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.