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Description: Early Chinese Jades in the Harvard Art Museums
PublisherHarvard Art Museums
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The Harvard Art Museums have been immeasurably enriched by the generosity of Grenville L. Winthrop. A New York–based attorney and prolific art collector, Winthrop bequeathed his entire collection—nearly 4,000 works—to his alma mater upon his death in 1943. From paintings and drawings by the likes of Ingres, Whistler, and the Pre-Raphaelites to sculpture from the ancient Americas and the Near and Far East, this eclectic assemblage was transformative from the moment it arrived at Harvard, and it continues to fascinate and enlighten visitors today.
From such an impressive array of objects, it is difficult to single out just one area for special praise. Yet Winthrop’s collection of early Chinese jades truly stands apart: almost 700 objects, with exquisite examples to top any similar collection worldwide. In 2003, when parts of the larger Winthrop Collection were featured in the traveling exhibition A Private Passion, curator Stephan Wolohojian remarked that “to this day, no other collector has been able to assemble a comparable collection of ancient Chinese jades and bronzes.” The foresight and discriminating eye that Winthrop brought to his jades collection has been entirely to our benefit, situating Harvard as a major site for the study and appreciation of these remarkable cultural and artistic artifacts.
Such a preeminent collection deserves expert attention, and we are very pleased that Jenny So has brought her extensive knowledge and passion to bear on these objects. Not since Max Loehr’s masterful 1975 catalogue of the Winthrop jades has such focus been directed toward these works; it was an overdue effort that So has enlivened through her fresh insights and new documentation. As she states in her preface, the goal was not just to update Loehr’s catalogue but to do something altogether more ambitious: to tell a fuller history of jade’s importance in Chinese ritual, political, spiritual, and artistic life—a sprawling narrative that spans Neolithic times to the present day. We are grateful to have a book so perfectly in accord with the fascinating story the objects themselves have to tell.
Credit is also due to my predecessor as director of the Harvard Art Museums, Tom Lentz, who lured Jenny So into writing about the Winthrop Collection and who encouraged her throughout the lengthy research process. Susanne Ebbinghaus, the George M.A. Hanfmann Curator of Ancient Art and head of the Division of Asian and Mediterranean Art, also deserves praise for providing overall support for this project across its several years. In addition, staff in her division will soon begin work on a complementary digital project, updating the online object records for all the Winthrop jades and providing an invaluable resource to researchers around the world. Thanks also to former Chinese art curator Robert Mowry, who was an early advocate of this project.
Besides crucial staff support, the Harvard Art Museums are fortunate to have funds specifically earmarked for the publication and dissemination of new scholarship on our permanent collections. We are grateful for a grant from the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and support from the Andrew W. Mellon Publication Funds, including the Henry P. McIlhenny Fund, for their part in making this publication possible.
The Harvard Art Museums today look quite a bit different from when Grenville Winthrop first made his bequest, but in many ways we are just the same. We still put the close examination of original works of art front and center—for students and the public alike—and this new volume on the Winthrop Collection exemplifies that approach. Intricately detailed, small in scale, and layered with meaning: these early Chinese jades demand a careful scrutiny that pays dividends to those who make the commitment.
Martha Tedeschi
Elizabeth and John Moors Cabot Director
Harvard Art Museums