Donation to preserve photographic cultural heritage from China

The National Museums of World Culture in Sweden, in which the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities is part, have received a donation to preserve and digitize a unique collection of photography by Finnish-Swedish art historian, Osvald Sirén. This digital archive will be made available online.

Osvald Siren

Sirén was an expert in Chinese art and architectural history, as well as an esteemed photographer. He made several trips to East Asia before World War II, where he carefully documented parks, gardens, and urban environments with words, drawings, and photography. Many of his images capture details that are of great significance today, as some of the buildings and works of art featured have disappeared or been destroyed.

- “We are incredibly grateful to receive this donation, which will contribute to save a centuries-old, unique collection of photography for coming generations,” says Director General Ann Follin. Sirén's material is a real treasure. Although many books with his photography have been published over the years, the whole collection contains so much more. Thanks to this generous donation, a lot of unpublished and unknown material will be made available to discover for people all over the world.

- “The relations between China and Sweden have a long history, and as Swedes working in the country, we are proud to be able to contribute to strengthen the cultural-historical ties. Siren's images are unique documents that can help to provide important, historical perspectives on China's urban development,” says Jesper Jos Olsson.
In addition to photography, the collection contains Sirén's correspondence with Chinese researchers, as well as his diaries and notes while travelling in China. The entire collection is an important source of material for Chinese urban development and for our understanding of the relationship between Sweden and China at the time. The goal is to make the material searchable online in Swedish, English, and Chinese.

About Osvald Sirén

Osvald Sirén (1879 - 1966), was a Finnish-Swedish art historian, curator, professor, and author. He made four extended trips to East Asia before World War II: 1918, 1921-23, 1929-30 and 1935.

Sirén’s research was notable in the ways in which he systematically documented and used the possibilities of photography to capture details and impressions. After Sirén died, his children donated his vast collection of research material to the Museum of Far Eastern Antiquities, containing more than 40 years of research on China including about 35 000 photos and about 25 000 documents (letters, diaries, notebooks, manuscripts, and more).

Donors are Gerard De Geer and Jesper Jos Olsson.