Chinese export paintings: studies and interpretations
29 November 2016. Museum Volkenkunde in Leiden. A gathering of curators, art dealers, (art) historians, sinologists, anthropologists and a large audience of many other collectors, scholars, and interested listeners.
The topic: Chinese paintings, made for trade, that have languished for so long in Dutch and English collections without anyone paying them any attention.
Rosalien van der Poel, co-organizer of this symposium, welcomed everyone, and told us that a symposium on this topic had never been organised in the Netherlands before. Anne Gerritsen and Kitty Zijlmans, both of LUCAS, Leiden University chaired the discussions throughout the day.
The first speaker of the day was Ching May Bo, who joined us from Hong Kong. Her paper was entitled Drawing Nature: Botanical and Zoological Illustrations in Canton from the late eighteenth through the mid-nineteenth century. She was followed by a lecture by Jan van Campen, Curator of Asian export art at the Rijksmuseum Amsterdam, who spoke on the Dutch collectors Jean Theodore Royer (1737-1807) and Everard van Braam Houckgeest.
We also heard from Patrick Conner, who spoke on Shopping in Canton – Export Paintings of Shops 1780-1830, which was largely based on the collection of watercolours from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA. Conner is Director-researcher at the Martyn Gregory Gallery in London. He was followed by a lecture by Pieter ter Keurs, entitled Chinese Export Paintings: Theory, Policy and Reality, where he took on the subjects of classification/ categorisation, and the influence of racial theory. He linked this to the ways in which value is assigned to individual objects, and how items are selected and deselected from collections.
Pauline Marchand and Irene Jacobs performed a duo-presentation, entitled: Heritage, Techniques and Conservation of Maritime China Trade Paintings. Pauline Marchand is a painting restorer, including Chinese export paintings in the collections of the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam and Museum Volkenkunde and Rijksmuseum Amsterdam. Irene Jacobs is a curator of paintings, prints and drawings, decorative arts, audiovisual collection and photo collection, in the Maritime Museum in Rotterdam.
Winnie Wong’s fictional paper, Lover of the Strange, Sympathizer of the Rude, Barbarianologist of the Farthest Peripheries, was the conjectural story of Pàn Yǒuxūn and other Chinese artists as painters, as well as statue makers.
Wrapping up the symposium, Anne Gerritsen, typified the afternoon by saying that: “In some ways we have been talking about ‘middlemen’ all day. The traders, the passionate collectors, the curators, the restorers, even us the researchers and us the passionate enthusiasts. If we are talking to middlemen, then we are asking different questions, as the speakers today have done.” Then, she continues, “instead of talking about classifications and separations, we are looking at blends, mixtures, compositions and assemblages. We are looking at knowledge sharing and circulations of information, technology, and knowledge.”
This symposium on Chinese export painting was organized with generous support from the Hulsewé-Wazniewski Foundation for the advancement of education and research in the archaeology, art, and material culture of China at Leiden University, and from Shared Taste. Without their fundamental financial support, all this would not have been possible. We are also grateful to Museum Volkenkunde, who kindly offered us the venue for today.