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The Gu family treasures - history through art reunited

By Richard Whiddington and Chen Ling( chinadaily.com.cn )

Updated: 2016-12-29

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The Gu family treasures - history through art reunited

The foyer outside the Collections of the Gu Family from Suzhou in the Qing Dynasty, a landmark exhibition that will run from Dec 13, 2016 to March 12, 2017. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

There is an ancient Chinese expression offering the deities as great protectors of art. However, after journeying through Suzhou Museum's latest exhibition, visitors will likely feel that the Gu family, one of Suzhou’s most eminent artistic dynasties, were ordained with equally god-like qualities.

In the mid-1800s, Gu Wenbin, patriarch of a prominent Suzhou family, began an art collection that would span four generations and become legendary for its secrecy. In 1873, Gu's third son built Guoyun Lou, a two-storey pavilion, for the purpose of housing the ever-expanding collection. In truth, the building was more familial library and storage unit than museum and only a few paintings were ever displayed to select visitors.

However, turbulence not tranquility lay ahead for the Gu family collection. The advances of Japan's Imperial forces in the 1930s led to the swift nationwide dispersion of their priceless works of calligraphy, scholarly writing tools, and scroll paintings.

In a landmark exhibition this winter, the Suzhou Museum has arduously reconvened many Gu family treasures from nine separate sources including Beijing's Palace Museum, the National Library of China, and Jiangsu Phoenix Publishing & Media Corporation. As the exhibition's curator, Li Jun, points out this was far from a simple procedure.

"Communicating with other owners and convincing them to transfer their collection to Suzhou has taken great effort."

This is the first occasion the collection has been reestablished on such a scale and the exhibition succeeds in displaying the wealth and taste of one of East China's great collections.

It is an ambitious endeavor to represent 150 years of collecting in a single exhibition but Collections of the Gu Family from Suzhou in the Qing Dynasty sensibly handpicks highlights and doesn't overwhelm visitors with art or information.

Notably, a wide age spectrum was in attendance and the museum has organized several activities, such as rubbings and guest lectures, to help to connect attendees to the works on display. Li hopes visitors will experience more than simply fine painting when they visit Suzhou Museum.

"The exhibition is not just a visual display, it is vivid and intriguing and we hope people learn more about Suzhou culture, more like Chinese literature."

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