Figure of Buddha

618-906 (made)


Height: 154 cm, Width: 70 cm, Depth: 29 cm

A.6-1935 EAS

Standing Buddha, carved marble, Quyang city, Hebei province, China, Tang dynasty, 618–906.

A headless figure without feet or a head. He wears a draped, close-fitting robe and the right hand has broken off. Behind the figure, the sculpting is faint, but has been carried out with care, the folds of the robe behind giving volume to the flat back. It is made of white marble with black streaks.

This full-bodied figure once stood in a temple complex. The body has been carved from a single block of stone, and the head and hands, now missing, would have been added later. It can be dated stylistically to the mid-Tang period, when Buddhist figures were sculpted with ample torsos, in contrast to the slimmer style of the previous century. The undulating folds of the robe are skilfully carved, placed at increasing distances to achieve a graceful aesthetic.

Eumorfopoulos Collection This object came from the collections of George Eumorfopoulos (1863-1939), the son of a Greek merchant. George entered the firm of Ralli Brothers, merchants, of London, of which for a time he was representative in south Russia; he rose eventually to be vice-president and retired in 1934. Soon after his marriage in 1890, Eumorfopoulos started collecting, moving from European porcelain to an interest in Chinese. It was a time when knowledge of Chinese art in the West was about to expand rapidly: archaeology and railway construction in north China cut into tombs richly furnished with pottery figures and vessels of the first to the tenth century. In his preface to the first of the six volumes of R. L. Hobson's monumental catalogue of his Chinese and other Eastern ceramics (1925-8), Eumorfopoulos recorded that it was in 1906 that he saw the first specimens of tomb wares: 'First came the Han, then the Tang (figures of horses and camels first in 1910), and lastly the Wei' (Hobson, The George Eumorfopoulos Collection, vii). His collection grew rapidly until it became remarkably representative of the ceramics of the Song and earlier periods. Eumorfopoulos then launched out into the field of Chinese archaic bronzes and jades, and eventually of sculpture and paintings as well, until his collection became the greatest of his time. Eumorfopoulos had intended to bequeath his collection to the nation, but in 1934 he found it necessary to realize a part. Accordingly, he offered the national museums all that they required of the Chinese section for £100,000, a sum estimated at the time to be well under half the market value. The money was found, and a division between the British and Victoria and Albert museums was made on a basis of three to two. After the sale of 1934, Eumorfopoulos still continued to buy Chinese antiquities; his taste was wide, however, ranging from Islamic and medieval art to modern European painting and sculpture. The vitality of his judgement is shown in the remarkable examples of contemporary work which he acquired, largely through his patronage of young artists, in particular sculptors: he owned paintings by Matisse and sculptures by Barbara Hepworth. He also supported archaeological studies and was one of the founders of the Oriental Ceramic Society and its first president from 1921 until his death at 7 Chelsea Embankment on 19 December 1939. His remaining collections were sold at auction by Sothebys from 28 to 31 May and on 5 and 6 June 1940 and, after his widow's death, in 1944. His collection is represented in the major national collections of Chinese art. Information taken from Basil Gray, rev. M. Tregear, DNB website.

Purchased with the assistance of The Art Fund, the Vallentin Bequest, Sir Percival David and the Universities China Committee

Location: In Storage

View this object on the V&A website