Within the Acton Collection of Villa La Pietra, there are numerous Chinese objects, some of which were collected by Harold Acton. In addition there are a group of over nine hundred photographs recording Harold Acton’s life in China during the 1930s. He visited China at the beginning of the 1930s and lived in Beijing for seven years from 1932 until June 1939. Acton had a traditional Chinese courtyard residence, called Si He Yuan at Gongjian Hutong, within the aristocratic quarter in Beijing. During these years, he was invited to teach English literature in the Peking National University, the oldest institution of its kind in China, founded in 1897, where he became acquainted with many important Chinese literary figures in the “New Poetry” movement. His love for Chinese culture and literature led him to translate many famous Chinese literary works into English, such as Modern Chinese Poetry (1936), Famous Chinese Plays (1937) and The Peach Blossom Fan (1976). In addition to Chinese literature, Harold was also interested in other forms of Chinese art and culture, such as the “Peking Opera.” He studied Chinese painting with Aisin-Gioro Puru, one of the brothers of the last Chinese Emperor Pu Yi.
Through this photography exhibition, we get a glimpse of old Peking and Harold Acton’s experiences and acquaintances.
Feiran Lyu, NYU student, Global Liberal Studies
Francesca Baldry, Collection Manager
Ellyn Toscano, Director, Villa La Pietra, New York University Florence
Stefano Pasolini (Photographs)
Claudia Beyer and Costanza Perrone Da Zara (Late Chinese Qing Dynasty Imperial Official Robe)
Scott Palmer, Coordinator of Instructional Technology and Digital Initiatives
The research project conducted by Feiran Lyu was made possible thanks to the support of Julie Mostov, Dean of Liberal Studies, New York University.
Special thanks to Alta Macadam for the editorial work and to Fall 2018 NYU students Ana Alvarez, Ariel Fishman, Michael Lee and Sofia Martinez for their contribution to the project.
October 2 at 6:00 pm – Villa La Pietra
Harold in China: The Curation Process
Inauguration of the exhibition curated and presented by Feiran Lyu, NYU student, Global Liberal Studies, with Francesca Baldry, Collection Manager and Ellyn Toscano, Director, Villa La Pietra, New York University.
October 4 at 6:00 pm – Villa La Pietra
‘A Solitary Flower’: Bachelordom and Harold Acton’s China.
A Consideration of Harold Acton in China within a Framework of Queer Kinship and Cosmopolitanism. (Watch the full video of the talk on the event web page)
A talk by Kristin Mahoney, Michigan State University
BellItalia – RAI 3 (National)
A documentary on the exhibition with an interview with Francesca Baldry, Acton Collection Manager, including a walk around the collection and garden.
February 4, 2019, all day symposium – Villa La Pietra
Harold Acton in China – A Dialogue Between East and West: Chinese Culture, Collecting, and Chinoiserie at Villa La Pietra
A program of scholarly talkes co-chaired by Professors Perry Klass and Larry Wolff, Co-Directors NYU Florence.