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Life Arts

Priceless: Small Museum with Big Heart Returns Plundered Art

By   Follow Me on Twitter     Message Meryl Ann Butler     Permalink
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Detail of painting
(Image by Courtesy of the OKCHF)
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Amidst a host of international battles over the ownership of plundered artworks, a small museum in Virginia is doing the right thing by repatriating a priceless piece of religious art.

Norfolk's Hermitage Museum & Gardens has just given a rare 18th century Buddhist painting on fabric from its collection to the National Museum of Korea. The Hermitage Museum was founded by William and Florence Sloane in 1937 and opened to the public in 1942.


Hermitage Museum and Gardens, Norfok, VA
(Image by Courtesy of the Hermitage Museum and Gardens)
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The Sloane's collection of fine and decorative art spans 5,000 years, represents 30 countries and includes over 5,000 objects. The collection is housed in their former home, a 42-room Arts and Crafts mansion on the shore of the Lafayette River in Norfolk, Virginia. Approximately 20% of the collection is Asian art.


Hermitage Museum and Gardens, Norfok, VA
(Image by Courtesy of the Hermitage Museum and Gardens)
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The Korean Sakyamuni Triad Painting's century-long, circuitous journey was finally completed when it was returned to Korea with the assistance of the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation (OKCHF). The focus of the OKCHF is to preserve and protect Korean art, and to reclaim some of the art which was plundered during the Japanese occupation.


Korean Sakyamuni Triad Painting
(Image by Courtesy of the OKCHF)
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The 10-foot by 10-foot painting depicts Buddha delivering a sermon to his followers. Unlike other images of the time, Buddha's disciples are not positioned behind him, but are depicted sitting in front of him in rapt attention. OKCHF Chairman AHN Hwi-joon notes that, "this tapestry depicts the Buddha in a deeply moving way that touches the hearts of viewers," and (it) "should be designated as a National Treasure."

Colin Brady, Chief Curator at the Hermitage, accompanied the 18th century Korean Sakyamuni Triad painting on its return to South Korea in December, 2013. He noted that the "estimated value of the work is about $200,000, and the cost of restoration will be between $70,000 and $100,000. It will take close to two years to complete the restoration."


The painting being unloaded at the Incheon airport.
(Image by Courtesy of the OKCHF)
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Brady with Chairman Ahn Hwi Joon. The document recognizes the repatriation.
(Image by Courtesy of the OKCHF)
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Following restoration, the painting will remain in Korea permanently, on display at the museum. Funding for the restoration is being provided by OKCHF, the Korean museum, and internationally-known League of Legends creator Riot Games.


The painting is inspected in the conservatory, Nat'l Museum of Korea (Seoul)
(Image by Courtesy of the OKCHF)
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This Buddha's journey began during the colonial occupation of Korea from 1910-1945, when Japan plundered tens of thousands of pieces of Korea's artistic treasures. Asian art dealership, Yamanaka & Company, Inc., was one of the primary providers of Asian antiquities to the west, and had offices in New York, Beijing, Osaka and London. Some time prior to 1940, one of its employees removed this painting from a Korean Buddhist temple by cutting it out of its frame and rolling it up.

By 1943, Yamanaka & Company was in the process of liquidation and the painting had changed hands to NYC's Parke-Bernet Galleries. It was included in two auctions first for $6,000.00 and later for $2,000.00, but remained unsold. Finally, in May of 1944 it was purchased at auction by Florence Sloane for $450.


Yamanaka catalogue page, 1944 auction
(Image by Courtesy of the OKCHF)
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Meryl Ann Butler is an artist, author, educator and OpedNews Managing Editor who has been actively engaged in utilizing the arts as stepping-stones toward joy-filled wellbeing since she was a hippie. She began writing for OpEdNews in Feb, 2004. She became a Senior Editor in August 2012 and Managing Editor in January, (more...)
 

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