Lipton, William

A 17th century Chinese huanghuali waisted Kang table with Ruyi carving

p4A ItemID D9852621
A 17th century Chinese nanmu triangular side table

p4A ItemID D9852613
A Jumu plank bench with recessed legs and carved spandrels from early Qing Dynasty China

p4A ItemID D9849693
Chinese altar table, Qing Dynasty, nanmu wood with plank top & legs, scroll apron & legs

p4A ItemID D9807152

William Lipton: Dealer, Scholar, Collector

William Lipton’s first journey to Asia occurred in the early 1970′s. He was immediately seduced by the culture of the East, and arranged for a return the following year with Jim Thompson at the Thai Silk Company, where he remained for six years, ultimately as the director of design. During this period he traveled extensively throughout Asia, often accompanied and advised by the Hong Kong dealer Charlotte Horstmann.

“I would spend hour upon hour in Charlotte’s shop, examining each work she had for sale,” said Mr. Lipton. “She could make a work of Asian art come alive, but at times I know I must have gotten in the way. She would send me away to one of the old Peking dealers, telling them they weren’t allowed to let me come back for three hours, but this was equally entertaining and educational. Each dealer would tell me his stories stretching back generations, passed down with great care and retold in ways that made me feel as if I had stepped back into the Qing dynasty.”

In 1989 Mr. Lipton made the leap from collector to dealer, opening William Lipton, Ltd. in Manhattan. Over the years he created many seminal exhibitions, beginning with From Far Away in 1993, which showcased regional furniture from the Shanxi Province. As would be true in many of his later shows, the exhibition introduced the West to pieces that were relatively unknown to our shores – in this case, furniture from a specific region, made of relatively unfamiliar woods. While a piece would rarely surface at auction, the Lipton exhibition was the first to identify the style and iconography of Shanxi.

Other major exhibitions included Honorable Gentleman, featuring a collection of extraordinary Chinese bamboo furniture from the Southern Shanxi Province, and The Wondrous and Amenable Stool, in which he displayed over 100 stools, displayed by style and chronology, allowing the exhibition to convey the rich variation and meaning that can be contained within a single, simple furniture type.

A Lipton exhibition was always unusual, and a Lipton catalogue could always be looked to as a rich source of accurate information and scholarship. His gallery was never conventional, as his presentations were always created to convey context through the utilization of groups and vignettes. Rather than placing an item on a pedestal, he preferred to show the differences between similar objects and felt strongly that the placement of art always involves the juxtaposition of the work against its setting.

Mr. Lipton’s client base was exclusive, populated with well-heeled and knowledgeable collectors, many of whom had traveled the world many times over. His evenings were almost always spent reading and researching, as a client’s query always deserved a thoughtful (and correct) reply. His innate ability as a collector was honed to connoisseurship in these late evenings and on his worldwide wanderings, as will be evident to those who examine The William Lipton Collection: Chinese Objects in Literati Taste, Furniture & Other Asian Works of Art, presented at auction by Freeman’s on Monday December 10, 2007.

Mr. Lipton approached the assembly of his private collection with a penchant for subtlety, influenced by the Chinese appreciation of balance, harmony and rationality rather than opulence. “We prefer the plain forms of Chinese furniture that have the least amount of carving. They fit with our less-is-more attitude. When the Chinese made these simple forms, they had something else in mind. They were imitating utilitarian objects using elaborate joinery and expensive materials. The finished object implies a sense of humor and is loaded with meaning, while still being functional. The idea is both seminal and sublime.”

Biographical sketch courtesy of Freeman’s, December 2007.

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