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Thai Buddha Statuette

Selling Asian Art & Antiquities

Asian Art is perennially popular at auction and in museums around the globe. The vast size of the continent of Asia and its many diverse communities makes the arts of this region incredibly rich. Fine examples of Asian Art can bring high prices in the marketplace.


Asian Art and Antiquities are among the most popular items sold at auction. Technically speaking, the term “Asian Art” usually corresponds to the arts of South, Southeast, and East Asia (the arts of Southwest and Central Asia are often classified as “Islamic Art”, though there is much overlap). Asia is the largest continent by land mass, and is home to many nations, cultures, religions, regions, and peoples, all of which have rich historical and artistic traditions.


Of all the nations in Asia, perhaps none was as influential as China. China has one of the longest histories of any country, with an almost uninterrupted history from the Stone Age to the Present day. Many peoples inhabit China, and each has its own traditions and cultural expressions. The many Imperial dynasties of China spawned countless forms of art and architecture. Each dynasty, from the Shang and Zhou in remote antiquity to the Ming and Qing in the early modern and modern era, has had art and artifacts that capture the imagination. In addition, China is home to many religions and cultures, from Taoism and Confucianism to Buddhism and Islam. All of these factors have made Chinese art among the most beloved and collected the world over.

Chinese painting is one of the most well-known genres of Chinese art, and major works by famed artists can be worth fabulous amounts of money. These paintings are different from paintings in a Western sense, in that there is not as much differentiation between painting and writing in Chinese paintings. Texts are a major part of Chinese paintings, and the text and painting interact within a complete work; indeed, it is difficult to discuss them separately.

Chinese Landscape Painting
Chinese Landscape Painting. 20th century or earlier.

Chinese paintings have many genres and themes, including paintings of famous people and animals, but the most renowned are landscapes. Landscape paintings in Chinese art are poetic and meditative, in that they are not simply viewed but works to be entered and experienced by the viewer. These paintings were often made by Taoist sages to demonstrate tenets of that faith. The finest of Chinese landscape paintings are worth a considerable amount, with prices reaching the hundred of thousands and even millions of dollars.

Chinese Bronze Censer
Bronze Censer. Chinese (Qing Dynasty), ca. 19th century or older.

China also has a long history of bronze working. Bronze sculptures and vessels are perennial favorites at auction, and they are incredibly diverse. Bronze working has its origins in the Shang dynasty in the 2nd millennium B.C., and bronzes have been made continually since that time. Sculptures, bells, and ritual vessels, like censers (burners for incense), have been and are still cast in bronze.

Finally, perhaps the most famous of all Chinese arts is porcelain. Porcelain is a very fine type of ceramic (pottery) that is fired at an incredibly high temperature and uses a white form of clay called kaolin. The result is a magnificent material that is translucent and brilliant white. The addition of cobalt glazes and other colors create vessels and objects that have captured the world’s imagination for centuries. In fact, porcelain is often called “china”, and thus the country has become synonymous with its most famous export. Chinese porcelain is a popular item at auction, with good pieces bringing between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars, and masterpieces bringing more astronomical prices.

Chinese Porcelain Bowl
Porcelain Bowl. Chinese (Qing Dynasty), ca. 19th century or older.


The arts of Japan are some of the most sought-after the world over. This island country has a history longer than almost any other, with the same Imperial family ruling over Japan for centuries, if not millennia. Its location not far from China and the Korean Peninsula allowed for interaction with these cultures from an early time, but its location on hundreds of islands also allowed it to stay somewhat closed off to the world around it when it wanted to. As a result, the arts of Japan have parallels in the art of countries like China and Korea, while also making innovations and types of artworks unlike any others.

Japanese Satsuma Vase
Satsuma Vase. Japan (Meiji?). ca. late 19th century.

Japan has a long history of making ceramics, and was perhaps the first location where humans made pottery. As such, Japanese ceramics are a popular form of art for many collectors. There are countless types of Japanese ceramics, from the rougher Raku wares completed in an exaggeratedly rustic style, to fine porcelain designed to rival the wares of China. Heavily decorated Imari and Satsuma wares were specifically produced for export, and became quite popular in Europe and the Americas.

Japan also has a long military history, with the various daimyo (warlords) and their samurai competing for power in the Middle Ages. One of the results of this history was a focus on metallurgy and the crafting of weapons, and the creation of various types of swords. These swords, such as the katana (or, popularly, “the samurai sword”) and the shorter wakizashi and tanto blades, are among the most popular artifacts made in Japan.

Japanese Bronze Mounted Samurai Sword (Katana). Meiji Period.
Japanese Bronze Mounted Samurai Sword (katana). Meiji Period (ca. 19th cent.). Japan.

Traditional sword-making is a protected art form in Japan, with masters of sword-making (and other traditions) given the title of “Living National Treasure”. While there are many lesser blades made for tourists, real samurai swords made by known masters can sell at auction for considerable amounts of money.

One of the most famous and popular forms of Japanese art are woodblock or ukiyo-e prints. These elaborate and color-filled masterpieces are renowned throughout the world, and they have inspired artists in both the East and West. The artists who made (and make) them are also among the most famous artists to have ever lived: Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760 – 1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797 – 1858) enjoy the same fame and renown as Michelangelo and Picasso.

Utagawa Kunisada Woodblock Print of a Fashionable Lady
Utagawa Kunisada, Woodblock Print of Fashionable Lady. Ca. early - mid 19th century. Print on paper.
Kikukawa Eizen Print of a Courtly Lady
Kikukawa Eizen, Ukiyo-e print of a courtly lady. Early to mid 19th century. Print on paper.

Ukiyo-e” means “images of the floating world”. These prints have their origins in the “pleasure quarters” of Japanese cities like Kyoto and Tokyo (called Edo at this time), where there were theaters and brothels. Many woodblock prints would show famous actors, actresses, or courtesans, often wearing elaborate clothing and costumes. Kabuki theater in particular, with the actors in its characteristic bright white makeup, was a common theme. 

Scenes of traditional stories, with monsters, gods (kami), and heroes, were also made and are continually popular. No woodblock prints, however, are more sought after than the landscapes of masters like Hokusai and Hiroshige. Japanese woodblock prints are masterpieces of world art, and are accordingly among the most collected prints in the world.

Utagawa Hiroshige, "Ochiai" from "Sixty-nine Stations along Kiso Highway" Print
Utagawa Hiroshige, "Ochiai" from "Sixty-nine Stations along Kiso Highway". Mid 19th century. Print on Paper.


The Korean peninsula, or Korea, was historically a single political unit until very recently in the mid-20th century. Before the splitting of the peninsula between North and South Korea in the 1940s and 1950s, the peninsula was often a unified kingdom. Various kingdoms were central to the history of Korea, as well as the Buddhist religion and the peninsula’s relations to both China and Japan. The art made on the peninsula has great diversity, in media as diverse as pottery (ceramics), sculpture, and painting. Of these, the most popular are Korean ceramics.

Korean Export Ceramics
Korean Export Ceramics. Ca. 19th century.

Korean ceramics, especially celadon, are among the finest of ceramics. The greenish glazed celadon wares have been made for hundreds of years in Korea. These are well-loved for their gentle curves, relief decorations, and simple decoration. These factors have made Korean celadon a sought-after type of object, appreciated for their simply exquisite detail. Other types of ceramics, including porcelain, are likewise made in Korea, and many Korean wares were especially influential in the development of the Japanese mingei movement of the early 20th century.

Korean Studio Porcelain Vase
Korean Studio Porcelain Vase. ca. mid to late 20th century.

The Himalayas

The nations and cultures of the Himalayas have spawned some of the most perennially popular works of Asian art. The Himalayas are the highest mountains in the world, with the highest peaks on Earth such as Everest and K2. China and India, as well as Pakistan, all have portions of the Himalayas within their borders. Two countries, Nepal and Bhutan, are located fully within the Himalayas, and much of Tibet (an autonomous region of China) is located in the Himalayas and the associated landscape. The Himalayas are best known for its Buddhist art, a fact not entirely surprising given that the Buddha himself was born in modern-day Nepal, in the town of Lumbini. The Himalayas have been a heavily Buddhist region for millennia, and thus have a very rich artistic tradition stretching back generations.

The versions of Buddhism found in the Himalayas include various gods, goddesses, and deities as well as various Buddhas, and these figures are found quite commonly in Himalayan art, including in paintings, sculptures and jewelry. In addition, the Himalayas are well-known for their textile arts, and Tibetan rugs in particular are popular at auction.

Tibetan Buddhist Thangka Painting
Tibetan Buddhist Thangka Painting of Gelug Lineage Tree of Refuge. Tibet. ca. late 19th - early 20th century.

One popular form of Buddhist art found in the Himalayas are thangka paintings. Thangka paintings are a traditional form of Buddhist painting in Tibet, and thangkas can show images of the Buddha and various bodhisattvas (helper beings), gods and goddess, spirits, and mandalas (nested circles and squares, used as a meditative device in Himalayan Buddhism). Thangkas are usually quite elaborate, and can even include hundreds of figures. The bright colors, interesting deities, and complicated geometry of thangka paintings makes them well-loved works of art, and an accessible entry into Asian art for many.

India and South Asia

India and South Asia have been at the center of the Asian art trade abroad for centuries, since regular relations opened up between India and the West in the early modern period. The Indian subcontinent, and its associated nations of India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, are well-placed in the crossroads of civilizations, and have been the center of Empires for millennia. In addition, this area is the birthplace of many religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism, while also being a major Muslim state during the Mughal period. As such, there is a great variety of arts that have been made in India. The most popular, however, are Miniature Paintings.

Indo-Persian / Mughal Miniature Painting
Indo-Persian / Mughal miniature of courtly love. Mughal Empire. ca. 18th - 19th century.

Miniature paintings have their origins in India in the Mughal period, though illustrated books have a millennia-long history in India. Mughal (or Indo-Persian) miniatures have their origins in the illustrated books of Persia, which in turn drew inspiration from Chinese painting. A miniature painting is a painting used to illustrate a text or to show a particular scene. Thus, they are often surrounded by writing (often Persian, which was the language of the Mughal court).

Unlike larger paintings, miniatures are often small, though they range in size from a few inches to slightly larger than a standard sheet of paper. Mughal miniature paintings reached their greatest period of flourishing during the 17th to the 19th centuries, when both the Mughal court and the various Hindu states of India sponsored great miniaturists. The beauty of Mughal miniatures has made them sought-after, and they accordingly are a favored item at auction.

Southeast Asia

Southeast Asia comprises the area of the modern day countries of Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, Malaysia, and Laos. This region is among the most important in the world for trade and commerce: these nations sat at the crossroads of civilizations, between Europe, Africa, and the Middle East and East Asia. As a result of their importance to trade, Southeast Asia is a cultural melting pot, and its art shows the influence of many cultures, religions, and styles as a result.

From the first millennium B.C., this region was greatly influenced by the art and culture of India, especially the Hindu and Buddhist religions. The islands of Indonesia (with the exception of Bali) and much of the Malay peninsula (modern day Malaysia) became Muslim in 16th century and beyond. As a result, Islamic art has had an influence on the arts of Southeast Asia as well. The Balinese are still overwhelmingly Hindu, and the arts found before the Muslim conquests of the islands are still practiced there.

Balinese carvings and statues are popular at auction. We can see the influence of various cultures that have crossed through Indonesia and Bali in each of these works. Wood is the usual medium of these sculptures, though other materials can be found as well, including coins. The deities found in Balinese carvings are highly detailed, and wear ornate crowns and jewelry. The influence of Indian art is clear, but also much is part of the native expression of the Balinese.

Balinese Wood Coin Sculptures
Balinese Figures. Wood and Chinese Coins. Ca. late 19th - early 20th Cent.


The arts and antiquities of Asia run the gamut. Earth’s largest continent is home to many peoples and cultures, all of whom have particular artistic traditions. Each culture’s art is engaging, and fascinating to learn more about.

Thai Buddha Statuette
Thai Buddha Statuette. Cast Metal. Ca. 19th century.

Asian art and antiquities are also among the most popular objects at auction. Nest Egg Auctions has been selling works of Asian art for decades, and these works occasionally sell for fabulous prices. If you have a piece of Asian art that you would like to sell at auction, let us know!

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