Abel William Bahr


Constituent Alternate Name(s)
A. W. Bahr
Billy Bahr

Child: Edna H. Bahr
Sibling: Peter Johannes Bahr
Spouse: Helen Marion Bahr

Place of birth: Shanghai, China

Place of activity: New York, New York, United States; London, United Kingdom; Shanghai, China;

Place of death: Ridgefield, Connecticut, United States

A.W. (Billy) Bahr was born in Shanghai to a German father and Chinese mother. Although he was a coal merchant in Shanghai, he and his brother, Peter Johannes Bahr (c.1882-1928), were also dealers in Chinese art, supplying a series of collectors and museums internationally. A.W. Bahr built up a significant art collection, particularly paintings, most of which was sold during his lifetime.  

Abel William Bahr was born on December 11 1877 to Jrgen Bahr (1838-1903), a civil servant in Shanghai, and Marie Ling Wan Yin (1839-1913) and was educated at St. Francis Xavier's School in Shanghai. Bahr began his career as a clerk with a wholesale and retail coal merchant, eventually establishing the Central Trading Company with a group of friends in 1898. Following his marriage to Helen Marion Southey (1873-1954) in 1900, he joined the firm of Hopkins, Dunn and Company.  His interest in Chinese art seems to have begun in about 1905, when he began collecting Kangxi period porcelain (1662-1722). This taste is reflected in the exhibition he promoted in 1908, the first of its kind in China. Organised in part under auspices of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, the exhibition was held at the newly constructed Shanghai Mutual Telephone Company building and included a collection of early Chinese ceramics as well as later Qing porcelains, jade, enamels and glass. In 1910, Bahr moved to England, from where in 1911, he published the Catalogue of the Shanghai exhibition and where the Fine Arts Society in London mounted an exhibition of his collection, which by then included early paintings, jades and ceramics. His memoirs indicate that he was already combining the role of collector with that of dealer, as evidenced by his dealings with Lord Kitchener, among other celebrated collectors. During the next three decades, Bahr divided his time between Britain and New York, the latter where he had a gallery. He would continue to make trips back to China.

In 1927 a collection of early jades formed by Bahr was exhibited at the Field Museum in Chicago, with a privately printed Catalogue authored by curator, Berthold Laufer. The Field Museum acquired the jades the following year. A Catalogue of Bahr's Chinese painting collection was published in 1938, authored by Osvald Siren. Most of his paintings were purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1947. Many public museums and galleries in the North America and Great Britain acquired ex-Bahr material, either through purchase or gift, including the Montreal Museum of Art, the Royal Ontario Museum, the British Museum and the Freer Gallery of Art. Following Bahr's death, his daughter, Edna Bahr (1907-1986), also donated pieces to various institutions in her father's memory.

In 1946, Bahr and his family moved to Montreal, Canada, where he remained until 1951 when he moved to The Coach House, Ridgefield, Fairfield County, Connecticut, joining his daughter, Edna. He died there on March 2, 1959.


A.W. Bahr Papers, 1919-1957. (http://www.asia.si.edu/archives/finding_aids/bahr.htm).
A.W. Bahr, Old Chinese Porcelain and Works of Art in China: Being Description and Illustration of Articles Selected from an Exhibition Held in Shanghai, November 1908. (London: Cassell and Company, Ltd., 1911).
Catalogue of an Exhibition of Early Chinese Paintings, Porcelains, Pottery and Bronzes from the Collection of A.W. Bahr, London: Fine Art Society, 1911.
Archaic Chinese Jades Collected in China by A.W. Bahr, now in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, Chicago: Privately Printed, 1927.
Osvald Siren, Early Chinese Paintings from the A.W. Bahr Collection, London: The Chiswick Press, 1938.
Nick Pearce, "Shanghai 1908: A.W. Bahr and China's First Art Exhibition." West 86th 18, no 1 (2011): 4-25.
"Abel W. Bahr Dies in his 82nd Year", Obituary, Ridgefield Press, March 5, 1959.
Antique Chinese porcelains, pottery, jades, screens, paintings on glass, rugs, carpets and many other objects of art and antiquity, January 17-19, 1916, New York: American Art Association.
Chinese antiquities and art treasures, January 9-11, 1922, New York: American Art Association.
Antique Chinese potteries, porcelains, jades & objects of art, April 7-8, 1926, New York: Anderson Galleries.

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