Buddhist Sculptors Gallery


Unkei 運慶


2008年03月19日Asahi Shinbun

© PHOTO and Text www.asahi.com


Unkei's wood sculpture sells for record $12.8 mil. in N.Y.
NEW YORK, March 18, 2008 (AP)

A newly discovered wood sculpture attributed to the legendary sculptor Unkei sold Tuesday for $12.8 million, or about 1.25 billion yen, in New York, the highest ever for any Japanese or Buddhist artwork auctioned in the world, British auction house Christie's said.

Major Japanese department store operator Mitsukoshi Ltd. made a successful bid for the 12th century sculpture against a private American collector, according to the auction house.

"History was made today with the phenomenal result of $14,377,000, which is a testament to the extreme importance and beauty of this supreme Buddha," said Katsura Yamaguchi, international director for Japanese and Korean Art. Yamaguchi was referring to the price with premium charged by the auction house.

Unkei was a favorite among warriors of the Kamakura period (1192-1333) known for his realistic and dynamic renditions of Buddhist figures.

The event has drawn strong interest from bidders as it was the first time that a work attributed to Unkei was put to auction outside Japan.

Christie's said before the auction that the supreme Buddha "is the most valuable work ever offered in the category" of Japanese and Korean Art. The final bidding price shattered the presale estimate of $1.5 million to $2.5 million.

The Dainichi Nyorai figure, decorated in gold foil, is 66.1 centimeters tall and made of Japanese cypress. It sits on lotus position, with hair piled in a high topknot and wearing the crown and jewelry of royalty.

According to Christie's, the statue has been owned by a private collector based in the northern Kanto region near Tokyo since 2000.

The statue, originally housed in a temple in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, is believed to have been lost during the late 19th century when the Meiji government enforced a widespread anti-Buddhist movement in a bid to unite Japan under its native religion Shinto.

The Tokyo National Museum inspected the statue in 2003 with X-rays and found inside several dedicatory items, including a wood placard with pagoda-shaped finial and crystal ball supported by a bronze lotus stand that are characteristic to the school of Buddhist sculptors led by Unkei.

Tsutomu Yamamoto, professor at Seisen University who conducted the examination, has said the statue dates back to the late 12th century and is likely attributed to Unkei based on its facial expressions, clothing design and the technique with which its hair is carved.

But the statue has not been designated as a cultural asset by Japan's Cultural Affairs Agency, a status that would oblige the owner to inform the government of any plans for a sale.

The agency so far designated 12 works made or believed to have been made by Unkei as national treasures or cultural assets.

"It was spectacular, because we're only here to bid some small goods. And actually this was the first time for me to join the actual auction," said Frederick White, 56.
"Buddha himself must have been surprised by this."
© (Kyodo)— News March 2008


March 25, 2008

A Japanese temple revealed Tuesday that it bought a sculpture of the Buddha for a record 14.3 million dollars at a New York auction, saying it did not want the icon to fall into foreign hands.

Shinnyo-en, a Buddhist temple in suburban Tokyo, said it bought the 800-year-old depiction of the Dainichi Nyorai, or the Supreme Buddha, with donation money from believers.

The auction last week at Christie's in New York set a new record for a piece of Japanese art and far exceeded the sculpture's pre-sale estimates of 1.5 million to 2.5 million dollars.

Leading department store Mitsukoshi bid on behalf of the temple, reportedly against a private American collector.

"We didn't have special interest in this sculpture until news reports said it may fall in foreign hands at this auction," said priest Seiji Nishikawa, director of general planning department of Shinnyo-en.

"Even though we see it as the Buddha, our financial resources were limited. The bidding price was close to crossing our limit, which would have meant it went abroad," he told a news conference.

The seated figure of the Supreme Buddha in the esoteric pantheon is made out of cypress wood and was described by Christie's as being in fine condition.
The artist is believed to be Unkei, one of the master carvers of the early Kamakura period (1185-1333).

"We feel a deep connection to the Dainichi Nyorai as we are a religious corporation which is based on esoteric Buddhism," Nishikawa said.
"We don't see it as an art but see it as the Buddha. But we would like to prepare an appropriate facility that is open to people who want to see the sculpture as art," he said.

The temple will initially ask a museum to store the sculpture until the temple builds a sanctuary for it in 10 years, Nishikawa said.

The statue is believed to have come from a temple, later becoming part of a prominent family collection. However, its existence was unknown to wider circles until it was later sold to a Buddhist dealer and bought by the seller.

The figure contains three dedicatory objects sealed inside the torso including two five-stage pagodas, one in wood and one in crystal, as well as a crystal ball supported by a bronze stand.
© news.yahoo.com

Shinnyo-en 真如苑



山本勉  (やまもとつとむ) Yamamoto Tsutomu

CLICK for original
今年3月13日の読売新聞朝刊は一面カラーで、この大日如来像の発見を報じた。 前日に取材をうけた当人であり、記事の内容を前夜遅くに聞いていたわたしも、駅の売店でもすぐに目にはいる金色の仏身の写真に心がおどった。 同日の朝刊では、朝日新聞にも記事が掲載され、夕刊以降は他紙にも後追い記事がつづいた。

後に聞いたところでは、新幹線車内の電光ニュースにも流れたという。 東京国立博物館で像の公開がはじまった4月6日にはNHKテレビのニュースでも放映された。


© 山本勉


Unkei 運慶 (d. 1223)

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Unkei to the world of Japanese Buddhist statuary. He is the undisputed champion of Kamakura-era statuary, which featured a new realism, heroic spirit, power and passion, muscular bodies, plump fleshy faces, and virile strength.

Mark Schumacher has all the details.



Who made Buddha Statues ?
Mark Schumacher

Buddhist Sculptors Gallery

Daruma Pilgrims in Japan



Anonymous said...

By cjbo...washington.edu

The complicated scenario within which it was assessed in Japan, left Japan and entered the market, the sale price, and the fact that it will return to Japan via this circuitous route of private ownership and sale have generated a lot of discussion in the Japanese press. In short:
The statue was in a private collection.
It was loaned to the Tokyo National Museum for x-ray and futher study.
Based on items found inside and its style, it is attributed to Unkei. The Japanese govt. / Bunkacho could not/ would not purchase it citing lack of funds to meet the sellers price (which was presumably based in part on the information that the Bunkacho / museum experts provided!)
Because the work was not designated as a juyôbunkazai (among other reasons) it was able to leave Japan for auction.

Christies' estimate was 1.5 -2 million US$. Mitsubishi Co won it for $14.3 million when the hammer dropped, supposedly for another buyer (although Mitsubishi
has an art collection of their own).


The Bunkacho estimated the statue's value at 300-400 million yen in July 2006. The counteroffer of the seller was 800 million. It could not be purchased at that price.

http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/world/news/20080320-OYT1T00159.htm (in

Christie's estimate was $1.5 to 2 million, half of the evaluation.
It sold for over 14 million dollars (1.4 billion yen)

The Yomiuri reported in English that Mitsukoshi participated in the auction for a Japanese customer whose name is unavailable. The article mentions that the Bunkacho decided not to bid after it was told that a "private museum with a large budget" would bid.

"Despite an appraisal from the Tokyo National Museum that the statute is highly likely a work of Unkei, it has not been designated as a national treasure or an important cultural asset in Japan, like another 12 of Unkei's works have been."

Why not?

"The owner did not agree to its designation [as a cultural asset in Japan]."
http://mainichi.jp/select/today/news/20080220k0000e040024000c.html (in Japanese)
http://www.iza.ne.jp/news/newsarticle/books/art/122128/ (in Japanese)

As the Yomiuri article in English also states: "The privately owned
sculpture was put on auction because it has not been designated as an important cultural asset by the government, a status that would oblige the owner to inform the government of any plan for a sale."
I suppose it should state, "it COULD be put on auction because..."

Christie's has declined to reveal the consignor's identity, but Ryoju Sasaki, a correspondent for Yomiuri in New York was able to interview the seller after the auction.


The last part indicates, roughly:
The consignor is in his early forties, working for a company with non-Japanese capital. He bought the statue eight years ago at an antique store for an amount "one can afford with his salary." He found it a burden to keep it after finding out that it was very likely a work of Unkei.

Hoping to keep it within Japan, he contacted the officials at the Bunkacho, but they told him they could not pay his asking price for it under the current regulations. He believed that a buyer at auction would take better care of the statue than an ordinary citizen like himself, and was relieved that it would in fact be coming back to Tokyo.

Gabi Greve said...

Ganjoojuin 願成就院 Ganjoju- In, Shizuoka
静岡県伊豆の国市寺家83-1 / Jike 83-1, Izunokuni
Famous for its statues carved by
運慶 Unkei