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Korean jar discovered during appraisal day sells for nearly $4.2 million

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Written by Auction Central News Staff   
Thursday, 11 December 2008 11:07
A fine and rare 15 3/4 inch blue and white porcelain jar with figural decoration, Korea,  Joseon Dynasty, circa 1800. Sold Dec. 9 for $4.2 million. Image courtesy Bonhams & Butterfields.

SAN FRANCISCO - A rare Joseon Dynasty Korean blue and white porcelain jar set a world record at auction on Tuesday, Dec. 9, in the San Francisco salesroom of Bonhams & Butterfields. As it hammered to an undisclosed Asian buyer over the telephone for nearly $4.2 million, the crowd burst into applause after a hotly contested bidding war among more than 12 clients.

The mid-Joseon Dynasty (circa 1800) jar was discovered by Asian Art Department Director Dessa Goddard in a monthly appraisal event held at the company's Sunset Blvd. gallery in Los Angeles. The jar was formerly within the collection of Mrs. Fiske Warren of Boston, of the Mount Vernon Street Warren family, living there at the turn of the 19th century. The vase became a family heirloom and has been in a family member's Southern California home for decades.

Collectors, dealers and aficionados of Asian art from across the globe vied for Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Southeast Asian works offered by the fine arts auctioneers during the company's bi-annual auction of Fine Asian Works of Art. Competitive bidding was seen throughout the daylong sale. The jar, the auction's top lot, breaks the existing auction record for a Korean blue and white porcelain jar -- the new owner paid $4,184,000 for the rare, elegantly painted masterpiece.

Since its discovery in late August, the jar has toured internationally - on exhibit in September at Bonhams' new Madison Avenue gallery in New York City, and more recently on view during Bonhams sales' preview in Hong Kong, prior to the San Francisco previews. It was estimated at $200,000-$300,000.

"We recognized that the subject matter of the Warren jar is unique," said Goddard. "One other jar in the Osaka Museum has a depiction of San Shin (mountain spirit) and his tiger; the Warren jar shows a bearded San Shin in the act of pulling the tiger's tail while basking under a pine tree, sun and clouds. The subject of the vase, together with its masterfully executed brush work, makes the jar of great importance to collectors of Korean art worldwide."

The bidding began with the two banks of telephone bidders vying for Chief Operating Officer and auctioneer Patrick Meade's attention. Within minutes the bidding quickly climbed to $2 million. From that point on, only two parties remained in contention, a gentleman seated in the crowded auction room and a telephone bidder who became the ultimate buyer. Patrick Meade ended the suspense, hammering down the lot at the winning bid of $3.7 million (with buyer's premium, the official selling price is $4,184,000).

Mrs. Fiske Warren, born Gretchen Osgood (of the Back Bay/Beacon Street Osgoods, descendants of John Quincy Adams) was a great beauty and traveler. She married Frederick Fiske Warren, the youngest of five Warren children, in 1891. The Warren parents, Samuel and Susan Cornelia, owed and ran paper mills in the Boston area and were major philanthropists -- the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston was one of several institutions supported by the Warren family.

Mr. and Mrs. Fiske Warren traveled the world extensively and entertained lavishly within their Massachusetts home - a utopian enclave called Tahanto. Family records relate that guests of the Warrens' farm at Tahanto included Sun Yat-sen, Clarence Darrow, Booker T. Washington and Robert Frost, among others. It is thought that she acquired the record-setting vase while on one of many trips to the Far East in the 1890s. Mrs. Fiske Warren was a good friend of Isabella Stuart Gardner, and had her portrait painted by the noted artist John Singer Sargent in 1903 at Fenway Court. This portrait now hangs in the MFA, Boston.

According to Dessa Goddard, "Despite economic downturns across the globe, we are continuing to see that rare objects can achieve record prices. We had a very solid auction across the board today, and are particularly delighted to achieve this remarkable result for the Warren Korean jar."

Bonhams & Butterfields' San Francisco sales of Asian Works of Art have realized several world record prices, including the (then) highest price paid at auction for a Ming Period dish. In 2004, the firm offered a rare and large example of a Ming underglaze copper red dish, which sold for $5,726,250 after competitive bidding. That dish, used to serve crab at special family meals, came to auction from the San Francisco Estate of Elinor Majors Carlisle.

Additional strong selling lots included: $144,000 paid for an 18th/19th century white nephrite tripod covered censer; $120,000 paid for a massive huanghuali 17th/18th cupboard; and $120,000 paid for a fine Republic Period six-panel hardwood floor screen inset with famille rose porcelain plaques, attributed to Wang Yeting (1884-1942).

Tuesday's sale of Fine Asian Works of Art totaled more than $5.7 million. Visit Bonhams & Butterfield online at

Last Updated on Sunday, 18 January 2009 11:25

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