Winner Takes All in the World of Antiquities

book review typewriter


I reckon it must have been some twenty years ago. A sunny August afternoon (highly unusual for Scotland) found me playing cricket in the grounds of a great Scottish country house. After tea on the lawn, we were invited inside to view the crowded interior and, there, lo and behold, high up on the wall of a reception room, above the dado rail, was a marble panel. Although I was surprised at the time to be told it was a part of the so-called Elgin Marbles, stripped out of the Parthenon in Athens, I did not feel affronted to find it there. After all, the Greeks are a thoroughly charming but, ultimately, unreliable lot and I was confident that the titled owner of the house would do all in his considerable power to preserve the panels. A rather more po-faced member of our team muttered darkly about moral obligations to return such items whence they came, but the general view was that it probably had been  rather better off there than rotting in some Greek glory hole.

In more recent years, the debate has really hotted up on the issue of repatriation of culturally important items to the countries which lost them in troubled times. In this new book, Tiffany Jenkins, a writer and academic, examines individual historic events and the issues, moral and legal, surrounding them. She casts her net pretty much worldwide to engage with specific occasions on which items were removed from the custody of their owners. This was, of course, in a world rather different from our present one. It was a world where winner took all. If you got beat on the battlefield, the victor was perfectly entitled to make off with all your clobber: treasures, art works, military gear and, if they took his fancy, your wives, concubines and, even, your pet dogs.

Such was the case, of course, with one of the Imperial Pekinese dogs which was ‘dognapped’ during the sacking of the Chinese Imperial Summer Palace in December 1860. It was hauled off to Britain by the victors and presented to Her Majesty Queen Victoria at her summer home in Scotland, Balmoral. The captive animal was, somewhat insensitively, named ‘Looty’ and came to symbolise British superiority over the Chinese, and is immortalised in paintings held in the Royal Collection.

Rt Hon Lady Loch

The present Lady Loch, descended from Henry, 1st Lord Loch who was aide de camp to Lord Elgin who ordered the destruction of Yuanminguan. In the background are two Imperial roof tiles taken from Yuanminguan.

This was not the real prize, of course. It is estimated that up to one and a half million artefacts were hauled off from the dozens of buildings and pleasure grounds which made up Yuanminguan. This was intended as a signal punishment to the Chinese (who had imprisoned a truce party headed up by Henry Loch, later Lord Loch, and killed some of his group and horribly tortured the others). It turned out to be a wanton orgy of mass destruction and pillage. Tens of thousands of objects were removed from the site by British and French troops. Sadly, far more were simply destroyed which was, of course, unforgivable. The commander who ordered the destruction was Lord Elgin, whose own father had claimed the Elgin Marbles. The whole incident is well dealt with by Tiffany Jenkins at some length and in rather more detail than other currently available accounts (and, hooray, she has footnotes which are something of a dying breed these days).

As far as provenance goes, items removed from Yuanminguan enjoy just about as good a provenance as it is possible to get. That is largely because the incident still deeply rankles with the Chinese and is conspicuously high on their consciousness. They want all their stuff back and have, in the last few years, been buying back Imperial Summer Palace pieces; been in receipt of donations and, indeed, some Yuanminguan pieces held in public and in private have been specifically stolen, quite possibly to order.

s200_tiffany_jenkins Author Tiffany Jenkins

There are, of course, very many issues to be raised. Theft is, rightly, a crime in the context of our private lives. States, however, are not private individuals and are allowed to wreak revenge on behalf of their subjects. Quite apart from legal implications (and China and the UK rarely cooperate in the field of legal obligation hence the widespread intellectual theft which goes on), there may be moral considerations. It is here we get into very deep water indeed. Should items be returned to the country of origin where they arguably constitute an irrevocable part of its culture and history? Or, should museums, where pieces remain more or less permanently on display, be regarded as international centres of knowledge in demonstration of the fact that no object has a single home and no one culture has an inalienable right to its own culture which might be seen as a part of a shared global heritage?

This book is really strong on the examination of the difficult issues posed by culture and the supposed rights of ownership of part of it. The individual case studies make good reading and it is written in an easy style which will serve to make it widely available. Unlike the statues and columns of Palmyra and Nineveh. They would have been rather better off in The British Museum.

Paul Harris

keeping their marbles1

Highlights of 2015 on

We look back on the year 2015 as reflected by the pages of

January 2015

London dealer Anita Gray offered this exquisite Kangxi figure for sale. Hardly surprisingly, it was snapped up in a matter of hours!


February 2015

Brought the sale of contents at Eden Hall, in the Scottish borders, by the Rt Hon Lady Loch. There were several items brough back tothe UK from Yuanminguan by the 1st Baron Loch (background and below a pair of sancai roof tiles).

Rt Hon Lady Loch


The month also saw a spectacular, hihgly organised theft from Fontainebleau. Fifteen items were stolen from the Chinese collection, many of which had been looted from Yuanminguan by French soldiers. There has been no sign of them being recovered and the artefacts are reckoned by experts to have been ‘repatriated’ to China.


March 2015

the Shanghai-based sculptor Chen Dapeng announces his participation in the Olympia Art & Antiques Fair, November 2015 (below).


April 2015

We visit the porcelain city, Jingdezhen, for a series of articles. Below, The Jingdezhen Porcelain Orchestra.


May 2015

We ask if Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian (below) has got his money back from producing copies of his US$36m. chicken cup. He drinks from the original below, and also the boxed reproduction which sells at around $60 !

wpid-liu-drinks-from-chicken-cup-lr.jpg.jpeg wpid-chicken-cup-boxed.jpg.jpeg

June 2015

We reported from Taipei on the chronic overcrowding at The National Palace Museum.

National Palace Museum (6)

July 2015

We turned our attention to the Chinese fashion industry in our article The Traditional Etihc in Chinese Fashion goes International. Below is Guo Pei’s stunning twist on Chinese blue and white porcelain. Also fashion label Doudu’s ‘Bodybelt’, a modern piece of lingerie based on traditional underwear.

guo pei hk fashion wk


August 2015

We published this photogrpah of a painting offered for sale at the June Olympia Art & Antiques Fair: the mystery gil with the penetrating gaze, artist unknown. Nobody volunteeered any information who she might be!



September 2015

London dealers Marchant, Kensington Church Street, celebrated their 90th anniversary with a collection of magnificient jades they had handled over the years.

Marchant jade 2

October 2015

A top Chinese official warns on the widespread destruction of the country’s cultural heritiage at the hands of tomb robbers and property developers. Below a photograph of the unique colonial style Arxan Shan Railway Station in northern China, destroyed by property developers.

 arxan shan railway station

November 2015

Chinese sculptor Chen Dapeng celebrates the opening of his first exhibition in London The Winter Olympia Art & Antiques Fair. His 200 sq m stand was organised by his UK agents Paul Harris Asia Arts. His bust of HM Queen Elizabeth II (below) proved controversial and received massive TV, radio and press coverage. It was, however, only one sculpture out of almost fifty works on display.

Paul-Olympia 29


December 2015

The Berlin-based online auctioneer Auctionata put up a small Kangxi dragon vase for sale estimated at euro 5-10,000. It started at 5,000 and rose giddily to the heights of euro 875,000 – almost a million dollars.

lot lot34 dragon vase cu


Should the victors return all their loot?

opinion hl

There was a thought provoking piece in the London Sunday Times a couple of Sundays ago. Columnist Eleanor Mills observed (March 8 2015) that there had been a lot of fuss about whether or not collections looted by former colonialists should be returned to their countries of origin.

“Well,” she comments, “watching the reports in which ISIS is shown desecrating and destroying Assyrian treasures, I am jolly glad that a load of them are sitting safe and beautiful in London. There’s never been a better defence of museums as custodians of the world’s heritage – those beautiful Assyrian lion horses are far safer in Bloomsbury than in the caliphate.”

Indeed. But does the same apply to some rather well known Chinese works of art extant in countries like the UK and France? We recently commented on the BBC radio documentary which deals with the destruction of the old Summer Palace, Yuanminguan. The destruction of this unique site and the appropriation of many great treasures which were exported abroad still raises hackles in China. Many Chinese feel that the matter is still unresolved and that, indeed, there are treasures which are overdue for return to China.

That having been said, many priceless antiques including important furniture and porcelain were destroyed during the 1970s and 80s as the Red Guard rampaged through the country destroying every vestige of bourgeois decadence. As you cast your eyes over the breath-taking Percival David Collection of porcelain in the British Museum, it is difficult not to find oneself in agreement.


Oil painting by Friedrich Keyl of Looty, taken from Yuanminguan.                       Courtesy The Royal Collection

There were, of course, a few rather more ephemeral items which were appropriated like the Pekinese dog from Yuanminguan, insouciantly named Looty, which was presented to HM Queen Victoria. The painting made of the dog is still in the Royal Collection. The wrote about this in 2009.

Harper’s Weekly via The New York Times Archive, picks up the story:

“He was a very lonely little creature, the other dogs taking exception to his Oriental habits and appearance,** and when the Prince and Princess of Wales returned from the a Continental trip, the latter pleaded with her mother-in-law to be allowed to take Looty to Sandringham.  About six months later Looty’s mate arrived from China, and the breeding of this species of dog became a diversion in fashionable society.”

He became quite a celebrity in his day and certainly has to be recorded as quite the most unusual piece of plunder.

Eventually, of course, his bones may well have to be repatriated . . .

Looty in Imperial Palace Looty, 1865, Sandringham


Mandarin version: Relics of 2nd Opium War and destruction of Yuanminguan on market

1st BARON LOCH巴夏礼和,出生1827-1900 aide LORD ELGIN,他是先锋队英法联军的大将, 他参加了二次鸭片战争,巴夏礼和是英使团派前去清廷谈判的代表,他代领39人前去谈判,被清廷扣留入狱,被关在北京的监狱地牢里,在地牢里,他的手被拧过后背,脚也被拧到后面,手脚悃在一起用锁链锁在柱子上,在狱中叫(铐牛)在狱中他受尽了折磨,其中有20明使者被活活折磨至死,清廷迫于英法的压力,后来释放了巴夏礼和,他出狱后立即返回英军,遂决定报复清廷杀害使节这野蛮行为,极教训中国以后不得蔑视英国极法国,策划了联军火烧了圆明圆,300多名太监宫女死于无辜,英法联军刮分了圆明圆所有的无价之宝……


巴夏礼和返回英国后,居住在爱丁堡市郊的别墅里,Drylaw House后来迁移到Edenhall house, 他的第四代重孙子巴夏亨利Henry  Baron,1982年那年是他唯一的女儿出生了,女儿出生后不久,巴夏亨利就死于心脏病,他的妻子The Honorable Lady Loch带着她的女儿一直生活在Eden Hall house。


The Honorable Lady Loch 以决定要卖掉Eden Hall house这个别墅,估价是一百二十万英傍,就在2015年3月7号这天,在Eden Hall house 的家中卖掉了家中的家俱字画古懂……


保罗哈利斯买到了三件贵重物品,俩件象牙雕刻品,一对天马鼎瓦,跟椐The Honorable Lady Loch 的介绍,这三件物件是1st BARON LOCH 巴夏礼和的物品,

也就是说是在火烧圆明圆时掠夺过来的 ,是见证圆明圆见证历史的宝物,现在保罗哈里斯收藏这这三件宝物,他愿意与所有热爱历史喜欢收藏的各界朋友共同探讨与交流,谢谢 !

This is a Mandarin version of our English posting of March 8 available at





Opium War Chinese treasures surface at Scottish auction

eden hall

Eden Hall, home of Lady Loch and the scene of Saturday’s sale

A number of Chinese art works, previously unseen, surfaced this weekend at a country house sale in the Scottish borders. Wooller-based auctioneers Railtons, acting on behalf of the former Rt Hon Lady Loch, sold off more than 300 lots at the Loch family home, Eden Hall, near Kelso. The lots included several Chinese items acquired by the 1st Baron Loch whilst working as a soldier and diplomat in China during the Second Opium War, which conflict culminated in the destruction of the Old Imperial Summer Palace (Yuanminguan) in 1861.

The items sold – intricately carved ivory pieces and two ornamental roof tiles – were acquired by Henry Brougham Loch (23 May 1827-20 June 1900), later 1st Baron Loch, in China in 1861 as the Second Opium War came to a violent conclusion. In April 1860, he accompanied Lord Elgin to China as secretary to the embassy despatched to ensure compliance of China with treaty engagements.

NPG P1700(44b); Henry Brougham Loch, 1st Baron Loch by Unknown photographer

Henry Brougham Loch who took home Chinese treasures, acquired in the Second Opium War and the destruction of Yuanminguan, in 1862

During the advance on Peking, together with the UK’s ‘man in China’ Harry S Parkes, a small party of officers and The Times correspondent Thomas Bowlby,Henry Brougham Loch was seized by the Chinese whilst flying a flag of truce. The whole party was imprisoned in Peking: most were tortured and many died. Loch survived his incarceration in a dungeon but would never fully recover from his injuries.

However, he stayed on and witnessed the retaliatory destruction, on the orders of Lord Elgin, of the old Summer Palace (Yuanminguan), just outside Peking,  in 1861. He returned to Britain the following year with trophies from the campaign, of which the ones below were handed down through the Loch family by descent and sold at auction at Eden Hall on March 7 2015 on the instructions of Sylvia Hawkins, The Rt Hon Lady Loch (the fourth, and last, Lord Loch, her late husband, died in 1981).


Two Chinese roof tiles from the Loch collection

In the catalogue of the sale the origin of some of the items sold is erroneously attributed to The Boxer Rebellion (the 1st Baron died in England as this was taking place).  His involvement in The Second Opium War is, however, extensively recorded. Speaking to on Saturday before the auction, Lady Loch confirmed that she had made an error in recollection and confused the Boxer Rebellion with the Second Opium War, when British and Indian prisoners were taken by the Chinese.


A unusual beautifully carved ivory pomegranate from the Loch Collection

Most of the Chinese lots, including those illustrated here, were bought by Said Sun Yumei, a partner in the business, yesterday, “It is very rare to get the opportunity to buy Chinese artefacts with impeccable provenance, especially ones with a connection to the destruction of Yuanminguan. The parasol handle was clearly made for a very important person and we are convinced of its Imperial association, judging from the quality. We shall be offering it for sale on our website very shortly.”


An exquisitely carved ivory parasol handle once owned by a very important person and part of the Loch Collection.

New BBC programme draws attention to destruction of Yuanminguan

A new BBC radio programme has drawn attention to the destruction of The Summer Palace, Yuanminguan and the seizure of many artworks by British forces, under the command of the then Lord Elgin.

Liu Yang, a researcher who has spent 15 years tracking down the artworks, says “British museums never reply” when he writes to ask what they have. But he has collected hundreds of images of looted items on his computer.

He even has pictures of a Pekinese dog, taken by a British soldier from Yuanmingyuan, and given to Queen Victoria. It was the first of its breed to come to Britain – and was named “Looty”.

A portrait of Looty is still in the Royal art collection, though later newspaper reports said the dog was ostracised by other royal dogs because of its “Oriental habits and appearance”, and had to be moved from Buckingham Palace to Sandringham.

A painting of Looty by Friedrich Wilhelm Keyl Looty, the first Pekinese in the UK (Credit: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2014)
The programme is broadcast on

Palace of Shame

Listen in pop-out player

This is a story of loot, revenge and devastated beauty that still looms over British-Chinese relations. The imperial summer palace in Beijing was an extraordinary collection of beautiful architecture, landscapes and precious art. It was looted by invading French and British troops in 1860. The then British commander, Lord Elgin, ordered its complete destruction. It was a dramatic moment of ‘national humiliation’ every Chinese schoolchild learns about today, encouraged by successive governments. Chris Bowlby discovers why it happened, with a surprising personal twist along the way – a relative of his who was a journalist in China in those days was tortured and murdered in revenge for the events around the Palace. There’s a rare interview with the current Lord Elgin on his family’s controversial role in imperial history. And what about all the looted art? We hear how it still sits in British museums, or re-emerges in lucrative auctions – while angry Chinese voices, including the martial arts star Jackie Chan, demand its return.

Presenter and producer: Chris Bowlby Editor: Richard Knight.