Portrait of Lady Wanyan, primary wife of Prince Hongming (1705–1767)

Sitter: Lady Wanyan 完顏氏
Historical period(s)
Qing dynasty, 1767 or later
Ink and color on silk
H x W (image): 199 × 115.2 cm (78 3/8 × 45 3/8 in) H x W (overall): 305 × 140 cm (120 1/8 × 55 1/8 in)
Credit Line
Purchase — Smithsonian Collections Acquisition Program and partial gift of Richard G. Pritzlaff
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view

Hanging scroll

China, portrait, Pritzlaff collection, Qing dynasty (1644 - 1911), woman

Yongzhong (1735-1793) or his descendants commissioned from a professional artist [1]

To ca. 1949
Wu Laixi 吳賴熙 (d. ca.1949-1950) method of acquisition unknown [2]

ca. 1949 to 1959
Wu Ping-Chung (dates unknown) inherited ownership upon Wu Laixi's death around 1949 [3]

1959 to 1985
Richard G. Pritzlaff (1902-1997) by transfer of ownership from Wu Ping-Chung on June 15, 1959 [4]

1985 to 1987
H. Ross Perot (1930-2019) purchased from Richard G. Pritzlaff in 1985 [5]

1987 to 1991
Richard G. Pritzlaff re-purchased from H. Ross Perot in 1987 [6]

From 1991
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery acquired through partial gift and partial purchase from Richard G. Pritzlaff [7]


[1] See Chinese and Manchu-language inscription on painting. The inscription indicates that Yongzhong -- son of Hongming, Gon Qin beile (1705-1767) and Hongming's wife, Lady Wanyan -- commissioned this painting. However, if an ancestor portrait became damaged, a family member of a subsequent generation, might commission a close copy, including the original inscriptions, to replace it, and without necessarily identifying the painting as a copy. It is not possible to assert with complete certainty that this portrait dates to 1767 or is a later copy. For a discussion of multiple versions, recopied portraits, and problems of dating Chinese ancestor paintings, see Jan Stuart & Evelyn S. Rawski, Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits (Washington, DC and Stanford, CA: Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery with Stanford University Press, 2001), 104-111.

[2] Wu Laixi 吳賴熙 (alternate romanization: Wu Lai-hsi) was an antiquities dealer who often sold high-quality, sometimes imperial, objects sourced from Chinese nobles and elite persons, among other sources. Active in the 1930s and 1940s, Wu Laixi purchased portraits in China, reportedly at least at first for his personal collection, and later for resale; he took great pride in his collection, labeling himself as the first Chinese collector of Chinese ancestor portraits.

In 1937, Wu sold portraits to the American, Richard G. Pritzlaff, who was visiting China. Pritzlaff and Wu remained in touch. In the 1940s, Wu worried about his financial security and the fate of his collection in China, where war with Japan and domestic turmoil threatened the security of private art collections. Wu wrote to Pritzlaff, asking if he could send portraits in exchange for money to survive. Between 1940 and 1948, Wu sent three shipments of portraits and other art objects to Pritzlaff's ranch in New Mexico. Wu intended for Pritzlaff to sell the majority of the art objects he sent, however, Pritzlaff did not want to disperse the collection, so he sent as much money as he could to Wu and retained the art. Pritzlaff reported that he "thought of himself as the owner of some paintings but wanted to be only a temporary custodian of others" and intended for Wu to one day be reunited with the entire collection. It remains unclear which portraits Pritzlaff believed he owned. See letters from Wu Laixi to Pritzlaff, September 4, 1940; June 27, 1941; June 17, 1947; and August 6, 1948, copies in accession file.

[3] See note 2. Upon Wu's death, Pritzlaff contacted Wu's son, Wu Ping-Chung who lived in Taiwan; he declined to claim the collection but retained ownership rights until he transferred them to Pritzlaff in 1959. See the letter from Wu Ping-Chung addressed "To Whom it May Concern," June 15, 1959, witnessed by Major Thurman W. Oliver of the United States Army, copy in accession file. In the letter Wu declares, "I .... Hereby transfer, for remunerations received, my interest and rights inherited from my father, Mr. Wu Lai-hsi, deceased, in his collection of paintings, to Mr. Richard Pritzlaff of Sapello, New Mexico, U.S.A."

[4] See note 3. Richard G. Pritzlaff was a rancher who initially raised cattle but then became a well-known breeder of Arabian horses, who also collected some Chinese art, mostly portrait paintings. When studying landscape architecture at University of California at Berkeley and then at Harvard, he developed an interest in China. He traveled there in 1937 and began collecting Chinese objects. For Pritzlaff's account of how he acquired his collection, see letter addressed "Dear Sir" from Pritzlaff, October12, 1988, copy in accession file.

[5] H. Ross Perot was an American business magnate, billionaire, philanthropist and politician. He ran for president in 1992 and 1996, establishing the Reform Party. In 1985, Perot visited Pritzlaff's ranch to inspect his Arabian horses. After the visit, Perot unexpectedly approached Pritzlaff, proposing to purchase the collection of Chinese ancestor portraits and construct a museum in Texas to house them. In 1987, when it became clear that Perot had decided not to construct the museum, Pritzlaff bought back the collection. For specifics of this transaction, see letter from H. Ross Perot's daughter, Nancy P. Mulford to James Cahill, December 26, 1986 and September 11, 1987, copies in accession file. James Cahill (1926-2014), curator at Freer Gallery of Art from 1958--1965 and then faculty at University of California at Berkley, evaluated the collection when owned by Perot. For an account of Cahill's experiences, see http://jamescahill.info/the-writings-of-james-cahill/responses-a-reminiscences/167-45-my-day-with-ross-perotw

[6] See note 5.

[7] For the deed of gift and purchase arrangement, see accession file.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Wu Ping-Chung
Wu Laixi died ca. 1950
Richard G. Pritzlaff 1902-1997
H. Ross Perot 1930-2019


Identical inscriptions with those recorded for S1991.61.
Title slip in Chinese: Portrait of Princess Wanyan, principal wife of the Gong Qin prince of the august Qing dynasty.


When facing an altar with a pair of ancestor portraits hanging above it, the woman's image always appears to the left of her husband's. Altars were supposed to be placed on the north side of a hall, and Chinese ritual regulations dictated that the eastward position was higher in status than the west. In traditional China, men were considered superior to women. Chinese families traced descent through the male line, so it was important to commission portraits of male forebears. Women were honored as mothers. Since most sons were deeply emotionally attached to their mothers, they routinely had portraits of both parents made for ritual veneration.

Although Lady Wanyan's elaborate costume is not full court dress, she wears the jewelry appropriate for formal court occasions. The princess's coronet is decorated with five gold-and-pearl phoenix ornaments that signify her high rank. Touches of blue in her headdress represent jewelry adorned with brilliant blue kingfisher feathers, which was in vogue during the Qing dynasty (1644-1911).

Museum conservators cleaned and remounted this portrait of Lady Wanyan and that of her husband (see S1991.61). The portrait of Prince Hongming had suffered great water damage, and its colors are now slightly lighter than those in the painting of his wife.

Published References
  • Hans Konig, Michael Franses. Glanz Der Himmelssohne Kaiserliche Teppiche Aus China 1400-1750: Exhibition in Köln, Museum fur Ostasiatische Kunst, October 15, 2005 - January 15, 2006. Exh. cat. Koln. .
  • Jan Stuart. Calling Back the Ancestor's Shadow: Chinese Ritual and Commemorative Portraits. vol. XLIII no. 3. p. 8, fig. 2.
  • Jan Stuart, Evelyn S. Rawski. Worshiping the Ancestors: Chinese Commemorative Portraits. Exh. cat. Washington and Stanford. p. 18, fig. 2.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
SI Usage Statement

Usage Conditions Apply

There are restrictions for re-using this image. For more information, visit the Smithsonian's Terms of Use page.

The information presented on this website may be revised and updated at any time as ongoing research progresses or as otherwise warranted. Pending any such revisions and updates, information on this site may be incomplete or inaccurate or may contain typographical errors. Neither the Smithsonian nor its regents, officers, employees, or agents make any representations about the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or timeliness of the information on the site. Use this site and the information provided on it subject to your own judgment. The Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery welcome information that would augment or clarify the ownership history of objects in their collections.