AAS Annual Meeting

China and Inner Asia Session 463

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Session 463: Choosing Chinese Paintings for American Museums in the Early Twentieth Century

Organizer: Lara Netting, , USA

Discussants: Cary Y. Liu, Princeton University, USA; Stephen Little, Independent Scholar, USA

This panel will examine Chinese painting acquisitions by American museums in the opening decades of the twentieth century, showing how American political and economic activity, and travel in late Qing China created personal relationships that made the subsequent exchange of art both possible and attractive. The numerous paintings purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the University Museum in Philadelphia, and the Cleveland Museum of Art in the 1910s have been little studied, and this panel will demonstrate that museum officers sought traditional paintings from China as part of the same project that built and refined their Western collections. Contemporary Chinese art was, by contrast, ignored in the United States at this time. The participating historians and art historians will examine the dealers/collectors—the Americans Charles Freer and John Ferguson, Shanghai-based Pang Yuanji, and a number of their Chinese and Manchu associates—who were key players in an emerging international market for Chinese art. We will also look at the personal influence of Charles Freer, the preeminent early collector of Asian Art in the United States and consider the wide-rippling effects of the 1911 revolution, and the greater cultural upheaval of which it was part, on the exchange of art between China and the United States. Now in 2011, when traditional and contemporary Chinese art are widely appreciated, it is timely to revisit the first wave of American enthusiasm for Chinese painting, focusing new attention on seldom seen works, and the men who selected, marketed, and admired these paintings.

Chinese Art for America: Charles Lang Freer’s Unusual Partnership with Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer
Ingrid Larsen, Independent Scholar, USA

Between 1961 and 2002, Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer and their children gifted roughly 135 Chinese antiquities to the Freer Gallery of Art, including major masterpieces of Chinese painting, bronze, jade, and Buddhist sculpture. The Meyers were close friends of the gallery’s founder, Charles Lang Freer, and acquired most of their Chinese art under his supervision. This paper examines the acquisition history of the Meyers’ Chinese art collection to shed light on Charles Freer’s unusual partnership with Eugene and Agnes E. Meyer and his relationship with a set of Shanghai-based merchants who formed the first wave of Chinese art dealers in America. Charles Freer’s collecting priorities not only shaped the Meyers’ acquisitions but also the nascent Chinese art market in America when other early Chinese collections were being formed.

A Qing Official Turned Art Dealer: John Ferguson’s Success as a Trader of Chinese Paintings, 1912-1917
Lara Netting, , USA

John C. Ferguson (1866-1945), a Canadian-born American and a long-term resident of China, is well known as a collector and scholar of Chinese art. His role as a buyer of paintings for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1912-13, the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1914-15, and the University Museum in Philadelphia in 1916 is less well understood. This paper will look at Ferguson as a dealer who helped established and still germinating museums to make their first significant acquisitions of Chinese paintings in the 1910s. Based on archival research in China and the United States, I will speak on some of the Chinese and Manchu collectors/dealers who offered paintings to Ferguson in Peking, and Ferguson’s promotion and sale of these pieces in the United States. My paper will look at Ferguson’s entry into the art trade shortly after 1911, when his Qing government employment was terminated, and will examine the success Ferguson enjoyed until the United States entered World War I in 1917. I will discuss Home Again by Qian Xuan at the Metropolitan, the anonymous Ming Huang’s Journey to Shu at the University of Pennsylvania, and other lesser known works Ferguson brought to the United States. I aim to show that John Ferguson was first a dealer, and then a scholar and collector, and to contribute to a more detailed picture of Chinese art collecting in United States in the 1910s

The Missing Catalogue of Pang Yuanji: Pang and His Modern Art World
Katharine P Burnett, University of California, Davis, USA

Pang Yuanji (1864-1949) is well known for the important catalogues he compiled of his collections of ancient painting between 1909 and 1925, especially the Xuzhai minghua lu. Less recognized is his patronage of over 20 artists who lived and worked in his home. Less known still is the role Pang played in the contemporary art world as an artist. This paper aims to identify the relationships he established with artists of his day and to discover Pang’s network of friendships and associations through this art. It attempts to understand the role Pang played in the contemporary art world, and speculates on why Pang apparently never catalogued the contemporary art in his collection.

China and Chinese Art in American Museums at the Turn of the Twentieth-Century
Jane C. Ju, National Chengchi University, Taiwan (R.O.C.)

This paper aims to add a Chinese perspective to ongoing work on the histories of America’s early interest in Chinese art. I will demonstrate how Chinese attitudes about themselves and their culture played an important role in the way they presented themselves to outsiders. This can be seen by what Nathan Dunn collected (or was able to collect) for his Chinese Museum, built in 1838. Likewise, the way the Chinese (or Qing government) displayed themselves in the nineteenth century world expositions correlates with how the West understood China, as illustrated by the kinds of Chinese art American collectors and museums acquired at this time. More important, I intend to show that, at the turn of the twentieth century, the transformation of collecting culture in China, from a gentleman-scholar model to the commercialization of collecting, had a great impact on the collectors in the United States and elsewhere. For example, Charles Lang Freer associated with many of the later-Qing and early Republican period antiquarians like Duanfang. These Chinese collectors-dealers, who were often scholars turned entrepreneurs, were self-consciously constructing a history of art for their modern nation through their art enterprises, just as Freer was building his collection of Chinese art for the American nation.