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Enchanted by Lohans

Osvald Siren’s Journey into Chinese Art

authored by Minna Törmä

Publication Year: 2013

Finnish-Swedish art historian Osvald Sir413n (1879–1966) was one of the pioneers of Chinese art scholarship in the West. This biography focuses on his four major voyages to East Asia: 1918, 1921-1923, 1929-1930, and 1935. This was a pivotal period in Chinese archaeology, art studies, and the formation of Western collections of Chinese art. Sir413n gained international renown as a scholar of Italian art, particularly with his books on Leonardo da Vinci and Giotto. Yet when he was almost forty years old, he became captivated by Chinese art (paintings of Lohans in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston) to such an extent that he decided to start his career anew, in a way. He has left his mark in several fields in Chinese art study: architecture, sculpture, painting, and garden art. This study charts Sir413n’s itineraries during his travels in Japan, Korea, and China. It introduces the various people in those countries as well as in Europe and North America who defined the field in its early stages and were influential as collectors and dealers. Since Sir413n was a theosophist, the book also explores the impact of theosophical ideas in his work.

Published by: Hong Kong University Press, HKU


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xiv

In this book, I am plunging into the life and career of Osvald Sirén (1879–1966) at the height of his activities and at a turning point in his work as an art historian. The choice may at first glance seem awkward and certainly will leave the reader pondering what came before and how it all ended. ...

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pp. xv-xviii

Since Sirén was such a prolific scholar and had a worldwide network of colleagues and friends, I have incurred many intellectual debts during the course of this research. Because Sirén traveled widely, tracing his journeys has taken me to various parts of the globe too. ...

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1. In the Forbidden City

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pp. 1-8

At the heart of the present city of Beijing stands the former Imperial Palace, the Forbidden City, where the Son of Heaven resided and ruled the world from its golden throne for centuries. His country was called the Middle Kingdom (Zhongguo 中國) and the palace was the center of that kingdom. ...

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2. The Beginnings of the Journey

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pp. 9-14

Sirén received his academic education at the Imperial Alexander University of Finland (presently the University of Helsinki) in his hometown of Helsinki. This was the only academic institution in the country, which at the time was the autonomous Grand Duchy of Finland (1809–1917) in the Russian Empire and Helsinki was its capital. ...

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3. Enchanted by Lohans in Boston

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pp. 15-36

During my initial gathering of information on Sirén’s life, I recovered many tales and stories relating to the same event—the existence of multiple versions of the visit to the Forbidden City discussed in Chapter 1 was not an exception. My attempts to establish Sirén’s first contacts with Chinese art have been similarly confused by the differing stories people had heard; ...

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4. The Golden Pavilion

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pp. 37-54

Sirén vividly described his sojourn in Japan during his first visit to East Asia in Den Gyllene Paviljongen: Minnen och Studier från Japan (The Golden Pavilion: Souvenirs and Studies from Japan, 1919). The book has a timeless quality, maybe because it is a mixture of tourist guide and art history— ...

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5. The Expedition That Lasted Too Long

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pp. 55-80

September 30, 1921: Sirén was on board the Taiyo Maru and was scribbling in his notebook in a raging storm. The ship had just passed the 180 degree longitude line, and he noted that stormy weather was rather common around there. The Pacific Ocean was not exactly as peaceful as its name suggests. ...

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6. The Fruits of the 1921–23 Expedition

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pp. 81-96

When Sirén returned from East Asia in 1923, he spent some time in the United States on his way back to Europe. He gave two lectures on Chinese art at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and met some of his old Boston acquaintances, such as Paul Sachs (1878–1965) of the Fogg Museum.1 ...

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7. To Go or Not to Go Back to Stockholm

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pp. 97-108

While Sirén was in Paris and London preparing his publications or traveling elsewhere in Europe and North America, he was at the same time looking for a new position in a museum or a university. The first signs of this are found after he remarried in early October 1925. ...

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8. Language Lessons and Curio Dealers

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pp. 109-128

In December 1928 Sirén departed for East Asia via his usual route: over the Atlantic, across North America, and over the Pacific; he went first to Japan, and after a while he continued to Korea and then to China. In Japan, it was the early years of the Shôwa period (1926–89): ...

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9. Enhancing the Asian Collection in the Nationalmuseum

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pp. 129-144

In this letter from Beijing to his wife Rose, Sirén described the present atmosphere and the conditions in the Grand Hotel des Wagon-lits, where they had stayed together on their previous visit. There is a note of nostalgia in many of his comments written during this journey, which was his fourth in China. ...

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10. The Garden as a Refuge

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pp. 145-150

In May 1938 Sirén wrote to Jean Buhot that his garden was “becoming more and more a pet child” and that he was “endeavoring to bring it into harmony with Eastern ideals.”1 He had plenty of material to draw from in designing a garden with ‘Eastern’ inspiration. ...

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11. Afterword

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pp. 151-158

In the preceding chapters I have charted Sirén’s journey into Chinese art. Two points concerning his early career as an art historian should be revisited. The first is the role of Theosophy. One can detect many thoughts in Sirén’s writing which point in the direction of German Romanticism, ...

Appendix I: Biographies

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pp. 159-168

Appendix II: Itineraries

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pp. 169-172


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pp. 173-206


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pp. 207-216


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pp. 217-224

E-ISBN-13: 9789888180981
Print-ISBN-13: 9789888139842

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 28 b/w illus.
Publication Year: 2013