CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed


Performance, Place, and a Display of Chinese Art in Early America

Session 17 Display



Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest presented the first comprehensive display of Chinese art in the United States, in Philadelphia in 1796. Van Braam’s collection of Chinese materials, which he acquired during the almost twenty years he lived in Guangzhou, included over 1,000 paintings, hundreds of pieces of porcelain, and dozens of objects relating to daily life. The majority of the Chinese paintings displayed by van Braam had long been thought lost but an important set was recently located in the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. This paper explores van Braam’s display of those paintings at China’s Retreat, his large estate outside of Philadelphia. In this domestic setting, van Braam cast himself in the role of Chinese savant and surrounded his guests not only with Chinese objects but also with enactments of his Chinese experiences. I explore the ways that van Braam’s paintings, in conjunction with the published memoir of his travels through China as a member of the Dutch East India Company embassy to Beijing, were displayed to meld experience, art, and artifact.


Dawn Odell is an Associate Professor of Art History at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Her research focuses on the exchange of material goods and artistic practices between Asia and Europe in the early modern period, particularly the Dutch engagement with China. She has published essays on the seventeenth-century Dutch travel book author Johan Nieuhof, Delftware and Chinese export porcelain, Dutch and Chinese ethnographies, and early Sinology in Europe. She is currently working on two research projects. One explores the visual culture of seventeenth-century Batavia (present-day Jakarta) and art produced for Dutch East India Company employees by the region’s diverse population of Chinese, Indonesia and European inhabitants. The second studies the first public display of Chinese art in the United States, which was presented in eighteenth-century Philadelphia by the Dutch-born émigré Andreas Everardus van Braam Houckgeest.