The first dedicated exhibition of erotic art from ancient China is currently on show at Sotheby’s Gallery in Hong Kong.
“Gardens of Pleasure: Sex in Ancient China” features works from the esteemed and comprehensive collection of Ferdinand M. Bertholet, and span a range of historical eras from the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) all the way up to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911 AD).
The gallery includes a 19th Century foot binding stool with two pairs of silk ‘Golden Lotus’ slippers, which Bertholet explains is key to understanding Chinese erotica: “It’s a bit strange that if you look at all these paintings, we can see they are rather explicit. You can see a naked body in each detail. But what you never see in these paintings is a naked foot. That was not done.”
“Gardens of Pleasure” includes bronze, ivory, painted porcelain and silk pieces, as well as albums of prints that hint at the luxury and extravagance of China’s bygone days.
Standing in front of a series of eight 17th century silk paintings of couples engaging in sexual acts surrounded by beautiful scenery, Bertholet said that the philosophy of Daoism made attitudes to sex different to those of the Western world: “Well you know, the Chinese don’t have the same hang-ups as the Christians have. They don’t have this sin feeling but that doesn’t mean that they were completely liberated. But they had one very important aspect in their philosophy and that was Daoism. And in the Daoist philosophy man can only be happy if they have knowledge of the right way to have sex. “
However, Bertholet said that with changing dynasties and especially through the Cultural Revolution, none of this art can be found in China today and his entire collection was sourced in Europe and Hong Kong.
He also would not exhibit his collection in mainland China today for fear it would be confiscated by authorities.
The exhibition runs until May 3.