An Important Chinese Painting from World War II  

An Important Chinese Painting from World War II

Asian Art | September 16, 2015

A Chinese Painting by Shen Quan, property from the Estate of John Timothy Harrington of Milwaukee, will be offered at auction this September.

Tim Harrington was stationed as a code breaker in Honolulu, Hawaii when the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan in early August 1945. He was then transferred to the U.S. and later to Tokyo to be part of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey—an on-ground program designed to evaluate the effects of the fire bombing campaigns.

While most GIs returning from the Pacific in 1945 brought home trinkets and souvenir items, Mr. Harrington had set his sights higher. He had been saving his money throughout his deployment and wanted to bring back something meaningful for his family.

While in Tokyo, he took a trip to Kyoto, by bus, to visit an art gallery, the Yamanaka Gallery, which still existed. It was famous for Oriental art, with offices in London and New York, which were thought to have been “hives of spies” before WWII.

At the Yamanaka Gallery, he purchased a Japanese screen, a Ming bowl and a Chinese painted scroll by Shen Quan, depicting two multicolored pheasants resting in their natural environment.

Mr. Harrington later accounted his story to his daughter, Betsy:

“The new French Ambassador and his wife were in the Yamanaka Gallery at the same time and they were seeking to purchase a 6‐panel screen for the French Embassy in Tokyo. Staff would go down to the storage basement (known as “go downs”) and bring up the different screens for viewings by the Ambassador in a private room. No one was paying any attention to me.” 

He purchased the items and headed back to the U.S., a long, arduous journey during that time.

“I took the screen, bowl, and painting back in my berth, back on the train to Tokyo. The berth was made to accommodate a Japanese man. I brought my items home on the ship from Tokyo to San Francisco. I suspended the screen and painting in a rope hammock which I cleverly constructed myself, over my sleeping cot, in the hallway,” he said. 

The Asian art made it safely across the Pacific to San Francisco, and on to Wisconsin where Tim presented them as Christmas gifts to his mother and aunts. Upon their deaths, he regained possession of the artifacts and displayed them in his home until his own death in 2015.

Mr. Harrington’s important Chinese painting, by Chinese artist, Shen Quan (1682-1760), is featured on the cover of Leslie Hindman Auctioneers’ Asian Works of Art catalogue and is a highlight of the September 21-22 sale in Chicago. It is estimated between $20,000-40,000 and clearly tells quite a story.

You can view the painting at the Asian Works of Art Preview at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, 224 North Ada Street, Chicago, IL 60607.

Preview Schedule:
Wednesday, September 16 | 10am – 5pm
Thursday, September 17 | 10am – 5pm
Friday, September 18 | 10pm – 5pm
Saturday, September 19, 10am – 3pm
Sunday, September 20, 12pm – 4pm


Photo of Tim Harrington, (second from left) in 1945.

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