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The China Collectors : America's Century-Long Hunt for Asian Art Treasures
by Karl E. Meyer and Shareen Blair Brysac


Overview -

**One of "The Washington Post"'s Notable Nonfiction Books of 2015**

Thanks to Salem sea captains, Gilded Age millionaires, curators on horseback and missionaries gone native, North American museums now possess the greatest collections of Chinese art outside of East Asia itself.  Read more...


 
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More About The China Collectors by Karl E. Meyer; Shareen Blair Brysac
 
 
 
Overview

**One of "The Washington Post"'s Notable Nonfiction Books of 2015**

Thanks to Salem sea captains, Gilded Age millionaires, curators on horseback and missionaries gone native, North American museums now possess the greatest collections of Chinese art outside of East Asia itself. How did it happen? "The" "China Collectors" is the first full account of a century-long treasure hunt in China from the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion to Mao Zedong's 1949 ascent.

The principal gatherers are mostly little known and defy invention. They included "foreign devils" who braved desert sandstorms, bandits and local warlords in acquiring significant works. Adventurous curators like Langdon Warner, a forebear of Indiana Jones, argued that the caves of Dunhuang were already threatened by vandals, thereby justifying the removal of frescoes and sculptures. Other Americans include George Kates, an alumnus of Harvard, Oxford and Hollywood, who fell in love with Ming furniture. The Chinese were divided between dealers who profited from the artworks' removal, and scholars who sought to protect their country's patrimony. Duanfang, the greatest Chinese collector of his era, was beheaded in a coup and his splendid bronzes now adorn major museums. Others in this rich tapestry include Charles Lang Freer, an enlightened Detroit entrepreneur, two generations of Rockefellers, and Avery Brundage, the imperious Olympian, and Arthur Sackler, the grand acquisitor. No less important are two museum directors, Cleveland's Sherman Lee and Kansas City's Laurence Sickman, who challenged the East Coast's hegemony.

Shareen Blair Brysac and Karl E. Meyer even-handedly consider whether ancient treasures were looted or salvaged, and whether it was morally acceptable to spirit hitherto inaccessible objects westward, where they could be studied and preserved by trained museum personnel. And how should the US and Canada and their museums respond now that China has the means and will to reclaim its missing patrimony?

 
Details
  • ISBN-13: 9781137279767
  • ISBN-10: 1137279761
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publish Date: March 2015
  • Page Count: 432
  • Dimensions: 9.55 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds


Related Categories

Books > Art > Art & Politics
Books > Art > History - General
Books > Art > Asian - Chinese

 
Publishers Weekly Reviews

Publishers Weekly® Reviews

  • Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
  • Review Date: 2015-01-12
  • Reviewer: Staff

Historians Meyer and Brysac (Tournament of Shadows) track the provenance of the Chinese collections housed in U.S. museums in this impressively researched survey of the adventurers who acquired these treasures. Focusing on a “curious, catlike herd” of colorful collectors, the authors open with the Bostonians who blazed a trail to China at the turn of the 20th Century, such as the eccentric heiress Isabella Stewart Gardner and the China rooms of her eponymous museum. She was guided by Harvard’s Charles Eliot Norton, who “preached the gospel of good taste,” and his acolytes. Museum goers may be familiar with Charles Lang Freer or the Rockefellers’ legendary collection of Ming pieces, but it is the lesser-known characters such as Harvard’s Ernest Fenellosa and shady art dealer C.T. Loo who introduce a frisson of intrigue. Evidence indicates that museum curators were complicit in funneling Chinese art to the U.S. until WWII. Despite recent measures taken by the Chinese government to protect its antiquities, the sheer volume of historic sites has made looting impossible to monitor. With ancient treasures such as the Elgin Marbles in the news, the issue of whether Chinese relics should be returned home is a timely one. (Mar.)

 
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