The Museum's Collection of Chinese Art has grown from 125 works acquired by Ralph Norton to about 600 objects. His acquisitions form two outstanding bookends to the Chinese collection: archaic jade and bronze and Qing dynasty (1644–1911) imperial jade and hardstone carvings. Seminal early and late works from Mr. Norton’s gifts include a 3200 year-old marvel of bronze casting, a Ritual Wine Pouring Vessel (Guang) in the form of a dragon, which is a composite of many powerful creatures—tiger, bear, elephant, bird, and antelope; as well as a Bowl with the Seven Buddhas of the Past, commissioned in 1777 by the wealthiest and most powerful man of the 18th century, the Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1735–1796).
Over the years, the gifts from Mr. Norton have been supplemented with other significant works of art including: a painting by the Ming dynasty master Tang Ying entitled The Nine Bends River, which links the personal qualities of the man portrayed with Confucian moral values embodied by elements in the landscape; one of the world’s finest extant pairs of 17th century (Qing dynasty Kangxi reign, 1662–1722) Lacquer Cabinets from the collection of Leonard and Sophie Davis; and one of the most recent additions is a wondrous 13th century painting of Five Quail, which sends a subtle message about life in unstable times. This work and a gallery dedicated to rotating displays of Chinese art were generously funded by John and Heidi Niblack.