Chinese Art and the Global Eighteenth Century
Associate Professor of Art History
Lewis & Clark College
This presentation explores the ways that issues of masculinity, taste, landed-ness, and commerce coalesce in the art collecting and display practices of an eighteenth-century Dutch immigrant to the early United States, Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest. Amassed in Guangzhou, presented in Philadelphia, and finally sold at a London auction in 1799, van Braam’s collection of Chinese art had long been thought lost. The recent rediscovery of works from the London sale not only provides tangible objects from which to re-imagine the nonextant parts of van Braam’s collection, but also prompts an exploration of terms such as “quality” and “authenticity” in the context of art intended for export. Van Braam’s art collection was well-known among eighteenth-century French refugees in Philadelphia, and his circle’s descriptions of the work present us with some of the earliest art historically inflected assessments of Chinese painting written by Europeans. I discuss those texts, and the paintings to which they respond, as part of an extended body of landscape imagery created in and negotiated between cosmopolitan port cities in Asia, Africa, Europe and North America, arguing that van Braam’s display of Chinese art was both a local and global construct.