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Exhibition shows influence of Chinese aesthetics in Paris

More than 170 works of Chinese art from France, including exquisite porcelain, lacquer, bronzes, furniture, drawings, prints and paintings, will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from tomorrow (April 11) to June 15, showing the influence of Chinese aesthetics in Paris from the 18th to the early 20th century.

The exhibition, "Paris 1730-1930: A Taste for China", showcases treasures from the Musée Guimet, as well as 13 other internationally acclaimed museums and institutions in France including the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay and the Centre Pompidou, Paris. Reconstructions of various Parisian locales, where Chinese aesthetics were cultivated, serve as a backdrop for the display of the artefacts. The exhibition will give visitors an idea of the role that Chinese art played in Paris during that epoch.

Jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Musée Guimet - Paris in collaboration with the Consulate General of France in Hong Kong, the exhibition is conceived by the Musée Guimet - Paris, co-organised by the Hong-Kong Museum of Art and the Musée Guimet - Paris, and supported by Champion Technology in association with its member companies and community initiatives, BNP Paribas and the French Asian Art Society. It is also one of the programmes of Le French May 2008.

Speaking at the opening ceremony today (April 10), the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing, noted that the exhibition's subtitle, "Chinese Spirit • French Taste", under the title "A Taste for China", served to tell a little more about the exhibition. The booming trade between China and France from the 18th to the early 20th century had led to a growing French interest in Chinese art and culture.

"This is interesting in that Chinese painters being influenced by French art is a fact better known in this part of the world. French artists have in fact been inspired by Chinese culture as well, as is to be seen in some of the works by such great artists as Matisse.

"This could only point to the long history of cultural ties between China and France, which have become closer and stronger in recent years. In Hong Kong, it is well known that there have been many great events of cultural exchange well patronised by art lovers, which form the basis for more collaborations in the future. The HKSAR Government has been giving support to the annual Le French May in the past 15 years. The exciting events of this French arts festival have added colour to our city life and broadened the artistic horizon of participants," Mr Tsang said.

Other officiating guests at today's opening ceremony were the Consul General of France in Hong Kong and Macau, Mr Jean-Pierre Thébault; the President of the Musée Guimet and President of the Institut de France, Mr Jean-Francois Jarrige; the Chair of Champion Technology Group, Dr Paul Kan; the Chief Executive Officer of BNP Paribas Private Bank, Hong Kong and North Asia, Mr Claude Haberer; a committee member of the French Asian Art Society, Ms Amanda Lee Beraha; and the Chief Curator of Museum of Art, Mr Tang Hoi-chiu.

In France, collecting of Chinese art originated among the royalty. Before 1700, objects from the Far East were the preserve of the very wealthy, and especially of the monarchy. The Dauphin Louis (1661–1711) set up two apartments at the Chateau de Meudon "à la chinoise". Philippe (1640–1701), the king's brother, kept his Chinese ceramics at the Chateau de Saint-Cloud. His son, Philippe d'Orléans, Regent of France (1674–1723), inherited his interests. His rich collection of Chinese art includes countless pieces of Chinese porcelain, many of which are vases, cups and plates painted with the "arms of Orléans", made to order.

From 1720 onward, French Company ships kept up a regular flow of traffic to and from China, with permanent representation in Canton. The ships of the company sailed in and out of the ports of Brittany—principally Nantes, Saint-Malo and Lorient. As Sino-French trade prospered, wealthy merchants and prominent families soon followed the royal taste and became admirers of Chinese art.

In 1755 the Comédie-Francaise staged the "Orphelin de la Chine", a tragedy written by Voltaire inspired by a story that dates back to the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). In the "Orphelin", the loose interpretation of Chinese and Tartar designs was testimony to Chinese influence on the French performing arts.

Men of letters and art lovers Edmond (1822–1896) and Jules de Goncourt (1830–1870) styled themselves as upholders of "French taste". Their appreciation of Chinese art, however, was evident in their incorporation of the art of China and Japan in their 18th century interiors. In their eyes, Chinese porcelain was the perfect expression of the true universality of taste. Their appreciation indicated that the impact of Chinese aesthetics had extended beyond high society to the literati. The European master Henri Matisse (1869–1954) also showed his appreciation of ancient Chinese art. From his sketches can be seen the inspiration that the great artist drew from Chinese paintings.

With nearly 6,000 items, the collection of Grandidier (1833-1912) is the most important collection of Chinese ceramics in French history. The collection includes many fine works from the official porcelain kilns. As ancient Chinese artifacts were excavated and found their way to Europe, Grandidier expanded his attention to ceramics of the Song and Yuan and earlier. In 1894, he decided to donate his collection to the French government. It was kept and displayed at the Musée du Louvre. From 1944 to 1945, the entire collection was transferred from the Louvre to the Guimet Museum, where it remains on display today. Some of its masterpieces are among the star attractions in this exhibition.

To enhance viewers' appreciation of the exhibits, a series of lectures will be organised. On April 12 at 2.30pm, the Chief Curator of the Chinese Collection, Musée Guimet, Mr Jean-Paul Desroches, will give a lecture in French with English interpretation in the museum's Lecture Hall to introduce the highlights of the exhibition. Admission to this lecture is free and 150 seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis.

In addition, a fully illustrated catalogue will soon be available at the museum's Gift Shop.

The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Sunday to Wednesday and Fridays, and from 10am to 8pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission for the "A Taste for China" exhibition is $20. Half-price concession is available for senior citizens aged 60 or above, full-time students and people with disabilities. "Free Admission on Wednesdays" and the Museum Weekly Pass are not applicable to this exhibition.

For details of the exhibition, visit the Museum of Art's website at . For enquiries, call 2721 0116.

Ends/Thursday, April 10, 2008
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