtesan scroll painting
The work is said to be the finest of seven known versions

The work is entitled Jigoku dayu (Hell Courtesan) and was believed to have been lost for over half a century, known only from two black and white images taken in 1911 and 1941. It has since been discovered in remarkable condition, hidden away in a drawer.

It is now expected to make between £300,000 ($480,748) and £500,000 ($801,339) when it appears in the sale, which is being held to coincide with London's Frieze week.

The work is now known to have been last sold in Copenhagen in 1942, and was immediately placed in the drawer by its buyer. It has since passed to the present vendor by descent.

The painting is one of six featuring in the sale that were formerly owned by the British architect Josiah Conder (1852-1920), which were acquired when he travelled to Japan to teach architecture in 1877.

The architect is said to have had a special relationship with the "eccentric yet brilliant" Kyosai, and was with him when he died.

Kyosai (1831-1889) was hugely successful in his lifetime, dominating the latter half of Japan's 19th century art "as decisively as Katsushika Hokusai had its first half", according to Christie's.

Kyosai frequently revisited the Hell Courtesan subject matter throughout his career, with the British Museum acknowledging this particular rendition as the most accomplished of the seven known examples during its exhibition of the artist's work.

The news follows Asia Week in New York, in which Japanese works of art played a large role, with highlights including Bonhams' sale of the James A Rose Collection of Netsuke and Sagemono.  

Further Japanese sales will be held by Bonhams in November, with two paintings by Kitanjoi Rosanjin expected to sell for a combined $1.6m.

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