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Cities of Art Lectures: New York

Peking University, Nov. 17, 2014: “It was said by Dr. Johnson, the great English writer, that if you grow tired of London, you are tired of life. I think nowadays that one would say that of New York – if you are tired of New York, you are tired of life,” said Professor Donald Stone in his lecture on New York, the center of western modern art and the city where he has lived and worked for 38 years.

The lecture was delivered on the evening of November 14 in Lee Shau Kee Building. It is the second part of the "Cities of Art Lectures", a series of speeches given by Professor Stone from the English Department of Peking University. Professor Stone wants to introduce to PKU students major western art centers and in particular, the art treasures housed in the local museums.

Professor Stone was delivering his lecture. [Photo/The Arthur Sackler Museum of PKU]

Professor Stone put a heavy emphasis on the cultural dimension of the city. At the beginning of the speech, he cited the lyrics of Rogers and Hart’s joyous song, Manhattan, which refers to New York as "a wondrous toy just made for a girl and boy". He also listed several classic novels set in New York, such as Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, Henry James’s Washington Square and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.

After presenting the musical and literary representations of the city, Professor Stone, the passionate lover of museums, promptly moved on to the key section of his lecture. “Professor Stone feels at home wherever there is a great museum,” said Dr. Na Hai, a former student of the professor, “When he was in New York, he literally lived in Metropolitan Museum of Art.” Professor Stone showed the audience the major art museums in the city as well as the highlights of their exhibits, such as the Frick Collection, which houses Jan Van Eyck’s paintings and Rembrandt’s portraits; and the Museum of Modern Art, the pilgrimage site of modernist and postmodernist art with a substantial collection of artworks produced by Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso and Matisse. He devoted a considerable part of his speech to his beloved Metropolitan Museum and presented a kaleidoscopic image of its extensive collections, which include the Temple of Dendurof Ancient Egypt, Chinese antiques of Song, Liao and Yuan Dynasties as well as Japanese, Indian and Greek artworks.

A student was addressing her question to the professor. [Photo/The Arthur Sackler Museum of PKU]

In the Q&A section after the lecture, a student described her mixed feelings for the Chinese art treasures housed in the Metropolitan Museum. She asked the professor about his view on whether these invaluable items should be returned to their homeland. Professor Stone said that the student’s wish was most reasonable since many of the artworks have been illegitimately taken away during periods of wars and domestic unrest. He emphasized the necessity of adequate knowledge of and genuine love for the lost treasures on the Chinese museums’ part before the artworks’ final return to China.

Reported by: Chen Jiayu
Edited by: Yan Shengnan