A Visit to the National Palace Museum


Dec 31, 2004



Earlier in the day, Heather Ho, arranged a tour of the Taipei University of the Arts, escorted by an excellent stone sculptor, Prof. Lai, who had studied carving in Italy, married a Dutch girl, and went to grad school in Wyoming.  (When you consider most educated Chinese speak both Mandarin and Taiwanese, Prof. Lai has quite a few languages under his hat.)  Prof. Lai is chairman of the Sculpture Department.


The school is quite impressive.  The facilities are as good or better than many American art schools (the school is only 18 years old).  Perched on a mountainside on the edge of Taipei, the sculpture studio has spectacular view.  There is a very fine Italian Restaurant on campus (of all things!) far too expensive for students, but just right for visiting grownups, so we had a good meal looking out over the Taiwanese valley listening to Puccini blast away on their stereo and eating a fine meal.


Prof. Lai had business back in town so gave us a ride to the National Palace Museum, saving us a long taxi and subway ride.  


It was a cold, raw, rainy day and I regret to say I did not get any pictures of the views or the work, though Joy did take some video.

   a poster of what the National Palce will look like in late2006 covers much of the view of what it is like now!


The National Palace Museum is their national art museum and more.  The core of the collection was set up by the Nationalists in 1925 when the last Emperor left the Forbidden City.  The collection was moved from Beijing in the early 1930s with the onset of the Sino-Japanese War and it kept moving through the Second World War and Civil War afterwards.  It is one of the largest museums in the world in terms of items and value (650,000 objects), and, of course, it is the best collection in the world of Chinese arts, calligraphy, craft, ceramics, jade, ivory, etc. 


Only a third of the museum is open as there are major renovations underway.  Even so, there was plenty to occupy us for the rest of the afternoon.  


Spectacular special exhibitions were up on the Imperial jade collection; the Imperial ceramics collection; and a special new exhibition of bronze castings of religious items donated by a wealthy private patron.  Admission was only NT$100 (about US$ 3) and soon we were looking at astounding works of art and craftsmanship once reserved for only a few eyes.

 (  www.npm.gov.tw  is the National Palace web site, and quite a good one, too. )

Japanese vacation groups as well as local school tours passed through the main buildings like schools of spawning cod so it was hard to see much in an orderly fashion.  Fortunately, most of the collection is labeled in English as well as Chinese, so we could catch glimpses of items between shoals of tour groups.  Very low lighting –even in galleries where there was nothing to protect from low lighting—as well as the swarms of people, made photography difficult, so there are a few surprisingly good pictures of some things we didn’t really care about, and some dim or shaky pictures of some lovely things we wished had photographed better.

   Ivory carving about 4 inches high

  arm rest for calligrapher  carved wood  

  finger nail coverings for noble ladies


One thing I really liked about the National Palace Collection, is they have made a large number of DVDs about special parts of their collections, so a traveler is not so burdened bringing back large books.  I bought only the English language guide book and three DVDs, but, in retrospect, wished I’d bought more of the DVDs.   


We got our best photos of the various carved stones used by calligraphers to grind ink.  These are the tops of the fitted stone boxes. The Imperial houshold had thousads of them--each diferent and each a work of art.



As the museum closed, taxis were all taken, so we dared take a bus to the subway station several miles away.  Rush hour Friday afternoon.    It was packed.  (We paid full fare NT$15--about 45 cents) and finally got to the subway station next to the Shilin Night Market.  From there we took a subway back to the Taipei Artists Village (again paying the outrageous full fare of 60 cents US). 


The restaurant at the Taipei Artists Village was catering a large banquet somewhere else, and had extra food, so we got a huge New Year's meal for about US$15.  Lumbering back to our room like stunned badgers, trailing our packages of books, and DVD's from the National Palace, we fell into bed.