Mathilde HK at OCS – Lecture on a Swedish Ceramic Collection by Rose Kerr

Do you wish to discover Ceramic Collections and Museums abroad?

You like Chinese Ceramic and Porcelains?

You are curious about Swedish private collectors?


Hallwyl House, NeoGothic style, Stockholm,

Last Thursday, October 23, I went to the Oriental Ceramic Society to attend a lecture given by Rose Kerr on “Countess Wilhelmina’s Chinese Treasures: the Hallwyl Museum, Stockholm”. I heard about the event by the OCS and really wanted to learn more about cross cultural exchanges between Sweden and China, I remembered seeing many Porcelains in the National art collections there but didn t know much about it.

Ms Rose Kerr was the speaker of this year’s Dr K S Lo Memorial Lecture and she is Honorary Associate of the Needham Research Institute in Cambridge following her retirement as Keeper of the Far Eastern Department at the Victoria & Albert Museum. She graduated in Chinese studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies and spent a year as a student in China during the last year of the Cultural Revolution (1975-1976). She has published widely, and acts as Honorary Fellow at the University of Glasgow, Chairman of the Great Britain-China Education Trust, Trustee of the Sir Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art and Museum Expert Advisor for Hong Kong.

Hallwyl House is a Museum based in Stockholm, at No 4 Hamngatan. It was built between 1893-98 to designs by Isak Gustaf Clason (1856-1930), the most renowned architect in Sweden at the time, for Count and Countess Walther and Wilhelmina von Hallwyl. Who was the Countess Wilhelmina ? How did she come to such a Chinese ceramics collection?


Countess Wilhelmina von Hallwyl, around 1902,

The Countess Wilhelmina’s collections houses about 900 Chinese ceramics, among many other artifacts. Rose Kerr published a recent inventory of that impressive set and she is partly curating the ceramics department. The connections between Sweden and China were not obvious to me until that lecture. I learned that the economic relations with China increased during the end of the nineteenth century and the first years of the twentieth century.  Around 1905-1906, many Swedish engineers decided to travel to China with their families to work for the railways. While digging the bases for the rails, they happened to find many archeological sites and to proceed to many excavation that were not illegal at that time. Johan Gunnar Andersson was one of them. He even became a Chinese art dealer providing the royal household with fine pieces. From that period on, Swedish collectors became to draw their interest on Chinese art and to be able to get first hand objects directly imported from Hunan, Sichuan and so on. In 1926, the future King Gustav VI went to China with other Swedish scientists and art amateurs to take part of archeological excavations. He definitely set a trend for Chinese art in Sweden and was soon imitated by other rich collectors such as the Hallwyl’s.

The Countess Wilhelmina was from a branch of the Kempe Family and the daughter of the successful timber-merchant Wilhelm Kempe of Ljusne-Woxna. Even married to a wealthy man, she was at the head of a significant fortune and collected without any financial nor cultural limitation of any kind, until her death in 1930. She started collecting pieces from China at the same moment the future king acquired his first pieces, around 1920. The best items available on the Swedish market were first presented to the Prince and then to her. She had Hallwyl House built to showcase her collections and dedicated a huge room to her China. She left the house to the Swedish State and stipulated in her will that only women should run the collections, which has been done since today. What was of great interest for Rose Kerr was the fact that the countess always noted down her acquisition’s provenance, price and history. That amount of details were precious to art historians.

The Countess’s Ceramic collections are of historical interest but we are forced to say that many other dealers and museums posses far better pieces nowadays. But what was available in 1930 was far from what is to be sold on the market today. The Countess liked pieces such as: Jun dynasty burners, from 1250 to 1300, animals figurines, incense burners, Dahouist symbols, ‘family rose’ teasets, Dehua whites, Yixing teapots. My favorite objects were the animal figures.


Hallwyl House,  Porcelain Cabinet,

Topics and Keywords:

Solo: Themes and Topics to focus on in that exhibition
Private collections, Hallwyl House, Swedish art patrons, 1920, 1930, Fine Arts, Porcelain, China, Chinese art in Stockholm, ‘hotels particuliers’,

Combo: On the same topic:

Chinese collections in Sweden – Museum of the Far Eastern Antiquities – Stockholm


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