HONG KONG – Liang Yi Museum presents Family Silver: Highlights from the Liang Yi Collection, a landmark exhibition presenting 150 sets of historic silver from the 18th to 20th century, drawn solely from the Museum’s permanent collection. The largest of its kind in Hong Kong, the exhibition will showcase the heritage, design and craftsmanship of this rare metal, explore the lineages of generations of silversmiths; and trace how silverware functions as family heirlooms. Family Silver: Highlights from the Liang Yi Collection will open on 16 June, 2021.
Silver has long been used in the East and West, both as a type of currency and as canvas for extraordinary workmanship. This precious material has been praised for its beauty, intrinsic value, flexibility and durability for centuries. This exhibition provides a rare opportunity for audiences to explore the artistic, social and historical significance of the Museum’s preeminent silverware collection.
Acquired over three decades, Liang Yi Museum’s collection of silver comprises more than 500 sets. The curators have chosen only a quarter to be displayed, and for many of the objects, it will be their first time in the spotlight after their acquisitions into the Museum’s collection. The Museum’s collection consists primarily of French and British silver from the 18th and 19th centuries – a particularly fecund period for silversmiths, and one in which silver was available in previously unheard-of quantities in the New World, and at the height of fashion in both the New and Old Worlds. Silversmiths of unparalleled skills such as English masters Paul Storr (1770–1844) and Benjamin Smith (1764-1823) and his sons; as well as the French Jean-Baptiste Claude Odiot (1763–1850) created true masterpieces during this time.
Common phrases such as “born with a silver spoon in your mouth” suggests that – in the Occident at least – this material has been collected by the wealthy as an expression of power since ancient times. The ancient Greeks and Romans used silver coins as portable wealth; and throughout the many wars and revolutions in history, silver was valued as much for its liquidity (melting down the family silver); as for its artistic applications. In 18th and 19th century Europe, silver was another area of patronage for the rich, who commissioned multitudes from silversmiths. The tradition of aristocratic families commissioning silver to mark important occasions such as weddings, births and deaths makes it the perfect anchor to inspire a greater understanding of pivotal events and historic moments in time. Each piece recounts a story that constitutes our most immediate connection to the past.
Family Silver is divided into nine sections: lighting; writing; dining; display; toilette; coffee and tea service; alcohol service; vanities; and a special section dedicated to Asian silver. Highlight galleries include a recreated Chinoiserie reading room; a dining hall that illuminates the evolution of dining traditions in the West; and interactive galleries that teach visitors how to read hallmarks and coats of arms. Key exhibits include a pair of candelabra made in 1837 presented to Howe Peter Browne, 2nd Marquess of Sligo (1788-1845) by the slaves he emancipated in Jamaica; and a 19th-century silver-gilt tray with Napoleon I’s coat of arms (1769-1821): both pieces are not only major artistic accomplishments in their own right, but also demonstrate the major historical events silver pieces have witnessed.
The intricate designs and meticulous construct; in addition to the marks and inscriptions on these objects, each brings their fascinating history to life. The exhibition invites visitors to explore the social dynamics and economic contexts within which silver was commissioned, produced and used; and examines the perception and value of silver that has evolved from the age of industrialisation. From the livelihood of silversmiths and the guild system; to the commissioning of silver pieces; and finally, the use of silver placed in its historical context – all are instrumental in appreciating both silver’s tangible and intangible associations.
The exhibition is a testament to Liang Yi Museum’s commitment to showcasing the best examples of design, craftsmanship and heritage. Known for one of the world’s largest and best curated collections of Chineseantique furniture, along with a premier collection of European vanities, the Museum’s recent exhibitions provide a notable insight into its evolving collections of Japanese works of art and Western historical silver. The Museum aims to continue fostering cross-cultural dialogues, nurturing the knowledge and understanding of heritage and its relationships to contemporary life, and serving as a platform for creativity and inspiration through curated exhibitions and dynamic educational programmes.
A fully illustrated catalogue edited by Liang Yi Museum and Daniel Roberts featuring over 200 highlight silver sets from the Museum’s collection, with essays written by Christie’s Head of Silver, Harry Williams-Bulkeley; art historian Dr. Joanna Longden; and French Empire silver specialist Dr. Karolina Stefanski, will accompany the exhibition.
Family Silver: Highlights from the Liang Yi Collection runs from 16th June 2021 at the Liang Yi Museum, 181 – 199 Hollywood Rd, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong. More information available here