October 3 marked a homecoming, albeit temporary, for a beloved work of art: long part of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts’ collection, Jade Mountain was installed in the galleries for the October 16 opening of Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections. Its history with the Walker goes back more than 100 years to the museum’s founder, Thomas Barlow Walker.
Jade Mountain Illustrating the Gathering of Scholars at the Lanting Pavillion (1784), carved from light green jade in Qing Dynasty China, chronicles members of an ancient literary society as they celebrate the Spring Purification Festival alongside a stream in Shaoxing. As curators explained on the joint Walker/MIA website ArtsConnectEd: “The scholars engaged in a drinking contest: Wine cups were floated down a small winding creek as the men sat along its banks; whenever a cup stopped, the man closest to the cup was required to empty it and write a poem. In the end, 26 of the participants composed 37 poems. Wang Xizhi was asked to write an introduction to the collection of these poems.” That poem, transcribed by Emperor Ch’ein-lung, appears on Jade Mountain.
The work, the largest jade carving outside of China, was brought to the United States by Herbert Squiers, who served as Secretary of the U. S. Delegation in Peking (Beijing) until 1901. Squiers donated much of his collection of Chinese jade and porcelain to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but after his death in 1912 the remainder was put up for auction. T.B. Walker’s top bid of $4,000 brought the work to Minneapolis. Included in a “time capsule” within Art at the Center, Jade Mountain is presented in front of a photographic reproduction of Walker’s mansion, where the the 640-pound sculpture is visible on a table. The work was part of Walker’s collection through his death in 1928, his gallery’s reopening as a public art center in 1940, and throughout much of the Walker Art Center’s modern history. In 1976 Jade Mountain went on long-term loan to the MIA, and over the ensuing decade negotiations led to the permanent transfer of its ownership to the MIA. The MIA generously agreed to lend this spectacular piece for Art at the Center in commemoration of the Walker’s 75th anniversary as a public art center. It will remain on view here until March 29, 2015.