REVIEW: Christies: The Collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth Part I: New York, Rockefeller Plaza Mar 17, 2015

Christies New York’s sale of the Ellsworth collection, left the art world in no doubt that ‘traditional Chinese art is still a major focus,’ despite the continued rise in contemporary and modern markets. The 4-day, 6-auction sale, was the product of a lifetime collecting by scholar, Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, who passed away in August 2014.

A total of US$131 million was made over the 4 days. Combining this sum with $30 million of additional Asian sales throughout the week, Christies created a new record of over $161 million. The Financial Times reported that, ‘private Asian buyerstook the seven top lots,’ which included $4.8m for a Tibetan bronze figure from the 11th-12th century (est. $1m-$1.5m).

11418_8 Bronze Seated Yogi

Tibetan bronze figure from the 11th-12th century (est. $1m-$1.5m) sold for $4.8 million

The collection was the largest to have ever appeared at auction. Known as the ‘King of Bling,’ Ellsworth’s collection included rare works spanning hundreds of years of Asian history, driven by a lifetime’s interest in Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Himalayan antiques, together with several obscure items from Southeast Asia.

Ellsworth’s collection was especially interesting, due to his distinguished history with Asia; he is referred to as one of the pioneers of Asian art collecting, as well as producing groundbreaking studies into the appreciation of Asian art.

Billionaire Liu Yiqian was among a throng of Mainland Chinese bidders who attended the sale. However, interest came from a variety of collectors keen on owning a part of the unusual collection, made all the more desirable by proven provenance.

11418_1 Gilt Bronze Seated Bear


Giuseppe Eskenazi, one of the worlds best known Asian dealers, was successful in purchasing a Gilt Bronze Bear (above), which dated back to China’s Han Dynasty (206 BC to 8AD) for $2.8 million. Additional significant lots within the sale included a Large Polychrome Fresco from China’s Yuan-Ming Dynasty (1279-1644), which sold for $2,965,000, drastically exceeding its estimate of $30,000-50,000. A Polychrome And Gilt-Limestone Figure Of Buddha sold for $1,805,000; once again surpassing its estimate of $40,000 – 60,000. Mount Fuji And Miho No Matsubara, by Edo period painter Kano Tan’yu, broke a personal record for the artist selling for $149,000 (image below.)



With TEFAF’s annual report revealing that the global art market has reached an all time high nearing $56 billion, collectors have shown no sign of slowing down their buying patterns. With a busy schedule of sales from key auction houses planned over the next 3 months, Christies has set the bar high for the 2015 Asian art market.


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