Ming Chairs Lead Christie’s $132 Million Robert Ellsworth Sale

A set of four 17th-century Ming huanghuali horseshoe-back quanyi armchairs that sold for $9.68 million from the collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. Photo: Christie's.

With the conclusion of Asia Week, results from Christie’s five-day sale of the collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, one of the year’s most-anticipated auctions, are officially in.

When Ellsworth died this past August, he left behind a world-class Asian art collection. Just as the auction was set to begin, however, Ellsworth’s estate sued its attorney’s firm claiming that an error by the firm has resulted in the charge of an additional $25 million in taxes.

Despite the simmering legal battle, the Ellworth sales kicked off as planned on Tuesday, with the auction house’s first-ever evening sale of Asian art. That session alone brought in an impressive $61.1 million. Over the course of the week, six other sales brought in a collective $70.56, for a total of $131.67 million. (Three sessions of online auctions continue through the end of this week.)

Taking the top lot was a suite of four 17th-century Ming huanghuali horseshoe-back quanyi armchairs, which brought in $9.68 million over eight times the high estimate of $1.2 million.

The sale marked a world record (one of four achieved in the Tuesday session) for huanghuali furniture, made from valuable dalbergia odorifera wood, also known as fragrant rosewood, during the Ming and early Qing dynasties. Ellsworth was the first collector to take a serious interest in the hardwood Chinese furniture of the Ming era, and helped foster a wide appreciation of, and a market for, such works.

Among the other opening night highlights was a 13th-century gilt bronze Avalokiteshvara statue from Nepal, which also exceeded expectations: the hammer price was $8.23 million, as compared to the $2-3 million pre-sale estimate. A “rare and highly important” ninth century Shiva Gangadhara Nataraja bronze from India, which carried the same estimate, sold for $2.85 million. Of the 57 lots on offer that evening, 15 sold in excess of $1 million.

Over the week, eight other objects exceeded the million dollar price point, including several pieces of furniture, a Yang-Ming dynasty fresco, and a Buddha sculpture.

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