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Art Collector with a Chinese Heart


Ellsworth, the prestigious late art dealer and collector of Asian art, devoted his life to loving, collecting and dealing Asian art. However, these art treasures will be dispersed into collectors across the world in the wake of his death in August at age 85, except those donated to museums like the British Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ellsworth on Mount Huangshan in Anhui province during his trip to China in 1995.
 Chinese art

A major part of Ellsworth’s legacy is Chinese art, which he started collecting during childhood although he didn’t know a Chinese word.

A room at Robert H.Ellsworth’s apartment on Fifth Avenue in New York.
 Chinese art

He was the first to bring Ming Dynasty furniture to the West in the 1950s. He made himself an expert on it and wrote a book, Chinese Furniture: Hardwood Examples of the Ming and early Ch’ing Dynasties, in the 1970s, even earlier than Chinese scholars’ books on the subject.

Because of his obsession with Chinese art and his unique taste, in the 1960s, Ellsworth began collecting Chinese paintings of the 19th and early 20th centuries, a period that has been neglected by art historians.

Ellsworth’s collecting of Chinese art reached a climax when China and the US established diplomatic ties in the 1970s.

In addition to his collection, Ellsworth also set up the Chinese Heritage Art Foundation in Hong Kong in the 1990s, dedicated to repairing the ancient houses of the Ming and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties in Huangshan in Anhui province. At that time, most Chinese didn’t realize the value of the structures in Huangshan’s ancient villages.

 Chinese art
Two pieces of porcelain in his collection.
 Chinese art

For years, Ellsworth had bought and sold countless antique objects. But the ones he kept at his houses were those he wanted to live with. “If you don’t want to stay with your collections day and night, then don’t buy them,” he advised prospective collectors.

In the 20th century, many treasured Chinese antiques and artworks were lost during war times. Ellsworth was one of the first Western collectors to seek them out and became an expert and scholar on Chinese art.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com

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