NEW YORK CITY — Called the “King of Ming,” Robert Hatfield Ellsworth, 85, who started as a general line dealer but developed a reputation as a leading specialist in Chinese art, died on August 3. The New York Times reported that the Manhattan resident suffered injuries in a fall.
Ellsworth began working as an antiques dealer in his teens and credited his first important exposure to Chinese porcelain to Alice Boney, a Manhattan dealer in Asian art.
Early in his career, he operated under the name of Ellsworth & Goldie, Ltd Antiques at 210 East 58th Street in New York City. He was an early exhibitor at the Winter Antiques Show. Between 1996 and 2000, his richly atmospheric displays of Chinese furniture, paintings, porcelain, bronzes and jades were star attractions of the International Asian Art Fair in New York.
“Bob was a wonderful man who did so much to help the International Asian Art Fair. He wanted to support his younger colleagues, and personally, we always had so much fun and laughter with him. We owe him a great debt of gratitude,” said Anna Haughton, co-founder of the fair with her husband, Brian.
Ellsworth’s clients included John D. Rockefeller III, who donated much of his holdings to Asia Society; the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, Mo.; the Museum of Fine Arts Boston; the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
In a statement published in the New York Times on August 8, the Met praised Ellsworth as “one of the most extraordinary dealers of Asian art of his time,” noting that the scholar, author and collector had “amassed one of the world’s greatest private collections of Chinese art, from furniture, jade, metalwork and textiles to painting and calligraphy of the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.”
“Many of these works are now in the collection of the Met, some acquired from Bob Ellsworth through purchase and nearly 500 more as generous gifts over two decades,” wrote Daniel Brodsky, chairman; Thomas P. Campbell, director and CEO; and Emily K. Rafferty, president, respectively, of the museum.
The National Antique and Art Dealers Association, of which Ellsworth was long a member, also mourned Ellsworth’s passing. “He was one of the greatest dealers of Asian art of the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries. He also had a superb private collection of Asian and European art and antiques. An elegant and generous man, he will be sorely missed,” wrote NAADA president James McConnaughy.
In 2012, Christie’s auctioned Ellsworth’s collection of exceedingly rare Chinese bronze mirrors. The Rockefeller Plaza auction house valued the assemblage at more than $1.2 million.