An outstanding collection of Chinese porcelain and jade was bequeathed to the British Museum as “one of the most important legacies” in its history.
The artworks come from the collections of Sir Joseph Hotung, a businessman, philanthropist and art collector who died last year.
Hotung’s name has graced the museum’s grand gallery of Chinese and South Asian antiquities since he donated millions of pounds to the refurbishment after complaining that he had to take a flashlight with him on 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 very fine blue and white porcelains from the Yuan (1279-1368) and Ming dynasties (1368-1644) and a dry lacquered head of a bodhisattva. The objects will be exhibited in the coming months.
George Osborne, Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, said: “This is one of the most generous gifts we have ever received, and it means that future generations can enjoy these beautiful objects and learn more about China’s extraordinary history. ”
Hotung’s family said, “Our father greatly enjoyed 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 pass through the British Museum each year.”
Another 400 works from Hotung’s personal collection will be auctioned in the fall. Among them is a “beautifully and sensitively modeled” seated figure by Avalokiteśvara from the Dali Kingdom in southwest China. It is being sold by Sotheby’s in Hong Kong at an estimated price of £1.5 million to £2 million.
Another highlight is an intricately carved cinnabar lacquer box from the 15th-century Yongle period, which Sotheby’s says is “among the most coveted examples” of Ming lacquerware.
A folding horseshoe-backed armchair made of huanghuali, a species of rosewood, is a rare example of what became a seat of honor for traveling dignitaries in the Ming Dynasty. It is estimated to sell for up to £1.5million.
Hotung “decorated his London home with beautiful things, pieces that he bought to live with,” said Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby’s chair of Asian art. “Aside from Chinese furniture and artwork, he collected Chippendale furniture and quite eclectic western paintings. It all worked together extremely harmoniously.”
Hotung’s interest in art began when he walked 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 offers “a whole new interest in life and a new dimension,” he said. “It helps me to see things from different angles.”
He later became a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Chairman of the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.
Hotung believed that collectors have a “responsibility to be stewards of these priceless works and to take great care of them,” his family said. “We are pleased that our father’s treasures will now find a new home where they can continue to be cherished and enjoyed by others.”