A Long-awaited Journey to the Far East: Laurence Binyon’s Experience in China

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation

Abstract

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) was the foremost British curator to promote an appreciation of Chinese painting and turn it into a subject of serious and scholarly study in the early twentieth century. During his 40 years’ service at the British Museum, Binyon acquired a knowledge of Asian painting from relevant publications by Japanese and Western scholars, while involving in the acquisition, exhibition, cataloging and publication projects of English and Oriental prints and drawings. In the early 1910s, Binyon longed for a study trip to the Far East and envied the visits of his collector friends, including Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919) from America and Ernst Arthur Voretzsch (1868-1965) from Germany, who provided him practical advice on exploring historic sites and art collections in China. Unfortunately, due to political and economic reasons, Binyon’s Far East trip had been postponed for over 14 years. It was not until 1929 when Binyon was 60 years old, he can finally embark on a five-month Far East journey in order to gain his firsthand experience of seeing important collections of Asian art and to learn about the collecting and curatorial practice in Japan, China and other countries. This paper focuses on Laurence Binyon’s experience in China and his connection with Chinese scholars and artists, including Kung-pah T. King (or Jin Cheng, 1878-1926), Sophia Chen Zen (or Chen Hengzhe, 1890-1976) and Teng Hiok Chiu (or Zhou Tingxu, 1903-1972). With reference to Binyon’s family papers and other primary documents as found in different archives, I will reconstruct the itinerary of Binyon’s long-awaited journey to the Far East, tracing his footsteps in Beijing and Shanghai, where he saw fine works of Chinese art in museums and private houses. I will discuss how Binyon’s experience in the Far East has verified his vision of China which was largely shaped by early English writings on Asian art. Considering Binyon’s contacts with Chinese scholars and artists developed in his later career, I will investigate how Chinese connoisseurship refreshed Binyon’s understanding of Chinese art and culture with new perspectives.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Externally publishedYes
EventXIXth European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS) conference: Destructing China, New Experiences, New Vistas - France, Paris, France
Duration: 5 Sep 20128 Sep 2012
http://chinesestudies.eu/?p=105

Conference

ConferenceXIXth European Association for Chinese Studies (EACS) conference: Destructing China, New Experiences, New Vistas
CountryFrance
CityParis
Period5/09/128/09/12
OtherEuropean Association for Chinese Studies
Internet address

Bibliographical note

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) was the foremost British curator to promote an appreciation of
Chinese painting and turn it into a subject of serious and scholarly study in the early twentieth
century. During his 40 years’ service at the British Museum, Binyon acquired a knowledge of
Asian painting from relevant publications by Japanese and Western scholars, while involving in
the acquisition, exhibition, cataloging and publication projects of English and Oriental prints and
drawings. In the early 1910s, Binyon longed for a study trip to the Far East and envied the visits
of his collector friends, including Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919) from America and Ernst
Arthur Voretzsch (1868-1965) from Germany, who provided him practical advice on exploring
historic sites and art collections in China. Unfortunately, due to political and economic reasons,
Binyon’s Far East trip had been postponed for over 14 years. It was not until 1929 when Binyon
was 60 years old, he can finally embark on a five-month Far East journey in order to gain his
firsthand experience of seeing important collections of Asian art and to learn about the collecting
and curatorial practice in Japan, China and other countries. This paper focuses on Laurence Binyon’s experience in China and his connection with Chinese scholars and artists, including
Kung-pah T. King (or Jin Cheng, 1878-1926), Sophia Chen Zen (or Chen Hengzhe, 1890-1976)
and Teng Hiok Chiu (or Zhou Tingxu, 1903-1972). With reference to Binyon’s family papers and
other primary documents as found in different archives, I will reconstruct the itinerary of
Binyon’s long-awaited journey to the Far East, tracing his footsteps in Beijing and Shanghai,
where he saw fine works of Chinese art in museums and private houses. I will discuss how
Binyon’s experience in the Far East has verified his vision of China which was largely shaped by
early English writings on Asian art. Considering Binyon’s contacts with Chinese scholars and
artists developed in his later career, I will investigate how Chinese connoisseurship refreshed
Binyon’s understanding of Chinese art and culture with new perspectives.

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