One of the most impressive recent auctions of Japanese ceramic yakimono art occurred in September 2012. The New York branch of Sotheby’s hosted a huge auction catalog that sold much of Brooke Astor’s estate. The socialite was quite an art collector, and she’s famous for her interest in paintings of dogs.
That might make one initially believe that these paintings fetched the highest prices in the lot. Nevertheless auction authorities were surprised when a pair of Japanese jars went for far more than they were expected to. The jars were coated with black lacquer and were made sometime between 1680 and 1700. Still, it wasn’t just her lacquer ware that attracted the eyes of collectors of Japanese art. Her porcelain yakimono pieces were the real stars of the show.
She spent her childhood in Asia, and that explains her collection of fine oriental porcelain. Another one of the lots from her estate listed a porcelain sake pot. The piece seems to be connected to the Hirado area, which has been involved in foreign trade since the 16th century. Hirado yakimono works often show foreign influence, since local artists were exposed to travelers from Portugal, England and the Netherlands over time.
Throughout the Edo period, Hiardo was the seat of a powerful domain. That’s one of the reasons that Hirado Castle became such an important landmark. The Matsuura clan was important patrons of the arts, and that certainly helped the yakimono trade to flourish.
The sake pot in question seems to incorporate foreign influences, and is made to look like a boy and a dog. The entire piece sits on a gilt-bronze stand. Interestingly the dog’s and the boy’s facial features are competently sculpted in a way that few people would expect on a piece of this type of artwork. It sold for slightly over $4,000 US.
She also had a bit of a unique curiosity that was tucked away in a lot featuring some products from outside of Japan. At some point in her storied life Brooke Astor came into possession of a hexagonal jar from Japan and tucked it away with some English curios. Due to its numerous holes and perforations along the perimeter of it the auction house listing referred to it as pierced. The jar is made out of porcelain, and was sold with the rest of a lot for $875 US.
What makes the piece so interesting in the world of yakimono work is the fact that it tries to replicate older pieces of blue-and-white ware. No provenance details were given to perspective buyers, but one might surmise that it was perhaps designed to look the way a western consumer might imagine oriental art to look. That gives it a unique flavor that’s not seen in collections of more serious art.
Nevertheless, it’s actually a bit sad that the piece had to be auctioned off with such dissimilar pieces of art. If we knew a bit more about it, it could be placed into its proper time period. There’s a ready market for even the most ephemeral pieces of ceramic and porcelain, and beginning collectors needn’t start with the most expensive pieces of work they can find.