A.W. Bahr Papers

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At A Glance

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  • Overview

    Abel William Bahr was a coal merchant and general importer born in China who became an important collector of Chinese art. Several books and catalogues have been published about his collection. His papers include numerous drafts and notes about his memoirs as a collector, correspondence with other collectors and photographs of Chinese art objects, from jade to pottery to paintings.
  • Creator

    Bahr, A. W.
  • Dates

  • Physical Description

    1.25 Linear feet
  • Collection ID


  • Scope and Content Note

    This collection contains manuscript drafts and notes for Bahr's memoir, written by Bahr himself and C.R. Cammell, who was also the editor of The Connoisseur magazine. Other papers include correspondence with collectors of Chinese art or other figures in the art world, such as Lord Kitchener, the King and Queen of Sweden, Walter Muir Whitehill, Kenjiro Matsumoto and Senator Theodore Francis Green, among others. The bulk of the collection contains approximately 300 photographs of different Chinese art objects, from jade figurines to pottery to paintings. Most of these photographs are unidentified, but some of them include marginalia that indicate that they were of Bahr's own art objects for publication in books or articles. Photographs which are identified point to art objects also belonging to Bahr. The photographs have been organized based on the object type in the photograph, such as painting, statue or figurine.
  • Biographical Note

    1877 -- Born in Shanghai to German father and Chinese mother

    Circa 1880s -- Educated at St. Xavier's School in Shanghai

    Circa 1894 -- Work as a clerk at a wholesale and retail coal merchant's office, left solely in charge during the first Sino-Japanese war, encouraged by backers to start his own business

    1898 -- Goes into business with shipping friend, started the Central Trading Company

    1900 -- Marries Miss Helen Marion Southey (daughter of Mr. T.S. Southey, in Hong Kong. Working at firm of Hopkins Dunn and Company. Begins construction on his first house, Fairview, outside the settlement on North Honan Road Extension, first son born[?]

    1901 -- Recipient of Victoria Medal for his role as a gunner during the Boxer Rebellion (had joined the Shanghai Volunteers)

    1908 -- Shanghai Exhibition of Chinese Art, which he helped to organize and which he loaned many pieces from his own collection. Secretary of the Royal Asiatic Society. Publishes a catalogue of the exhibit in 1911, "Old Chinese Porcelains and Works of Art in China: Being Description and Illustrations of Articles selected from an Exhibition held in Shanghai, November 1908"

    1909 -- Begins his association with Lord Kitchener; travels with him through China

    1910 -- Leaves permanent residence in China, moves to London, England

    1911 -- Catalogue of an Exhibition of Early Chinese Paintings from the Collection of A.W. Bahr, published by the Fine Art Society

    1915 -- Applies to Foreign Office in London to go to America. (Involved in the art business; the war had stopped all such activities in London)

    1927 -- Private printing of the catalogue, "Archaic Chinese Jades collected in China by A.W. Bahr, now in Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, described by Berthold Laufer"

    1938 -- "Early Chinese Paintings from the A.W. Bahr Collection" by Osvald Siren, published by the Chiswick Press

    1946 -- Leaves England, with his wife, daughter Edna, two sons and their wives and two granddaughters for Canada

    1947 -- Metropolitan Museum of Art purchases Chinese paintings from Bahr, collection of archaic jades exhibited in the Royal Ontario Museum. The Met also publishes a portfolio of the painting, 'Ching Ming Shang Ho, Spring Festival on the River' which Bahr had donated to the museum

    1948 -- The Met exhibits Bahr's Chinese paintings. Several Chinese art objects on loan to the Art Association of Montreal and exhibited in the new Far East gallery

    1949 -- Tang figurine, paint cakes and Han pottery vase on display at the Royal Ontario Museum of Archaeology

    1950 -- Donates Chinese ceramics to the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

    1951 -- Begins writing his memoir[?]

    1952 -- Last visit to London

    1954 -- Gets typed draft of memoir. Living in Ridgefield, CT, working with C.R. Cammell

    1959 -- Dies
  • Creator

    Bahr, A. W.
  • Names

    Bahr, A. W.
    Cammell, Charles Richard
  • Place

    Japan -- Description and Travel
    China -- Description and Travel
  • Topic

    Art, Japanese
    Art, Chinese
  • Provenance

    Gift of Penelope Bahr and Helen M. Bahr (Stewart).
  • See more items in

    A.W. Bahr Papers
  • Provenance

    Penelope Jane Bahr and Helen M. Bahr (Stewart) donated their grandfather's papers to the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives on November 12th, 2001.
  • Archival Repository

    Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
  • Type

    Collection descriptions
    Archival materials
  • Citation

    A.W. Bahr Papers, FSA.A2001.14. National Museum of Asian Art Archives. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Gift of Penelope Jane Bahr and Helen M. Bahr (Stewart), November 12th, 2001.
  • Arrangement

    The collection is arranged into 7 series:

    Series 1 -- Memoirs, [1944-1956]

    Series 2 -- Correspondence, 1919-1957 [bulk 1947-1957]

    Series 3 -- Clippings, 1948, no date [bulk no date]

    Series 4 -- Other Writings, no date

    Series 5 -- Images, no date

    Series 6 -- Catalog Images, 1935, no date

    Series 7 -- Art Object Photographs, no date
  • Processing Information

    Processed by intern Evelyn Khoo, with the assistance of archivists Rachael Cristine Woody and David Hogge. Encoded by Rebecca Morgan, Summer 2012.
  • Rights

    Permission to reproduce and publish an item from the Archives is coordinated through the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery's Rights and Reproductions department. Please contact the Archives in order to initiate this process.
  • Genre/Form

  • Restrictions

    Collection is open for research.
  • Related Material

    There are no known related materials at any other institution or historical society.

Repository Contact

Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives
National Museum of Asian Art Archives
Washington, D.C. 20013