Ashmolean acquires major Chinese art collection

Wuxu and Lake Tai by Wu Guanzhong (1973) Wu Guanzhong's Wuxu and Lake Tai (1973) is part of the Sullivan collection

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The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has announced the acquisition of one of the world's most significant collections of modern Chinese art.

Some 400 works were bequeathed by Chinese art expert Professor Michael Sullivan, who died in September.

Many of the pieces by late 20th Century and contemporary Chinese artists have never been seen in public.

The works will be displayed on rotation at the Ashmolean in a gallery dedicated to Sullivan and his wife Khoan.

Some of the paintings have been loaned to the museum since 2000. They were collected by the couple on their extensive travels to China from the 1940s.

Much of the art was gained by the pair directly from the artists, and as gifts from those they made friends with.

Among the most significant paintings are by Qi Baishi and Zhang Daqian, who both died in the mid-20th Century, and also include more recent acquisitions, including Landscript by Xu Bing, which was created in 2002.

Michael Sullivan by Qu Leilei Professor Sullivan was captured by Chinese artist Qu Leilei

Sullivan retired to Oxford in 1985 after a career as the leading scholar on Chinese art outside the country.

He continued to work in the field until shortly before his death, and was honoured with a lifetime achievement award from the American Friends of Shanghai Museum in 2012.

BBC Arts Editor Will Gompertz called the new acquisition "an extraordinary gift", adding that modern Chinese art is now the "hottest ticket in town".

Curator of the collection, Dr Shelagh Vainker, said Sullivan collected through the 20th Century in every style.

"He kept with it all the way and was still acquiring pieces this year," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Dr Vainker added that the collection came with a wealth of supporting material from Sullivan's archive, including correspondence with artists.

This adds a great deal of context to the works and how they were acquired over the decades.

"As a package, it's not just just the leading collection in the West, it's a unique resource for the whole subject," she said.

"The whole field of Chinese art has exploded in the last decade," added Dr Vainker.

Professor Christopher Brown, director of the Ashmolean, said he hoped the paintings will be "enjoyed by thousands of visitors and scholars from around the world".

"We hope this is a fitting testament to a great art historian and collector," he added.

Waiting for the Ferry in Sichuan by Huang Binhong Ink work Waiting for the Ferry in Sichuan is by Huang Binhong

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