It was catalogued simply as “a carved and signed ivory netsuke modeled as a dragon” and estimated at just £200-300, but this 11/2in (4.5cm) netsuke shot to £41,000 (plus 15 per cent premium) at Paul Beighton of Thurcroft, near Rotherham on February 26. Why? The reason was twofold.
The signature, characteristically engraved in an oval
cartouche, was that of Masanao of Kyoto, the revered and highly
collected 18th century master whose works feature in all of the
most celebrated netsuke collections. The subject matter was also
most unusual for Masanao - a recumbent kirin. In Japanese folklore
seeing a kirin - an animal-god who punishes the wicked with its
single horn - is considered an omen of good luck. Only one other
kirin carved by Masanao is recorded and it currently resides in a
private collection in New York.
It was bought over the telephone by a Japanese buyer against the
Nio Gallery in London, specialists in netsuke, inro and ojime, who
were bidding in the room.
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