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Chinese Metalwork

DATES February 11, 1949 through April 17, 1949
ORGANIZING DEPARTMENT Asian Art
COLLECTIONS Asian Art
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  • February 11, 1949 An exhibition of Chinese Metalwork opened at the Brooklyn Museum today (February 11) in a gallery on the main floor of the Museum. The exhibition will remain on view through April 17.

    The exhibition consists of over 200 pieces of metalwork of every description, illustrating traditional Chinese production in brass, copper, alloys of pewter, and bronze, as used for domestic purposes. It constitutes a repertory of many traditional forms used for every kind of object to minister to the needs of daily living.

    It well may be that originally such metals as pewter, in Chinese antiquity, were regarded merely as inferior to bronze; much in the same way that pewter tankards, for example, were substitutes in Elizabethan England for more valuable silver ones. Yet the Chinese have always had a nice sense for the fitness of different metals for different uses. Copper as a malleable metal is used where cast brass would be difficult to adapt; indeed several metals often may be employed together, - as on the various mountings of a tea-kettle, where non-conduction, workability, and durability, must be considered in a single object.

    At any rate, the Chinese having proved themselves to be among the greatest masters of metalcraft -- if not the greatest -- that the world has ever known (in the Shang dynasty, 1523 - 1027 B.C., and Chou dynasty, 1027 - 221 B.C.), and they have continued to employ metals abundantly to the present day - for myriad everyday uses.

    In this show are displayed lighting fixtures, hardware of many varieties, tableware, locks, trays, chests, boxes, and many other objects.

    Such examples as pots and kettles, a pewter chafing dish (with a copper fire-basket), canisters, tea boxes, jade chests, and presentation boxes for gifts of food, etc., show how close to Chinese kitchens and dining tables this metalwork takes us.

    Lockshields and hinges, padlocks difficult to open unless one has a knowledge of their construction; boxes large and small, metal rimmed or metal inlaid, give us hints as to the interior settings, and their detail, in periods previous to the 17th and 18th centuries, although none of such fittings have survived.

    We see oddments such as a fire pump, collapsible hat-stands (for official Mandarin hats with peacock feather ornaments that could not be set down upon a table), metal water-pipes, hand-warmers, stoves to heat wine, or to keep prepared ink liquid for writing out-of-doors, even in the very cold weather of a North Chinese winter.

    One by one these objects take us to the intimacies of daily life, linking the historic past with a way of living that is passing in our own time.

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1947 - 1952. 01-03/1949, 018-9.
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