From the Summer Palace 1860: provenance and politics

Pearce, N. (2018) From the Summer Palace 1860: provenance and politics. In: Tythacott, L. (ed.) Collecting and Displaying China's “Summer Palace” in the West: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France. Series: The histories of material culture and collecting, 1700-1950. Routledge, pp. 38-50. ISBN 9781138080553

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On April 30, 2000, Christie’s Hong Kong mounted a sale designated the Imperial Sale. The Sale was the latest in an annual event in the auction calendar first established in 1996.1 The Imperial Sale offered, as the name implies, Chinese works of art of imperial quality with a suggested if not always confirmed imperial provenance. Back in 1996, the Catalogue’s Introduction made clear that the contents of the sale were “. . . devoted entirely to Imperial works of art originating from the Imperial palaces . . .” and included objects provenanced to the so-called Old Summer Palace of Yuanmingyuan.2 Subsequent annual Imperial Sales in Hong Kong followed a similar pattern. In 2000, the Sale was codenamed “Yuanmingyuan” and included two of the 12 zodiac heads (the monkey and the ox), which had been cast in bronze for the fountain situated in front of the Haiyantang (Hall of Calm Seas) within the Xiyanglou (Western palace area) within the Yuanmingyuan (see Tythacott, Chapter 1 and Hevia, Chapter 2).3 For the first time the Sale provoked a reaction from the Chinese Government, which accused Christie’s of taking advantage of Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” designation and demanded that the objects be withdrawn from sale. The auction house made clear that legal title was not in doubt and the sale proceeded. The two heads (along with other alleged Yuanmingyuan objects sold shortly afterwards by Sotheby’s Hong Kong, including another bronze head, the tiger), were purchased by the China Poly Group, a former commercial wing of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and now sit in the Poly Art Museum in Beijing.4

Item Type:Book Sections
Additional Information:Available as eBook 9781315113395 25-10-2017 and published in paperback 31-03-2020.
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Pearce, Professor Nick
Authors: Pearce, N.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Culture and Creative Arts > History of Art

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