A database for provenance research of Chinese works of art, piloting the Burrell Collection

The outcome of the project is a compilation of sources for provenance research of Chinese works of art, for use by institutions and researchers. Using The Burrell Collection in Glasgow as a pilot, the project documents records relating to dealers and collectors who specialised in Chinese art during the first half of the twentieth century.

The Burrell Collection can be seen as a paradigm for the collecting of Chinese art during the early twentieth century. Not only is the Collection representative of the collecting pattern of western collectors of the period but there are full records of William Burrell’s (1861-1958) purchases which can be traced back to previous owners and to a number of major dealers whose archives still exist and which are accessible. The project sought to test the feasibility and methodology for creating a computerised database of information for establishing provenance first by identifying records, archives and published material and accessing information relevant to each work of art. Although a number of archival sources were known at the outset, others were not, nor were their contents. A successful outcome was not therefore guaranteed. The Project was able to source surviving archival records of dealers John Sparks, Frank Partridge and Bluetts, as well as the records of Sotheby's and Christie's auction houses.

Testing the idea by using a well-documented collection will hopefully create the potential for a national database of immediate value as a resource for provenance research including spoliation work, academic study and teaching in the history of taste and collecting and the art trade.


Principal investigator
Professor Nicholas Pearce
Principal project staff
Mrs Elizabeth Hancock; Mr Nicholas John Pearce
Start date
Tuesday, July 1, 2003
Completion date
Tuesday, June 1, 2004
Source material
The information, both published and archival, on which the database was compiled was derived from the following sources: The Burrell Collection Archive, Glasgow Museums; the John Sparks Archive in the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art, University of London; the Bluett Archive (private collection); Partridge Fine Arts Archive, London; Christie's Archive, London; Sotheby's Chinese Art Department Archive, London; V&A Archives, London; Lady Lever Art Gallery Archives, Liverpool; National Art Library, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; The British Library; National Library of Scotland; National Library of Wales; National Archives, London; Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; Central Library, Imperial College, London; The Oriental Museum, University of Durham; Central Catalog, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea; The National Trust; National Art Collections Fund; Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery; The Oriental Ceramic Society, London; Te Papa, Museum of New Zealand; Auckland Museum; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; The Arnhold Collection, Dresden/New York. Digital images, 35mm slides and archival photographs were also sourced from the above.

Pearce, Nick. “From Collector to Connoisseur, Sir William Burrell and Chinese Art: 1911-57” In: Yishu shichang: (Art Market), Beijing, January and February 2005, p.p.70-71 and p.p.60-63.