Born and raised in Columbus, Georgia, William Arnett grew up in the American South during its era of racial segregation. In the early 1960s, shortly after graduating from the University of Georgia, he left the US for London, to work as the European representative of an American manufacturer.
During the mid-1960s he was drawn more eastward, to India, to Southeast Asia, and to the art of China. From 1966 to 1970, Arnett made six extended trips to Asia to study and acquire art with repeated visits to Hong Kong and Singapore to purchase Chinese jade and porcelain. His interest in the totality of Chinese civilization, and his inclusive approach to aesthetics, meant he did not restrict his jade acquisitions to a single epoch or style. He was most interested in artistic continuities across time, from the Shang to the later dynasties. Beginning in September 1973, his Chinese jade collection—some 250 pieces—spent several years on loan to Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.
As a devotee not only of art, but also the beliefs and traditions that inform it, Arnett sought to explore and understand the diversity, as well as the commonalities, of the world’s civilizations. He came to believe art occupies a central place in the self-conception of every culture. As he would later write, “Art, with its ability to unify and transform a population, could be as much a cause as an effect of a great civilization.”
(For Arnett’s full biography, please refer to lot 94)