Power/Play: China's Empress Dowager

September 24, 2011 – January 29, 2012

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
1050 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC

Sublevel 1 Floor Plan

This exhibition provides a compelling and immersive exploration of the Empress Dowager Cixi through 35 glass-plate negatives, two original prints presented to President Theodore Roosevelt and his daughter in 1904 and 1905, and film clips. The Empress -- the supreme leader of China for more than 45 years -- was held in low regard throughout the world following China's disastrous Boxer Rebellion. Devising a strategy in 1903 to rehabilitate her public image, she allowed a young aristocratic photographer named Xunling to take staged shots of her and her court. These photos, the only photographic series of Cixi, represent a unique convergence of Qing court pictorial traditions, modern photographic techniques, and Western standards. The 35 glass-plate negatives -- acquired by the Freer from the photographer's sister, Princess Der Ling -- are the only intimate portraits of the Grand Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) held outside of the Palace Museum in Beijing.