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Carol Conover. Obituary: Remembering Lily Schloss (1922-2012)

In early December 2008, Lilly Schloss called to ask if I would write an obituary – her own – for one of our favourite magazines, Orientations. I was honoured, but a little shocked by her candour. She did add that she hoped ‘it would not be soon!’ Humour was one of many of Lilly’s endearing qualities. The following day I received a Rosenthal Collection catalogue; on the cover was a Han dynasty tower that had been bought from Lilly, who had a passion for such objects. At one point, after she had bought several Han dynasty towers, a colleague of mine said Lilly had cornered the Han dynasty real estate market. She was always busy, even while she was thinking about her ‘afterlife’: enjoying her collection, doing a little business, and keeping up with her wonderful family – her adored daughter Simone and three granddaughters.

I knew Lilly for 35 years. We met in 1977 at Sotheby’s on Madison Avenue, where I was a very junior cataloguer in the Chinese department. She would arrive with her husband Ezekiel to view what was coming up in the Chinese art sales. I remember how stylish she was. She always had a continental air about her, cycling with impossibly thin ankles around Manhattan. As a veteran teacher at Washington Irving High School, Lilly taught several generations of New Yorkers to speak French. Her life was like a movie: picture her husband Zeke, from Latvia, a Jewish political cartoonist, and Lilly, an educator and a Catholic, honeymooning in 1952 in Mexico City, where they bought their first art objects.

Their lifelong passion for collecting began with pre-Columbian, Egyptian, Greek and Roman art, but in the 1960s they turned to early Chinese tomb figures, dating from the 2nd century BCE to the 9th century CE. The arc of their collecting started before the US recognized China, and peaked at a time when the collecting of early Chinese art in the US was all the rage. Zeke wrote what may be the definitive book on the subject, Ancient Chinese Ceramic Tomb Sculpture from Han through T’ang (Stamford, CT, 1977). After he died in 1987, right up until last month, Lilly dealt with all the major museums and collectors herself. She was charming, generous, fair and intelligent, and had a good head for business. Lilly will be remembered by her many friends in the art world as the ‘real thing’ when we speak of collectors. Her passion was infectious and her grace disarming.

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