Smithsonian Collections Blog

Highlighting the hidden treasures from over 2 million collections

Collections Search Center

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Honeymooners: Benjamin March and Charles Lang Freer

Liuhe Pagoda, Hangzhou, China, Summer 1925Photographs taken from a window of Liuhe Pagoda, Hangzhou China, from the photo album “Summer 1925,” in the Benjamin March papers.

Benjamin March (1899-1934) was a respected scholar and curator of Chinese art.  The papers document his scholarship and travels through numerous journals, diaries and photographs.  In July of 1925, March married Miss Dorothy Rowe in Nanjing and together they traveled to the city of Hangzhou, which March photographed extensively. From romantic silhouettes of his wife to academic depictions of culturally significant paintings, March managed to capture every aspect of his honeymoon.

Recently, Professor Shen Hong of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou was so taken by these 80 year old photographs of his city that he organized an exhibition of March’s photographs.  The show opened in November, 2009 at the Tang Yun Gallery on the banks of West Lake in Hangzhou.  Splendidly received, the show’s popularity forced the gallery to extend hours and deal with lines down the street. Our own Hangzhou native Weina Tray carried out the complicated negotiations with the gallery, no doubt assuring the show’s success.  

The diary entries from Hangzhou really are touching, written by a young man very much in love, and clearly moved by the beauty of one of China’s most beloved scenic spots. Here is March’s diary entry that accompanies the attached photographs:
Wed. 29 July  
In the early afternoon, immediately after lunch, we took rickshas and rode out of the city through narrow streets, and along a white and green canal, to the Six Harmony Pagoda.  I had been wanting to visit it again, and to try a couple pictures I had not been able to make succeed the last time.  Today we went again, and again we climbed to the top.  In the clear sunlight of early afternoon we could see out over the country, to the far blue hills and the distant waters of the bay into which the pirates used to come to terrorize the city.  A brisk wind drove the laden junks up the green Ch’ien T’ang river.  We loafed and enjoyed the scene, then bumped back over through paved streets to town and home.
When we had returned and refreshed ourselves we took our supper down to our boat and went out on the lake to enjoy the moon, rapidly nearing its time of fullness for the month.  We drifted and paddled about the lake and the islands.  After supper we sat, wrote a little verse, and then Dorothy sang for a long while and I lay on my back watching the white moon.  A good day, a very good day – and no rain.

Charles Freer’s visit to West Lake in 1911 was decidedly less romantic than March’s, but not without excitement.   In a letter to his friend Frank Hecker the following week, Freer admirably summarizes the adventure:
February 23, 1911: 
My last little trip to the interior – one of five days, to the old capital city Hangchow – also provided experiences that had been lacking during earlier trips – Fire and Robbery!
Capt. Dallam and wife of the U.S.A. in one house-boat and Baron von Wurmb a collector, and myself in another house-boat towed by a steam tug left Shanghai and went by river and canal to old Hangchow to study the ancient art and the famous lake – West Lake! the place where so many early Chinese painters worked in landscape – the spot Sesshu painted in my screen.  All went well until our last night at Hang chow, when before dinner, the Dallam’s boat on which they both were, caught fire from an overturned oilstove and was badly damaged.
canal, bridge, Hangzhou, China, Charles Lang FreerOur boat was lashed alongside of theirs – with the Baron and myself absent, but escaped injury.
After our return we begged the Dallams our friends, to exchanged boats for the night in order that Mrs. Dallam might be more comfortable, but they would not hear of it and eventually retired with only paper doors in place of the wood ones which had burned – the hull being steel.
During the night, pirates entered their boat, still lashed to ours, and carried off their money, silver and clothes – leaving only enough of the latter to dress Mrs. Dallam – the Captain being equipped from my trunk after the robbery had been discovered.  Our selves and the crews of over twenty men and two photographers on board, slept peacefully through the raid and no one of us knew of the unexpected visit until the Dallams were ready to arise and dress.
The pirates with my usual luck, left our boat and chattels untouched!
A sacred stone dog taken by the Baron and the Dallams from an ancient temple, and kept on board the Dallam house-boat, probably heralded the pirates in revenge for the insult shown him – at least the natives told us so.  How near to the truth this claim may approach I know not.  But I am satisfied that the God of Luck protected me and mine.  I refused to aid in disgracing the temple dog.
Charles Lang Freer, canal boat, Hangzhou, ChinaIn typical Freer style, the letter depicts a salaciously sensational evening. Many of Freer’s letters included accounts of near-death experiences such as this one, and yet the Archive is hard-pressed to find any similar documentation in his private diaries. But when one’s friends are half-way around the globe, only connected to you by a piece of paper, perhaps stretching the truth without being caught is easier than doing the same in this modern technological age.
In the photograph you can see a group of Western gentlemen in the lower right, a detail attached.  We are fairly certain that the fellow in center with a cap is Freer himself.

--David Hogge and Beatrice Kelly, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives

No comments:

Post a Comment