Florence and Herbert Irving’s Asian art trove goes to auction

Chinese, Himalayan, Japanese and Korean treasures amassed by New York’s beloved civic leaders go on sale at Christie’s New York

Rare 11th-12th century gilt-bronze figure of a multi-armed Guanyin figure, estimated at $4m-$6m
Rare 11th-12th century gilt-bronze figure of a multi-armed Guanyin figure, estimated at $4m-$6m

New York’s Asian Art Week is brought to vivid life this March in a series of Christie’s auctions, in which the treasures of Florence and Herbert Irving – two of the city’s most revered philanthropists and civic leaders – go under the hammer.

Scholar at Writing Desk by Fu Baoshi (1904-1965), estimated at $800,000-$1.2m
Scholar at Writing Desk by Fu Baoshi (1904-1965), estimated at $800,000-$1.2m
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The couple amassed one of the world’s most extraordinary private collections of Chinese, Himalayan, Japanese and Korean art during their lifetime. They donated much of it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, culminating in the opening of the landmark’s Florence and Herbert Irving Wing, but the remainder (some 400 treasures ranging from ceramics to gilt bronzes and European decorative objets) will go on sale in New York on March 20 and 21. An online auction focusing on Yixing pottery will also run consecutively from March 19 to 26.

Florence and Herbert Irving with a selection of Japanese lacquer works from their collection
Florence and Herbert Irving with a selection of Japanese lacquer works from their collection | Image: Fred R Conrad
Jade Twin Fish dish featuring a poem by Emperor Qianlong on the bottom, estimated at $1m-$1.5m
Jade Twin Fish dish featuring a poem by Emperor Qianlong on the bottom, estimated at $1m-$1.5m

Among the standout pieces in the trove is an important and extremely rare 11th-12th-century gilt-bronze figure of a multi-armed Guanyin from Yunnan province in the Dali Kingdom, which is estimated at $4m-$6m. There is also a rare imperially inscribed green-white jade Twin Fish dish (estimated at $1m-$1.5m) featuring a poem by the Emperor Qianlong on the underside. The piece is dated to the cyclical bingwu year corresponding to 1786.

Qing dynasty jade buffalo, estimated at $80,000-$120,000
Qing dynasty jade buffalo, estimated at $80,000-$120,000
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Among the works on paper is Fu Baoshi’s Scholar at Writing Desk, an intimate scene of a man at work depicted in ink and colour on scroll (estimated at $800,000-$1.2m), while those crafted in precious materials include a large jade figure of a recumbent buffalo from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) with an estimate of $80,000-$120,000; and an 11th-12th-century Tibetan silver and copper inlaid bronze figure of a Buddha (estimated at $100,000-$150,000) – all personal possessions that took pride of place in the Irvings’ New York City home.

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