Eternal Offerings: Alfred Pillsbury’s Collection of Ancient Chinese Bronzes
In the early 20th century, guided by personal taste and self-taught connoisseurship, Alfred Pillsbury amassed a large number of Chinese objects that over time have come to epitomize the classic periods of Chinese art history. Among others, his collections of near 150 ancient Chinese bronzes are exceptional in depth, rarity, and high aesthetic standards. Now all in their permanent home, the Minneapolis Institute of Art, Pillsbury’s assemblage is typically considered to be in the top collections of ancient Chinese bronzes in the U.S. for its stylistic diversity, beauty, and condition. Representing all periods of the Bronze Age, the collection is particularly rich in products from the metropolitan foundries of the late Shang (ca. 1600-1046 BCE) and the Western Zhou (ca. 1046-771 BCE) dynasties.
This lecture tells the story of how from the early 20th century, when the center of the antiquities market shifted from Europe to the United States, American collectors recognized bronze art constituted one of the most brilliant elements of Chinese civilization. Thus several unique collections of bronze, including the Pillsbury’s assemblage, were formed. By comparing the types of Pillsbury objects with other major bronze collections in the U.S., the lecture highlights the uniqueness of Pillsbury’s taste and esthetics. Like other major bronze collections in the West, the majority of the Pillsbury bronzes are unprovenanced due to a lack of archaeological context. In light of recent Chinese archaeological discoveries, the lecture provides the most updated perspectives on a number of masterpieces in Pillsbury’s collection and on Chinese Bronze Age art in general.
This webinar is part of the Considering China webinar series.
About the Speaker
Dr. Liu Yang is the head of the Chinese, South, and Southeast Asian art department and curator of Chinese art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia). Educated in China and the UK, he received his Ph.D. in art history and archaeology from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. Prior to his appointment at Mia, Dr. Liu served as the senior curator of Chinese art at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney. He was concurrently an adjunct professor at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales. Dr. Liu has organized more than a dozen traveling exhibitions from China and has published widely on Chinese art and archaeology, including thirteen books and catalogues, three of which received book awards. In addition to his appointment at Mia, Dr. Liu also serves as a member of the advisory committee for the China Center at the University of Minnesota.