Chinese Works of Art

The Nickerson Collection of Chinese Jades

Sotheby’s is honored to present a group of jades from The Art Institute of Chicago, many of which hail from the collections of prominent Chicago collectors and philanthropists including Katherine S. Buckingham, Chauncey Brooks and Marion Deering McCormick, and Samuel and Matilda Nickerson. Nine impressive jades from the storied Nickerson collection are included, including two magnificent Qing dynasty jade brushpots.

S amuel Mayo Nickerson (1830-1914), an 8th generation American born in Massachusetts, left New England early in his adulthood in search of opportunity and a promising career. Following a generally unproductive time running a general store with his brother in Florida, he embarked on a new venture. He moved to Chicago around 1860 and found success starting and running his own distillery. He quickly parlayed the profits of his liquor business into a more reputable career as a banker, as founder, vice president (1865- 1867) and then, president of the First National bank (1867-1898). He was elected president of the Chicago City Horse Railway company in 1865 which later became the Chicago City Railway company. The affluence that resulted from these prominent positions allowed him to indulge his passion for art.

In this cultural quest, he had an important ally in his wife née Matilda Pinkham Crosby (1837-1912). In 1881, the couple hired one of Chicago’s most prominent architects, Edward J. Burling (1819– 1892) along with three interior designers to plan, build and decorate a massive new home for the family. Nickerson House, known as the ‘Marble Palace’, was reported to be the largest and most extravagant private residence in Chicago at the time of its completion in 1883. Now the Driehaus Museum, the building has been meticulously renovated in order to highlight its Gilded Age splendor. The Nickersons were very involved in the design of the house, particularly concerning the display of their art collection. Their taste was eclectic, combining 19th century Western paintings, prints, and drawings with 18th and 19th century Asian decorative arts, including Chinese and Japanese ceramics, Japanese inro, netsuke, and other lacquers, Indian jewelry, Mughal jades, and an impressive collection of Chinese jades.

Photo of the Nickerson Galleries, Art Institute of Chicago, circa 1900. The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY.

The couple’s passion for the arts extended into their philanthropic endeavors. Mr. Nickerson served as a founding trustee of The Art Institute of Chicago and a prime initiator in the development of both the Chicago Historical Society and Lincoln Park. In 1900, upon his retirement from the bank and a planned move to New York City, the Nickersons presented The Art Institute of Chicago with more than 1,300 works of art, including the present selection of jades. Like many wealthy collectors of the time, the Nickersons purportedly acquired their Asian works of art during several world tours that included Japan, China, and India. The original Nickerson gift included Imperial Chinese porcelains and jades that were frequently exhibited in the galleries. The Nickersons were closely involved with the installation of the galleries that bore their name. For years, Mrs. Nickerson personally oversaw the periodic cleaning and rearranging of the art in the galleries. In addition to the art, Samuel Nickerson provided a generous endowment to the museum in 1915. The extraordinary group of jades on offer from the Nickerson Collection provides an opportunity to engage a new generation of connoisseurs and collectors, and ensures that the Nickerson legacy will endure.

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