John Henderson’s Chinese and Japanese collection

5 Henderson Collection

Two photographs of John Henderson’s collection of Chinese and Japanese porcelain and pottery, taken in London,England, ca. 1868 by Cundall & Fleming.

Henderson (1797-1878) was a London-based art collector and in 1868 donated a series of 20 of these photographs to the South Kensington Museum (today the V&A) as a visual record his collection that ranged from Europe, the Middle East and East Asia. he was a great benefactor and left both his collection and photographs of them to institutions like The British Museum and The Victoria & Albert. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and although he read for the bar (legal) he devoted his life to archaeology and the collection of works of art. His collections, in his lifetime, were held at 3, Montague Street, in London’s Bloomsbury district. He never married and lived until the ripe old age of eighty (not necessarily a result of remaining unmarried). Upon his death, his will decreed that most of his oriental collection went to the British Museum.

4 Henderson Collection

Source: Victoria & Albert Museum via Orientally Yours (Tumblr) Below: Iznik bottle vase in the collection of the British Museam


Jade exhibition marks ninety years in business for Marchant . . . and still going strong

Marchant jade 3This year, London Chinese art dealers Marchant are celebrating 90 years in business, having started up back in 1925. Despite the passage of the years, it is still very much a family business, four generations on. And so, coinciding with Asian Art in London (November 5-14), they have just announced a major selling exhibition of some very fine jade pieces.

Apparently, there will be some 90 pieces in the exhibition, and the accompanying book, comprising animals, pendants, vessels, bracelets, buckles, snuff bottles and objects for the scholar’s desk. Several are Imperial pieces and four have Imperial marks.

On the front cover of the associated book is the Hodgson Rhyton, one of the most important jades Marchant has ever handled. It was exhibited at the Victoria & Albert Museum in 1975 in their important landmark exhibition Chinese Jade Throughout the Ages. Published alongside the piece is related correspondence from Sir Harry Garner, academic and author of many publications on Chinese art.

Marchant jade 2

The Hodgson Rhyton sold by Marchants to The Victoria & Albert

Jades in the exhibition date from the Song Dynasty (960-1279) to the Qing but the majority are Qianlong (1736-95). Of particular interest, from the collection of the Marquis and Marquise de Ganay, is the water buffalo with a boy seated on its back. There is also a pair of white jade cups with their original stands in the form of lotus petals, dated from the 18th century. They come from an important Swiss collection purchased by Marchant in the 1950s.

Marchant jade 1

A pair of white jade cups from an important Swiss collection

The exhibition takes place from November 3-20 at 120 Kensington Church Street. The book available at the exhibition costs £80.

Unusual Chinese art image 61 Mechanical toy from 1970s

This is a mechanical toy goldfish made in China between 1975 and 1979 and which is held in the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. The fish is made of lithographed tin plateand plastic with a clockwork mechanism. The eyes, nose and tail fin are fashioned in plastic. When wound up, it moves on two wheels and the side fins open and close.

Size 5cm (height) by 9.5cm. by 11.5cm.

Courtesy Victoria & Albert Museum via Tumblr Orientally Yours


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.

V&A Chinese painting exhibition

There will be a much heralded exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London (the world’s largest museum) commencing on October 26 and running through until January 19 2014: Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900. The exhibition is being brought over from Beijing. Tickets can be booked ahead on +44 (0) 20 7420 9736. The exhibition is accompanied by a book of the same title published by the V&A at £40.00 sterling. There is a modest saving of £5 being offered to visitors.