With some 2000 lots, the catalogue itself has six volumes and is presented in a smart box set for a whopping £185. The buyers will have had to navigate the not inconsiderable St Patrick's Day parade, traversing Fifth Avenue on March 17th is not for the faint hearted. But they will have succeeded, as a more exciting private collection and the largest to come on the market in many years cannot be found elsewhere. One might contest the word private collection, as with any dealer, items even in the home are for sale for the right price.

1_W Ellworth at home, image courtesy Christie’s images

The largely self taught Ellsworth, started his life buying and selling, like all great dealers do. He was born with a trader's instinct and saw the possibility in turning round items quickly for a profit, once even selling sulphur to the Italians, gleaned from his father's dentist clinic to treat syphilis sufferers in Italy. Early on Ellsworth met Alice Boney, known as the Doyenne of Asian art, who led him carefully and successfully to embark on his career. She introduced him to important clients, and opened a multitude of doors for him. But it was his own force, wit and charm, natural ability to absorb the essence of Chinese art and culture, which brought him even further.

He lived and worked in great splendour on Fifth Avenue, in a building where the average net worth is supposedly 200 million dollars. It was from this panelled elegant 20-room apartment that he dealt, inviting le beau monde to legendary parties, unfailingly clutching a bourbon with crushed ice, in a Queen Anne silver beaker.

2_W Image courtesy Christie’s Images.

He had a fine ability to combine Western and Asian art beautifully, to form an exquisite home, often photographed and reported upon in glossy magazines. In his drawing room, guests walked on a carpet on which the emperor Qianlong had also trodden and were surrounded by countless treasures of bronzes, porcelain, silver, European furniture and works of art.

3_W The foyer of Ellworth’s apartment, image courtesy Christie’s Images

He counted among his friends and clients John D. Rockefeller III who once asked him whether he had to live better than his clients. Ellsworth replied, 'No. I just have better taste'. He sold works to many of the greatest museums in the world, but all the while donating, curating and writing, so his legacy is not just from a money earning perspective.

Sir Joseph Hotung and Christian Humann were esteemed clients, Humanns collection was built with Ellsworth as advisor, and then bought by Ellsworth after Humann's death in 1981. He also helped build up Hotungs famous collection of jades.

He had a lifelong love story with China, which began in 1979 when he was offered to buy items confiscated in the Cultural Revolution. Concentrating on paintings, he then wrote a book on the subject of 19th/20th century painting, and then donated the paintings illustrated in it to the Met forming the backbone of their later Chinese paintings collection, exhibited there in a much lauded exhibition. He later established the Chinese Heritage Art Foundation, a Hong Kong based charity focused on the restoration of historic buildings in Huangshan, central China.

4_W Historic building in Hangshan. Image courtesy of Christie’s images

Previously he had sold a group of Ming furniture to the Met that with Brooke Astor's funding and enthusiasm became the Astor Chinese Garden Court. His book on Ming furniture set the standard for specialists worldwide.

6_W The Astor Chinese Garden Court, 1981, image courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Dubbed the 'King of Ming', he has been likened to the most famous of all dealers Duveen, whose name in association with the items, raised the value of in his case, paintings and other works of art.

7_W Ellsworth with Brooke Astor at the Metropolitan, 1988, image courtesy of Robert Hatfield Ellsworth Estate

A further report will follow on the highlights from the sale, which is ongoing at the time of writing. Unfortunately writing this on the wrong side of the Atlantic, I can only rely on reports from friends. Lee Young of Lyon & Turnbull auctioneers told me yesterday on the phone that the first evening's sale was like a 'rock concert'. Rock on, Asian Art! And thank you for this, Mr Ellsworth.

8_W Photo courtesy of NY Times

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