Curating Blue and White: Whistler's Chinese Ceramics

‌The Hunterian currently holds over three hundred Chinese blue and white porcelain pieces from the James McNeill Whistler’s Collection. This substantial ceramic collection comprises several tea and dinner services with intricate patterns involving Chinese mythological creatures and popular novels. These objects give one a sense of Whistler’s enthusiasm for oriental works of art, not only as a collector but also as an artist.

Qilin, chinese Mythical creature, symbolises fertility in Chinese CultureRecognising the significance of these ceramics, The Hunterian plans to improve access to this collection on-site and to further embellish and highlight their online presence. My project will assist in the preparatory work for this project as well as bringing the collection to new audiences via my project page and a series of outreach talks. New information will be updated to the Whistler Online Catalogue, an online database for general public use.

‌So far this curatorial practice identifies over thirty sets of ceramics. Each set presents a popular iconography of Chinese culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Qilin (麒麟), a mythological creature, is one of the most occurring motifs appearing in Whistler’s Collection.

The pair of salt-callars shown here is a fine example of a European form illustrated with a Chinese decorative theme. The ancient Chinese believed that a child will be born when Qiling appears. This auspicious creature, therefore, became known to symbolise fertility and fortune in Chinese agricultural society. Such belief is unlikely to be shared by Whistler and his peers; nevertheless, the salt-callars demonstrate his curiosity in oriental mythology and aesthetics.

Pair of Blue and White ceramic salt stands from Whistler's ceramics collection. GLAHA 54422 and 54577. Decorated with Chinese imagery, mythological creature A significant aspect of this study will be to explain the primary cultural encounter reflected in fusion pieces such as the salt stands. This shall be done by way of identifying Whistler’s interests in Chinese iconography and by making comparisons with other European productions.

Online Publication: Curating Blues and White. Whistler's Ceramic Collections at The Hunterian


Chihyin Hsiao, Researching for PhD in China and Mediaeval Art, expected 2016