Ashmolean gains huge private collection of Chinese art

Work amassed over several decades by Khoan and Michael Sullivan

December 15, 2013

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has just acquired the single greatest private collection of modern and contemporary Chinese art in the West, and one of greatest such collections in the world.

The Sullivan Collection consists of over 400 works put together by Michael Sullivan (1916–2013) and his wife, Khoan, since the 1940s. Many were by artists who became close friends and often made them gifts.

Professor Sullivan, who died in September, was a world authority in his field, responsible for the pioneering study Chinese Art in the Twentieth Century (1959). He was appointed lecturer in Asian art at Soas, University of London, in 1960 and went on to serve as professor of Asian art at Stanford University from 1966 to 1984.

By the time he retired to Oxford in 1985, Professor Sullivan was widely regarded as the pre-eminent scholar outside China on 20th-century Chinese art. He continued to write and lecture until his death and, though in his late 90s, travelled to Shanghai the month before he died for the launch of translations of his three major works.

Though much of the collection has never been put on public display, a selection has been shown in the Ashmolean’s Khoan and Michael Sullivan Gallery, which opened in 2000. The paintings will be now displayed there on rotation. The museum will also be putting on a small commemorative exhibition, Michael Sullivan: a Life of Art and Friendship, in March 2014.

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