Asian Art and Antiques

Nina Diaz, Willem deKooning’s Girlfriend.

1926 was a remarkably important year.

In the entertainment world, Norma Jeane Mortensen, who later changed her name to Marilyn Monroe was born and “The Son of the Sheik”, Rudolph Valentina’s last movie debuted just before he died at age 31.

In sports, Gertrude “Trudy” Ederle became the first woman to swim the English Channel and the St. Louis Cardinals won their first of 11 World Series Championships by beating the New York Yankees in 7 games.

And in the world of art, 22 year-old Willem DeKooning ( 1904 – 1997) was a stowaway aboard a British freighter from his hometown of Rotterdam, Netherlands to America, bringing a dream of adventure, fast women, movie stars, and a chance to become a commercial artist. Never could the man who left school at age 12 imagine one of his future paintings, Interchange -created in 1955, would eventually sell for $300 million, the most money ever paid for a work of art.

After landing in Newport News, VA, he worked his way to New Jersey and then to New York, where he arrived early the following year. Shortly thereafter, he met a vaudeville entertainer Virginia “Nina” Diaz, who became his first American girlfriend and moved into a small studio with him on West Forty-forth Street. He worked wherever he found work, as a carpenter, house painter, and commercial artist, for which he’d apprenticed for back in Rotterdam.

In his spare time, he painted, but rarely kept any of his early works, repainting over most, since he couldn’t afford new canvases. About the same time, he went to an exhibition of paintings by Henri Matisse at The Pierre Matisse Gallery, Matisse’s youngest son’s gallery of contemporary and modern art in Manhattan. DeKooning was so inspired by Matisse’s vibrant colors, especially cobalt-violet, he immediately went to a hardware store and purchased a tube of violet oil paint to experiment.

His romantic relationship with Nina lasted until 1935, but was rekindled repeatedly over next the next few years.

In 1938, DeKooning met his future wife, Elaine, who became a recognized artist on her own and was, ironically, already a friend of Nina. By this time, Willem, along with Jackson Pollock, were the recognized leaders of the Abstract Impressionism Movement in New York, which, partially due to the political situation in Europecent , quietly supplanted Paris as the new center for art in the world.

This painting was acquired from the estate of Elaine DeKooning. It is a portrait of a woman wearing a hat, reminiscent of the style of the 20’s. The portrait, itself, has an overall look and feel similar to some of Matisse’s portraits from 1915 -1920. The hat is cropped off at the top. Vibrant colors are used, including violet blue on the inside of the collar. Pencil lines are visible through the paint. And the painting is very dimensionally flat.

Numerous paper stickers applied at different times in both pencil and ink refer to the subject as, “Nina Diaz, Bill’s first American girlfriend”. All are affixed to the frame on the back. One is marked “By: ?” That is scratched over and marked “self?” in pencil. The stretcher is marked “Collection of Elaine DeKooning”

Bill and Elaine never divorced and she died in 1989. I spoke with an important sculptor friend of theirs who lived with Elaine several times in the 50s, Anita Huffington. When I asked for her thoughts on the painting’s artist, she relied, “What woman would keep a painting of her husband’s first girlfriend for more than 50 years? I will tell you this, though, Elaine never got rid of anything Bill did.”

So, who did it? Bill? Elaine? Nina? Perhaps we’ll never know, but at least it is a remarkable story and interesting mystery.

Hirado Sleeping Cat, Japan, 19th Century

About six miles south of Japan’s ceramic center of Arita, lies Hirado Island in the northwestern part of Nagasaki Prefecture, home of the Matsura family and also the Mikawachi, or Hirado kilns that produced, according to experts, some of the finest white porcelains the world has ever known.

Its location near the Korean Peninsula was responsible for the settlement of Korean potters who were the spoils of a Japanese invasion in the late 16th century. Almost immediately, Korean style kilns were set up to produce stoneware, since Japan lacked the technology to produce porcelains, but when kaolin, the basic ingredient in porcelain was discovered in Mikawachi village in the mid 17th century, very high quality porcelain was produced under the complete control of the Matsura feudal lords.

For nearly a hundred years, from 1751 until 1843, all products from the kilns belonged to the Matsura family, but with the disintegration of Japan’s feudal system in the mid 19th century, financial support for the enterprise waned and export contracts were established with the Dutch East India Company.

Hirado ware was highly prized by Victorian Europe and demand for products exploded. Great international expositions of the late 19th century showcased the exquisite quality of Hirado, but modern industrialization contributed to the decline of Hirado and the kilns were permanently closed in the early 20th century.

This 19th century Hirado bisque cat sits with its eyes closed, possibly sound asleep. Meticulous attention has been paid to the sublime facial expression, the anatomically precise body, and the animal’s fur, which looks almost natural. It is incised with the Hirado mark in the base. Almost undetectable professional repairs to both ears.

10.5 inches high

26.67 cm high


Walasse Ting, LIthograph, Good Morning 25

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Walasse Ting (1929 – 2010), was a self taught Chinese born artist who spent 6 years studying in Paris where he developed relationships with members of the short-lived (1948 – 1951), but very influential Avant-garde art movement known as CoBrA, which was an acronym for Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam, where most of the founding members originated. This lithograph on Arches Paper, titled Good Morning 25, measures 35 x 26 inches, and is from a series of prints created in 1974 as an homage to his friend Sam Francis, a member of CoBrA.
46 x 26 inches
88,9 x 66.04 cm

Fukusa, Tsume Tsuzure Technique, Hina Dolls, Edo Period,19th Century


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Tea was introduced to Japan from China in the early 9th century, however it wasn’t until the end of the 12th century that it was made from mixing hot water with ground tea instead of dropping tea leaves into hot water. The presentation of tea evolved with strict disciplines into a formal ceremony and has played an important role in Japan’s political and cultural expansion. It is called Chanoyu and is a refined and structured manner to demonstrate grace and good etiquette.
An important part of the ceremony involves the presentation of a gift from the host which was covered by a cloth called Fukusa. Initially, the Fukusa were simple pieces of cloth draped over food ensuring no impurities could spoil the gift, but over time, they were decorated with symbolic elements appropriate for special lifetime events, such as weddings, milestone birthdays, birth of a child, etc.
By the 18th century, they would become symbols of the owners’ wealth, as spectacular Fukusa were embroidered with gold and silver wrapped threads to decorate the formal gift presentation. Even more time consuming to produce were brocade and hand woven tapestries, with the most complex being Tsume Tsuzure, or nail tapestry. Cotton warps were covered by silk wefts woven using the 3rd and 4th fingers which had been serated, like a saw blade, with up to eight ridges per nail to help separate the threads. It took approximately 12 years to master the technique and was so tediously slow, a skilled artisan could only proceed about 1 inch of fabric per day, about 7 – 9 inches wide.
This is the larger piece of a set of Tsume Tsuzure Fukusa that are from the late Edo Period (1603 -1868) and feature Hina Dolls of children in court attire (possibly musicians) on a solid cream background with pure gold threads woven into the background. The back (which is really the front) features a mon (family crest) and is woven with pure gold threads.

larger piece, 29.5 x 27 inches

73.66 x 68.58 cm

smaller piece, 15 x 13.75 inches

38.1 x 34.93 cm


Neolithic Jar, China. 3rd Millennium BC

The term Stone Age was a broad prehistoric period lasting more than 3 million years, during which stone was widely used to make tools with an edge, a point, or a percussion surface. It has been classified into three loosely identified periods, The Paleolithic (Old), The Mesolithic (Middle), and the Neolithic (New).

The Neolithic Period is recognized as the period in time when man began to farm, which was more than 12,000 years ago in the Middle East, and ended with the development of bronze, which varied radically in man’s timeline depending on the location in the world.

More than 20 different Neolithic cultures existed in different parts of China from at least 10,000 years ago until about 1500 BC, but none produced ceramics as beautiful as the painted pottery of the people of The Majiayao culture in the Upper Yellow River region in Northern China from 3300 to 2000 BC.

The Majiayao culture was also divided into three distinct periods, the Majiayao, The Banshan, and Machang.

This large painted red pottery jar dates to the Neolithic Majiaya culture, and its use of both dark red and black paint clearly identifies it as from the Banshan period. It features a sloping upper body with a pair of lug handles applied at mid-body. The sweeping black spirals create four roundels filled with a bold red circle encasing fishnet patterns, all above a wave band that circles the jar at mid-body. The cylindrical neck with a slightly flared rim and the inside lip of the mouth are painted in wave and fishnet patterns.

China, 3rd Millenium BC

11  x 12.5 inches

27.94 x 31.75 cm


Painted Fukusa, Turtle and Pine Tree


Painted Fukusa of a turtle and a pine tree on hand woven Shioze silk, with poem and artists signature.  Late Edo Period, c. 1850.

27 x 28 inches

 68.58 x 71.12 cm


Embroidered Fukusa, Cranes, Middle Edo Period, 18th Century

Three Manchurian Cranes, representing fortune and longevity were skillfully embroidered on this indigo-blue satin Fukusa.  The cranes feature glass eyes, which was common during the Middle Edo Period, and a multitude of stitch types were employed to create the image.   Late 18th Century.

28.5  x 32 inches

72.39  x 81.28 cm


Embroidered Fukusa, Crane, Edo Period


Spectacularly embroidered Fukusa of a crane flying among stylized clouds and honey-combed geometric patterns, all accented by various gold thread techniques, retaining all four tassels.    Mon in couched gold on the reverse side.  Late Edo Period, 19th century.

28 x 28 inches

71.12 x 71.12 inches


Narrative Painting, Thailand, Late 19th/Early 20th Century

Extremely fine painting using pigments and gold leaf on cloth depicting various royal court scenes to include; soldiers with swords guarding the compound, performing musicians, servants, the royal family, and while mythical Kennari and animals adorn the skies.  Late 19th/1st Half 20th century.

48 x 24 inche

29.9 x 61 cm


Bugaku Mask of Nasori, Japan, Muromachi Period, 16th Century

An unsigned wooden mask of Nasori, who represents a blue/green dragon used in the performance of the court dance of the same name, exhibiting large and bulging, movable eyes, protruding fangs, a detached jaw, and bushy eyebrows made of animal hair.  Probably 16th century or earlier.  From the collection of Dr. Charles Smith, University of Washington.

17 x 8 inches

43.2 x 20.3 cm


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