2005 Annual Meeting: Border-Crossing Sessions


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Session 93: China through Its Art: Collecting and Scholarship in the Early Twentieth-Century United States and Britain

Organizer and Chair: Katharine P. Burnett, University of California, Davis

Discussant: Richard Vinograd, Stanford University

Keywords: art collecting, art history, China, U.S., Europe, early 20th century.

How was Chinese culture understood in the early 20th-century U.S. and Britain, time and places foundational to the new field of international scholarship, "Chinese art history"? Many of this field’s leading figures were from the Anglophone world, and worked collaboratively with Chinese artists and collectors; others native to China moved to these areas. This panel takes as its precept the idea that notions of culture and cultural traditions are formed through engagements between artists, collectors and scholars, some of the most significant of which this panel will explore.

This panel uses various perspectives to map the foundations of the discipline. Joseph Chang examines the development of one of the 20th-century’s most important Chinese art collections, formed by artist C. C. Wang, and thinks about Wang’s collection in relation to his own cultural position as a Chinese artist living in the U.S. Constance Chen argues that white American collectors thought of "Chinese culture" in distinction to their own, and that they used their understandings of "Oriental" culture to develop theories of race and social order. Judith Green sees the idea of "culture" for George Eumorfopoulos et al. as labile—sometimes universal, sometimes structured by difference as in Chen’s argument. Finally, Zaixin Hong and Wang Zhongxiu explore yet another perspective, asking how American professor Lucy Driscoll strove to understand and teach Chinese aesthetic theory and history through the framework of Gestalt psychology, and demonstrating the impact this had on leading guohua artists in China.

C. C. Wang as Collector and Connoisseur

Joseph Chang, Smithsonian Institution

C. C. Wang (1907–2003) was one of the most knowledgeable collectors and connoisseurs of the twentieth century. Born in Suzhou near the end of the Qing dynasty, Wang came from a renowned scholar-official family, receiving training in traditional painting techniques from Gu Linshi (1865–1933), and later, the opportunity to enhance his connoisseurship skills through the well-known painter and collector, Wu Hufan (1894–1968) in Shanghai. Among his most notable achievements, Wang served on the selection committee for the first international exhibition of Chinese art front the Beijing Palace Museum, co-authored with Victoria Contag the essential Seals of Chinese Painters and Collectors of the Ming and Ch’ ing Period (1966), and became an authority on the art of Ni Zan (1301–1374).

As one of China’s most accomplished painters and respected connoisseurs of Chinese painting, C. C. Wang amassed one of the great collections of Chinese painting outside of China. In 1973 the Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired twenty-five Song and Yuan Dynasty paintings from him. With a second group of Chinese paintings going to the museum in 1997, Wang helped to make Chinese painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art what it is today. Never ceasing to build his own collection, Wang paid $1,432,500 for a Guo Xi landscape at Christies in 1999 when he was 93 years old. This paper analyzes C. C. Wang’s collection as it evolved through various stages.

Asian Art Collections and the Quest for American Cultural Identity

Constance J. S. Chen, Loyola Marymount University

In the late nineteenth century, rapid industrialization and "modernization" led to profound demographic changes and political upheavals, resulting in a keen sense of spiritual displacement and loss amongst certain middle- and upper-middle-class New Englanders. Desiring refuge from their increasingly mechanized world, white Americans such as Ernest Fenollosa and William S. Bigelow turned to "the Orient" in search of cultural inspiration and rejuvenation. In the process, they idealized and emphasized the importance of East Asian traditions for the well-being of "modern" cultures. During visits to Asia, collectors purchased objects perceived to be the physical embodiments of the religious and civic ideals they sought to emulate. Throughout this era, the art market, museums, and universities collaborated in creating and disseminating certain ideas about the objects and aesthetics of "the Orient." In turn, the collection and discussion of Asian art gave political and ideological meanings to East Asia as well as to its peoples and cultural productions. Discourses of "modernity" and "primitivity" served as perceptual frameworks affecting processes of transnational exchange.

This paper addresses the manner in which interest in "Oriental" aesthetics and objects reflected a response to rapid socio-economic and technological transformations within the early-twentieth-century U.S. It argues that Japonisme and Chinoiserie would influence the reconstitution of cultural identity for many white Americans, thereby shaping not only the evaluation of art objects but also the formation of certain social norms, race relations, and moral orders.

The Chicago Connection: Lucy Driscoll’s Creative Approach to Chinese Art and Her Chinese Contacts from the 1910s to 1950s

Zaixin Hong, University of Puget Sound

Two months before his death, Huang Binhong (1865–1955), a leading guohua (traditional style painting) master, wrote to one of his students, recalling a few foreign contacts he had made in the preceding fifty years. Among these was Ms. Lucy Driscoll (1886–1964) from Chicago. In about eight other letters to his Chinese friends from 1939 onward, including one that appeared in The Zhongshan Daily in Guangzhou on December 15, 1947, Huang repeatedly stressed the significance of his correspondence with Driscoll. An Instructor and Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago (1909–1952) and co-author, with Kenji Toda, of Chinese Calligraphy (published by the University of Chicago Press in 1935), Driscoll had a special place in the late development of Huang’s magnificent landscape style. What were the intellectual dynamics of their relationship? A key to understanding Driscoll’s long-term impact on Huang Binhong’s thought is the brilliant vision and pioneering scholarship of her creative approach, beginning in 1918, to the Chinese traditions in painting theory. In this preliminary study, I hope first to explore Driscoll’s unusual and little-known relationship with Kurt Koffka (1886–1941), one of the three founders of Gestalt psychology, in the 1920s–30s; then detect how she applied Gestalt psychology in her teaching and study of Chinese painting theory at one of America’s leading universities; and finally retrieve certain intellectual connections between her and several distinguished Chinese scholars, art historians, and artists.

Archaeology, Aesthetics, and Authority: Early Chinese Art in Britain

Judith Green, King’s College, Cambridge

British collecting of Chinese material culture underwent important changes in the early twentieth century. This period saw the first specialist exhibitions of Chinese art, the establishment of collectors’ societies, and the gradual professionalization of the study of Chinese art with an attendant shift of authority from collectors to museum curators. A preference for what was soon designated "Early Chinese Art" (at first indicating pre-Qing, but subsequently pre-Ming) was established amongst collectors who identified themselves as an avant-garde or pioneers. The material they collected could be designated antique, or archaeological, but was just as frequently assimilated to a universalizing aesthetic category. The classification and display of "The George Eumorfopoulos Collection," the most significant of British collections assembled in this period, involved a negotiation between archaeological (or, more broadly, historical) concerns and aesthetics, which was mediated by appeals to a variety of authorities. The form and significance of the Collection was the result of complex relationships between George Eumorfopoulos (1863–1939) and a variety of dealers, curators, experts and fellow collectors. Tracing the Collection from its formation to classification and ultimate dispersal by gift to the Benaki Museum, Athens (1931 and 1936), sale to the Victoria and Albert and British Museums in London (1934–38) and posthumous auction at Sotheby’s (1940), this paper focuses on "The George Eumorfopoulos Collection" as a site where both the meanings of Chinese material culture and the authority to assert such meanings were developed and expressed.