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Ask A Worthologist Question: Bronzi Oni Statue

by Mike Wilcox (03/21/11).

Sam L. bought this ugly brute because he felt sorry for him, but he didn’t know a thing about him. He engaged WorthPoint’s “Ask A Worthologist” service to discover its value.

Sam L. bought this bronze figure at an antique store about five years ago. He found it so ugly he almost felt sorry for it and brought it home. The dealer who sold it specialized mainly in furniture and didn’t know much about it. After many inquiries about it, he recently he decided it was high time to find out more about it. He contacted WorthPoint’s “Ask a Worthologist” service to check its value and history. The question was forwarded to me. Here’s Sam’s question:

“I bought this poor, ugly thing from an antique dealer. The place was mainly full of furniture, and the dealer said it came in a trunk he had bought at contents sale and that was all he knew about it. He only wanted $300 for it and I figured it had to be worth at least that much. It looks like some kind of Oriental monster. He measures about 20 inches tall. A number of people who are into art and decorating commented on it at a party I had recently, and I felt a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t a clue what it was. I don’t want to sell him; I just want to know more about this ugly brute’s history, his value at auction and if I should polish him.”

Here’s my response:

Based on your images, this is a Japanese bronze figure of an Oni, which is a sort of Japanese devil. The Oni are creatures from Japanese folklore, and depending on the translation, described as demons, devils, ogres or trolls. They are popular characters found a variety of Japanese art and literature. The depictions of Oni usually portray them as humanoid, but hideous, with wild hair, sharp claws and devil-like horns on their foreheads. Some Oni are made with unnatural features such extra toes, fingers or an odd number of eyes.

Most measure between 10-20 inches in height and can be found holding lotus leaf trays, incense burners, or—like yours—just standing guard. The alien appearance of these pieces is heightened by their tarnished appearance, which highlights their odd features of these Japanese bronzes. This tarnish is referred to as “patina” and is part of its original design; no attempt should be made to polish this piece in any way, as the patina on it is part of the original decoration. A dusting once in a while is all that is required.

In regards to value, comparable bronze Oni to yours now often sell at auction for more than $2,500.

Mike Wilcox, of Wilcox & Hall Appraisers, is a Worthologist who specializes in Art Nouveau and the Arts and Craft movement.

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