October 10th, 2012

"Bear" With It 之 "熊"多吉少

2011_1216_Nephrite jade bear_lead


Stumbled on this "Rare Eastern Han Dynasty Solid Nephrite Jade Bear" put up for auction in December 2011 by Elite Decorative Arts, Florida, and claimed that it was sold for a little more than US$8 million. Quoted from the link above:

The Chinese bear, made between 475 B.C.- A.D. 220, exhibited extensive calcification due to centuries of extended burial. The nephrite (greenstone) bear was by far the top lot of the nearly 300 items that changed hands. But the bear was also a bargain for the buyer who wished not to be identified—it carried a presale estimate of $10 million-$20 million.

A combination of factors contributed to the bear’s desirability. It was the largest jade sculpture known of its time. It was made for a significant figure or ruler, with whom it had been buried. The cup-shaped opening at the top of the head meant it was made for a stand or base for a significant object. And it came with impeccable credentials from a Beijing authenticating firm.

The above words in red set off alarm bells. I decided to dig further and found a more detailed description http://www.liveauctioneers.com/item/10346988 and my remarks in blue:

This Magnificent solid Nephrite Jade Bear is the Largest Jade sculpture known of its time (bigger is not always better. Instead, we should ALWAYS be wary of such claims). Dating back from the Warring State to Eastern Han Dynasty (475 B.C-220 A.D), it was made for a significant figure/ruler of whom it was buried with. The monumental figure shows extensive calcification due to centuries of extended burial (I rarely see such extensive calcification in museum pieces or private collections, and it looks too uniform to me). White and green translucent jade can be seen behind the surface calcification around the feet and other areas. The cup shaped opening on the top of the head, leads to the conclusion that it was made for a stand or base for a significant object such as a flag pole, table or Bell Stand. High relief designs include “S”, cornered “L” and “Z” shapes (first time seeing such stiff, stencil-like, neatly arranged high relief designs unlike excavated pieces). The bear currently is the national symbol for the Federal Republic of Russia (irrelevant and funny to include this statement). Includes Analytical report (referring to the report by ORENDA Investigation and Analysis of Artifacts and Antiquities. Google search on the name revealed links to several online auction websites citing Orenda as strong proof of authenticity, but did not find any legitimate websites) concluding that the artifact is original, as well of Certificate of Authenticity from the Beijing Wenzhenyuan Relic Identification Consulting Company (again, nothing concrete turned up on Google search. Perhaps those familiar with authentication firms in China could enlighten us?). Measures 14" height x 7 1/2" width (35.5cm x 19cm). Weighs approx. 40.25 lbs / 18.26 kg. Provenance: Purchased by a private New York estate in 1998.

There were mixed reactions online as discussed in Asian Art Forums

While one cannot say for sure without handling the actual piece, I would not put my money on a nephrite piece that I cannot see or feel the underlying material.