Dragon and Phoenix Silk Rug

Historical period(s)
1930-40
Medium
Silk pile with gold colored metallic thread overlay on a weave of cotton and wool warp threads and silk weft threads. Silk fringe.
Dimensions
H x W: 211 x 126 cm (83 1/16 x 49 5/8 in)
Geography
China, Possibly Beijing
Credit Line
Purchase — Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program and partial gift of Richard G. Pritzlaff
Collection
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
S1991.68
On View Location
Currently not on view
Classification(s)
Costume and Textile, Furniture and Furnishing
Type

Rug

Keywords
asymmetrical knotting, China, dragon, phoenix, pile-woven carpet, Pritzlaff collection, rugmaking, WWII-era provenance
Provenance

To ca.1949
Wu Laixi 吳賴熙 (d. ca. 1949-1950) reportedly acquired several objects from decedents of noble Chinese families [1]

ca.1949 to 1991
Richard G. Pritzlaff (1902-1997), from Wu Laixi, mode of acquisition unknown [2]

From 1991
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery acquired through partial gift and partial purchase from Richard G. Pritzlaff [3]

Notes:
[1] 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. Pritzlaff was caring for the rug by October 1948, see loan paperwork for Denver Art Museum, October 20, 1948, copy in object file. For information about the three shipments from Wu to Pritzlaff, see letters from Wu to Pritzlaff, September 4, 1940; June 27, 1941; June 17, 1947; and August 6, 1948, copies in accession file.

[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.

[3] 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

Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Whistler's Neighborhood
Google Cultural Institute
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