Eskenazi, Godfather of Chinese Antiques, Shares His Story of Becoming Antiques Dealer

In our previous article, the Value interviewed Giuseppe Eskenazi, one of the world’s most esteemed dealers of Chinese Art. The Godfather of Chinese Antiques talked to us about a staggering increase in the value of the first piece he bought over 50 years ago.

The purchase has proven Eskenazi’s discerning eye and exquisite taste in Chinese art. When he was asked about the feeling of being a top dealer, Eskenazi replied straight away: ‘I am not top.’

Q: How do you feel being a top dealer?

Eskenazi: I am not top, there are many tops. William Chak is top; Lally in New York is top; Marchant is top in Qing porcelain. There are many top people and we are all trying to do the best in our field. I don’t have this sense of competition about wanting to be the top, paying the highest price or becoming the most successful person. I try to do my job.

William Chak

James Lally

Richard Marchant

When humbleness, passion for his job, and appreciation towards peers all add up together, they form Eskenazi’s formula to success. Mr. Eskenazi has made it sound so easy as he is simply ‘trying to do his job’ but tremendous effort must have been devoted to it, especially for someone who started as an outsider, like him, an Italian getting into the field of Chinese art.

Eskenazi in the 1960s

Q: You are from Italy. How did you develop an interest in Chinese art and become a Chinese Antiques dealer?

Eskenazi: I was at university doing Medicine because a large part of my family were doctors. This is what I wanted to do. My great uncle had started a family business in Milan in 1923. In 1960, they started a branch in London. And my father went on but then he died young. There was a choice whether they close the business or am I prepared to help. I said I was prepared to help and I realized I cannot carry on studying while helping. And I made a decision to give up Medicine and go into the antiques business.

Eskenazi (continues): The original idea was that we found good things at the right prices and send them to the Milan gallery which was started in 1923. By 1960, they already had a lot of experience, clients, and collectors. But then I didn’t want to leave London and go back to Milan. I found that it was very restricted. I wanted to be in a more international city, like London.

Q: How did you acquire your expertise that everyone admires?

Eskenazi: I thought Chinese Art is a very difficult subject so I read as much as I could. I also believe in actually seeing pieces so I went to the V&A museum once a week. And other museums like the British Museum and Percival David.

V&A Museum

Eskenazi: There were two people who helped me the most in my career. One was Edward T. Chow from Shanghai, who later moved to Hong Kong and then Geneva. He took a protection or liking to me and helped me to learn by showing me pieces that were better and genuine. He explained to me why they were genuine. And the other person was Margaret Medley, who was the head of Percival David Foundation.

Percival David Collection in British Museum

Eskenazi (continues): Then I realized the only way to really learn is by looking. But looking is not enough. By looking, you don’t see. You got to see and penetrate through the surface. See what makes it right and that takes more time. I started going to auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s. They were held every month in the past. So I went and looked at something, read the description. And then went to museums to compare similar pieces. That’s how I slowly acquired my knowledge.

Edward T. Chow.

Eskenazi: I have been coming to Hong Kong since about 1965. There are a lot of things to see on Hollywood Road. Though they were not museums but the early, enthusiastic collectors all gathered there. That’s where I met Edward T. Chow.

For readers interested in knowing more about the Godfather of Antiques, from his beloved football team to regret in his life. Please stay tuned for the next part of our interview with Eskenazi.