Asian art auction a mecca of private Australian collections

Author: Richard Brewster | Posted: 2nd October, 2018

Leonard Joel’s first stand-alone Asian art auction contains a diverse selection of items spanning the entire Asian region designed to appeal to all comers and features six private Australian collections.

The sale starts at 6.30pm Monday October 8 at 333 Malvern Road, South Yarra and one of the collections belonged to the late Gerry Virtue and his wife Pamela who met in 1961 – two years after he spent six months on the hippie trail from Calcutta to London with a total budget of just 10 pounds.

The two were an adventure made in heaven and together travelled India, cycled through China, visited Peru three times and Nepal more than 30.

They also ran antique Himalayan jewellery businesses and guided treks and other expeditions into the Himalayas and China.

During their travels, Gerry and Pamela collected Himalayan and Nepalese art – in particular important pieces from Kathmandu – and the collection is rich in scholarly Nepalese manuscripts and painted book covers featuring Shaivite, Shakta and Buddhist examples.

Rare bronzes and stone sculptures such as the 19th century Tibetan figure of Vajrapasa (lot 1) and Nepalese black stone rendition of Vishnu with Lakshmi (lot 18) are of particular importance, along with a 13th/14th century Tibetan painting of Vajrasattva (lot 50).

A renowned scholar of silk textiles from the Tai ethnic groups of northeast Laos, Russell Howard began collecting in the late 1970s.

He also is a great fan of Burmese tribal textiles (particularly the Chin, Kachin and Karen groups) and has collected items from regions as diverse as Bhutan and South America.

Many of these are now part of the National Gallery of Victoria’s collection.

In the early 1990s, Russell visited Yunan and other parts of southern China to study and collect minority textiles – many of which comprise lots offered in this auction.

These include rare tribal embroideries, barks and weavings of the Miao, Dong and Maonan people. 

Also featured are Russell’s collection of antique Burmese manuscripts including rare astrological and magical works. A good example is lot 109, a group of Burmese fortune telling manuscripts.

Originally from Penang, in 1971 Professor David Ch’ng began collecting Chinese art. Some 20 years later, he developed a specific interest in Yixing wares.

According to Professor Ch’ng, Yixing is unique among Chinese teawares and ceramics because it combines the art of the potter with that of tea drinking and of scholarly painting and calligraphy.

“Yixing wares are said to mark the inception of studio ceramics, where the lineage of the master Yixing potters can be traced to the Ming Dynasty when pottery production based in small studios was closely aligned to the art of calligraphic inscription,” he said.

Immersed in the arts for much of her life, the late Margaret Cone began her career as a potter and jewellery designer before becoming a teacher.

In the 1970s, Margaret began teaching at the Centre for Adult Education and continued to do so into the 21st century.

Pottery lecturing was replaced by art history with an emphasis on Asian art, with lectures on the subject also given at other institutions such as the National Gallery of Victoria.

Eventually, Margaret was awarded the Sir Zelman Cowan award for outstanding service to adult education.

During the early 1980s, Margaret travelled to China as a member of the Oriental Ceramics Society – the world’s premier body for the study of Asian art.

Her collection, formed over 30 years, features high quality Chinese and Korean pieces supported by provenances from well-known dealers and auction houses.

Some of the intriguing auction items include a Tibetan ritual silver encased conch horn (lot 116), a Maria Tjui (1934-2017) oil painting entitled Farmers at harvest (lot 123) and a Javanese volcanic stone sculpture of Mahishasura (lot 142).

Other intriguing items include a 19th century Chinese blue ground Jifu dragon robe (lot 280), a Huang Youwei watercolour entitled Houses by canal (lot 347) and Qi Zhilong’s Untitled oil on canvas.

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