Bath East Asia Museum to present lectures on Chinese art

Bath’s Museum of East Asian Art is presenting a couple of lectures which will be of great interest to enthusiasts of Chinese art who want to catch up on some current happenings and developments.


The Museum of East Asian Art, Bath

The first lecture Discovering the Ming is presented in association with the British Museum, whose major exhibition is, of course, showing at the moment. Ming is, of course, very much the thing at the moment as the National Museum of Scotland’s Ming exhibition draws to a close (October 19). Do get along if you have not already made it!

The second lecture Recent Trends in the Chinese Art Market: New Challenges for the Collector will be, of course, of enormous interest to visitors to this site.

We are pleased to furnish you with details of both of these lectures.

Discovering the Ming

by Jessica Harrison-Hall (Curator, British Museum)

Date: Friday 17 October, 18:30-19:30

Venue: Museum of East Asian Art, Bath

Admission: Friends and students £2.50; Public £5; Book by Wednesday 15 October

Most people have heard of the Chinese Ming dynasty (1368-1644) because of the beautiful blue-and-white porcelain which travelled across the world. Portuguese merchants established direct contact between China and Europe in the early sixteenth century.  Merchants and Jesuits travelled to China and wrote first-hand accounts in European languages in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. This lecture and the exhibition at the British Museum Ming: 50 years that changed China (18 September 2014 to 5 January 2015) goes further back in time to the early 1400s. This was the time when the Forbidden City was built.  Beijing became a capital city and the early Ming emperors sent treasure ships to Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Jessica Harrison-Hall is Curator of the Sir Percival David Collection and Chinese Ceramics and Vietnamese Art at the British Museum.


Recent Trends in the Chinese Art Market: New Challenges for the Collector

by James Godfrey

Date: Friday 7 November, 18:30-19:30

Venue: Museum of East Asian Art, Bath

Admission: Friends and students £2.5; Public £5; Book by Wednesday 5 November 2014

The dynamic changes in the Chinese art market over the past 20 years have made it increasingly more challenging for museums and individuals to collect Chinese antiquities and works of art. Globalization, the rise of China as an international commercial power, and the increasing awareness of the importance of protecting national patrimony have all added to the difficulties of acquiring fine art in the 21st century. This lecture will investigate exciting opportunities still available to collectors who are willing to do their homework by availing themselves of accessible resources in the market place; as well as thoughts on what to be aware of in this highly competitive and volatile market.

James Godfrey served as founding Curator of Asian Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas.  His positions in the Asian art market include decades of experience at Christie’s and then Director of Chinese Art at Sotheby’s before becoming a private dealer and consultant.

In case of any queries you may telephone the Museum on 01225 464640. Alas, transcripts will not be available so you have to pitch up in Bath to follow these lectures!

mus east asian art int

An interior view of the Museum of East Asian Art



Asian Art in London publishes 2014 Guide

Asian Art in London, which takes place from October 30 to November 8 this year, has published its guide to all the 2014 events. The pocket/handbag sized guide is bigger – that is to say, thicker – than ever before as the event, now in its 17th year, continues on a course of expansion.

Most users will, we suspect, find the printed guide most useful as they tramp the streets of London in search of the multiplicity of events. However, for the technologically inclined there is also an App available from the website If you want to get hold of the printed guide you can either telephone 0207499 2215 or email

As usual, there is a packed programme of events: special lectures, prestige auctions and events in galleries private and public. The champagne reception takes place on the evening of Thursday October 30 at the British Museum and the cost of the £60 ticket is somewhat defrayed by free entry to the much vaunted BM exhibition Ming: 50 Years that Changed China.

We shall highlight some of the events in future postings.

Now British Museum to show off the mighty Ming

The Ming is The Thing. In the wake of The National Museum of Scotland’s outstanding exhibition The Golden Ming, which runs through to October, the British Museum opens its own Ming event next month on September 18. Running until January 5 the British Museum will be feauring its own major exhibition: Ming: 50 years that changed China.

BM Ming sword

The sword of early Ming Emperor Yongle

Some outstanding and rare loans will tell the story of a critical half-century period in Chinese history (1400 – 1450) when China became a global superpower. Effectively, this was a Golden Age when China produced some of the most beautiful objects and paintings ever made. Loans are coming from 10 Chinese institutions and 21 international lenders.

To complement the exhibition the British Museum is lending an iconic blue-and-white Ming vase to four partner museums across the UK in 2014, supported by BP.

The exhibition will explore the years 1400 – 1450, a pivotal 50 year period that transformed China during the rule of the Ming dynasty. Bureaucrats replace military leaders in the hierarchy of power, the emperor’s role changes from autocrat to icon, and the decision is taken to centralise, rather than devolve, power. The exhibition will include rare loans of some of the finest objects ever made in China, shedding light on this important part of world history that is little known in Europe. China’s internal transformation and connections with the rest of the world led to a flourishing of creativity from what was, at the time, the only global superpower.

This period for China was a time of extraordinary engagement with the world and of fascinating cultural diversity. The explorer Zheng He pioneered China’s maritime history, sending treasure ships to South East Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. China enjoyed a period of unprecedented global contacts from Kyoto to Mogadishu, through trade and diplomacy evidenced through gifts of gold, silver, paintings, porcelains, weapons, costume and furniture. This is the first exhibition to explore the great social and cultural changes in China that established Beijing as a capital city and the building of the Forbidden City – still the national emblem on coins and military uniforms today. As well as the imperial courts, the exhibition will focus on finds from three regional princely tombs: in Sichuan, Shandong and Hubei covering East, Southwest and Central China. Four emperors ruled China in this period. The exhibition will include the sword of the Yongle Emperor, “the Warrior”; the handwriting of the Hongxi emperor, “the bureaucrat”; the paintings of the Xuande emperor, “the aesthete”; and the portraits of the regents who ruled while the Zhengtong emperor was a boy. There will also be costumes of the princes, their gold and jewellery, and furniture. The exhibition covers court life, the military, culture, beliefs, trade and diplomacy.

The exhibition covers a period when there was unprecedented contact with the world beyond the Ming Empire, through embassies, an assertive military policy, and court-sponsored maritime expeditions. Early Ming imperial courts enjoyed an unparalleled range of contacts with other Asian rulers: the Timurids in Iran and Central Asia; the Ashikaga in Japan and Joseon Korea. Contacts extended to Bengal, Sri Lanka, Africa, and even to Mecca at the heart of the Islamic world. The exhibition aims to replace older histories of China that over-emphasise contact with Europe after 1500 by highlighting complex and longer-lasting intra-Asian connections that played a key role in the formation of the Chinese state, society and culture. At the same time, the exhibition will explore the diversity within the Ming Empire itself, and the idea that it is multiple courts, and not one single, monolithic, imperial court, that are important in this period.

BM Ming exhbn

British Museum Exhibitions


Exhibitions during 2014

The Admonitions Scroll and other masterpieces of Chinese Painting

This exhibition presents major works of Chinese painting and porcelain created in SE China, sometimes known as the Jiangnan region near to Shanghai along the Yangtse River. The BM says paintings and ceramics from this region belong to the finest produced in China since the 6th century. They are promised to convey the cultural richness, prosperity and beauty of the area.

The Admonitions Scroll, possibly the Museum’s best known Chinese painting, will be re-displayed on the occasion of this exhibition, alongside silk paintings from Dunhuang in the NW of China.

April 3-August 31 2014.   Room 91 

Ming: 50 years that changed China

This exhibition will be concerned with the early Ming period 1400-1450, when China was effectively a global superpower run by one family who established Beijing as the capital and built the Forbidden City. Ming China was thoroughly connected with the outside world and this exhibition aims to highlight connections made with a wider Asia, what we now know as the Middle East, and Europe. It will encompass metal ware, textiles, paintings, porcelain, furniture, jewellery, gold and sculpture. Many of these forms were developed in China after absorption from much further afield. It is described as ‘a major exhibition’ drawing on many objects never seen before, including finds from recently discovered tombs in China.

Further information

September 18 2014-January 5 2015  Online booking available

ming_whitelueflask_304 xuande mark, period 1426-35

Ming Vase Spotlight Tour

There will be a four venue tour of an iconic blue and white vase, dating from the Xuande reign, and which is the largest in the BM collection. This is said to be ‘in celebration of Ming collections across the UK, exploring the impact that this dynasty has had on Chinese identity at home and abroad.

At The Burrell Collection, Glasgow April 12-July 6 2014

At Weston Park Museum, Sheffield July 12-October 5

At Bristol Museum & Art Gallery October 11 2014-January 4 2015

At The Willis Museum, Basingstoke January 10-April 4 2015

London Sunday Times alleges most V&A Chinese paintings ‘forgeries’

In an extraordinary article published February 2 in the London Sunday Times, apparently written by Arts Editor Richard Brooks, it is alleged that ‘ more than three quarters of Chinese paintings from the Ming and Qing dynasties at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum are either forgeries or copies and are kept away from public gaze.’ The even more extraordinary headline to the article reports ‘Merciless Ming swamps V&A with forgeries’.

It is not exactly clear from the article who the merciless and cunning Ming might be who has apparently flooded one of Britain’s most highly regarded museums with forgeries, but below the headline appears a picture of Emperor Chu Yuan-chang (sic.). One presumes the newspaper is referring to the first Ming Emperor, known as the Hongwu Emperor, who reigned 1368-98. The Victoria & Albert Museum, arguably the best museum of decorative arts and design in the world, was founded in 1852 so the Emperor in question must certainly have been extremely able and cunning . . .  Quite how he ‘mercilessly’ filled the Museum with fakes and forgeries is not explained!

Sunday Times fakes at V&A567

The article further goes on to cast doubts on the successful exhibition Masterpieces of Chinese Painting:700-1900 which has just closed, saying some of those paintings were also in doubt, quoting the museum’s deputy director Beth McKillop, “We put captions beside them stating that they were either ‘traditionally attributed to’ a certain artist or ‘possibly by’.” The newspaper alleges there were such doubts in regard to ‘about a dozen’ of the paintings in the show (there were around 70 paintings in total on display). By way of explanation, the newspaper states that the V&A did not employ a curator who could read Chinese until the 1970s (‘essential for deciphering inscriptions’) and says ‘Concern about the fakes partly explains why  much of the Chinese art in exhibitions is borrowed from America, Europe and China itself.’ As if there are no doubts about attribution in the case of paintings from these parts of the world . . .

Similar doubts are cast on paintings in the collection of The British Museum. ‘Likewise many of the 500 paintings owned by the British Museum, dating form the 6th to the 20th century, also have question marks about their authenticity.’ The British Museum opens a new exhibition in April, Gems of Chinese Paintings.

The problem is that there is little explanation in the article of the difference between fakes and forgeries, executed with the specific objective of deceiving, and copies made out of period in a bid to emulate the highest standards. The V&A-owned landscape Visiting a Friend in the Mountains, apparently signed by Li Zhaodao, is condemned as a ‘fabrication’ made 800 years later (around 1600).  Of course, the date it was created is neither here nor there in terms of the extreme artistic skill displayed in the picture. The motivation for the so-called ‘fabrication’ cannot be ascribed to greed or financial enrichment but to rather more noble desires unique to the cultural scene in China. There is a hint of such an explanation from an anonymous British Museum spokesman who told the newspaper, “It is true that a considerable number of these works could be seen to have false attributions. The majority of them were ascribed to Old Masters (sic.) in order to reference the past, or to continue a line of tradition. The moral implications to (sic.) ascribe a painting to an Old Master are looked on differently in east Asian cultures.”

The article ends with a most peculiar alleged assertion by Shelagh Vainker, head of the Chinese collection at the highly respected Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. Apparently, according to The Sunday Times, the Ashmolean only collects paintings from 1850 onwards because of such difficulties.

“So many were fakes . . . The main focus of our China collection is on ceramics and jades where forgery is not really an issue . . . “. Oh, really? Never seem to have heard of a piece of porcelain bearing a copied or earlier mark?

As a piece of journalism the article does, of course, read well despite its misleading headline and a woeful lack of context. The problem with articles like this in the so-called popular press is that they seek to make a ‘sensational’ point and evidence is selectively garnered. For a large section of the readership, lacking a wider perspective or knowledge, it calls into doubt the intrinsic value of Chinese art.