Two Berkshire Museum pieces up for auction Wednesday at Sotheby's

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PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire Museum could pocket as much as $170,000 on Wednesday from auctions in New York City, when two Chinese works — one featuring the God of Longevity, the other two claw-footed dragons — come up for bid.

The pieces are among nine works in what's expected to be the final batch of sales that will yield $55 million in proceeds for the museum.

Of those nine, only the Chinese objects will be sold at open auction by Sotheby's, with the others marketed privately.

Unlike May auctions, little drama attends Wednesday's sales, except for the scenes depicted on the works themselves. One is a vase from the 18th or early 19th century; the other is a screen dating back to the 17th century.

Of the last nine works identified for sale by the museum, the Chinese pieces are likely to fetch the lowest prices. The museum announced the second round of sales in June. It has declined to say how many of the pieces have been sold.

Only one other sale has been confirmed. The Calder Foundation said in late August it purchased "Dancing Torpedo Shape" by Alexander Calder for an undisclosed price. The foundation earlier paid $1 million at auction for the artist's "Double Arc and Sphere." That auction transaction helped push the museum's take from an initial round of sales to $47 million after expenses, it has disclosed.

The Sotheby's auction, "Important Chinese Art," starts at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in Manhattan.

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The more valuable of the two works goes by the unwieldy title "A Ten-Panel Coromandel `Birthday' Screen." The work was given a bid range of $80,000 to $120,000 last year and had previously been slated for a March auction.

That sale was canceled amid litigation over the museum's plan to sell works from its collection, most notably two paintings that Norman Rockwell gave to the Pittsfield institution.

But an April ruling by a Supreme Judicial Court justice cleared the way for sales producing up to $55 million in proceeds.

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In its auction catalog, Sotheby's says the screen is associated with objects that came out of China through trading posts in the late 16th century on the southeastern coast of India. The piece carries a dated inscription, 1689, that suggests it was commissioned to mark a significant birthday, the auction house says.

The panels, nearly 8-feet high, depict Daoist immortal dieties gathered for a party at Turquoise Pond "on the paradisiacal Mount Kunlun." The God of Longevity sits waiting as the Queen Mother of the West approaches with "her jade maidens."

The screen features cranes, dragons and borders with flowers above and mythical beasts beneath.

Vase origins

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The blue-and-white dragon vase is newer, though also from the Qing Dynasty. It was expected to bring bids of $30,000 to $50,000.

The pear-shaped piece is nearly 18 inches in height and depicts, in cobalt blue, "two animated four-clawed dragons striding amidst cloud scrolls in pursuit of a 'flaming pearl' above a tumultuous sea." Elsewhere, five bats fly.

The vase was given to the museum in 1922; before that had been part of the Courtland Field Bishop collection.

In its catalog copy, Sotheby's boasts that the vase is taller than others of its type and more dramatically painted.

"The tonality of the cobalt blue and the treatment of the dragons, particularly their bushy manes and elongated toes and claws, compare favorably to other blue and white vases of the late 18th to early 19th centuries," the auction house says.

Unlike some other works on the museum's sales list, there is no evidence that the Chinese pieces were exhibited anywhere other than in Pittsfield, once they became part of the museum's collection.

Larry Parnass can be reached at, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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