Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Lotherton Hall’s Oriental Gallery is being de-installed to make way for new interpretation on the history of the house.

The gallery opened on October 14 1975, as a conversion of the servant’s quarters (which included a housekeeper’s room, servants hall and gun room) in the north wing. Now, 37 years later, the plan is to reinstate these rooms, or at least an impression of them, and provide more space for informal education and a more detailed history of the house. In 1975 Lady Gascoigne, and the then director of Leeds Art Galleries, Robert Rowe, were keen to display the Frank Savery bequest of early Chinese ceramics, given to Temple Newsam in 1966, as well as the Gascoigne’s own Oriental treasures. The latter were few in number, but quite stunning to view.

The best known is the Tang period Chinese camel which “commanded the entrance” to the new gallery, and the pair of Japanese screens. The foyer before the gallery included a shop, which in early 2012 moved out of Lotherton Hall itself to the stable yard, as part of the development of a single entrance fee and more integrated offer for the whole estate.

Robert Rowe described the 1975 Oriental Gallery plans thus: ‘A great deal of thought has gone into the display units and lighting systems with the result, we hope, that the objects will be seen under conditions worthy of them. Flexibility has been a major consideration as well: to show off the beauties of a Neolithic pot, for example, it should be possible to show it in different lights and against a variety of backgrounds’ (Leeds Art Calendar 1974). A gallery view in the 1975 guide book shows a mainly cream and beige colour scheme, with contemporary low tables set against a deep red carpet, whose red was picked up by the plinths of two large island cases. The case surrounds were of polished steel or aluminium.

Two black and white photographs of the Oriental Gallery from 1975 survive, one of the same view as the colour image in the brochure, and this second one, giving a view looking back to the entrance way.

In the 1990s the colour scheme was changed by Daru Rooke, to be more sympathetic to the period interiors of the house, and to an ‘antique’ Chinese feel, using green, red and blue paint on the walls. Gilt framed paintings of boats on rivers and lovers beside lakes, by European influenced Chinese painters, were hung against the blue, and mahogany toned wood facings covered over the white metallic case edgings. Lighter grained wooden bases inside the cases improved the ambience of the chronological Chinese ceramics display.

In the last 37 years the Oriental Gallery has also hosted some major exhibitions. In the early 1980s there was an exhibition on Armorial porcelains, in the 1990s the Legacy of William Morris’ Art Pottery, in 2001 Tales from Japan, and in 2008 Chinese Treasures. 

In 1998, after several years of preparation and a donation of her own funds as seed-money, Hanna Sutcliffe wrote her booklet ‘Chinese Ceramics at Lotherton Hall, Leeds’, which was published by Leeds Museums and Galleries and has been on sale ever since. On Friday 2 November 2012 we invited her to revisit the Oriental Gallery to be filmed for our records, just before the de-install. She remains as enthusiastic in her appreciation of the collection, and talked on film about the Central or South Asian dancing boy tomb figure, the green lead glazed Han dynasty jars, a celadon tripod offering bowl and water vessel, and the cizhou ware painted pillow with the scene of the three scholars and the inscribed stele. We hope to edit this film over the next few months and publish extracts from it on the web next year.

Meanwhile a new intern with Leeds Museums and Galleries, Rane Qiaoqian (now Rane Pike), will be reviewing the Frank Savery collection, and helping us to select a range of early pieces, Sancai wares, Song tea bowls, celadons, and other stunning technical virtuosities, from his 300 plus donation for show in the Collector’s gallery at Leeds City Museum in 2013. The study alcove at the far end of what is now the Lotherton Hall Oriental Gallery will remain dedicated to Chinese ceramics, when the gallery space re-opens in its new guise later the same year.

By Antonia Lovelace, Curator (World Cultures) November 2012

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