Imperial Splendor: Chinese Cloisonné at Sunnylands
An exhibition of 35 objects from the Sunnylands Collection
January 20-January 10, 2014
In imagining the possibilities for Sunnylands, Walter and Leonore Annenberg partnered with William Haines, a self-taught furniture and interior designer. Correspondence informs us that Haines and the Annenbergs shared a strong affinity for Chinese cloisonné, the art of applying colored enamels to the surface of a metal object, creating intricate and decorative designs. Together they pursued fine examples to be used as important decorative elements, placing them near and upon tabletops throughout the living room. The cloisonné thus provided an important unifying theme to the interior design. The collection includes utilitarian, religious and ritual, and decorative objects as well as furniture used in palaces or houses.
"If it moved me, that was enough. Being moved is what collecting is all about."
The Annenbergs assembled the collection with the same strict discipline and passion they applied to all of their collecting activity: they researched the genre and targeted specific works. They focused primarily on the Qing Dynasty era (1644-1912), and more specifically, attempted to identify works dating to the Qianlong period (1736-1795) when decorative arts flourished in China. The couple also shared a penchant for art that depicted natural themes. Their various collections often contain imagery of birds, flowers, and landscapes. The Sunnylands Collection of cloisonné contains twelve bird figures.
The first cloisonné object entered the collection in 1966--the year Sunnylands was completed--when the Annenbergs purchased a pair of ten-inch-tall, tabletop crane figures. Most of the Sunnylands cloisonné was acquired from London galleries with thirty percent purchased when Walter was Ambassador to the Court of Saint James’s.
In a 1983 magazine article Walter Annenberg explained his appreciation for the wall-hung panel depicting scholars in a rural scene, “. . . the vigorous movement of colors, the bold forms remind me so much of van Gogh.”
20th Century Sculpture
In 1976 Walter Annenberg wrote, "Ultimately, Sunnylands will be turned over to the public and I naturally take care in the selection of acquisitions for this long-range responsibility."
As part of this vision, some items from the collection are installed at the Center for public viewing and education. Included are significant works of sculpture dating primarily from the 20th century.
An Interactive Gallery and Theater
Throughout Sunnylands Center, visitors will find informational panels that contain images and videos providing historical and educational material.
A large gallery contains six interactive media stations. Here, visitors can explore touch-screen kiosks that each focus on a specific aspect of Sunnylands. Through photos, videos, and interviews guests will learn about midcentury modern architecture, the interior design and golf course, the art collections, the Annenbergs and their Sunnylands guests, and sustainability practices.
One of the highlights of the gallery is a 3-D film that uses the latest technology and requires no glasses. It explores how the historic estate was built and how it changed over the years. In the intimate 45-seat theater, one can view A Place Called Sunnylands, an orientation film, that plays regularly. The kiosks and films are an excellent way to become familiar with the Annenbergs and the history of Sunnylands.