THE ANNEX BLOGChinese Ceramics and Modernity
How George Eumorfopoulos’s Collection Inspired Contemporary Artists – 27.7.16
George Eumorfopoulos, 1863-1939.

George Eumorfopoulos (1863–1939).

George Eumorfopoulos, as one of the most important collectors of art of his time, was ideally poised to form a vision of China for his peers. His collection of Chinese ceramics, now housed at the Benaki Museum in Greece, showcases previously unseen artefacts that shed significant light on the Western preoccupation with the East in the years leading up to the Second World War. In China Rediscovered, George Manginis explores these works of Chinese antiquity in relation to the country’s early cultures and – true to the exhibition in Athens – tells two narratives: the first depicts the chronological history of ceramics in China while the second unfolds the contact between China and the West throughout the centuries. This book, then, not only details the exquisite objects that Eumorfopolous collected during his career, but is also fundamental to our understanding of how China’s cultural identity informed the practice of contemporary sculptors across the globe. What follows is a snapshot of pages between the cover of Manginis’s wonderfully illustrated book.

Jar. Porcelain painted in underglaze cobalt blue with two garden scenes with men and attendants, clouds, wave motif, and leaves. Jiangxi province, Jingdezhen. Ming dynasty, circa mid-fifteenth cetury. Benaki Museum 2517.

Jar.
Porcelain painted in underglaze cobalt blue with two garden scenes with men and attendants, clouds, wave motif, and leaves.
Jiangxi province, Jingdezhen. Ming dynasty, circa mid-fifteenth century.
Benaki Museum 2517.

Brushpot. Porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue outlines and overglaze enamel decoration of scholar's objects. Jiangxi province, Jingdezhen. Kangxi reign. Benaki Museum 2855.

Brushpot.
Porcelain with underglaze cobalt blue outlines and overglaze enamel decoration of scholar’s objects.
Jiangxi province, Jingdezhen. Kangxi reign.
Benaki Museum 2855.

Cup. Porcelain with yellow enamel on the exterior over clear glaze. Six character inscription, da qing yangzheng nian zhi ('made during the Yongzheng reign of the great Qing dynasty'), within a double circle in underglaze cobalt blue on the base. Jiangzi province, Jingdezhen. Yongzheng reign. Benaki Museum 2770.

Cup.
Porcelain with yellow enamel on the exterior over clear glaze.
Six character inscription, da qing yongzheng nian zhi (‘made during the Yongzheng reign of the great Qing dynasty’), within a double circle in underglaze cobalt blue on the base.
Jiangzi province, Jingdezhen. Yongzheng reign.
Benaki Museum 2770.

Tripod incense burner. Earthenware with yellow glaze on the interior and cobalt blue glaze on the exterior. Henan province. Tang dynasty, eighth century. Benaki Museum 2242.

Tripod incense burner.
Earthenware with yellow glaze on the interior and cobalt blue glaze on the exterior.
Henan province. Tang dynasty, eighth century.
Benaki Museum 2242.

Room in George Eumorfopoulos's house. 7 Chelsea Embankment in late 1934. Some of the art in sight includes pieces by Jacob Epstein (Second Portrait of Euphemia Lamb and Bust of Nan), Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (Mlle Borne), and Barbara Hepworth (Pigeons and Mother and Child). Benaki Museum.

Room in George Eumorfopoulos’s house.
7 Chelsea Embankment in late 1934. Some of the art in sight includes pieces by Jacob Epstein (Second Portrait of Euphemia Lamb and Bust of Nan), Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (Mlle Borne), and Barbara Hepworth (Pigeons and Mother and Child).
Benaki Museum.

Eumorfopoulos – not only a great admirer of Chinese art, and of ceramics more generally – was key in shaping the work of contemporary artists. Indeed, his collection had a social impact: for artists and studio potters such as Barbara Hepworth, Eumorfopoulos acted as an arbiter between the modernist art scene in which they worked and the inspiring ancient artefacts that informed their designs.

Paving the way for female artists in a world dominated by men, Barbara Hepworth became a leading figure in the new modernist movement associated with abstraction and direct carving. Making it new while looking back, appreciating, and re-evaluting classical art (including early Chinese pottery), her revolutionary principles were informed by ancient styles. One only has to consider the use of Chinese stoneware glazes on modernist sculptures to comprehend the importance of collections such as Eumorfopoulos’s. Art – Hepworth and other modernists understood – is an ongoing conversation with the past and present. In light of such acclaimed collections as Eumorfopoulos’s, it is of little wonder that studio pottery as an art form consequently grew in stature for, as Barbara Hepworth once said, carving ‘is more interesting […] because there is an unlimited variety of materials from which to draw inspiration’.1 And, as her connection with Eumorfopoulos surely signifies, Chinese ceramics were undoubtedly one of these inspiring materials. Continue reading for sneak peak of more of the collection photographed in China Rediscovered.

Tripod censer. Stoneware with green glaze. Restored using gold lacquer. Zhejiang province, Longquan. Southern Song dynasty, thirteenth century. Benaki Museum 2388.

Tripod censer.
Stoneware with green glaze.
Restored using gold lacquer.
Zhejiang province, Longquan. Southern Song dynasty, thirteenth century.
Benaki Museum 2388.

Flower pot. Stoneware with variegated glaze (blue on the interior, purple on the exterior), brown dressing, and seventeen spur marks on the base. Numeral qi (‘seven’) incised on the base. Henan province, Yuzhou. Early Ming dynasty. Benaki Museum 2335.

Flower pot.
Stoneware with variegated glaze (blue on the interior, purple on the exterior), brown dressing, and seventeen spur marks on the base.
Numeral qi (‘seven’) incised on the base.
Henan province, Yuzhou. Early Ming dynasty.
Benaki Museum 2335.

Figure of Guanyin. Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy. Porcelain with white glaze over moulded and applied decoration. Fujian province, Dehau county. Late Ming to early Qing dynasties, seventeenth to eighteenth century. Benaki Museum 2580.

Figure of Guanyin.
Guanyin, Goddess of Mercy.
Porcelain with white glaze over moulded and applied decoration.
Fujian province, Dehau county. Late Ming to early Qing dynasties, seventeenth to eighteenth century.
Benaki Museum 2580.

Bowl. Porcelain with pale blue gaze over incised and moulded relief decoration of stylised flower scroll and upright leaves. Six character inscription, da qing wongzheng nian zhi (‘made during the Yongzheng reign of the Qing dynasty’), within a double circle in underglaze cobalt blue on the base. Jiangxi province, Jingdezhen. Yongzheng reign. Benaki Museum 2744.

Bowl.
Porcelain with pale blue gaze over incised and moulded relief decoration of stylised flower scroll and upright leaves.
Six character inscription, da qing wongzheng nian zhi (‘made during the Yongzheng reign of the Qing dynasty’), within a double circle in underglaze cobalt blue on the base.
Jiangxi province, Jingdezhen. Yongzheng reign.
Benaki Museum 2744.

Room in the extension behind George Eumorfopoulos’s House. 7 Chelsea Embankment in late 1934. The extent of Eumorfopoulos’s inventory, evident in this photograph of the ‘museum’ annexe, and his eagerness to make his holdings accessible to all, would render Eumorfopoulos’s personal choices influential, indeed canonical. Benaki Museum.

Room in the extension behind George Eumorfopoulos’s House.
7 Chelsea Embankment in late 1934. The extent of Eumorfopoulos’s inventory, evident in this photograph of the ‘museum’ annexe, and his eagerness to make his holdings accessible to all, would render Eumorfopoulos’s personal choices influential, indeed canonical.
Benaki Museum.

If you are interested in learning more about the history of Chinese ceramics, would like to see more of Eumorfopoulos’s vast collection, or want a greater understanding of how this antique art form impacted modern potters, you can read on here.


1. Ed. Karen Wright, The Penguin Book of Art Writing (Viking:1998), p.507.