World’s Largest Collection of Asian Art to Hit Auction Block

Robert Hatfield Ellsworth's former residence on Fifth Avenue, New York. Courtesy of Christie's.

The largest private collection of Asian art ever to go to auction will come under the hammer at Christie’s in March 2015. The sale’s 2,000 lots were amassed by the late Robert Hatfield Ellsworth. A prominent American dealer, Ellsworth is credited with shaping important collections of Asian art including those of John D. Rockefeller III and the financier Christian Humann.

Ellsworth passed away in August 2014 (see “Robert H. Ellsworth, King of Ming, Dead at 85“). He was the first American art dealer to visit mainland China in the 1970s. He later became an honorary Chinese citizen in recognition of his work in cultural preservation and was named an honorary consultant and curator of the Beijing History Museum.

One of the collector’s most notable contributions to Chinese art scholarship is pioneering the Western collection of modern Chinese paintings. He advocated for 19th and 20th century works that were previously ignored by critics. And he managed to convince Western art historians that Chinese painting did not simply die out after the 1800s.

Chinese furniture, Indian, Himalayan and Southeast Asian art, as well as modern Chinese paintings comprise a large part of his collection. It will be sold online and in live auctions over a five-day period in March 2015 at Christie’s New York. There will also be a sale of English and European furniture and decorative arts culled from Ellsworth’s home in New York City.

The auction may not be exactly what Ellsworth had in mind for his collection, but it’s close enough. In 1994, the collector told the Independent that when he died his collection would “be sold in a consecutive seven-day sale. The last lot will be a single item, the finest piece of jade in the world—which I wear on my finger.”

The auction’s highlights will tour Asia, kicking off with a stop in Hong Kong on November 21.

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