Connected \\ December 12, 2018
In the midst of helping his mother sell their family home in Western Massachusetts after living there for some 53 years, John Hanson got a surprising phone call. The agent hired to prepare the property for an estate sale had a question: What did he know about the rolled-up artwork stored on a closet shelf in a third-floor bedroom?
I have never seen it in my life,” was his answer.
The painting, which measures 4-feet-by-8 feet, is an engaging panorama of an imperial summer palace in Beijing, China, known as the Garden of Nurturing Harmony. Hanson said his mother received the painting from her mother and he guessed the artwork had remained “stored for a future use that never came.”
A portrait sketch of Dorothea Jordan Reynolds, ca. 1920.
Hanson has since learned that his grandmother, Dorothea Jordan Reynolds, a woman they affectionately called “Dodo,” bought the painting at a New York City gallery in the 1920s or ’30’s. The family suspects that perhaps in her enthusiasm to be the winning bidder, she did not account for the fact that it was too big for any wall in her home.
An auctioneer suggested that the painting had value, but would likely be sliced into sections for better saleability. “It’s funny because there were things we lived with all of our life and we were fine about auctioning them off. There was zero emotional pull. But something about the notion that this painting would be significantly altered just didn’t feel right to us,” said Hanson. “We decided if a museum thinks it should be in a museum, then it should be in a museum.”
Hanson took some photos and reached out to one museum and never heard back. Then he emailed Daisy Yiyou Wang, PEM’s Robert N. Shapiro Curator of Chinese and East Asian Art. Less than 24 hours later, the family got a reply.
On a hot July day in 2015, the family brought the painting to one of the museum’s conference rooms. “As soon as we unrolled it, Daisy basically took one look and said the museum would be interested in having this for their collection,” Hanson said.