The history of the Weng Collection reads like an epic novel. Assembled primarily during the nineteenth century, the collection has survived the tumult of the last one hundred years of dynastic changes and warfare; remarkably, it remains unscathed and in the care of the original family. Weng Tonghe (1830–1904), the family patriarch who formed the collection, was a preeminent figure in nineteenth-century China. Weng held some of the highest positions at the imperial court, including tutor to two of the last emperors of the Qing dynasty. The Weng collection was passed down through the generations, finally coming to his great-great-grandson Wan-go Weng—the current owner—who brought the collection to the United States for safe keeping in 1948, months before the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
This exhibition presents thirty rarely seen masterworks of Chinese painting and calligraphy from the Weng Collection, many of which have never been exhibited. Among them is an exquisite handscroll by the Southern Song artist Liang Kai (thirteenth century), the only known example of his courtly style. Also on view is the monumental handscroll painting Ten Thousand Li up the Yangtze River by Wang Hui (1632–1717), in which the artist traces China’s greatest river from the ocean to its source in over fifty feet of imaginatively layered brushwork. Wen Zhengming (1470–1559), one of the most influential of Ming dynasty calligraphers, is represented by a touchingly personal scroll of letters to his sons. In tandem with these works, the history of the Weng family itself is told through historical photographs, manuscripts, and artworks created by generations of family members, including Weng Tonghe and Wan-go Weng. In addition, two short films specially produced for this exhibition are on view in the galleries, featuring the 88-year-old collector recounting the stories of his life and his collection.