June 23, 2021

Collecting the Chinese Art: Histories and Challenges

Over the years, art collecting has evolved just like art to become what it is today. Throughout history, this meant various things and ultimately has led to the modern museums and private collections of today.

For ancient Chinese, art took many forms and was a preserve of the wealthy and court officials. Far from what we know today, most of it was commissioned and was a symbol of luxury. Different eras had different signs that differentiate them from the rest. But through difficult periods of history, most of the art got lost. Some of it is on display in museums across the globe, and some owned by private collectors. It is through the art of collection that the lost pieces are finding their way back to China.

Some of the pieces are ink paintings, porcelain pieces, calligraphy works and many more, all from different eras. When they go on sale, they fetch high amounts in the millions of U.S dollars.

The west did not understand Chinese art when it first landed on their soil.

Collection History

The collection of Chinese art has taken many shapes over the years. During ancient times, Chinese art was a preserve of the wealthy who commissioned artists to produce pieces for them. They used to decorate their homes and show their status. During that era, owning art was a symbol of affluence. Philosophy and religion were the sole influence on Chinese art.

The pieces passed from generation to generation. Fast forward to the civil war in China, art pieces got lost. During the first part of the postwar era, not much was happening to help the artists and even worse, rightist artists were victimized and had their status revoked. It was during the Cultural Revolution that things began looking up. Critics, curators, and western art and history heavily influenced Chinese art.

The economic position of China improved, putting millions of dollars in the hands of ordinary Chinese. Also, the political freedom of the citizens improved. In the 2000s, we have seen Chinese art collectors enter the scene and splash millions of dollars in acquiring Chinese and western art pieces. The entry has also brought western collectors to the Chinese art market, where the hunger for Chinese art is rife. This hunger is evident in the speed at which the pieces are bought to auctions.

International art collectors like Uli Sigg and John Dodelande have amassed millions worth of artworks. The former donated all his pieces to a museum, while the latter lent his to exhibitions and galleries. The current crop of Chinese art collectors are spending millions to acquire the art pieces lost during the war era.


Most challenges relate to newer collectors and they are the same across the global market. First on the list is getting access to prices. Most people assume art is expensive and unattainable to the ordinary person. Many feel that it should be listed with the price for all to see.

Another problem for collectors who are just starting is that most are not aware that some galleries allow you to pay in instalments.

Many new collectors fear buying artworks that are difficult to resell if they are from upcoming artists. If the industry embraces the reselling, then it would ease some of the collector’s fears.

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