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  • Press release
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  • New York
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  • For immediate release
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  • 14 February 2019

RELEASE: Lacquer • Jade • Bronze • Ink: The Irving Collection | Sale details, March 2019

“We have enjoyed the activity of collecting as much as we have savored living with these works of art. Now the pleasure is ours of sharing our collection with the public.”– Florence and Herbert Irving

New York – Christie’s announces final details of the most anticipated auction for the Spring season of Asian Art: the sale of the private collection of Florence and Herbert Irving. Aptly titled Lacquer • Jade • Bronze • Ink: The Irving Collection, the sales pay homage to the materials the Irvings spent their lives studying and collecting. The collection will be sold across an Evening Sale on March 20 and a Day Sale on March 21, with a complementary online auction Contemporary Clay: Yixing Pottery from the Irving Collection from March 19 to 26. The full collection will be presented in a public exhibition from March 14-20 during Asian Art Week at Christie’s New York. Additional jewelry highlights will be included in the New York Magnificent Jewels sale on April 16, 2019.

From modest Brooklyn roots to the triumph that was the Sysco Corporation, the Irvings’ inspiring trajectory allowed them to build a better, more enlightened world. Their many contributions spanned major donations to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, including well over 1,300 works of Asian art, and underwriting acquisitions, curatorial positions, exhibitions, and galleries. In honor of the Irvings’ extraordinary generosity, The Met named the entirety of their Asian art galleries The Florence and Herbert Irving Asian Wing.

Their commitment to philanthropy is also seen across a network of charities, most notably New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, where the Irvings became the largest donors in its history. Together, the Irvings would pursue a massive philanthropic undertaking totaling over $1 billion in support and innumerable magnificent objects of art to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Columbia University Medical Center, and New York-Presbyterian Hospital, among other causes.

For Florence and Herbert Irving, the opportunity to live in dialogue with their extraordinary collection of Asian art and European decorative art was an incomparable experience. It was not enough to live surrounded by beauty; they felt obligated to share it with the world. Asian art, in particular, would become synonymous with the Irving name, as the couple came to amass one of America’s most significant private collections. From childhood days at the Brooklyn Museum to seeing their own names inscribed on the Asian art wing of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Irvings’ passion for art was a truly lifelong commitment.

Tina Zonars, Co-Chairman of Asian Art at Christie’s, comments: “Christie’s is honored to present Lacquer • Jade • Bronze • Ink: The Irving Collection, a grouping recognized for its remarkable quality and beauty. Carefully assembled across several decades, the Irvings created one of the foremost private collections of Asian art built upon scholarship and their personal passion. During their lifetime, the Irvings generously donated an extraordinary number of their treasured artworks to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The selection offered at Christie’s this spring encompasses their most valued objects which they chose to live with in their New York City home: exceptional Asian art set amongst elegantly appointed decorative arts. The March sales will offer the landmark opportunity for collectors to participate in the legacy of one of the leading private collections of Chinese, Himalayan, Japanese, and Korean works of art.”

The Irvings’ Collecting History

The Irvings made their initial foray into collecting in the 1940s and 1950s. The glassware Herbert Irving acquired during the Second World War was joined by additional glass pieces and “reasonably priced” works by living artists. An eighteenth-century Chinese table, purchased in the early 1960s from the notable dealer Robert Ellsworth, was a harbinger of greater things. However, it was not until the autumn of 1967 that they discovered the possibilities of Asian art, when Mrs. Irving suggested a trip to Japan, and a friend encouraged the couple to visit the esteemed Alice Boney in Tokyo.

From their first acquisition in Tokyo, the Irvings wholeheartedly embraced Asian art. Mrs. Irving began to study the history of Chinese art, ceramics, and furniture at Columbia University, and attended lectures at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Through annual visits to Asia and in conversation with Boney, Ellsworth, and other dealers around the world, the Irvings honed their unique connoisseurial vision—one greatly aided by Mrs. Irving’s astute eye and enthusiastic scholarship. Behind the Irvings’ commendable acquisition strategy was a network of dealers and experts that came to feel like family.

The Irvings’ personal ties to dealers, curators, and fellow collectors grew in tandem with their collection. Each work, whether of masterpiece quality or more modest value, was viewed as an opportunity to develop connoisseurship. Throughout their journey in collecting, the Irvings were keen not only to acquire masterworks of Asian art, but also to build enduring relationships.

Part I: Evening Sale (Lots 801-826)

The Evening Sale includes a curated cross-section of 26 of the best examples across the Irvings’ most collected categories: Lacquer, Jade, Bronze, and Ink, and some select ceramics. Featured lots include a highly important and extremely rare gilt-bronze figure of a multi-armed Guanyin ($4,000,000-6,000,000); an important and extremely rare Imperially inscribed greenish-white jade ‘Twin Fish’ washer ($1,000,000-1,500,000); a rectangular lacquer tray with decoration of autumn grasses and moon, Shibata Zeshin (1807-1891), Meiji period ($60,000-80,000); and Lithe Like A Crane, Leisurely Like A Seagull, by Fu Baoshi (1904-1965) ($800,000-1,200,000).

Part II: Day Sale (Lots 1101-1422)

The Day Sale is divided into a Morning Session of Asian Works of Art (Lots 1101-1237) and an Afternoon Session for English and European Decorative Arts, Carpets, Fine Art, and Asian Works of Art (Lots 1301-1422). The morning session spans impressive bronzes, jades, Chinese and Japanese lacquerware, paintings, and Japanese gold-leaf screens. Highlights include a silver-and copper-inlaid bronze figure of a Buddha, Western Tibet, 11th-12th century ($100,000-150,000), a sandstone figure of a male deity, Khmer, Angkor period, Angkor Wat Style, 12th century ($100,000-150,000), a rare and finely carved white jade ‘Bridge Scene’ brushrest and spinach-green jade base, 18th-19th century ($80,000-120,000), and a rare carved black lacquer circular dish, Ming dynasty ($30,000-50,000).

The afternoon session presents a selection of decorative arts from the Irvings’ New York City apartment. Included in the offering English and European decorative arts, carpets, fine art, Asian works of art, and a group of art reference books. Among the featured lots are a set of eight George III solid mahogany dining chairs, possibly by Wright & Elwick, circa 1765 ($40,000-60,000); a Chinese Export reverse mirror painting, last quarter 18th century ($25,000-40,000); and a pair of George III silver candelabra by John Wakelin & William Taylor, 1777 ($20,000-30,000).

Online Sale (Lots 1-68)

The online sale, Contemporary Clay: Yixing Pottery from the Irving Collection, takes place from March 19-26 and comprises 68 teapots, figures and objects made by well-known Yixing pottery artists. Florence and Herbert Irving, known for their great eye for exceptional quality in art and form, appreciated the unique charm of contemporary Yixing ware. Steeped in earlier Ming and Qing traditions, while drawing creative inspiration from nature and the daily life, each potter has a distinct style.

About Christie’s

Founded in 1766, Christie’s is a world-leading art and luxury business. Renowned and trusted for its expert live and online auctions, as well as its bespoke private sales, Christie’s offers a full portfolio of global services to its clients, including art appraisal, art financing, international real estate and education. Christie’s has a physical presence in 46 countries, throughout the Americas, Europe, Middle East, and Asia Pacific, with flagship international sales hubs in New York, London, Hong Kong, Paris and Geneva. It also is the only international auction house authorized to hold sales in mainland China (Shanghai).

Christie’s auctions span more than 80 art and luxury categories, at price points ranging from $200 to over $100 million. In recent years, Christie’s has achieved the world record price for an artwork at auction (Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi, 2017), for a single collection sale (the Collection of Peggy and David Rockefeller, 2018), and for a work by a living artist (Jeff Koons’ Rabbit, 2019).

Christie’s Private Sales offers a seamless service for buying and selling art, jewellery and watches outside of the auction calendar, working exclusively with Christie’s specialists at a client’s individual pace.

Recent innovations at Christie’s include the groundbreaking sale of the first NFT for a digital work of art ever offered at a major auction house (Beeple’s Everydays, March 2021), with the unprecedented acceptance of cryptocurrency as a means of payment. As an industry leader in digital innovation, Christie’s also continues to pioneer new technologies that are redefining the business of art, including the creation of viewing and bidding experiences that integrate augmented reality, global livestreaming, buy-now channels, and hybrid sales formats. 

Christie’s is dedicated to advancing responsible culture throughout its business and communities worldwide, including achieving sustainability through net zero carbon emissions by 2030, and actively using its platform in the art world to amplify under-represented voices and support positive change.

Browse, bid, discover, and join us for the best of art and luxury at: www.christies.com or by downloading Christie’s apps. The COVID-related re-opening status of our global locations is available here.