With over forty years’ experience as an auction-house specialist, appraiser, and dealer in Japanese and Korean art, I formed Sebastian Izzard LLC, a New York company, in 1998 in order to offer the kind of personal expertise, attention, and insights that are especially valuable to discriminating collectors world-wide. As a company we deal in all periods, from early to modern, the principal criterion being one of quality. Regular travel in the United States and overseas, to Japan and Europe, keeps us abreast of the international market and in touch with a global network. We welcome inquiries from clients old and new, whether prompted by an interest in the purchase or sale of works of art, in our exhibitions and catalogues, or in our appraisal and consulting services.
Between 1980 and 1997 I served as head of the Japanese and Korean art division at Christie’s New York, covering every area from Neolithic stoneware to contemporary paintings and sculpture. Annual sales of Japanese and Korean art grew from $1.8 million in 1981 to over $31 million in 1996, and several ground-breaking auctions resulted in record prices. Such was the case with Korean ceramics when in 1996 an iron-decorated dragon jar went for $8.4 million, then the highest sum ever paid at auction for a work of Asian art. Another record price, this time in the field of Japanese art, was realized in 1990, when a pair of screens from the collection of the late John W. Gruber fetched $1.6 million.
At Christie’s I had the privilege of arranging the successful sale of many outstanding collections and of working closely with their owners. To name a few examples:
Many of the catalogues we published for these sales quickly became collectors’ items in themselves, for example, the catalogue of the Hyde Collection and the three volume catalogue of the Compton sale. Another Christie’s publication for which I was responsible was “Lacquerware from the Weston Collection” by Julia Meech, the catalogue of an exhibition of works from Roger Weston’s collection of inro and boxes held in 1995.
My own introduction to Japanese art goes back to my days as a student in London, when I caught sight of a print by Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865) in a shop window. After graduating from the Chelsea School of Art, London, in 1973, I pursued Kunisada as a research topic, spending a year and a half in Japan, and received my Ph.D. in 1980 from the School of Oriental and African Studies, London University.
Not surprisingly, one of the two public exhibitions I have curated in New York was of Kunisada’s work: "Kunisada’s World" (1993) for the Ukiyo-e Society of America and the Japan Society, New York. This followed “Hiroshige: An Exhibition of Selected Prints and Illustrated Books” (1983), for the Ukiyo-e Society of America. On both occasions I was the author of the scholarly catalogue accompanying the exhibition. “Kunisada’s World” won the Uchiyama Memorial Prize for advances in Japanese print studies. In 2008 I was one of the co-curators for the exhibition “Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680–1860,” at the Asia Society, New York.
Over the years I have advised and helped clients assemble collections of prints, paintings, and works of art. Notable among these are the Weston Collection of important ukiyo-e paintings (on view in Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago November 4, 2018 through January 27, 2019); the very fine group of paintings and lacquer by the 19th century artist Shibata Zeshin belonging to Catherine and Thomas Edson of San Antonio (a selection of objects from this collection was exhibited in The Genius of Shibata Zeshin: Japanese Masterworks from the Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection at the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Japan Society, New York in 2007-2008, and travelled to Japan in 2009); and the Lee E. Dirks Collection of fine Japanese woodblock prints currently on tour in Japan.
In September 2008, George Braziller, New York, published “The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaidō”, for which I wrote the introduction and accompanying commentary.
Utagawa Kunisada: The Artist and his Times, introductory essay to Schaap, Robert, Kunisada: Imaging Drama and Beauty. Exh. Cat., (Leiden: Hotei Publishing, 2016)
Shibui Kiyoshi: Pioneer in the Study of Ukiyo-e in Orientations, Vol. 40, No. 3, April 2009
Hiroshige/Eisen: The Sixty-nine Stations of the Kisokaidō, (New York: George Braziller, Inc., 2008)
Zeshin: The Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection. Exh. Cat. (San Antonio: San Antonio Museum of Art, 2007)
Kunisada’s World. Exh. Cat., (New York: Japan Society, Inc. in collaboration with the Ukiyo-e Society of America, Inc., 1993)
One Hundred Masterpieces from the Collection of Dr. Walter A. Compton, (New York: Christie, Manson & Woods, International, Inc., 1992) [editor]
Hiroshige: An Exhibition of Selected Prints and Illustrated Books. Exh. Cat., (New York: Ukiyo-e Society of America, Inc., 1983)