MFA Boston Gets a Game-Changing Gift of Chinese Art Spanning Five Dynasties—See Highlights Here

The museum says the 183-work donation is one of the most significant gifts in its history.

Xiang Shengmo Self Portrait (1646). Photo: courtesy of the MFA, Boston.

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts has received a substantial donation of 183 Chinese artworks and artifacts from the art historian and filmmaker Wan-go H.C. Weng. While the museum declined to estimate the value of the donation, a spokeswoman told the New York Times it was “one of the most significant gifts in the museum’s history.”

Much of the collection was handed down through six generations, stretching back to 1865, when Weng’s great-great-grandfather Weng Tonghe worked as a tutor at the Qing dynasty imperial court and would occasionally buy paintings with his limited government wages.

The gift spans 13 centuries and five dynasties of Chinese Imperial rulers, but is weighted heavily towards later Ming and Qing periods, complementing the MFA’s existing collection, which has strong examples of early Chinese painting, but gaps in later periods. The addition of Weng’s collection elevates the MFA’s collection of Chinese painting to one of the most important outside of China.

Speaking to the Boston Globe, the MFA’s curator of Chinese art Nancy Berliner said the contours of the museum’s existing holdings were part of the donor’s calculus. “That was something Wan-go was very aware of for many years,” she said. “His intention was to fill that gap.”

The works include everything from landscapes to portraits, calligraphy, embroidery, and even playing cards. Highlights include the Suzhou Sceneries, an album by Shen Zhou, founder of the Wu School (15th- and 16th- centuries); landscape and calligraphic artist Wen Zhengming’s Nine Letters to Home (16th century); and works by Ming dynasty master Chen Hongshou.

A selection of key pieces from the Weng donation will go on display at the MFA in late 2019, together with a previous donation from the collector, a 53-foot Chinese scroll (17th century) depicting the Yangtze riverbank.

The gift is the second major donation the MFA has received in the last 18 months, following a gift of 113 Dutch golden age paintings from Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo and Susan and Matthew Weatherbie last October.

See highlights of the gift below.

Wang Hui and Jiao Bingzhen Portrait of An Qi in His Garden (detail) (1698). Photo: courtesy of the MFA Boston.

Shen Zhou Landscape of Suzhou Sceneries (detail) (1484-1504). Photo: courtesy of the MFA Boston.

Chen Hongshou Bogu Pai (detail) (1651-1653). Photo: courtesy of the MFA Boston.

Wen Zhengming Nine Letters to Home (after 1523). Photo: courtesy of the MFA Boston.

Hua Yan Boating Under Autumn Moon (1748). Photo: courtesy of the MFA Boston.

Shen Zhou Landscape of Suzhou Sceneries (detail) (1484-1504). Photo: courtesy of the MFA, Boston.

Chen Hongshou Bogu Pai (detail) (1651-1653). Photo: courtesy of the MFA, Boston.

Chen Hongshou Bogu Pai (detail) (1651-1653). Photo: courtesy of the MFA, Boston.

Anonymous Rubbing of a Daguan Tie, vol. III (1109). Photo: courtesy of the MFA, Boston.


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