Excursion: Treasures through Six Generations

Tomorrow I will be heading down to the Huntington Library with a friend.  This is a rather pleasant, serendipitous excursion because while in South Pasadena, at Gus’s, I saw a poster for this exhibit, Treasures through Six Generations:  Chinese Painting and Calligraphy from the Weng Collection. In the back of my mind I thought it would be worthwhile seeing, but not sure if I could organize my life enough to get to it.  The biggest intimidation factor is I just don’t like driving in L.A. traffic!  I’ll be meeting up with my excursion buddy in the valley, and as I am driving the first half, chauffering will be provided the rest of the way.

The Weng Collection has an interesting history behind it.   According to the press release of Feb.23, 2009 from Huntington:

The history of the Weng family and their art collection reads like an epic novel, mirroring the tumult of 19th- and 20th-century China and its ensuing diaspora. Assembled primarily in the second half of the 19th century, the collection is legendary not only for its superb selection—it contains masterpieces of brush and ink spanning 900 years—but also for the remarkable individuals who have been responsible for its formation and safe-keeping. The works of art have survived repeated dynastic changes, protracted warfare, and journeys across continents, remaining almost miraculously unscathed under the care of this family.

The Weng collection has been in the same family for six generations, beginning with Weng Xincun (1791–1862). Xincun’s son Weng Tonghe (1830–1904) and the collection’s current owner, Wan-go Weng (b. 1918), are particularly celebrated for their remarkable achievements.Weng Tonghe, the family patriarch who formed the nucleus of the collection,was a preeminent figure in late Qing China.He rose to prominence when he placed first in the 1856 metropolitan exams for the jinshi degree and became a zhuangyuan (“First Scholar of the Nation,” as Wan-go Weng likes to say). Weng went on to tutor two emperors, Tongzhi (r.1862–74) and Guangxu (r. 1875–1908). The latter studied with him for a total of 24 years and regarded him as his closest adviser. In addition, Weng also held some of the highest positions in the government. He is remembered in history as the leader of the pro-war faction during the Sino-Japanese war in 1894–1895 and, through his introduction of the radical reformer Kang Youwei (1858–1927) to Guangxu, for his early influence on the emperor’s Hundred Days’Reform in 1898.

Weng Tonghe’s collection was passed down to Wan-go Weng, who brought it to the United States in 1948. Wan-go Weng is himself a modern-day Renaissance man—filmmaker,poet, scholar and civic leader—whose English films and publications on Chinese history and art have been widely influential among both scholars and general readers. Under his leadership in the mid 1980s, the New York–based China Institute rebuilt its reputation as one of the leading centers for the promotion of Chinese culture in the United States . . . .

The gardens at the Huntington Library are renown.  There are themed gardens, such as a Chinese one which is a perfect parallel for the Weng exhibit, a Japanese garden, a desert garden, a Shakespeare garden, and more.  If you want to see what is in bloom, for instance, this month, you can click here.

I’ve lived in California most of my adult life, within close proximity of the Huntington – never more than 100 miles – but this is my first trip, and I’m as excited as a kid going to Disneyland!


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