Professor Michael Sullivan, 1916-2013
Portrait of Michael Sullivan
The Board of Visitors and staff of the Ashmolean Museum are sad to have learned of the death, on Saturday 28 September, of Professor Michael Sullivan. Professor Sullivan was a world authority on 20th-century and contemporary Chinese art, who began collecting Chinese painting in the 1940s with his wife, Khoan. The collection has become one of the most important groups of modern Chinese art in the West, and many of the works have been displayed over the years at the Ashmolean in the Khoan and Michael Sullivan Gallery which opened in 2000. An exhibition of recent acquisitions was held in the gallery over the summer of 2012, and can be viewed online:
In March, Professor Sullivan was awarded the American Friends of Shanghai Museum’s Award for Excellence in Chinese Art. The award, which is bestowed once every two years, honoured Professor Sullivan’s lifetime contribution to the study and preservation of Chinese art. With characteristic generosity, Professor Sullivan used the prize grant to purchase an extraordinary object for the Ashmolean’s permanent collections – an early 20th-century ‘Scholar’s Rock’ which is now on display in the Sullivan Gallery.
Professor Christopher Brown CBE, Director of the Ashmolean, said: “One of the foremost scholars of Chinese art since the 1950s, Michael was a long-standing friend and generous supporter of the Ashmolean over many years. The Museum's Chinese Painting Gallery was named in honour of Michael and his wife, Khoan, and last year a Festschrift volume for Michael, A Life in Chinese Art, was published by the Ashmolean.”
Dr Shelagh Vainker, Curator of Chinese Art, Ashmolean Museum, said: “Michael's work was pioneering. His Chinese Art in the Twentieth Century (1959) was the first book to address the subject and his contributions to the field continued until the end of his life. His engagement with China, where he is deeply venerated, lasted more than seventy years.”
Professor Craig Clunas FBA, Professor of the History of Art, University of Oxford, said: “Michael Sullivan's contribution to our understanding of China's art is a huge one, from his authorship of the first English-language PhD on Chinese painting, through his tireless advocacy of the art of the twentieth century, to his championing of living artists and their work; he leaves behind a legacy which is an inspiration for the future to all scholars in the field."