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George Manginis, “‘For the Benefit of the Nation’: A Collection of Chinese Art for Greece”
George Aristides Eumorfopoulos (1863-1939), was a British collector of Chinese, Korean and Near Eastern art. He was born at 43 Bedford Street South, Mount Pleasant, Merseyside, the son of Aristides Georges Eumorfopoulos (1825–1897) and Mariora Eustratius Scaramanga (1840–1908). His grandparents had fled the Greek island of Chios during the massacre of its population by the Ottoman army in 1822. Eumorfopoulos worked for a London firm established in 1819 – Ralli Brothers, of Greek origin, a firm of private bankers who were also importers of rice, cotton and hemp from India. By the time he retired in August 1934 he had risen to the position of Vice President of the firm. Since 1922 he lived at 7 Chelsea Embankment in London, a townhouse he had converted into a museum. Eumorfopoulos was a respected collector of Asian art. In the early stages of his collecting activity he focused on European medieval and renaissance art and 18th century ceramics alongside Japanese art, but he soon diversified into early Chinese art, especially after 1906. He not only made use of the services of experts or agents, but also relied on his own rapidly growing experience in acquiring objects. His collection of Oriental art grew to an enormous size, obliging him to add a two-storey extension to the back of his Chelsea house. He founded the Oriental Ceramic Society and was its first president from 1921 until his death in 1939. He organised and funded the publication of eleven volumes illustrating and describing items from his collection during the 1920s and early 1930s. Free access to his collection and encouragement from him inspired his neighbors Nell and Charles Vyse to experiment with Oriental stoneware glazes. Eumorfopoulos had intended to bequeath his collection to the British nation, but the Great Depression of the 1930s forced him to sell part of it, in what was called ‘a princely gesture’, to the Victoria and Albert and British Museums for £100 000 in 1934/5; he also sold some duplicates through Bluett’s, the London art dealers, and between 1927 and 1936 donated 800 pieces to the Benaki Museum, Athens. This lecture looks at the fascinating life of this collector and at the important collection that the Benaki holds.
George Manginis is Academic Director of the Benaki Museum.
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