An exceptional collection of Chinese porcelain and jade was left to the British Museum in “one of the most important bequests” in its history.
The artwork, estimated at around £100million, comes from the collections of Sir Joseph Hotung, a businessman, philanthropist and art collector, who died last year.
Hotung’s name adorns the museum’s main gallery of Chinese and South Asian antiquities since he donated millions of pounds for its refurbishment after complaining he needed to take a torch on tours because the lighting was so dim. It was reopened by the Queen in 1992 and then again in 2017 after further renovations.
The bequest includes 246 jades, 15 very fine blue and white porcelains from the Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) dynasties and a dry lacquer head of a bodhisattva. The objects will be exhibited in the coming months.
George Osborne, Chairman of the Museum Trustees, 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 the extraordinary history of China. ”
Hotung’s family said, “Our father was very fond of collecting and studying exquisite art, and he believed that art should be accessible to everyone. We are delighted that our father’s collections are now seen by the millions of visitors who visit the British Museum each year.
Another 400 works from Hotung’s personal collection will be auctioned in the fall. They include a “beautifully and delicately modeled” seated figure of Avalokiteśvara from Dali’s kingdom in southwestern China. It will be sold by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong, with an estimated price of between £1.5 and £2 million.
Another highlight is an intricately carved cinnabar lacquer box from the Yongle period in the 15th century that is “among the most desirable examples” of Ming lacquer, according to Sotheby’s.
Folding armchair with horseshoe back, in huanghuali, a type of rosewood, is a rare example of what in the Ming Dynasty became a seat of honor for traveling dignitaries. It is estimated to sell for up to £1.5million.
Hotung “adorned his London home with beautiful things, pieces he bought for a living,” said Henry Howard-Sneyd, chair of the Asian Art Chair at Sotheby’s. “In addition to Chinese furniture and works of art, he collects 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 buys two decorative Chinese bowls.
His newfound passion provided “a totally new interest in life and a new dimension,” he said. “It helps me see things from different angles.”
He then became a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.
Hotung felt collectors had a “responsibility to be custodians of these priceless works and to look after them with great care,” his family said. “We are pleased that our father’s treasures are now finding new homes where they can continue to be cherished and enjoyed by others.”