The Meiyintang collection is famous among the Chinese ancient ceramics collectors, especially for who are familiar with Sotheby’s and Christie’s Chinese porcelain auction history. The Meiyntang was widely hailed as one of the last great collections of Chinese porcelain by European owners. In the early time Meiyintang were encouraged and guided by the connoisseur and dealer Edward T. Chow (仇焱之). Some people think Nicolas Chow (仇国仕), the grandson of Edward Chow, played a major role in building Meiyintang’s reputation. However, in my opinion that is only a part of the story.
The owner of the Meiyintang collection are the Manila-born brothers Gilbert Zuellig (1918–2009) and Stephen Zuellig (b. 1917). Use of the name of “Meiyintang” actually came to be by chance. About half a century ago, Gilbert and Stephen went to Spain to visit a Chinese customers. The Chinese man’s home was surrounded by thousands of gorgeous roses in full bloom. Gilbert and Stephen were shocked by his Chinese ancient ceramic collections. This Chinese gentleman’s family had a collection representing more than 300 years of history. The Emperor “Qianlong” of Qing Dynasty granted the name “Shuangyuantang” to his family and printed his handwriting on a plaque for them to honor their great collections. After this visit, Gilbert and Stephen decided to use “Meiyintang” for their collections to memorize the trip to Chinese gentleman’s home — “Hall among Rosebeds” and also the pronunciation of “Meiyintang” is close to their hometown –Meienberg.
Gilbert Zuellig specialized in early pottery, stoneware and ceramics, spanning five millennia from the Neolithic period to the Han, Tang and Song Dynasties, while his brother Stephen collected the later porcelains of the Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties as well as archaic bronzes. From 1950s, Zuellig brothers started to buy Chinese artworks from Helen Ling, a well-respected dealer and collector in China and Singapore. Helen introduced Edward Chow to the Zuellig brothers who had a significant impact on their career as collectors. Edward Chow, the dominant Chinese collector-dealer of the post-war years, was key to helping the Meiyintang’s owner begin collecting the Chinese ancient ceramics. Edward has his own process of identifying ancient artworks while other collectors rely more on experts’ suggestions. In the early 1950, Edward bought a doucai “chicken cup” from the Ming Dynasty for HK$1000 in Hongkong antique market despite all the other collectors believing it to be a forgery. In 1980s, this doucai “chicken cup” was sold for HK$528,000. In 25 years, Meiyingtang had collected approximately 160 top Chinese ancient ceramics through world-famous antique dealers such as Priestley & Ferraro and Giuseppe Eskenazi.
Meiyintang was assembled more than half a century ago. It was kept a mystery until 1990’s. In 1994 researcher Regina Krahl published the catalogues in which the pieces of the collection are described in a scholarly presentation with comprehensive illustrations. In the same year, an exhibition dedicated to objects from the Meiyintang Collection was held at the British Museum in London. Two years later another exhibition was held in Monte Carlo. Despite the more than 2000 pieces in Meiyintang’s collection, very few of them were exhibited to the public.
Nicolas Chow, grandson of Edward Chow and Deputy Chairman for Sotheby’s Asia and the International Head of Chinese Works of Art, orchestrates auctions with a focus on ceramics and works of art from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. His recommendation of the Meiyintang collection helped Meiyintang gain further international recognition. In addition, the support of the world’s leading Chinese art dealer, Giuseppe Eskenazi, helped push up the Meiyintang collections’ price.
Antique collections require the collectors are persistent and have a wide range of knowledge. Meiyintang’s success is the proof of this rule. The Zuelling brothers, Giuspeppe Eskenazi, and Edward and Nicalos Chow collectively played a significant role in creating, preserving and sharing a remarkable collection of ancient Chinese art with the modern world.
Author: Xuanmin Cai
Translator: Kendra Jones & Zhenghong Li
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