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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Chinese Imperial Porcelain at the Boston MFA - Including the Paul and Helen Bernat Collection

Updated: Sep 5, 2021

Boston remains one of my favourite cities along the East Coast and I was fortunate enough to visit for a few days in late August. With the feel of a smaller version of Toronto, the majority of the city is easily walkable. There are famous landmarks, amazing restaurants and some of the best museums in North America.

It has been a couple of years since I last visited so I did make a point to visit the newly renovated Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Harvard Art Museums (they might be a topic for a future blog!). My ultimate destination will always be the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

In addition to one of the most impressive collections of Japanese Buddhist Art and ukiyo-e woodblock prints, the museum also features one of the most extensive collections of Chinese Art in North America.

By far, my highlight would always be visiting the hall of Chinese porcelain. With works from the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, it really does have something for Chinese porcelain lovers.

Some of the star pieces are the incredible collection of early Qing porcelain donated by Paul Bernat and his wife Helen. These pieces represent the top porcelain from the three most important Qing Dynasty reigns – Kangxi (1664-1722), Yongzheng (1723-1735) and Qianlong (1736-1795).

Paul and his brother Eugene started collecting Chinese porcelain during the 1940’s while they were working for their father’s Boston-based textile business. Paul focused on Qing Dynasty porcelain, while Eugene collected Ming Dynasty and earlier pieces.

Paul in particular had a great eye, and while the majority of international collectors were focusing on more popular categories at that time (early bronzes, early ceramics and archaic jades), he stuck with the finest Chinese Imperial porcelain. Many pieces from his collection were donated to the Boston MFA in the 1970’s and early 80’s.

Many porcelain pieces from the Paul and Helen Bernat Collection were published in Hugh Moss’s seminal 1976 volume ‘By Imperial Command’, a survey of Qing Imperial porcelain. A decade later, the top items sold in the legendary Sotheby’s Hong Kong Sale, ‘The Paul and Helen Bernat Collection of Important Qing Imperial Porcelain and Works of Art’, November 15th, 1988.

I have attached a couple of my photos of the Paul and Helen Bernat Collection taken during my museum visit:

1. An Imperial Famille Rose Blue Ground 'Fu-Character' Bowl, Kangxi Yuzhi Mark and of the Period (1662-1722)

Imperial Blue Ground Famille Rose Bowl, Kangxi Period

2. An Imperial Yellow Ground Floral Bowl, Kangxi Yuzhi Mark and of the Period (1662-1722)

3. An Imperial Famille Rose 'Peony' Wine Cup, Qianlong Yuzhi Mark and of the Period (1736-1795)

Famille Rose Peony Bowl, Qianlong Period

I have also attached photos of the books I discussed containing pieces from the Helen and Paul Bernat Collection (they are from my personal library):

1. Hugh Moss. By Imperial Command: An Introduction to Ch'ing Imperial Painted Enamels. Hong Kong: Hibaya Company, 1976.

Hugh Moss, By Imperial Command

2. Sotheby's Hong Kong, 'The Paul and Helen Bernat Collection of Important Qing Imperial Porcelain and Works of Art', November 15, 1988.

Sotheby's The Paul and Helen Bernat Collection of Important Qing Imperial Porcelain

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