“Ewer with Design of Floral Scrolls and Spout in the Form of a Lion-Dog,” Chinese (10th–11th century) (all images courtesy the Saint Louis Art Museum, Spink Asian Art Collection, bequest of Edith J. and C.C. Johnson Spink, unless indicated otherwise)

The Saint Louis Art Museum (SLAM) has received a gift of 225 artworks worth upwards of $50 million from the collection of the late Edith Spink and Charles Claude Johnson Spink, who died in 2011 and 1992, respectively. Most of the trove, about 200 pieces, consists of artworks from China and Japan, while the rest are pieces by American artists including Norman Rockwell, John Singleton Copley, Andrew and Jamie Wyeth, and a portrait of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale.

Rembrandt Peale, “George Washington” (circa 1845) (courtesy the Saint Louis Art Museum, bequest of Edith J. and C.C. Johnson Spink) (click to enlarge)

“The Spink Collection represents such a high level and wide range of collecting in Chinese art that is not likely to be repeated or surpassed in St. Louis for many generations, if at all,” Philip K. Hu, SLAM’s associate curator of Asian art, wrote in the acquisition proposal that he presented to the museum’s collections committee. “The gift will enable the Museum to display, for the first time, a complete presentation of Chinese ceramic history starting from prehistoric times to the end of the imperial system.”

The Spinks, both of whom were natives of St. Louis, began collecting art in the 1970s. Several works from their collections of Asian and American art are already on view at SLAM, as they’ave been on long-term loan to the museum since 2004.

C.C.J. Spink was the last member of the Spink family to run the weekly magazine The Sporting News, which his great uncle Alfred G. Spink founded in 1886. C.C.J. took over the publication in 1962 and sold it to the Times Mirror Company in 1977. He remained involved in the magazine until 1987.

“Dish with Design of Gardenia Sprays,” Chinese (early 18th century)

Edith “Edie” Spink trained as a lawyer, and though she never formally practiced law, her 20-year tenure as the mayor of the wealthy St. Louis suburb of Ladue was exceptionally litigious. Her administration successfully filed lawsuits to prevent an unmarried couple from living together and to stop a family from building a pyramid-shaped house. But Spink lost her most high-profile case when, in 1994, the US Supreme Court ruled that the municipality of Ladue could not force local resident Margaret Gilleo to remove an antiwar sign from her own front yard.

“Some called her a little dictator,” Edie Spink’s friend Mary Ann Rober told the Ladue-Frontenac Patch at the time of her death, “but the people of Ladue just loved her.”

Next year, dozens of the Chinese ceramics from the Spinks’ gift will go on view following the reinstallation of one of SLAM’s permanent collection galleries.

“Rectangular Food Vessel (fang ding) with Flattened Feet in the Form of Kui-Dragons,” Chinese (11th century BCE)

“Standing Figure of a Horse Groom,” Chinese (early 6th century)

“Ritual Object in the Form of a Prismatic Cylinder (cong),” Chinese (3000–2000 BCE)

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...