Museums’ Award Marks Lifetime Contributions to Asian Art

Renowned art historian, author, academic administrator and curator Dame Professor Jessica Rawson will be awarded the Charles Lang Freer Medal for her lifetime work in Chinese art and archeology. The medal will be presented to the noted British scholar in a private ceremony in Washington, D.C., Saturday, Oct. 28.

The Freer Medal honors individuals who in the course of a career have contributed in a substantial way to the understanding of the arts of Asia. Named after the museum’s founder, Charles Lang Freer, the medal has been awarded 13 times since its inception in 1956.

“Jessica Rawson joins an extraordinarily distinguished group of recipients of the Freer Medal, and she fully merits her inclusion in this Olympian gathering, for she has made outstanding contributions to the field of Asian art as an academic and a museum professional,” said Julian Raby, the Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art. “Her research has been pioneering and rigorous. Grounded in material culture, Jessica’s scholarship has shed light on the uses and significance of ancient objects and on the transmission of objects and ideas across cultures. As a museum professional her work has been consummate.”

Throughout her career, Rawson, former keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum and currently professor of Chinese art and archaeology at the University of Oxford, has advanced the understanding of these areas including the relationship between people of China and Inner Asia. Her publications have covered extensive topics and time periods, including the Bronze Age and the Han, Tang and Qing dynasties.

She is the author of numerous books, including Ancient China: Art & Archaeology (1980), Chinese Ornament: The Lotus and the Dragon (1984), Chinese Bronzes: Art and Ritual (1987), Western Zhou Ritual Bronzes from the Arthur M. Sackler Collections (1990), Chinese Jade from the Neolithic to the Qing (1995), British Museum Book of Mysteries of Ancient China (1996) and with Evelyn Rawski (eds.) China: The Three Emperors, 1662–1795 (2005) and numerous articles and book chapters, including “The Han Empire and Its Northern Neighbors: The Fascinations with the Exotic” and in James Lin (ed.) “The Search for Immortality: Tomb Treasures of Han China.”

During the course of her career, Rawson has been involved in a number of prominent exhibitions, including the British Museum’s “Mysteries of Ancient China” in 1996, and she was lead curator on the exhibition and catalog “China: The Three Emperors 16621795,” a Royal Academy of Arts exhibition presented in 20056.

In addition to her research, Rawson has taken leadership roles at museums and universities. Following studies at the University of Cambridge, she embarked on a promising career in the British civil service, which she left to pursue her long-standing passion for Chinese art. Between 1976 and 1994, she served as deputy keeper and then keeper of the Department of Oriental Antiquities at the British Museum, before being appointed warden of Merton College, University of Oxford. She served as the university’s pro-vice-chancellor from 2006 to 2011.

Rawson’s career has been marked by honors and recognition from her peers and government. She is a Fellow of the British Academy and a member of the Scholars’ Council of the Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and the Art Fund’s Advisory Council. She was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2002 for services to oriental studies. In 2012, she was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as a Foreign Honorary Member.

The Freer Medal was last awarded in 2012 to John Rosenfield, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Professor of East Asian Art, Emeritus at Harvard University. Previous recipients are James Cahill (2010), Oleg Graber (2001), Sherman E. Lee (1998), Alexander Soper (1990), Stella Kramrisch (1985), Max Loehr (1983), Roman Ghirshman (1974), Tanakka Ichimatsu (1973), Laurence Sickman (1973), Yashiro Yukio (1975), Ernst Kühnel (1960) and Osvald Sirén (1956.)

About the Freer and Sackler Galleries

The Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., together comprise the nation’s museums of Asian art. They contain one of the most important collections of Asian art in the world, featuring more than 40,000 objects ranging in time from the Neolithic to the present day, with especially fine groupings of Islamic art, Chinese jades, bronzes and paintings and the art of the ancient Near East. The galleries also contain important masterworks from Japan, ancient Egypt, South and Southeast Asia and Korea, as well as the Freer’s noted collection of works by American artist James McNeill Whistler.

The Freer|Sackler is a part of the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum, education and research complex, which is dedicated to the increase and diffusion of knowledge.