The Chinese Collection of Nathan Dunn: Its Origin, Travels and Influence on the Arts of Britain

By Nancy B. Wilkinson.

Published by The Arts Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

When American Nathan Dunn, who had been a trader in Canton, China, for 13 years, returned to his home in Philadelphia in 1831, he brought with him a large and remarkable collection of Chinese artistic and cultural objects. In 1838, he opened the “Chinese Museum” in Philadelphia, with an accompanying 120-page catalogue, romantically titled, Ten Thousand Chinese Things. 100,000 visitors saw it in Philadelphia and an equal number in London, where the Collection was displayed in a pagoda-like exhibition hall at Hyde Park Corner in 1842. 70,000 to 80,000 catalogues were sold in the U.S. and England. Although Dunn died in 1844, his partners brought the Collection back to London in 1851, to coincide with the Great International Exhibition. This time it was all but ignored and much of the collection was auctioned at Christie’s in December of that year. While this brought an ignoble end to one of the most important educational exchanges of the 19th century, the auction opened a new chapter in the story of Asian influences in British arts. Fully a third of the objects were bought by one London dealer, formerly a tea importer, and through his shop the remnants of the Chinese Collection were disseminated to young British artists and designers ready to transfer global discoveries into modern design.

Keywords: Nathan Dunn, Chinese Collection, Philadelphia Chinese Museum, William Hewett, Edward William Godwin

International Journal of the Arts in Society, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp.61-70. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.685MB).

Dr. Nancy B. Wilkinson

Associate Professor of Art History, Department of Art, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA

Dr. Nancy Burch Wilkinson has graduate degrees in Asian and Modern Western art history from the University of California at Berkeley (M.A.) and UCLA (Ph.D.). She is a faculty member in the Oklahoma State University Art Department where she has taught Chinese and Japanese art as well as European art from the Greek period to the twentieth century. For many years she also taught humanities in the Honors College. Her research area is the influence of Japanese art and culture on Great Britain during the nineteenth century. Her administrative experience includes serving as Head of the Art Department (1990-98), Director of OSU’s Gardiner Art Gallery (1992-95), Chair of the OSU Faculty Council (1998-99) and Director of Graduate Programs in the School of International Studies (2003-06). She has participated in numerous international programs, such as the Peace Corps (Thailand), Fulbright in China and India, and Semester at Sea, where she taught world art on two voyages.

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