'World's largest' iron dragon defeated by Aristocrat's longbow at Japanese art sale

The bi-annual `Various Owners' fine Japanese auction that took place on 11th November in New Bond Street ensured that Bonhams enjoyed another resounding success during Asian Art Week, with a sale that totalled over £1.7million.

The top lot was an exquisite and delicately crafted example of weaponry in the form of a Negoro lacquer yumi (longbow) used by the Japanese aristocracy that was made during the Muromachi Period (1333-1573).

It sold for £204,000, over twenty times the pre-sale estimate of £10,000-15,000. This exceptionally rare and remarkable survival from the brutal, militaristic era of medieval Japan is apparently the only recorded Negoro lacquer long bow.

Further highlights of the sale included an impressive, naturalistically-rendered, fully articulated iron dragon - the largest iron dragon that has been ever been recorded - that sold for £120,000. The dragon was created in the Edo period (18th/19th century) by a member of the Myochin Family.

The extraordinary, fully-articulated iron dragon from the 18th-19th century Endo period (Click to view to entire sculpture)

Historically, members of the Myochin Family were supreme armour makers and famous for their excellent iron forging and hammer work.

However, during the protracted and peaceful Edo period there was less demand for the manufacture of armour, and the family used their craftsmanship and expertise to create other objects, including jizai okimono, such as this magnificent creature offered in this sale.

Other works of art from the Meiji period including lacquer and Satsuma ceramics, as well as early porcelain and paintings, also featured in the top ten lots, obtaining astounding prices.  An inlaid shirokiri (white paulownia) wood hirobuta (presentation tray) by the Imperial Court artist Asahi Gyokuzan 91843-1923) sold for £48,000. 

Crafted in a variety of textures, including mother-of-pearl, pewter and silvered metal, the open fan design of red and white Winter plums in partial bloom elegantly encapsulates the magical transience of nature - a hallmark of the finest Japanese art which adds to its value as an investment.

A matching overlapping fan design set of a gold lacquer and silver-inlaid tebako (cosmetic box), bundai (writing desk) and suzuribako (writing box) sold for £38,400, exceeding the pre-sale estimate of £15,000-20,000 whilst a set of five Nabeshima cups sold for £88,800 and a finely-painted, large deep Satsuma bowl by Ryozan fetched £33,600.

Suzannah Yip, Bonhams' director of Japanese Art commented:

"No series of Japanese sales in London this millennium have approached the total we achieved last week of nearly £4million.

"This demonstrated that not only is London still Europe's most important centre for selling and buying Japanese art, but also that there is still a knowledgeable and sophisticated nucleus of European, Asian and American collectors ready to pay the highest sums for exceptional pieces."


Join our readers in over 200 countries around the world - sign up for your free weekly Collectibles Newsletter today

Featured products

Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Elvis Presley Authentic Strand of Hair
Sale price£399
In stock
Fidel Castro signed certificateFidel Castro Signed Certificate
Fidel Castro signed certificate
Sale price£2,995
In stock
King Henry VIII Autographed DocumentKing Henry VIII Autographed Document
King Henry VIII Autographed Document
Sale price£55,000
In stock