Wu Laixi 吳賴熙 (d. ca.1949-1950) reportedly acquired from decedents of noble Chinese families 
ca.1949 to 1959
Wu Ping-Chung (dates unknown and Chinese characters for the name unknown) inherited ownership upon Wu Laixi's death around 1949 
1959 to 1985
Richard G. Pritzlaff (1902-1997) by transfer of ownership from Wu Ping-Chung on June 15, 1959 
1985 to 1987
H. Ross Perot (1930-2019) purchased from Richard G. Pritzlaff in 1985 
1987 to 1991
Richard G. Pritzlaff purchased from H. Ross Perot in 1987 
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery acquired through partial gift and partial purchase from Richard G. Pritzlaff in 1991 
 Wu Laixi 吳賴熙 (alternate romanization: Wu Lai-hsi) was an antiquities dealer who often sold high-quality, imperial goods sourced from Chinese nobles, among other sources. Active in the 1930s and 1940s, Wu Laixi purchased portraits in China, reportedly for his personal collection and for resale; he took great pride in his collection, labeling himself as the first collector of Chinese ancestor portraits.
In 1937, Wu sold portraits to the American, Richard G. Pritzlaff, who was visiting China. Pritzlaff and Wu remained in touch. In the 1940s, Wu worried about his financial security and the fate of his collection in China, where war with Japan and domestic turmoil threatened the security of private art collections. Wu wrote to Pritzlaff, asking if he could send portraits in exchange for money to survive. Between 1940 and 1948, Wu sent three shipments of portraits and other art objects to Pritzlaff's ranch in New Mexico. Wu intended for Pritzlaff to sell the majority of the art objects he sent, however, Pritzlaff did not want to disperse the collection, so he sent as much money as he could to Wu and retained the art. Pritzlaff reported that he "thought of himself as the owner of some paintings but wanted to be only a temporary custodian of others" and intended for Wu to one day collect the entire collection. It remains unclear which portraits Pritzlaff believed he owned. See letters from Wu Laixi to Pritzlaff, September 4, 1940; June 27, 1941; June 17, 1947; and August 6, 1948, copies in accession file.
 See note 1. Upon Wu's death, Pritzlaff contacted Wu's son, Wu Ping-Chung who lived in Taiwan; he declined to claim the collection but retained ownership rights until he transferred them to Pritzlaff in 1959. See the letter from Wu Ping-Chung addressed "To Whom it May Concern," June 15, 1959, witnessed by Major Thurman W. Oliver of the United States Army, copy in accession file. In the letter Wu declares, "I .... Hereby transfer, for remunerations received, my interest and rights inherited from my father, Mr. Wu Lai-hsi, deceased, in his collection of paintings, to Mr. Richard Pritzlaff of Sapello, New Mexico, U.S.A."
 See note 2. Richard G. Pritzlaff was a collector of Chinese art and a rancher who initially raised cattle but then became a well-known breeder of Arabian horses. When studying landscape architecture at University of California at Berkeley and then at Harvard, he developed an interest in China. He traveled there in 1937 and began collecting Chinese objects. For Pritzlaff's account of how he acquired his collection, see letter addressed "Dear Sir" from Pritzlaff, October12, 1988, copy in accession file.
 H. Ross Perot was an American business magnate, billionaire, philanthropist and politician. He ran for president in 1992 and 1996, establishing the Reform Party. In 1985, Perot visited Pritzlaff's ranch to inspect his Arabian horses. After the visit, Perot unexpectedly approached Pritzlaff, proposing to purchase the collection of Chinese ancestor portraits and construct a museum in Texas to house them. In 1987, when it became clear that Perot had decided not to construct the museum, Pritzlaff bought back the collection. For specifics of this transaction, see letter from H. Ross Perot's daughter, Nancy P. Mulford to James Cahill, December 26, 1986 and September 11, 1987, copies in accession file. James Cahill (1926-2014), curator at Freer Gallery of Art from 1958--1965 and then faculty at University of California at Berkley, evaluated the collection when owned by Perot. For an account of Cahill's experiences, see http://jamescahill.info/the-writings-of-james-cahill/responses-a-reminiscences/167-45-my-day-with-ross-perotw.
 See note 4.
 For the deed of gift and purchase arrangement, see accession file.
- Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)
Wu Laixi died ca. 1950
Richard G. Pritzlaff 1902-1997
H. Ross Perot 1930-2019
The figures' pose, along with the incense burning in its container on the table behind the husband and wife, indicate that this portrait was intended for ancestral rites. While most ancestor portraits were painted on silk or paper, the coarse cotton canvas of this portrait is a material that was only used in a few areas of China, notably Shanxi Province in north China.
The heads of the elderly man and wife actually have been pasted onto the canvas, suggesting that their costumed bodies might have been painted ahead of time and the scroll was in a workshop waiting for a family's commission. "Pasted head" portraits were generally less expensive than other types of likenesses. One advantage for artists was that if they made a mistake when painting the face, they could simply remove it and start again without having to throw away the entire painting.
The attendants standing behind the elderly couple and the old-fashioned, wide-sleeved robes are both typical features of ancestor portraits during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Conservative elements often were retained in nineteenth- to early twentieth-century works from Shanxi Province.
- Published References
- Jan Stuart. Calling Back the Ancestor's Shadow: Chinese Ritual and Commemorative Portraits. vol. XLIII no. 3. p. 16, fig. 15.
- Scientific Studies of Pigments in Chinese Paintings. Washington, DC. pp. 55, 69, fig. 4.6.
- Jan Stuart, Evelyn S. Rawski. Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits. Exh. cat. Washington and Stanford. p. 105, fig. 4.10.
- China: 3,000 Years of Art and Literature. New York. p. 235.
- Collection Area(s)
- Chinese Art
- Web Resources
- Google Cultural Institute
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