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This lot is offered without reserve. Christie’s is honored to present the estate of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, a consummate collector, dealer and scholar, whose career spanning six decades made him a prominent and indelible fixture of the Asian art world. His contribution to the appreciation of Asian art in the West has been invaluable in both the private and public sphere, demonstrated by his contributions to almost every major museum collection in the United States. Christened the “the Duveen of Oriental Art Dealers,” and the “King of Ming,” Mr. Ellsworth was the epitome of a tastemaker, inspiring top collectors around the world, including John D. Rockefeller III, Mrs. Vincent Astor, and Christian Humann, to seamlessly combine the aesthetics of Eastern and Western art. While his mark on the fine art world can be seen in museums and collections throughout the world, nowhere were Ellsworth’s influence, taste, and love of Asian art more apparent than in his Fifth Avenue home in New York City, a twenty-three room residence displaying the objects most dear to him. Rare and exquisite Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian bronzes were placed prominently alongside exceptional Chinese furniture and distinguished Western décor. Many of these bronzes came from the famous Pan-Asian Collection, which represented the full scope of aesthetic and spiritual traditions throughout India, the Himalayas, and Southeast Asia. Assembled my Mr. Christian Humann in the 1950s and 60s, this vast and significant collection was curated with the help of Mr. Ellsworth, who first introduced Mr. Humann to Asian art. A large selection of works from the Pan-Asian collection was exhibited in The Sensuous Immortals, curated by Dr. P. Pal in 1977. Several exceptional works presented in The Ellsworth Collection were included in this exhibition and published in the accompanying catalogue (lots 12, 27, 33, 38, and 1070), and many others were exhibited at the Denver Museum of Art and at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (lots 13, 15, 16, 28, 30, 32, 37, 39, 701, 778, 791, and 793). Characterizing the collection, Dr. Pal wrote in the opening to the accompanying publication, The Sensuous Immortals, “there is no doubt in my mind that it is by far the most important and comprehensive collection of South and Southeast Asian sculptures in private hands today.” Mr. Ellsworth acquired the Pan-Asian collection following Mr. Humann’s death in 1981, and over time, several works entered important private and public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The works from Mr. Ellsworth’s home were artfully displayed, surrounding him as he lived and worked. An iconic bronze figure of a Mahasiddha and a jewel of a Tang dynasty gilt-bronze Buddha greeted him when he awoke in the morning (lots 8 and 762); fine Khmer sculptures and Chinese works of art lined the hallways between rooms in his Park Avenue apartment (lots 24, 36, 37, 771, 773, 774, and 784); rare and early Thai bronzes accompanied him at his desk (lots 28 and 29); and an important Javanese Ganesha and a granite Chola Brahmani graced his study (lots 32 and 38). Further Indian, Southeast Asian, and Himalayan sculptures and paintings danced on mantles (lot 26) and antique Chinese tables and desks throughout the apartment. In keeping with the original intention of the Pan-Asian collection, Mr. Ellsworth’s artworks spanned millennia from the Neolithic period onwards and represent a broad range of cultures, regions, and artistic traditions, including China, India, ancient Gandhara, Nepal, Tibet, Japan, Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia. Each is a masterwork on its own, emblematic of the extraordinary sophistication and elegant taste of Robert H. Ellsworth and his collection.


Seated in padmasana, hands resting in dhyanamudra, the Indian mystic sits with a slightly turned head covered in thick tufts of hair, his face with wide-open eyes, rounded nose, and slightly parted lips, his nude fleshy body with a rich patina
13 ½ in. (34.2 cm.) high
Christian Humann (d. 1981), New York, before 1976, named the Pan-Asian Collection by 1977.
Collection of Robert H. Ellsworth, New York, acquired in May 1982.
C. Reedy, “Tibetan Bronzes: Technical Observations,” On the Path to the Void: Buddhist Art of the Tibetan Realm, 1996, pp. 165-168, figs. 4-6.
C. Reedy, Himalayan Bronzes, 1997, cover ill. and p. 193, fig. W134.
M. Rhie, et al., Wisdom and Compassion: The Sacred Art of Tibet, 2000, p. 46, fig. 8.
On loan to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1976-1982 (L.76.24.142).
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This lot is offered without reserve.

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Lot Essay

A masterwork of early Tibetan bronze sculpture and one of Mr. Ellsworth’s most cherished works of art, this superlative depiction of a seated Indian adept, or as Mr. Ellsworth affectionately called him “Yogi”, exudes intensity and power. Rendered in portrait-like fashion, the figure sits in the lotus position, his hands in a gesture of meditation. Though the identification of this figure is not confirmed, his thick coils of tufted hair and a wide-eyed gaze bear close comparison to depictions of the great Indian sage, Padampa Sangye.

The historical Padampa came to Tibet from India in the second half of the 11th century. According to legend, his father Viryavarman was from a family of jewel merchants and was perhaps also a sea captain. Padampa's mother, Barasaha, was from a family of incense-makers. Padampa is said to have been a skye ba bdun pa, one "born as a Brahmin for seven births in a row." Padampa travelled widely throughout his life and spent many years practicing meditation in sacred Buddhist sites, including Bodh Gaya in North India and Svayambhunath Stupa, in the Kathmandu Valley. He also practiced in jungles and cemeteries throughout South Asia, including the famous cemetery of Sitavana where many Buddhist adepts trained. He spent the final years of his life in retreat and teaching in Dingri in Southern Tibet.

The Ellsworth figure can be compared with four other works depicting Padampa Sangye. The first is from the collection of Nyingjei Lam, (R. Linrothe, Holy Madness: Portraits of Tantric Siddhas, 2006, pp. 362-323, cat. no. 78) and shows Padampa Sangye seated in a gesture of pacification with a cloth loosely draped over his shoulder and legs. The second, a 14th century painting from the collection of Stuart Cary Welch, (himalayanart.org, item no. 59965) depicts the brown-skinned sage with his hands performing the gesture of teaching. A third portrayal, a painting from the collection of the Rubin Museum depicts a seated blue figure with the name Dampa Gyagar Nagchung, another title for Padampa Sangye, in an inscription on the reverse of the painting (himalayanart.org item no. 89141). The fourth, also from the Rubin Museum, is a 15th century sculpture of Padampa who is shown seated with his right hand raised in a gesture of salutation. All share three distinguishing features of Padampa Sangye: the presence of thick, pointed tufts of hair, a symbol of asceticism; an intense wide-eyed gaze, suggesting an awakened state of consciousness; and a robust nude or partially nude body, indicative of yogic prowess.

One of the earliest known sculptural depictions of a mystic, the Ellsworth image powerfully captures the concept of the icon as a vessel for transmitting benedictions. The intensity of his gaze, exaggerated by a high thin brow, commands the viewer to make eye contact and imbibe the teacher’s wisdom. His thickly coiled hair resembles the snail shell-like curls of the Buddha. The prana-filled torso conveys the vigor and strength of an accomplished yogi. Padampa had a magnetic personality, and the master artist who realized this sculpture has infused it with the same intense wisdom as the master teacher.

Placed on his bedroom headboard, Mr. Ellsworth slept beneath the watchful gaze of this ancient master. So cherished was this sculpture in the Ellsworth household that when it was sent to the Los Angeles County Museum in the mid 1980s for a metallurgic survey, his housekeeper, noticing the work had been removed, threatened to resign if the beloved work was not returned promptly. Eventually returned to its rightful place on the headboard and never to travel again, harmony was restored to the Ellsworth household (Anita Christy, "Not for Sale: A Few of Robert Ellsworth's Favourite Possessions", Orientations 22 no., 6 June 1991, p. 56-62). Rarely do works of such iconic and supreme distinction come onto the market.

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