Christie's to auction landmark Chinese collection

Updated: 2015-03-11 11:07

By Amy He in New York(China Daily USA)

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Christie's to auction landmark Chinese collection

The Asian art collection of Robert Ellsworth (above), one of the most important collections in the West, is expected to generate $35 million at auction. Provided To China Daily by Christie's Images Ltd

Robert Ellsworth, dubbed the "King of Ming," began his career as an art dealer as a teenager, and one of his first acquisitions was a wooden sculpture of the guanyin, the East Asian god of mercy, which he bought at the age of 14.

Throughout his decades-long career, Ellsworth bought and sold thousands of pieces, which he would put on display in his 22-room apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. Now more than 1,400 of those will be auctioned over five days at Christie's as part of Asia Week New York, beginning on Friday.

Ellsworth's collection is considered by many to be one of the most important Asian art collections in the market, which art dealers and experts have said make this year's edition of Asia Week highly anticipated. The collection is expected to bring in excess of $35 million, according to Christie's, and more than half the collection is Chinese art pieces.

The auctions at Christie's will begin on the evening of March 17, with lots that will be sold without reserve, which refers to a minimum price for which a lot will sell. The most-expensive pieces in the collection include Chinese paintings from masters and more contemporary artists, as well as pieces of furniture, all of which Christie's expects to bring close to $1 million or more apiece.

"Ellsworth got interested in Asian art very early on, and the guanyin, he purchased that at the age of 14, so he was a naturally-born collector," said Michael Bass, vice-president and co-head of the department of Chinese works of art at Christie's. "He's passionate, interested in learning, and eclectic. He had a great eye; he had a great sense of design and taste."

Ellsworth worked at a Manhattan art gallery as a teen, where he learned about Chinese porcelain, furniture and paintings from leading Asian art dealer Alice Boney, beginning his career as a pioneer of Asian art collecting in the West.

He traveled to Asia for the first time in the 1940s and learned much about Chinese artwork by himself, when scholarship on the subject was scarce. Ellsworth eventually became a leading figure in the Asian art world, influencing the tastes of many collectors. He died last year at the age of 85.

"When he got started, he had to learn it on his own. You think about where we are now, there are books published and so easily too, but at the time, there was very little scholarship available in the west. He helped to write some of it, he looked out for it, and helped to contribute to it, and in all these different areas," Bass said.

"He was a tastemaker; he influenced so many of the major collections of the 20th century, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the elite of New York. He touched a lot of people's lives," he added.

Ellsworth's clients included business magnate John D. Rockefeller and socialite Brooke Astor, as well as institutions like the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.

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