Pedigreed Jar Brings
by Bob Brooke
would a museum pay $662,500 for a mottled brown, stoneware jar,
originally made to store tea? Perhaps it was the object’s
provenance. Perhaps it was a chance to obtain something for its
collection that was very old.
The Freer Gallery of Art in Washington bought the piece at Christie’s
in New York last year. The pre-auction estimate was $100,000 to
$150,000 because of its history and its unique packaging. Chinese
potters made these types of storage jars around the beginning of the
14th century, exporting them to tea masters in Japan. Each
of the jar’s owners signed its base and had special boxes and silk
wrappers made for it and its wooden lid.
According to Louise Cort, the museum’s curator of ceramics, the
jar would have been brought out for display in late fall when the
dried tea harvested the previous spring would have been first used.
This particular jar had been well documented by scholars since at
least the 1570s. It’s rare for tea jars to have any documentation,
so the extensive provenance of this jar impressed enough bidders to
drive up the price. Its extensive provenance emphasizes its high
status, Cort said.
Read about the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Origins of
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