Two significant Greek collections of Asian Art

Several of the exhibition’s holdings originate from two significant Greek private art collections: that of George Eumorfopoulos, a large part of which was donated to the Benaki Museum when it was first founded, and of Gregorios Manos, who helped found the Asian Art Museum in Corfu, a unique museum in Greece. Although George Eumorfopoulos was born in Britain and lived there most of his life, having visited Greece for the first time in his early 30s, he wished to leave his collection behind to a Greek institution. Influenced by a late Victorian taste for the exotic, he started collecting European and Japanese porcelain in the late 19th century. In diverging from the prevailing taste of Western collectors of Chinese and Japanese art, he was one of the first to appreciate the Chinese pottery figurines from the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907) tombs that appeared in the European art market of the early 20th century. His unusual taste coupled with his curiosity and knowledge led him to the formation of what is said to be the most important private collection of Chinese art (pottery, paintings, metal objects and sculptures) in the western world. A man with a deep appreciation for art (he was also patron of several artists such as Barbara Hepworth and the potters Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada), he also wrote about Chinese art and in the late ’20s published a sumptuous catalogue of his collection. The 1930s recession forced him to sell the greater part of his collection to the British state, which was subsequently divided between the British and the Victoria and Albert museums. Luckily, Eumorfopoulos donated hundreds of the collection’s holdings to the Benaki Museum in what was a generous and most likely patriotic gesture. The story of how the Gregorios Manos collection ended up to Greece is even more unusual. Born in 1850, Manos was a Greek diplomat stationed in the Greek embassies of Constantinople, Vienna and Philippoupolis, and subsequently became ambassador to Vienna. Upon his retirement he settled in Paris. His avid collecting of art from the Far East led to serious financial problems by the early 1920s, and Manos decided to donate his collection to the Republic of Greece on condition that a museum of Sino-Japanese art be founded, and that Manos be given a small monthly allowance and appointed the first director of the museum. The initial agreement was broken but after concerted efforts on the part of Manos, the museum was finally founded in 1928 at the SS Michael and George Palace in Corfu, where it still operates. On the occasion of the exhibition a separate catalogue on the Greek contribution has been published.