Posted by: Frederik Balfour on October 7, 2009
The fate of the Chinese bronzes belonging to the estate of fashion icon Yves Saint Laurent has taken yet another strange twist. Taiwan’s National Palace Museum has rejected an offer from the estate to donate two bronzes stolen from Beijing’s Summer Palace 150 years ago on the grounds that it cannot accept looted art.
That seems a bit hypocritical considering that a good chunk of the Taipei museum’s treasures would still be in China if General Chiang Kai-shek hadn’t decided to move about 600,000 pieces of artwork during the final stages of the Chinese civil war in 1949 won by the communists. China has repeatedly tried to convince Taiwan, which it still considers a renegade province of the mainland and not a country in its own right, to return the relics which include precious pieces of calligraphy, porcelain and bronzes. However as a sign of the continuing thaw between Beijing and Taipei, the museum will stage the first joint exhibition in 60 years which includes 37 Qing Dynasty relics lent to it by Beijing.
So what will become of the bronzes? In February Pierre Bergé , Saint Laurent’s partner and executor of his estate angered Beijing when he put the two bronzes up for auction at Christie’s in Paris. The sale was scuppered when a mainland man who made the winning bid refused to pay for the artifacts, becoming a hero among nationalistic Chinese for thumbing the Frenchman in the eye. Then Bergé threw oil on the fire by offering to donate the works to China if it offered greater autonomy to Tibet.
Here’s a suggestion. Why doesn’t Taipei accept the bronzes from Bergé , and then present them as a gift to Beijing? Shipping wouldn’t be a problem either. When it returns the Beijing relics on loan in three months time, the Taipei museum could simply include the two imperial bronzes in the container. The goodwill created would be great for the improvement in cross Strait ties.