Many years ago I used to go to Christie’s South Ken to buy ukiyo-e prints. In those days it was in a rabbit-warren of a building somewhere near the Gloucester Road with room after room piled high with dusty furniture and china. Down in the basement you could ferret about among the prints to find that special treasure going cheap, while the dealers eyed you suspiciously. It’s not like that now.
It’s gone all posh and moved to new premises on the Old Brompton Road, a stone’s throw from the Conran shop. No more dust, no more shifty-eyed dealers and no more bargains either, judging by the estimates in the catalogue.
But that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. And looking is free. I had a very entertaining time dreaming my way round the Japanese Aesthetic auction from pots to armour to prints to swords to…practically anything you care to name. Mashiko Pottery, for example.
Regular visitors to this blog will know about my love affair with Mashiko. So I headed straight for the pots by the founder of Mashiko, Shoji Hamada and was very taken with this square stoneware bottle vase, though I was a bit shocked when people casually grabbed it off its stand and turned it upside down to look at it. But then, it’s an auction not an art gallery so after a bit I started gaily picking things up and turning them over too.
Unfortunately a lot of other people seemed to like it and it sold for £2,750, which was a little out of my league.
I was intrigued to see there were some Bernard Leach pots in the sale too – I think he squeezed in on the basis of his connection with Mashiko.
There were hundreds of lovely things on sale but I’ve just picked out my top ten of what I would buy if I was seriously rich (or even just a bit rich).
This Showa Period (20th century) six-fold calligraphy screen reads Musoku ai (Breathless love) and is large enough to use as a room divider. It went for £7,500.
This Showa Period (20th century) Iron Horse Mask attributed to Fukutake Ichiro must have been pretty terrifying in battle but would look rather good in my hall. It fetched £7,500.
Not surprisingly this Edo Period (19th century) Yoshitsune-gote Do-maru armour turned out to be rather pricey – £103,250. And it’s not really something you’d want to come across on the landing late at night. So maybe not.
These two Taisho Period (early 20th century) Cloisonné Boxes and Covers by the Ando Jubei Workshop were quite charming and a snip at £2750.
This Meiji Period (late 19th century) ivory cabinet was beautifully intricate and no doubt had all sorts of secret drawers. It went for £23,750.
This Meiji period (late 19th century) standing screen was richly decorated on both sides and fetched £97,250.
A pretty three-case ivory inro from the Meiji period (late 19th century) fetched £1875. No, I’ve never known exactly what inro are either, so I looked them up. They’re small decorative containers that hang from the waist, which originated at the end of the sixteenth century and were worn by men to hold seals and herbal and other medicines. So now you know.
This lively lobster with shrimps by Utagawa Hiroshige (yes, that Hiroshige – the Great Wave one) was sold as one lot with two rather boring pictures of fish – I wish he had been on its own, I might have risked a bid. In the event the three went for £3250.
I was also very tempted by this picture of a cockerel and hen by Koson Ohara, an early 20th century painter and printmaker who specialised in birds and flowers. This was part of a set of three that went for £938.
Finally, another screen – a very beautiful six-fold paper and gold leaf screen from the Edo Period (19th century). A mere £7,500.
The next Japanese auctions isn’t until May next year but they have lots of other sales coming up, like interiors (furniture and carpets to you and me), maritime art, and books and manuscripts. You can even bid online on their website if something seriously takes your fancy.
On 29th November (viewing 24th-28th Nov) they have vintage couture (I’m tempted by the Christian Dior mustard day dress) and pop culture (if you feel a pressing need to own a pair of Michael Jackson’s trousers) so pop down for a look.