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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Reporting East Asia: The Collection of Suzanne and Mark Gayn

Updated: Apr 17, 2021

Hope everyone is doing well during these uncertain times! As we approach mid-July there are many signs Toronto is slowly regaining a sense of normalcy. Patios have finally reopened so at least we can enjoy the outdoors with a cold beer or glass of wine. And after four months, I think its finally time to get a haircut!

The Asian Art market has started picking up again in June and July after an involuntary 2.5 month break. The regional North American Asian Art auctions postponed during March have already taken place in June. And in July, we will finally see the rescheduled Hong Kong sales at Bonhams, Christie's and Sotheby's proceed.

Work-wise, I've been keeping busy with various appraisal and valuation projects in addition to some writing assignments. I also finalised my specialization in 'Indian, Himalayan, and Southeast Asian Pre-Modern Art' with the Appraisers Association of America. More about this in a future blog, but essentially I can now write more complicated appraisals in this category within the USA.

In the meantime, I wanted to share one of the projects I have had the privilege of working on for the past three months - The Estate of Suzanne Gayn. Suzanne Gayn was an actress, writer and photographer. Her husband, the journalist Mark Gayn, died of cancer in 1981. They were both renowned Canadians who made their mark in journalism and foreign correspondents, especially during the 1950's to 1970's.

One of my colleagues was in charge of handling the estate, so she hired me to assist in the cataloguing of all the Asian Art objects that they amassed in their Rosedale Toronto home for the past 70 years.

The Gayns spent a lot of time in East Asia with numerous work trips to China, Korea, Japan, Singapore and Indonesia. They even lived in Hong Kong for over five years. In addition to Chinese porcelain and sculptures, they also collected a wide selection of South East Asian early ceramics, Indonesian folk art, Japanese ceramics for the tea ceremony, and Japanese modern sōsaku hanga woodblock prints.

Going through their collection was such an incredible experience and offered me a wonderful insight into their journalist lives and passion for travel. In addition to the antiques, I also had the opportunity to examine boxes upon boxes of archival photographs, a handful of which I have included in this blog. A special thank you to the Estate's lawyer for giving me permission to publish these images.

Image 1. Suzanne and Mark Gayn on Hydra Island, one of the Saronic Islands in Greece, January 1, 1977. Image courtesy of the Estate Suzanne Gayn.

Suzanne Lengvary Gayn (1921-2020) was a Hungarian actress who appeared in numerous print advertisements, commercials and feature films throughout the 1940's. She met Mark in 1950 while he was based in Paris to cover the news from beyond the Iron Curtain. They soon married and emigrated to Toronto. Even though Mark had American citizenship, she was not allowed into the USA due to her perceived Communist sympathies.

Image 2. A vintage postcard from the 1940's featuring Suzanne Gayn, then known as Suzanne Lengvary. Image courtesy of the Estate of Suzanne Gayn.

Image 3. A photo of a very fashionable Suzanne Lengvary circa 1940's in Hungary. Image courtesy of the Estate of Suzanne Gayn.

After their marriage, Suzanne accompanied Mark on many of his international business trips including China, Japan and North Korea. She also began writing articles and photographing her experience in foreign countries - a selection of her works were published in the Ottawa Citizen. After Mark's death in 1981, she continued living in their Rosedale home and passion for world travel.

Image 4. A photo of Suzanne Gayn at the Korean Feature Film Studio in North Korea. The back of the photo with notes stating she is with Nam Huang Lyon (Hu Nam Ru?) and two starlets. Nam starred in 'The Flower Girl' (1972), the famous North Korean movie written by Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), the founder of North Korea. Image courtesy of the Estate of Suzanne Gayn.

Suzanne's husband Mark Gayn (1909-1981) was one of Canada's leading foreign correspondent journalists who specialized in the Far East and post-WWII Communist Europe. He was born Mark Julius Ginsbourg to a Russian-Jewish family in the Barim (now known as Balin) region of Inner-Mongolia.

Mark grew up in a small railway town where his father was in the lumber business and his mother was a dentist. The family moved quite a lot during his childhood - in 1923, they returned to Russia and stayed in the eastern port town of Vladivostok, and in 1926 they moved to Shanghai. Mark was fluent in Russian, Chinese and English.

In 1929 Mark went to Pomona College in Claremont CA to study political science, and in 1933 he went to Columbia University's prestigious School of Journalism on a Pulitzer traveling scholarship.

His early years in journalism was spent in Shanghai, first as a correspondent for the Washington Post, then the American-run China Press. When WWII began, he returned to the USA where he changed his name to 'Gayn'. This was because he still had family members living in Shanghai and he had written numerous articles that were anti-Japanese Imperialism.

In the 1940's Mark worked for various American nespspapers and magazines including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chicago Sun, The Saturday Evening Post, Collier's Newsweek and Time. He made numerous trips to Japan and Korea which cumulated in his 1947 bestseller the 'Japan Diary'.

Also in 1947, Mark was sent to China by the PM Daily to interview several leaders of the Chinese Communist Party while they had their headquarters in the mountainous region of Yan'na in Shaanxi Province. Here he interviewed all the top party leaders including Mao Zedong (1893-1976), Zhou Enlai (1898-1976), Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) and Zhu De (1886-1976).

Image 5. Photo of Mark Gayn with Liu Shaoqi (1898-1969) one of the early leaders of the Chinese Communist Party who later became Chairman of the People's Republic of China from 1959-1968. The reverse of the photo is marked in pencil 'In mountain North-west Red China, Feb. 1947.' Image courtesy of the Estate Suzanne Gayn.

After marrying Suzanne and moving to Toronto in 1952, he worked for The Toronto Daily Star, The Nation and Yomijuri. In 1959 he officially joined the staff of The Star where he stayed until his death.

With a home in Toronto, Mark and Suzanne continued making trips to the USSR and China. Between 1966-1972, they were stationed in Hong Kong to lead The Star's Asian bureau. He was also one of four international correspondents to make an early trip into North Korea.

Image 6. Late 1970's photo of Mark Gayn in his Toronto Star office with the newly completed CN Tower in the background. Image courtesy of the Estate of Suzanne Gayn.

After Mark's death, Suzanne was instrumental in donating the 'Mark Gayn Papers' to the University of Toronto's Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library. The 'Mark Gayn Papers' includes boxes of archival material, film, diaries, letters, correspondences, lectures and handwritten notes that span 50 years of his career.

This donation also included much of Mark's collection of Chinese Cultural Revolution paraphernalia including books, propaganda material, toys, photographs and posters.

Image 7. A Toronto Star article by Chistoper Hume published February 5, 1986 going through an exhibition of Mark Gayn's archival material at the University of Toronto. Clipping courtesy of the Estate Suzanne Gayn.

Image 8. 2016 publication of Chinese Cultural Revolution ephemera at the University of Toronto collected by Mark and Suzanne Gayn during their visits to China in the 1960's and 1970's.

The second part of my blog will go through my visits to the Rosedale home of Suzanne and Mark Gayn. All three floors were covered in art and antiques that were accumulated over numerous decades. For this project it was my job to photograph, list and value all the objects of Asian origin.

Image 9. View of the second floor living room.

Image 10. Examination of objects originating from East Asia including a late 19th Century Chinese gilt lacquered mirror, a late 19th Century Chinese blue and white turquoise ground 'Eight Daoist Immortals' vase, and a 20th Century Japanese black lacquer water pot.

Image 11. Examination of a very impressive and large Chinese famille rose porcelain water container, most likely from the Guangxu Period (1875-1908) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Image 9. Checking out some 19th Century Chinese snuff bottles in a wall-mounted display cabinet. The snuff bottles shown here are made of agate, porcelain, bone and jade.

Image 10. Staircase on the ground floor showcasing calligraphy, paintings and a few Japanese sōsaku (self-published) woodblock prints including two works by Maki Haku (1924-2000). This artist was well-known for producing textured woodblock prints influenced by traditional Chinese writing.

Image 11. Maki Haku's 'Poem 67-19' with its stylized characters based on ancient Chinese Bronze Age text.

Image 12. Maki Haku's 'Ren-2' with stylized East Asian characters in the calligraphic style.

Image 13. The ground floor living room packed full of objects from East Asia and Europe. And there's a LARGE Chinese blue and white shallow bowl on the coffee table too!

Image 14. Carefully taking this heavy blue and white bowl outside for an examination under natural sunlight. The bowl is most likely an 18th Century copy of a Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) example. Only the cobalt blue enamels were added to the design so that's why it doesn't look complete.

Image 15. Two 19th/20th Century Japanese samurai swords displayed in the den of the Gayn's Rosedale home.

Image 16. And one of my favourite photos I found in the Estate's archives - an undated photo (probably mid 1960's) of Suzanne and Mark Gayn examining the samurai swords in their home. Image courtesy of the Estate of Suzanne Gayn.

It's bittersweet that my work is slowly winding down on the Estate of Suzanne Gayn and it was an absolute pleasure working on this project for the past few months. In addition to organizing all the amazing artwork, I learned so much about the lives of Suzanne and Mark Gayn, and how enriching their lives were as foreign correspondents.

Personally, it was also such an honour to go through the boxes of archival material and see a lot of their first-hand accounts of China, Japan, and Korea during the tumultuous 1940's to 1970's.

In addition to Suzanne and Mark's generous donation of the 'Mark Gayn Papers' to the University of Toronto in 1981, the proceeds from the sale of the Estate of Suzanne Gayn will also benefit the university, hopefully sometime during the Fall of 2020.

That's it for this blog and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to send me an email!


Chistoper Hume, 'Exhibition Details Life of Mark Gayn' The Toronto Star, February 5, 1986.

Mark Gayn. The Mark Gayn Papers 1930-1980. Prepared by Graham S Bradshaw. Toronto: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, 1988.

Jennifer Purtle and Elizabeth Ridolfo. Reading the Revolution: Art and Literacy during China's Cultural Revolution. Toronto: Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto, 2016.


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