Florence and Herbert Irving’s MET Asian Art Collection At Sotheby’s

During September, more than 300 Chinese works from the Florence and Herbert Irving’s MET Asian Art Collection will be offered for sale by Sotheby’s.

Back in 1969, Herbert Irving co-founded the company Sysco. Through hard work and dedication, the company was listed in 1970 and by 2009, Fortune ranked Sysco number 204 in the Fortune 500 companies based on sales. Subsequently, Sysco grew to become one of the world’s leading food product distribution company with sales of up to US$58 billion. This exceptional success brought with it great wealth to Florence and Herbert Irving.

But, despite his talent and great success, Mr Irving has not been remembered as a formattable businessman since his passing in 2016. Rather, he and his wife, who sadly passed on last year as well, have become synonymous with philanthropy. This included supporting medical facilities, education (The Irvings donated more than $900 million in 30 years to Columbia University and New York-Presbyterian Hospital alone) and of course the arts.

Herbert and Florence Irving’s love affair with Asian art began many years ago in the Asian Galleries of the Brooklyn Museum of Art. What first drew them in was the exquisite beauty of lacquer. But it wasn’t long after the love affair started that the couple would stop admiring the work alone and started collecting themselves.

Their collection started with a beautiful Qianlong-period brush pot. From there, the collection grew to include various works not just from China but also from Southeast Asia, India, Korea and Japan.

But there was another life-long love affair brewing and that was between the Irving’s and the MET. Their scholarly approach to collection ensured that the bond between the couple and the museum grew ever closer. Then, in 1990, Florence Irving was elected as museum Trustee and then as Trustee Emerita in 1996.

The true cementing of this relationship came in 1994 when the Florence and Herbert Irving Galleries for South and Southeast Asian Art building was opened. This completely transformed the MET’s offering and gave them the most extensive display space of these arts anywhere outside of Asia.

It was therefore no surprise that when the large announcement came in March 2015. Florence and Herbert Irving would gift the MET 1 275 Asian works to their collection. This incredible gift of generosity completely transformed the holdings of the MET’s Department of Asian Art.

The Irving’s realised that when such an extensive collection is to be added to an existing collection there is sure to be duplicate works. As such, the couple agreed that after assessment of the collection had taken place, the MET could sell any of the works on the condition that the proceeds of the sale would go towards future acquisitions.

Due to this incredible act of patronage, during Sotheby’s Asia Week Sale in September 2019, more than 300 Chinese works of the Florence and Herbert Irving’s MET Asian Art Collection will be offered for sale.

The Head of Sotheby’s Chinese Works of Art Department in New York, Angela McAteer commented: “It is a privilege to work with The Met this autumn to help bring these exceptional works to collectors worldwide. Our sales are representative of the Irvings’ exceptional taste in the Chinese art, which features a strong emphasis on organic materials and works hewn from nature, as well as extraordinary Chinese jades produced during the reign of the Qianlong emperor.”

The sale, with too many highlights to mention, includes A Finely Carved Large Spinach-Green Jade ‘Immortals’ Brushpot from the Qing Dynasty during the Qianlong Period. This exceptional item is expected to fetch between US$500-700 000.

Other highlights include a rare Celadon and Russet Jade ‘Quail and Millet’ Boulder, estimated to fetch between US$150-250 000, a White and Apple-Green Jadeite ‘Landscape’ Table Screen, estimated to sell for around US$120 000 and a Carved Limestone Head of a Bodhisattva from the Sui Dynasty, expected to also fetch around US$120 000.

Public exhibitions for all of Sotheby’s Asia Week auctions, including Florence and Herbert Irving’s MET Asian Art Collection, will be open on 6 September at Sotheby’s New York Galleries.

Daniel Norgaard

Arts & Culture Editor

Originally from Denmark, Daniel Nørgaard serves as the Arts & Culture Editor at Salon Prive Magazine. He and his team covers the latest news from the world of Arts, Music, Theater and Literature from around the world.

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