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The Imperial Collection & J.P. Morgan: Chinese art news, 3-9 July

July 9, 2010

This week the New York Times reported on a joint project between Beijing’s Palace Museum and Taipei’s National Palace Museum. In what has been called “museum diplomacy,” this cross-straits project aims to retrace the route taken between 1933 and 1949, during the Japanese occupation and civil war, to protect more than one million works from the imperial collection. The nutshell chronology of the dispersion includes four milestone years:

Imperial treasures on the move, 1937 (Image Credit: Zhuang Ling and the New York Times)

1933: The Palace Museum, officially opened to the public only eight years earlier in 1925, ships approximately 19,000 crates of objects to Nanjing after Japan invades North China.

1937: Days before the Japanese attack and occupation of Nanjing, the objects were divided into three groups and sent to Baxian, Emei and Leshan before being consolidated in Chongqing.

1945: Japan surrenders, and the collection is shipped back to Nanjing.

1948: Chiang Kai-Shek orders most valuable pieces sent to Taiwan; about 20% of the imperial collection arrives there by 1949, including the majority of the paintings.

Telegram to J.P. Morgan offering the collection for sale (New York Times)

The article also reports that in 1913, the Qing imperial family sought to sell the entire imperial collection – “including pearls, bronzes, porcelain, etc.” – to American financier and collector J.P. Morgan for $4m. On March 6, 1913, J.P. Morgan and Co. agent Francis H. McKnight telegrammed New York from Beijing with the news of the offer, expressing the need for a quick response. Unfortunately, Morgan died at the end of the month in Rome, shortly after his staff received the telegram. But imagine – if he had survived and bought the imperial collection, then the greatest works of Chinese art would likely now reside in New York, at the Morgan Library and Museum.

For more on the dispersion of the imperial collection, see The Odyssey of China’s Imperial Art Treasures by David Shambaugh and Jeannette Shambaugh Elliott.


*This week’s post abstracted the paper I’ll be giving at CAA 2011: “Staging Europe: Theatricality and Painting at the Chinese Imperial Court.”

*Qiao Zhongchang’s (act. late 11th-early 12th centuries) masterpiece Illustration to the Second Prose Poem on the Red Cliff is on view at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art until August 1 – after which, it stays out of public view for five years.

*11th-century Tibetan Buddhist murals uncovered in Qinghai might demonstrate a relationship between Tibetan and Han Buddhist arts.

*The Storm King Art Center unveiled the addition of Zhang Huan’s twelve-ton sculpture Three-Legged Buddha (2007).

*As OffiCina founders Rosario Scarpato and Monica Piccioli navigate between the established definitions of commercial gallery and non-profit institution.

*The latest issue of China Heritage Quarterly focuses on Shanghai in honor of the Expo.

*Bejing’s status as the capital of Chinese art in Asia was starkly outlined against Shanghai’s auction shortcomings and Hong Kong’s perceived lack of local art scene. Given the success of the Ullens collection at Beijing Poly International in the spring, and the foreign art dealers increasingly setting up shop in Beijing, the capital is clearly the epicenter. But Hong Kong shouldn’t get such short shrift, especially after this week’s articles at Art Radar Asia.


New Resources added this week:

*The “Scholars” page is now Scholars and Students, with the addition of Rachel Marsden’s blog and website.

*The Chinese Contemporary Art page is now up.

*Exhibitions Online: New Chinese Art: Inside Out and 88 MOCCA Museum of Contemporary Chinese Art on the Web

*Museums: Centre for Chinese Visual Arts (Birmingham UK), Chinese Arts Centre (Manchester UK), Museum of East Asian Art (Bath UK)

*Bibliographies: Buddhism in Western Central Asia

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