An exceptional collection of Chinese porcelain and jade has been left in the British Museum as “one of the most significant legacies” in its history.
The works, estimated to be worth around £ 100 million, come from the collections of Sir Joseph Hotung, a businessman, philanthropist and art collector who passed away last year.
Hotung’s name has graced the museum’s main gallery of Chinese and South Asian Antiquities since he donated millions of pounds for its refurbishment after complaining that he needed to take a torch during visits because the lighting was so poor. It was reopened by the Queen in 1992 and again in 2017 after further renovations.
The bequest includes 246 jades, 15 fine Yuan (1279-1368) and blue and white porcelain from the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) and a dry-lacquered head of a Bodhisattva. The articles will be exhibited in the coming months.
George Osborne, president of the museum administrators, said, “This is one of the most generous gifts we have ever received and it means that future generations will be able to enjoy these beautiful objects and learn more about China’s extraordinary history. “
Hotung’s family said: “Our father was very fond of collecting and studying exquisite art and was convinced that art should be accessible to everyone. We are delighted that our father’s collections are now being visited by the millions of visitors who pass through the British Museum every year ”.
Another 400 works from Hotung’s personal collection will be sold at auctions in the fall. They include a seated figure of Avalokiteśvara “beautifully and sensitively modeled” from the kingdom of Dali in southwestern China. It will be sold at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, with an estimated price of 1.5-2 million pounds.
Another highlight is a finely carved cinnabar lacquer box from the Yongle period in the 15th century that is “among the most desirable examples” of Ming lacquer items, according to Sotheby’s.
A folding armchair with a horseshoe backrest, made in Huanghuali, a type of rosewood, is a rare example of what became a seat of honor for traveling dignitaries from the Ming dynasty. It is estimated that it is sold for up to 1.5 million pounds.
Hotung “has adorned his London home with beautiful things, pieces he bought for a living,” said Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby’s president for Asian art. “In addition to Chinese furniture and artwork, he has collected Chippendale furniture and quite eclectic Western paintings. Everything worked together in an extraordinarily harmonious way ”.
Hotung’s interest in art began when he wandered into an oriental gallery in San Francisco while waiting for a delayed flight. On a whim, he bought two decorative Chinese bowls.
His new passion provided “a totally new interest in life and a new dimension,” he said. “It helps me see things from different angles.”
He later became trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.
Hotung felt that collectors had a “responsibility to be stewards of these priceless works and to look after them with great care,” his family said. “We are delighted that our father’s treasures are now finding new homes where they can continue to be loved and appreciated by others.”