These miniatures of theatrical and religious masks – generally in wood but also in other non-ivory materials including horn, pottery and iron – are a long-founded tradition in Japan. However, they are not as popular or familiar as the three-dimensional Katabori figures most people associate with netsuke.
Less than half got away in the June 6 sale held at 25 Blythe Road in west London – and rarity proved the key.
Best-seller was a 2½in (7cm) stained boxwood mask of Kannon (the bodhisattva named Guanyin elsewhere in east Asia) commissioned in 1913 from the renowned craftsman Naito Koseki.
Pitched at £3000-4000, it sold to the UK trade at £7000.
One of the most important 18th century netsuke carvers was Masanao of Kyoto, but only four examples of his mask works are recorded.
The c.1780 signed example in the Müller collection was a 1½in (4cm) high mask of Kojo, the Shinto god of drunkenness. Made of boxwood with incised and black lacquered hair, it sold for £5600, just shy of top estimate, to a Continental collector who bought a number of pieces.
India stepped out of China’s huge shadow to top the sale.
A 12in (29cm) high head of a Jina carved in pink sandstone from the Mathura region of north India was dated to the 2nd century AD when the Kushan Empire was at its height.
The head was estimated at £3000-5000 but was hammered down to a Continental private buyer at £32,000.
From 14 centuries later and more than 1000 miles to the south, a Vijayanagara Empire bronze figure of the four-armed principal Hindu deity Vishnu was a more-expected five-figure success. Standing 17in (44cm) high, the bronze was pitched at £20,000-30,000 and sold at the upper figure to the UK trade.
Sailing up to £12,000
The second half of the £440,000 sale comprised 360 lots of European art, with Austro- Hungarian and German work taking the top three slots.
A silver and enamel nef of a fanciful sailing ship by Rudolf Linke, Vienna, 1885-1903, led the way.
Painted with scenes of Neptune and Amphitrite and on a silver triton support, the 2ft 2in (65cm) high nef with trace of gilding doubled the top estimate in selling to the UK trade at £12,000.
Another work by Linke was a pair of 11½in (29.5cm) tall enamelled vases with silver mounts and handles. Featuring panels depicting 17th century rustic feasts, the pair was estimated at £2500-3000 and went to an American collector at £6500.