Objects of Contention: Spoils from the Yuanmingyuan in British Collections

A two-part forum on artefacts from the Yuanmingyuan in UK collections, their history and contested positions today.

The event is presented in conjunction with the Institut d’Etudes Supérieures des Arts and focusses on a rare and beautiful fragment of an imperial revolving vase that fell victim to fire at the Surrey Infantry Museum in 2015. Panelists will take a new look at the looting of the estate, the trajectories of Yuanmingyuan spoils in Britain, and challenges for curators handling this material today.

Panel Two: Yuanmingyuan Artefacts in UK museums

[final programme available August 20th]

September 25, 2017

1:30 – 5:00pm

The Institute of Historical Research, Wolfson Room I

Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU

Adriana Turpin: Opening remarks

Adriana Turpin is the Academic Director for International Programmes, Institut d’Etudes Supérieures des Arts (IESA), Paris.

Part I: The Surrey Vase Fragment

Kate Hill: Introduction to a porcelain puzzle. A curious fragment of a fascinating history.

Rose Kerr: 18th century imperial porcelain and its impact in the 19th – 21st centuries.

Rose Kerr is Honorary Associate of the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge, afterretiring as Keeper of the Far Eastern Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum, where she worked from 1978-2003. She graduated in Chinese studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies and spent a year as a student in China during the last year of the Cultural Revolution, 1975-1976. She teaches and lectures internationally, and acts as Honorary Fellow at the University of Glasgow, Chairman of the Great Britain-China Education Trust, Trustee of the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art and Museum Expert Advisor for Hong Kong. In 2015 she was created an Honorary Citizen of Jingdezhen. Author and contributor to 22 books on Asian art, she is a regular contributor to journals and magazines.

[Please click the “Revolving Vase” button at left to see photographs of the vase. All images by Kate Hill, taken at the Surrey Infantry Museum, 25 September 2008.]

Part II: Collecting Yuanmingyuan

Liu Yang. British and French museum collections of Yuanmingyuan cultural relics.

Liu Yang is a representative of the Yuanmingyuan Management Office and author of Who Collects Yuanmingyuan? (2013).

Louise Tythacott: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France: Collecting and displaying objects from the ‘Summer Palace’ in the West. This talk will examine the succession of Western meanings and values attributed to objects from China’s Yuanmingyuan, or ‘Summer Palace’, over the past 150 years – their existence as commodities in auction houses from the 1860s; their displays in international exhibitions and public museums in Britain and France; and their status as ‘trophies of war’ in military museums in the UK.

Louise Tythacott is a Senior Lecturer in Curating and Museology of Asian Art at SOAS. Her research focuses on the collecting and display of non-Western artefacts, and she has particular interests in the representation of Chinese and Buddhist art in museums. Her books include, Surrealism and the Exotic (Routledge, 2003), The Lives of Chinese Objects: Buddhism, Imperialism and Display (Berghahn, 2011), Museums and Restitution: New Practices, New Approaches (Ashgate, 2014) and Collecting and Displaying China’s ‘Summer Palace’ in the West: The Yuanmingyuan in Britain and France (Routledge, 2017).

Part III: The Yuanmingyuan, Museums and Restitution

Daniel Butt (Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford)

Constantine Sandis (Department of Philosophy, University of Hertfordshire)

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