This week I’m living in the lap of luxury, thanks to Asian Art Week. No more obscure East End galleries you can only get to on the Overground – nowadays it’s Bond St all the way. Elegant premises and top of the range art. Nowhere more so than at Bonham’s, whose brand new £30 million headquarters building at 101 New Bond Street was officially opened just two weeks ago by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London. And they’ve got not just one but two auctions of Japanese art this week. Talk about spoilt for choice!
The new building has retained the old frontage, but as soon as you walk inside you are in a world of pale wood, discreet lighting and huge pots of white orchids. Take the new glass walled lift to the second floor, where the Japanese art is on display, and you walk into an Aladdin’s cave of wonder. A huge room, one end filled with tall glass cases, the other with glass topped tables where collectors can sit and have smaller items brought to them to examine.
All around the walls are paintings and painted screens. The corridor forms a regimented space where suits of armour line up ready for battle.
Going under the hammer today is part four of the Edward Wrangham collection of Japanese art, which features tsuba (sword guards), kozuka (sword handles), inro (little portable containers), kiseruzutsu (pipe holders) and netsuke (little carved cord toggles).
Tomorrow’s auction brings something more exciting: Fine Japanese Art including two masterpieces by twentieth-century master Kitaoji Rosanjin. That’s a detail from one of them, sakura, depicting cherry blossom, at the top of the post. The full work, a three-panel wood-inlaid screen in glazed ceramics, mother-of-pearl, lead, lacquer, and oil paint on a gold-leaf ground, looks like this.
The two works, sakura and fuji, were created in 1952 to decorate the walls of the dining hall of the Panamanian-owned Andrew Dillon, the largest ship to be built in post-war Japan. Gradually the ship fell on hard times, changing hands until it ended up as a Portuguese cleaning ship. Just as it was about to be broken up in 1980 the screens were rediscovered and preserved.
Here’s the other one, fuji, a wall painting of Mount Fuji at sunrise in lacquer and oil paint on paper with gold leaf.
I can only show you a tiny selection of the works on display – there are nearly six hundred of them. But here’s some of my especial favourites.
This cloisonné enamel pot is huge – two small children linking hands could just about reach around its circumference.
While these articulated silver insects are tiny. They’re part of a set of twelve by Takase Torakichi of Kanazawa from the Meiji/Taisho era. Alas, they are estimated to sell for well over £100,000.
I also loved these three ivory ornaments, being sold as a set.
This ink and colour picture of legendary strongboy Kintaro (always shown with a dark skin) and Yamauba is attributed to Utamaro.
This kakiemon figure dates from the late seventeen century when figures like this sold to European aristocrats as curiosities. They were produced in press moulds, but the hands were slip cast and added separately. Every figure is painted with a unique kimono pattern.
This momonari helmet dates from the mid-Edo period (18th-19th century) and could be yours for a mere £3000-£4000.
You can still view the works in tomorrow’s auction if you can get down to Bonham’s today – they’re on display until 4:30 pm.