Dorothy Tapper Goldman’s collection brings new life to early Chinese art

Mrs. Goldman’s Park Avenue penthouse brought together treasures spanning thousands of years of Chinese craftsmanship, from rare porcelains to classical furniture

For Dorothy Tapper Goldman, collecting was one of many artistic passions. Her career as a professor of architecture and interior design at the Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston brought her often to the city’s Museum of Fine Arts where — nurturing a lifelong love of museums and the arts — she became enamoured by their incredible holdings of Chinese art.

Eventually befriending the prominent art dealers Peter Rosenberg and Robert Ellsworth, she was encouraged to shape this admiration for Chinese art — porcelains in particular — into a collection. Numbering well over 100 Ming and Qing dynasty works, her taste shone in a colourful and exquisite selection of works, which will be offered in Important Chinese Art, including The Collection of Dorothy Tapper Goldman, from 21–22 March at Christie’s New York.


7th-19th century porcelains in the living room of Mrs. Goldman's Park Avenue apartment

In her penthouse apartment on New York City’s Park Avenue, Mrs. Goldman organised her porcelains by colour, allowing their individuality to shine while highlighting their historical context. ‘This collection is a great example of how to live with these objects,’ says Margaret Gristina, Senior Specialist in Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. ‘Mrs. Goldman had a variety of works, from monochromes to gilt bronzes and furniture, and her curated vignettes within each room offer beginning collectors an idea of how such objects can enrich a modern interior.’

Her curation produced a dramatic effect in each room, such as the dining room filled with Qing dynasty Dehua porcelains. Named for the county in Fujian province where they were produced, these porcelains have a radiant white colour owing to the local characteristics of the clay, notably its low iron content.

Vases, such as the ‘dragon’ mallet vase, demonstrate the milky purity that characterises Dehua works and makes them so celebrated and desirable, while the gui-form censer illustrates Dehua artists’ masterful eye for decoration.

In contrast to the white porcelain, Mrs. Goldman was also an avid collector of yellow-glazed porcelains, ranging from golden-yellow vases to a moulded lemon-yellow ‘lotus’ dish from the early 18th century.

‘This lotus dish is 300 years old, but it feels so modern,’ says Michael Bass, Christie’s International Director of Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art. ‘That is what Dorothy gravitated towards: pieces that had an elegance that transcended time.’

In the curation of her Park Avenue apartment, this elegance was paramount. A rare Cizhou deep bowl, decorated entirely with butterflies in black slip, was displayed next to modern ink drawings, emphasising a delicate beauty of form that went beyond medium. Dating to the Jin dynasty (1115–1234), the bowl is one of only three published examples.

Amongst the most notable selections from the upcoming sale is the exceptionally rare gilt-bronze ‘goose-neck’ vessel from the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25–220). The distinctive shape has inspired artists throughout Chinese history to revisit it in diverse media from porcelain to cloisonne enamel.

dorothy goldman

The foyer in Mrs. Goldman's Park Avenue apartment

Mrs. Goldman had a taste for the uncommon and exceptional. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the collection’s painted figure of a seated boy, from the Song dynasty. Depictions of boys, suggesting the wish for male children, were prevalent in early Chinese art, but life-size pottery figures like this one are extremely rare.

Nearly 1,000 years old, the figure was exhibited in Children to Immortals: Figural Representations in Chinese Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from 2018 to 2020. Pottery dolls like this one, often adorned with real clothes and jewellery, were made for the Qixi Festival, a celebration of the seventh lunar month in the Chinese calendar.

Beyond ceramics, Mrs. Goldman’s collection includes works in silver, such as the hexalobed cup and stand from the Southern Song-Yuan dynasty, as well as remarkable pieces of classical Chinese furniture. The diversity of these objects reflects the breadth of her interests, which extended to many philanthropic and educational efforts throughout her life.

Many in the collecting world will remember her notable 2021 sale of a rare first printing of the United States Constitution for a record $43 million, the proceeds of which she used to found the Dorothy Tapper Goldman Foundation. The organisation supports educational programs that teach about the founding of America, and provides numerous grants, including an annual Guggenheim Fellowship in Constitutional Studies.

In addition, Mrs. Goldman was a supporter of New York’s Grolier Club, The Manuscript Society in Overland Park, Kansas, as well many other cultural institutions including the Smithsonian, where she championed the inclusion of Native American Art.

Her collection, a testament to her discerning eye and passion for Chinese works of art, stands alone in its remarkable ability to transcend time and to crystallize beauty for generations to come.

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