the ellsworth collection | chinese furniture

christie’s new york is selling an extraordinary collection of chinese furniture.

 the collection of robert hatfield ellsworth | christie’s new york | 17-21 march 2015

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

the extraordinary collection of robert hatfield ellsworth includes not only chinese furniture, but also buddhist art, scholar’s objects, and contemporary paintings.

 

polychrome wood figure of a seated bodhisattva | china | song-jin dynasty (960-1234)

this sculpture greeted guests as they entered robert ellsworth’s apartment

sold for US$ 1,685,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 58

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

as well as chinese bronzes, jades, and ceramics.

gilt bronze figure of a seated bear | china | western han dynasty (206 BCE-8 CE)

one of a set of four weights, used to anchor the corners of a bamboo seating mat

sold for US$ 2,853,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 1

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

along with japanese, himalayan, indian, and southeast asian art.

 stable with fine horses | one of a pair of six panel screens | japan | edo period (17th century)

sold for US$ 509,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 45

photo credit christie’s | wsj

the ellsworth collection is the largest private collection of asian art ever sold at auction.  the 2000 object collection will be sold during six live auctions and one on line auction held from 17-21 march 2015.

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photo credits christie’s

i was thrilled that my recent trip to new york coincided with the auction preview, which is, not surprisingly, generating unprecedented crowds.  the auctions also seem to be generating unprecedented results.

robert ellsworth (1929-2014) was a prominent american asian art collector, dealer, and scholar.  he sold asian art from his 22 room new york apartment, located on fifth avenue near the metropolitan museum of art.  as an asian art dealer, ellsworth has been credited with establishing new collecting categories, such as ancient chinese jades, or chinese furniture from the ming (1368-1644) and qing (1644-1911) dynasties.  his clients included major museums, such as the met, the museum of fine arts, boston, the cleveland museum of art, the philadelphia museum of art, and the nelson-atkins museum.  plus, important private collectors, such as john d. rockefeller III, who donated his asian art collection to the asia society.

ellsworth’s publications include chinese furniture:  hardwood examples of the ming and early ch’ing dynasties, which is considered one of the chinese furniture reference books.

some of the most important pieces of chinese furniture in the ellsworth collection are huanghuali wood tables and chairs.

chinese furniture is usually categorized according to construction technique.  chinese tables usually have either corner legs or recessed legs.  corner leg tables can be either unwaisted or waisted.

huanghuali waisted rectangular corner-leg games table | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

robert ellsworth received this table as a 60th birthday gift

sold for US$ 1,205,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 44

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace, christie’s, lisa walsh | innerspace, and christie’s

chinese games tables are usually square.  this table is exceptional because it is the only known example of a rectangular games table with drawers.  the removable top and game boards are also unusual.

 recessed leg tables can have either plain or cloud shaped spandrels.

huanghuali recessed leg painting table | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

sold for US$ 3,525,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 42

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace
this painting table is exceptional because of the massive timber, generous width, and early date.

 huanghuali recessed leg table | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

sold for US$ 1,565,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 46

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace, christie’s, and lisa walsh | innerspace

chinese armchairs usually have either rectangular or round backs with either protruding or continuous crest rails.

pair of huanghuali ‘four corner exposed’ official’s hat armchairs | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

sold for US$ 2,045,000 | christie’s new york | 18 march 2015 | sale 11419 | lot 121

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace and christie’s


pair of huanghuali bamboo-form continuous horseshoe-back armchairs | china | late ming-early qing dynasty (17th-early 18th century)

sold for US$ 2,629,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 47

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace, lisa walsh | innerspace, and christie’s

this pair of horseshoe back armchairs is exceptional because the chairs have continuous back rails, which are quite fragile, and therefore extremely rare.  the round members, undulating aprons, and wrap around stretchers emulate bamboo, which was a less expensive material than hardwood.

a set of four huanghuali horseshoe-back armchairs | china | ming dynasty (17th century)

sold for US$ 9,685,000 | christie’s new york | 17 march 2015 | sale 11418 | lot 41

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace
several unusual features distinguish this set of four armchairs from other horsehoe-back armchairs.

huanghuali horseshoe-back armchair | china | qing dynasty (17th-18th century)

sold for US$ 581,000 | christie’s new york | 18 march 2015 | sale 11419 | lot 139

photo credit christie’s

the extremely elegant curve of the crest rails.  the exceptional sweeping hooks of the handles.  the unusual three-part pierced backsplats.  and, the sublime grain of the wood, which suggests a mountain landscape.

photo credit lisa walsh | innerspace

do you think that these features make the four armchairs worth US$ 9,000,000?

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