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Henry C. Gibson & Family Collection of Fine and Rare Asian Works of Art heads to auction at Freeman's
Henry C. Gibson home interior, Philadelphia. Lot 150 seen at left, lot 167 seen on the shelf above mantel center right, and lot 157 at right.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Freeman’s Asian Arts auction will kick off the 2014 autumn season on September 13 at 10am. The 702 lot sale boasts works from several private collections including: the Collection of Dr. Morris Shelanski; Property from Glendower, A Historic Estate Near Charlottesville, VA; and Paintings from the Mi Chou Gallery Collection, Part II. The most significant lots in the auction are from the Collection of Henry C. Gibson & Family, which features an assortment of fine and rare artworks from China, Japan, and Tibet that have been privately owned for more than a century. Proceeds from sale of the Gibson collection will benefit the Henry Foundation for Botanical Research.

“The Henry C. Gibson art collection was among the most important in the United States during the second half of the 19th century. Mr. Gibson’s acquisitions in China occurred at a time when that nation and its ruling dynasty were in decline and cultural treasures were available for purchase by Western collectors and enthusiasts. It is fitting that after generations of care and stewardship within the extended Gibson family, these items are likely to be repatriated to their home nation, whose thriving economy and renewed passion for traditional arts is driving today’s strong Asian Arts market. In addition, it’s a matter of great pride, that Freeman’s of Philadelphia is the auction venue for this rare and important collection of Asian artworks assembled by one of Philadelphia’s most important financiers and philanthropists,” said Richard Cervantes, head of Asian Arts.

One of the highlights of the Gibson Collection is lot 157, a large and very rare Imperial Ge-type moon flask from the Yongzheng Emperor’s reign ($200,000-400,000). This monumental flask embodies the refinement in ceramic craftsmanship of Qing imperial potters under the supervision of Tang Ying at Jingdezhen kiln during the early 18th-century. Its smooth, greenish-gray glaze and jinsi tiexian (gold thread and iron wire) craquelure highlights the finest imitation of the definitive Song dynasty Ge wares. The moon flask form, assimilated from "pilgrim bottles,” originates from the ancient Near East during the Iron Age, and ceramic replicas can be found in China dating back to the Han and Tang dynasties. The molded design of the Eight Trigrams testifies to Emperor Yongzheng's personal fondness of the Taoist traditions. Flasks of this shape and size are extremely rare, and only a few examples with this glaze have appeared at auction. Other notable lots include:

 Lot 164 Large and very rare Imperial Chinese cloisonné and gilt bronze censer, Qing Dynasty, 17th/18th century, $50,000-70,000

 Lot 152 Large and rare Chinese embroidered silk door surround, Qing Dynasty, $40,000-60,000

 Lot 162 Fine and rare Chinese white jade “dragons” pendant, Qianlong period, $30,000-50,000

 Lot 158 A large and rare Chinese cinnabar lacquer “Shou” covered box, 18th century, $20,000-40,000

 Lot 167 Very rare and important Japanese Kairakuen ware vase, kabin, Edo period, first half of the 19th century, $20,000-40,000

The most enduring legacy of Henry C. Gibson (1830- 1891) to the city of Philadelphia was his philanthropy and patronage of the arts. His collection of art at his Walnut Street townhouse— redesigned in 1870 by Frank Furness and George Hewitt—was one of the greatest assembled in America. It included Imperial Chinese porcelain and cloisonné enamel, superb European paintings and American sculpture, as well significant holdings of European furniture and works of art.

The son of John Gibson, a bank accountant and founder of a successful Pennsylvania distillery, Henry C. Gibson diversified the family’s holdings while remaining a partner of the distillery for nearly thirty years. As a financier and banker, he was a founder and lifetime director of the Fidelity Insurance, Trust & Safe Deposit Company (later Fidelity Bank), a director at the First National Bank of Philadelphia, a board member of the Philadelphia & Reading Railway Co., and partner in various other enterprises in Philadelphia. His father’s sizable real estate holdings throughout the city and beyond were managed, developed, and periodically sold by Gibson as Philadelphia expanded.

Henry C. Gibson’s philanthropy supported many Pennsylvania cultural and public institutions that remain significant today. He was a long-standing director and later vice president of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, and he bequeathed his collection of paintings and sculpture to the Academy upon his passing in December 1891. He was a founding member of the Park Art Association, which, when it was founded in 1872, was America’s first non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and betterment of public art and urban planning. He was a generous donor to the Academy of Natural Sciences, giving mineral specimens, marble columns, as well as providing funds for Dr. Joseph Leidy's work involving the assembly and display of the bones of Hadrosaurus foulkii discovered in 1858 in New Jersey, the first nearly-complete fossilized skeleton of a dinosaur ever recovered. Along with donations secured for various academic departments at the University of Pennsylvania, Gibson is also remembered for his dedication to public health. He contributed to the University's Hospital that still has a wing that bears his name, as well as to Provost William Pepper's "Institute for Hygiene", the first laboratory of its kind in the country. He was both a donor and trustee of Jefferson Hospital, as well.

Described by friends and relatives as a man of "uncommon tenderness & strength" and with abundant "love of home and family," Gibson taught his granddaughter, Mary K. Gibson Henry, how to pollinate orchids as a young child. He further nurtured her botanical interests by presenting to her a copy of William Robinson’s 1870 book, The Wild Garden. Mary K. Gibson Henry’s lifelong project, the unique wilderness garden inspired by her grandfather’s gift, became the Henry Foundation for Botanical Research in 1949. This institution will be supported by proceeds from this auction.

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