Robert Hatfield Ellsworth’s collection of Asian Art

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth’s collection of Asian Art

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Collectors, dealers and fans of Asian art will have a big treat in March. Auction powerhouse Christie’s is set to sell off more than 2,000 fine Asian art pieces through five days of serial live auctions in New York as well as one online-only auction.

All objects belonged to Robert Hatfiled Ellsworth, a prominent American art dealer who devoted himself on collecting Asian art especially Chinese art for more than six decades. The well-respected scholar and art collector passed away last August at the age of 85, leaving his 22-room apartment on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan filled with exquisite Ming furniture, fine jade, Modern Chinese painting and Indian Brozes among others. These artworks were encrusted to be auctioned by Christie’s and it’s thought to be the largest private assemblage of Asian Art ever to go under the hammer.

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“Robert Ellsworth was a Titan in the world of Asian art collecting in America over the last fifty years,” Jonathan Rendell, Deputy Chairman and Senior Advisor of Christie’s, told P1.

“A pioneer in the worlds of Chinese furniture and modern Chinese painting, he created trends which others followed and gave scholarship back to the current collectors,” added Rendell.

Christie’s kicked off a worldwide touring exhibition to six cities from last November – three of them in China – to display the highlights of Ellsworth’s collection. The public exhibitions will conclude in March at Christie’s Rockefeller Center in New York with the auctions taking place from 17 March.

Ellsworth’s Manhattan apartment was filled with Asian artwork
Ellsworth’s Manhattan apartment was filled with Asian artwork

Ellsworth had a great interest in the Chinese culture since childhood. He later became a protégé under leading Asian art dealer Alice Boney in late 1940s and was the first American art dealer to visit the Communist China in 1970s. Ellsworth was also an honorary Chinese citizen – an extraordinary credit given by the Communist government to few foreigners.

Although Ellsworth’s collection included Japanese, Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art works, the crown jewels were artworks amassed in China, especially the Ming furniture made during the 14th-17th century. Ellsworth was the first art dealer to introduce Ming furniture to the West in the 1950s.

Xie Fei, head of Chinese painting and calligraphy at Christie’s, told China Daily in an interview that Ellsworth also admired the work of Shi Lu in particular. Shi was a renowned Chinese painter of 20th century specialised in landscapes and flowers.

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Christie’s estimates the sales figure from the serial auctions to be in the region of US$50 million.

“We expect masterpiece collectors to compete with new buyers from Asia,” Jonathan Rendell told P1. “The breadth of material is bound to attract both specialist collectors and people new to these areas of the market.”

All live auctions will be held at 20 Rockefeller Plaza in New York,
United States.

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