During the winter season, I managed to escape to the southern hemisphere and spent a month in Australia. During my time there, I visited the Asian galleries and a new contemporary gallery at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.
Prior to my trip in mid January, I gave a short talk on collecting Chinese art to a group of young Chinese clients of the New Vision family office at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in London entitled ‘Opportunities in a dynamic economy’.
I have also included in this post, a visit to the British Museum, where I examined the new installation of the Sir Joseph Hotung bequest.
I hope that you enjoy this post and I look forward to catching up over the spring period.
Robert Bradlow, March 2023
Talk at New Vision’s Sino-UK Annual Symposium – “Opportunities in dynamic economy” – Oxford and Cambridge Club London – 16 January:
On the 16th of January I gave a short talk to a group of Chinese clients on the topic of collecting. It was quite a challenging topic, as I have never really looked upon art collecting from the point of view of investment. Additionally it had to somehow relate to the present global economic conditions, with a positive spin on looking for potential buying opportunities.
After some racking of grey matter, I came up with parallels between Warren Buffet’s value investing in shares and collecting, that is – buying great quality and something that you know really well (that is in your ‘circle of competence’), for the longer term.
After looking at potential areas to collect in, some past collectors, as well as opportunities in the Chinese market, I outlined a contradiction in collecting that occurred to me, that is – genuine collectors who did not buy with a view to investment, usually ended up with collections that appreciated significantly in financial terms.
I have attached the slides of the lecture which can be found at the following link: https://www.robertbradlowfineart.com/wp-content/uploads/Opportunities-in-a-Dynamic-Economy-1.pdf
Visit to the Art Gallery of New South Wales – 05 February
Approaching the Art Gallery of New South Wales by foot is unlike anything that one will experience anywhere in the world. It is set within an area of land know as the Domain just east of Sydney’s CBD overlooking the Botanic Gardens and the Sydney Opera House.
The classical style building, with its pediment front, was designed by the English architect, Walter Liberty Vernon and the first galleries were opened in 1897. On entering through the traditional vestibule, one is surprised by the modernity of the interior hall, which is in stark contrast to its more traditional exterior.
It is bathed in light and houses the large and captivating red and purple 1988 work Affinities and Resonances # 955: Loopy Doopy (red and purple), by the American conceptual and minimal artist Sol LeWitt.
The upper and lower Asian galleries had changed significantly from the last time that I had visited them in 2016. At that time, they were laid out in a more traditional design, giving the respective Chinese, Japanese and Indian and South East Asian collections their own clearly delineated spaces (see slides below). The ‘Lantern’ galleries, as they are known, had been constructed in 2003 by Freeman Ryan Design. The upper gallery, housed within a white glass pavilion, was inspired by floating lanterns found throughout Asia.
Now the galleries, rotate the collections on thematic lines, which are cross cultural and have an interesting juxtaposition of older works with contemporary. The current exhibitions Correspondence and Elemental are held in the upper and lower levels respectively.
Upper Galleries – Correspondence
The largest exhibition space in the upper gallery is dedicated to the installation work Public Notice 2 2007 by the Mumbai based artist Jitish Kallat (1974-). This work, comprised of letters formed by painted wood carved in the form of bones, reproduces Mahatma Gandhi’s protest speech that he made just prior to his salt march on the 12th of March 1930. The bones represent the bloodshed that resulted from his campaign of civil disobedience against the British occupation, that ultimately led to independence and partition of the country into India and Pakistan.
The remainder of the works in the upper gallery are exhibited on the outside walls of this space and create long narrow areas where works are strategically placed to catch the eye from a distance, as in the case of the Sui dynasty (581-618) stone standing figure of Buddha. This work stands in strong contrast to the contemporary cotton installation work – I love you , 2009, by the Indonesian artist Arahmaiani Feisal (1961-).
I have attached a link to the full list of exhibits of the upper galleries: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/?exhibition_id=8513&page=1
A large standing figure of Buddha, Sui dynasty (581-618), 210cm high.
Zhang Xiaogang (1958-), Mother with three sons, 1993, from the Bloodline series.
Lower Galleries – ’Elemental’
The lower galleries displayed works that investigate the natural elements of earth, water and fire, to which some traditions add wood, metal, void, and wind or air’. 1. The works are arranged in two large galleries, divided by a video installation – The Great Adventure of Material World – Game Film, 2020 by Lu Yang (1984-).
The most striking work in the first gallery is the large 13th century Nepalese standing gilt-bronze figure of Padmapani. The figure stands with his torso at a slight angle to his hips, which counterbalances the head which is gently tilted to the opposite side. This creates a subtle rhythm to the figure which draws the eye down the body to the hands, which are beautifully cast in their respective mudras.
The second gallery has a Japanese tea room installed to one end, containing a contemporary calligraphy scroll by Inagaki Sūho (1925 – 2010), The wind on every five days, rain on every ten days, 1993, as well as a work by Igawa Takeshi: To the sea, 2009, lacquer and hemp cloth on polyurethane (‘kanshitsu’).
Outside the tea room, a Song dynasty gesso and wood figure surveys the the open gallery and is seated in the Lalitasna or Royal Ease pose (the right arm leaning on the raised right knee). The face is particularly well carved with a serene expression and the hair is tied in a high chignon.
I have attached a link to the full list of exhibits of the lower galleries: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/collection/works/?exhibition_id=8513
On my visit, I also had the opportunity to visit the newly constructed North Building, which houses historical and contemporary work from across Australia. I have added a number of photographs below to give one a sense of the interior, as it is a stunning space.
I really enjoyed my time at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and despite wanting to see more of the earlier works from the permanent Chinese collection, I appreciated the current approach, which keeps the collection rotating and relevant to a potentially wider audience.
Installation of the Sir Joseph Hotung Bequest at the British Museum
On the 23rd of February I visited the British Museum with a couple of clients and stopped to look at the new installation of the Sir Joseph Hotung bequest that was made at the end of last year. Sir Joseph had died in December 2021 and Sotheby’s had held sales last year in Hong Kong and London in October and December respectively.
After Sir Percival David, Sir Joseph was one of the major figures in Chinese art in Britain and was renowned as a benefactor to the British Museum. He was to sponsor two of the renovations of the gallery that bears his name in 1992 and 2017. He was also a great collector of jade, Chinese furniture and Yuan and early Ming dynasty blue and white porcelain and it is the latter that we will look at.
The collection of blue and white was exhibted on one wall in Sir Joseph’s study at his house in South Kensington, London until his death in 2021 (see image below). A number of the pieces from this display are now in pride of place in the British Museum for the public to see.
Free Standing Cabinet
One of the rarest examples in the new free standing cabinet is the dragon flask that had been purchased at Doyle auction room in New York in September 2003. It is painted to each side with a very lively three claw dragon, which is reminiscent of the dragons on the David vases in the Percival David Collection, which are dated to 1351.
It had originally belonged to F Gordon Morrill (1910-2000), an American architect and a keen collector of Yuan and early Ming blue and white. He and his wife Elizabeth regularly frequented Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions, as well as the London dealers Bluett & Sons and John Sparks. The flask sold for US$5.8m at the sale and the entries included in the auction make for interesting reading: https://doyle.com/auctions/03as01-f-gordon-morrill-collectionchinese-chinese-export-porcelain/catalogue
The two other pieces in the cabinet are an unusual figurative guan jar, beautifully painted with a scholar seated beneath a pine tree, and a large pear-shaped vase, with a large bronze mount and painted with cloud collar panels of phoenix and mandarin ducks on a lotus pond.
Right Hand Side Cabinet
One of the most significant pieces in the right hand cabinet is the guan jar painted with lively Buddhist lions playing with brocade balls. The scene below is given a sense of movement through the crouching pose of the lion, whose tail also blows freely in the wind with the billowing ribbons of the brocade ball. The dating can again be tied to the middle of the 14th century, with the bands of lotus, breaking waves and lappets relating closely to those on the David vases.
The two large dishes of a similar date are unusual in that both the central scenes are white, painted in reserve on a blue ground. This style of painting is in contrast to where blue is the painted on a white ground. Here the various forms are defined by a blue outline, such as the phoenix in the one dish and the various cranes and ducks in the other.
My pick of the third cabinet is the unusual and rare Yongle period (1403-1424) basin that is based on an earlier, 14th century Middle Eastern metalwork form. Two other pieces of the bequest illustrated below are also based on earlier Middle Eastern metalwork and they have been placed in the cabinet next to their derived shapes to illustrate this.
The painted designs of these pieces are however, very much Chinese and are derived from nature. These depict lotus, peony and other flowers in lively, spontaneously painted designs. These trail across the surface of the pieces and the thickly painted cobalt blue contrasts really well with its white background.
The last piece to be looked at from the bequest is the blue and white Yongle period ewer painted with Camellia. Ewers of this period painted in this design are rare and the scale of the flowers are unusually large over this form. The painted design of the lingzhi fungus on the elongated spout is also quite an usual feature and is quite striking on this piece.
Most of the pieces that I have looked at today have followed the formula on Yuan and early Ming designs of the decoration being organised within formalised bands. During the Ming Dynasty, there is a general move away from this treatment of the surface decoration, to a freer, more natural depiction of nature or figures. There are, of course, numerous exceptions to this generalisation, especially with regard to the flasks or dishes boldly painted with dragons.
In concluding, I think that it is worth restating the important contribution that Sir Joseph Hotung has made to British culture through his philanthropic gifts. Visitors to the British Museum have enjoyed seeing many of his jade pieces in the adjoining jade gallery for a number of years. This group of early blue and white porcelain is a really significant addition to the Museum’s holdings of this material.
- Art Gallery of New South Wales website: https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/whats-on/exhibitions/asian-lantern/