Welllcoomee backk. Your dreams were your ticket outtt.
News on the return of our (their?) painting is popping up across South Korea. As we prepare our own U.S. press release it seems only fitting that I step in now to stamp my seal of randomness on the entire event. In truth, this has been one of the most amazing experiences I have taken part in during my young life. The hospitality and professionalism with which the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation demonstrated has made this entire journey as smooth as mixing soju with beer (cultural reference, check).
So where to begin…
Probably the best place to start is in Korea somewhere between 1910 and 1940 during Japanese occupation. At that time Japanese art dealers made quick work of removing objects from the peninsula and then shipping them to galleries across the U.S. and Europe. Our particular piece was cut from a temple, rolled up and moved to good’ol Merica by means of Yamanaka and Co. For those not in the know Yamanaka was one of the most prominent Asian antiquities dealers in the first half of the twentieth century with galleries in New York, Chicago and Boston. Our proprietor, Florence Sloane, was an adamant lover of Asian art. She was also a hound when it came to sniffing out deals. Quite possibly the greatest deal on Asian art came during WWII when the Alien Property Custodian of the United States of America began to liquidate Yamanaka’s stock because…well…he was Japanese and we weren’t having any of that.
As early as 1943 this painting came up to auction at a cost of $6,000.00. It is possible that the work made an appearance at an earlier sale, however, the oldest sale catalogs we have show it available in 43.
( I suck at scanning…get over it)
Apparently nobody thought six grand was a good deal because the painting was shelved and would not reappear until 1944. In our records there is mention of the price dropping to $2,000.00, but there is no discussion as to what gallery is offering that particular price.
Fast forward to May of 1944. A four day auction at Parke-Bernet Galleries in NYC brings the work back out at a Black Friday deal-buster price of $450.00 (less than an Xbox One!). Florence quickly snatches up the painting along with a few other goods. By June 5th everything is paid for and prepped to journey to the second drunkest city in the U.S (ca. 2013)….Norfolk, Virginia.
So then we hung that beauty on the wall, right? Wrong. It went into storage until 1954 when E.K. Sloane, Florence’s youngest son, loaned it to the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences (better known as the Chrysler Museum today). It remained in a stairwell there before it was brought down in 1973 and returned to the Sloane mansion. For close to thirty years it remained in storage before we began to look around for someone to conserve the work in the mid 2000’s.
The Virginia Association of Museums (VAM) started an amazing endangered artifact program where we made the list! I never win anything so I am still excited to finally place in something. This little nugget of recognition found its way to the OKCHF last year where we then began the talks that would see this painting returned to the Republic of Korea.
Here is a photo montage of what happened during that period.
“Yep, it’s a painting of Buddha.”
“So then she said…” (they wait with abated breathe)
Checking out the material it was painted on and patched with. Silk and Hemp.
It looks like I am saying something important when, in fact, I am surrounded by some of the most well known scholars in the field of Joeson dynasty painting.
I think we call this “getting schooled.”
Big crate for a big painting.
There are actually very scholarly things to say about all of this and I promise you that they will appear in time. For now just enjoy the humor and should you have serious questions I will welcome them with open ears.
Also, if you aren’t a fan of Kotter then you can find your way to the Internets exit door.