The more than 2,000-lot Asian art collection of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth (1929-2014), the renowned New York Asian art dealer and collector, brought $134 million, catapulting Christie’s Asian Week sale series last month to a total of $163.5 million, the highest total ever for Asian Art Week in New York.
The five live auctions that attracted bidding from 24 countries achieved $131.6 million and set four world-auction records, and the online-only auction, with bidding from 22 countries, achieved $2.4 million.
The top selling lot was a set of four 17th-century Ming huanghuali horseshoe-back armchairs that was purchased by an Asian private for $9.68 million (the estimate was $800,000-$1.2 million), the highest price ever paid at auction for huanghuali furniture. A rare wood from trees grown on China’s southern island of Hainan, it was reserved mainly for furniture made for the court or the wealthy and is now nearly extinct.
A 13th-century gilt-bronze figure of Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of compassion, sold for $8.23 million (estimate $2 million-$3 million), setting a record for Nepalese sculpture, and an 11th-/12th-century bronze figure of a seated yogi brought $4.87 million (estimate $1 million-$1.5 million), setting a record for a Tibetan sculpture. A ninth-century figure of the god Shiva Gangadhara Nataraja, which sat on the living room mantel in Ellsworth’s 22-room Fifth Avenue apartment that served as his home and gallery, sold for $2.85 million (against $2 million-$3 million), setting a record for an Indian bronze.
The top ceramics lot was an extremely rare 15th-/16th-century Ming cloisonne enamel “dragon” jar and cover that sold for $2.42 million against a $1 millon-$1.5 million estimate.
Ellsworth’s English and European furniture was topped by a circa 1745 George II mahogany rusticated library bookcase that brought $485,000 against a $100,000-$140,000 estimate.
The first US dealer to visit newly opened China in the 1970s, Ellsworth had an interest in Asian objects dating to his youth when he started collecting Chinese postage stamps. By his teens he was collecting snuff bottles that he later sold to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and by his early 20s he was working for a New York antiques dealer.
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A 600-year-old album of Chinese scrolls was the top seller at Sotheby’s Asian Week auctions, soaring from a $100,000-$150,000 estimate to $14 million, the highest price paid at any Asian Week auction.
A 31-minute battle between 15 bidders for the album ended with Liu Yiqian of Shanghai placing the winning bid over the phone. A 51-year-old self-made billionaire, who left school at 14 to make handbags that his mother sold from a street stand, Yiqian is chairman of the Sunline Group with interests in chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and financial services. China’s biggest art collector, he and his wife, Wang Wei, founded the Long Museum in Shanghai, which they opened to the public in 2012.
Last April, Yaqian paid $36 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong auction for the Ming dynasty “chicken cup,” and in November he paid $45 million at Christie’s Hong Kong auction for a 15th-century Tibetan embroidered silk thangka, a tapestry depicting Buddha. The 3½-inch-diameter porcelain cup, nicknamed the “chicken cup” for its decoration of a rooster, hen, and chicks, an allegorical representation of the emperor, empress, and his subjects, is considered the “holy grail” of the Chinese art world. Only 17 are known to exist, 13 of which are in museums.
Rare ceramics were among the other top sellers at Sotheby’s Asian Week auctions that totaled $79.2 million
They were led by the storied circa 1420 Ming blue and white Mahin Banu “Grape” dish that sold for $5.1 million against a $2.5 million-$3.5 million estimate. The 17-inch-diameter serving dish painted with bunches of grapes in tones of cobalt blue takes its name from one of its early owners, Princess Mahin Banu, daughter of Shah Ismail I of Persia. From 1968-1991 it was on loan and displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Another extremely rare offering was the 8-inch-diameter Ding ware porcelain bowl from China’s Northern Song dynasty (960-1127). The glazed white bowl, its interior finely engraved with peonies, was fired in the Ding kiln, one of the five most famous kilns in the Song dynasty.
Jade seals were also among the top offerings, with an 18th-century imperial jade seal from the Qianlong period of the Qing dynasty selling for $4.4 million, nearly tripling the high of its $1 million-$1.5 million estimate, and a pale celadon jade seal selling for $1.6 million, more than 54 times the high of its $20,000-$30,000 estimate.
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A 5½-foot 16th-/17th-century Ming dynasty gilt-lacquer figure of Vairocana, the Buddha of wisdom, was the top seller at James D. Julia’s auction last month of the Asian art collection of Dr. Hilda Wall-Apelt of New York. It sold for $379,000 or more than six times the high of its $40,000-$60,000 estimate.
A small, rectangular jade table screen from the mid-late Qing dynasty and a pair of jade late- 18th/early-19th-century palace-style 7½-inch-diameter bowls were among the top selling jade objects. The screen designed to be used on a scholar’s desk or as a table adornment sold for $59,250 (against $20,000-$30,000) and the bowls for $41,475 (against $30,000-$50,000).
A 2-foot bronze Ming (1368-1644) image of Amida, the “Buddha of Immeasurable Life and Light,” also sold for $41,475, which was nearly seven times the high of its $4,000-$6,000 estimate.
Other lots soaring over their estimates included a Ming dynasty 7¾-inch-long jade carving of a carp ($37,020 against $300-$500), a 17th-/18th-century Tibet gilt bronze model of a snow lion ($35,440 against $1,000-$2,500), and a late-18th-/early-19th-century nephrite bowl encircled around the rim by four high-relief animal heads supporting rings ($28,440 against $4,000-$6,000).firstname.lastname@example.org.