62. A Collector I Did Like, And Why

62. A Collector I Did Like, and Why

This is in some ways a follow-up to no. 58 above, which is partly about the late dealer Walter Hochstadter. I should confess, first of all, that I miswrote the date of his death: it was July of 2007, not 2006. Elizabeth Hammer of Christie's, who sent me the information originally, pointed out the mistake in a later email. I also, in a reply to her, began reminiscing about one of Walter's principal customers, Richard Hobart, and so was inspired to write what follows.

Hobart lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts; he was a retired banker. His wife Janet had, in an earlier marriage as Janet Elliott Wulsin, been an explorer! (according to the Wikipedia biography of her, and another of their daughter Mabel Cabot, whom I knew as Muffie Wentworth, later Brandon—she inherited Hobart's collection on his death, lived in Washington D.C., and at one time was Social Secretary to Nancy Reagan!) Richard Hobart—to get back to him—was a modest collector, not pursuing early paintings, content with Ming-Qing works, and in large part with small pieces, album leaves and handscrolls. But he had a good eye for those, and really enjoyed owning them and living with them. Many of them—most?--came from Walter Hochstadter, and often were parts of larger works that Hochstadter had separated, selling the parts he himself liked least to Hobart, and the best parts, in his estimation, to a museum or bigger collector for a bigger price. Hobart, for instance, owned the twelve leaves of Zhang Hong's Zhi Garden album of 1627 that were left after Hochstadter took out the eight he thought were the best and sold them to the Swiss collector Franco Vannotti. (They are now in the Berlin Museum.) But since Walter's taste was personal and erratic, this did not mean that Hobart ended up with dull, inferior paintings: on the contrary, his collection was distinguished for its time, although not well-known, for the number of genuine and high-quality works in it.

Some time in the late 1950s or early 60s I made a trip to Boston/Cambridge mostly to see Hobart's collection, on his invitation. I spent several enjoyable days looking leisurely at the paintings as he brought them out and sat with me talking about them. I remember being impressed by his real attachment to these paintings—he wasn't the kind of collector (cf. no. 59 above for contrasts) who amassed things by numbers, or depended heavily on the opinions of specialist scholars. But he was also far more modest than those, not thinking of himself as a potential museum, or intent on getting his name on object labels. When I left to return to Washington, Richard Hobart not only took me to the airport, but brought along a few more album leaves for us to look at together while I was waiting for my flight.

So the news of his death in 1963 was especially saddening. And the story I heard of how he died fitted with everything else I had come to know and admire about him. When his wife, suffering from an incurable sickness and in pain, decided to end her life, Richard—although himself in good health—went with her to the garage, where they shut the door, sat in the car, ran the engine, and died together.

Some sixty paintings from his collection were auctioned by Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York (The Richard Bryant Hobart Collection of Chinese Ceramics and Paintings, Part Two. Dec. 12, 1969.) The surprise item, which went for an unexpectedly high price, was no. 263, the twelve-leaf landscape album by Lan Ying, dated 1642, which was bought by the Metropolitan Museum, but against some strong competition. The odd outcome of that event was that owners of Lan Ying paintings—and there were many, since Lan was prolific and his paintings plentiful and inexpensive on the market, in Japan, Taiwan, and presumably mainland China as well—sprang to the wrong conclusion that their Lan Ying works would similarly bring big prices at auction—a false hope, since the Hobart/Met album was very special. Others of Hobart's paintings, including the twelve leaves of the Zhang Hong album, were kept by his daughter Mabel, or Muffie. Hochstadter later got back eight? of the Zhi Garden leaves from her, sold two to the Los Angeles County Museum, and let me have six in trade for paintings of mine that I gave him (and that he later returned.) This is why the album was for a time divided between four collections. It is now in two: LACMA, twelve leaves, and the Berlin Museum, eight. Of which, unfortunately, only one can be exhibited at a time, since after acquiring it they made the bad decision to mount it in the Western and Japanese manner, gluing the leaves together more or less inseparably, instead of the more sensible Chinese manner in which the leaves are attached with dabs of paste at their outer corners, and so can easily be separated and re-attached.

Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...