The first special exhibition in Hong Kong’s shiny new museum is fit for a king. “Odysseys of Art: Masterpieces Collected by the Princes of Liechtenstein” boasts treasures that tell the story of collaboration between East and West, and hopes to give Hong Kong back some of its joie de vivre. The doors to the Hong Kong Palace Museum opened in July , but long before that, while construction on the 13,000-square-metre site at the western tip of the West Kowloon Cultural District was still under way, Dr Daisy Wang Yiyou, the museum’s deputy director, and her team were busy writing letters to colleagues around the world calling for exhibition proposals. “Luckily, one letter went to Dr Kräftner and he immediately replied,” says Wang on a Zoom call with Dr Johann Kräftner, director of the Princely Collections. Assembled over 400 years, the Princely Collections of Liechtenstein is among the most important private art collections in the world, holding about 1,600 paintings, from the early Renaissance to the second half of the 19th century. For Kräftner, the request from Hong Kong felt serendipitous because he had been hoping to have an exhibition in the city for some time, but hadn’t found a suitable venue. “We love Hong Kong and we have the strong support of the bank of the princely family, LGT Bank, as the principal sponsor of this exhibition. The LGT Bank has a significant presence in Hong Kong,” he says, “and has been operating there for more than 30 years.” It was exciting and challenging to decide which pieces to choose for the Hong Kong exhibition. Kräftner knew from the outset he didn’t want to send a ready-made exhibition, because it is always his aim to develop exhibitions with the people of those places. “It must be a cooperation.” Prince Karl I von Liechtenstein founded the collection in the 16th century, and since that time, the reigning prince – the firstborn son of each generation – has been charged with overseeing it. Over four centuries of art collecting, the personal tastes of each prince have shaped the vast collection. “We felt like kids in a candy store, there are so many nice things to choose from, so many masterpieces,” says Kräftner. “However, out of 30,000 pieces, we pinned down just more than 120.” Highlights from the Hong Kong Palace Museum and how it came to fruition In pre-pandemic days, Kräftner would have flown to Hong Kong to discuss curatorial matters over dim sum, and Wang and her colleagues might have flown to Vienna to see the collection for themselves, but Covid-19 put paid to that and they relied on emails and Zoom. “It was extremely challenging during the intense Covid time for us to talk about logistics, practicality,” says Wang, “Will this show happen? The stakes were high.” Lively curatorial and intellectual discussions led to two overarching themes that guided the selection: the pieces would give an insight into the princes’ collecting patterns, highlighting some of the masterpieces, but the choices must also reflect an ongoing dialogue between East and West. And similarities between two places as far-flung as Lichtenstein and Hong Kong are not as sparse as one might imagine. “Liechtenstein was one of the poorest places in Europe, a place of peasants and farmers, and it has developed into a major hub of banking and hi-tech industry,” says Kräftner. “Hong Kong was once a fishing hub and since the second world war has developed into an important economic and cultural hub. Both have moved from poverty to become places with high income and hi-tech inventions.” The team decided to focus on five of the princes, from Prince Karl I von Liechtenstein to the reigning prince, Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein, who helped revive the collection in the wake of the losses following World War II. Works by two of the best-known European artists of the 17th century, Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, would give a sample of the collection’s masterpieces. It is worth taking a moment to consider Liechtenstein itself. Nestled between Switzerland and Austria, it is one of the smallest countries in Europe, covering just 160 square kilometres (62 square miles) and with a population of about 38,000. The country maintains a constitutional hereditary monarchy, and the head of state is the reigning prince. Kräftner says Prince Hans-Adam II enjoys his responsibility overseeing the collection, despite the considerable amount of work involved in looking after two large palaces and presenting a public exhibition in Vienna each year. “They live with these art objects, their apartments in Vienna are full of stunning art objects as is the house in Vaduz, where the dining room is full of the most wonderful still lifes,” says Kräftner. “The reigning prince is very keen on bronzes and has added incredible things in the past 20 years.” Two bronzes acquired by Prince Hans-Adam II are included in the exhibition: an early 16th century equestrian statuette of Marcus Aurelius by the Italian sculptor Antico, and a gilded bronze Bust of Marcus Aurelius by the same artist. These relatively recent additions compliment the bronzes already in the collection. Prince Karl I had a passion for bronze and in 1613 commissioned the sculptor Adrian de Fries to create a larger-than-life-size St Sebastian. This impressive piece has also been shipped to Hong Kong. As far back as the 17th and 18th centuries the collection had a global outlook, particularly with regard to Asian art. Choice pieces have been selected for “Odysseys of Art” and what is especially intriguing about the Chinese and Japanese porcelains is the manner in which they are framed. “It was the fashion to mount these pieces in the European way and to give them a new shape,” says Kräftner. “We show some of these pieces of Chinese origin that have been enriched and mounted by famous European gold and silversmiths, they are the best of the very best.” Take the dish with garden motif from Jingdezhen, China’s porcelain capital that has been producing ceramics for more than 2,000 years. This exquisite work of underglaze blue porcelain was produced between 1736 and 1795 and when it reached Europe, Austrian silversmith Ignaz Joseph Wurth designed a gilded bronze mount for it. “Chinese painters in the Qing dynasty were interested in European painting and in the same period European artists and designers were fascinated with Chinese art and culture,” says Wang. “There are a lot of shared human behaviours and collecting patterns.” The Liechtenstein princes’ long history of living with and collecting art reminds Wang of some of China’s powerful and cultivated rulers, in particular the Qianlong Emperor (1711-1799), a passionate art collector and accomplished calligrapher. At roughly the same time, 7,500km (4,660 miles) away in Vienna, Prince Joseph Wenzel I (1696-1772) ordered the first inventory of the Princely Collections and created its first catalogue. “So, the same ideas happened at the same time even though I’m pretty sure the two persons didn’t know about each other,” says Kräftner. “But they had the same enlightened ideas to make inventories and to present in a certain measure and scale to these collections.” European artists returned from trips to China in the 18th century bristling with excitement about what they had seen. Lednice Castle, in what is now the Czech Republic, was a summer residence for the princely family between the 17th and 20th centuries. In 1795, architect Joseph Hardtmuth designed a Chinese-style pavilion in the grounds of the castle. Its interior was decorated with Chinese-style tapestries that Prince Alois acquired from the Petit Trianon in Versailles. The pavilion was rebuilt in 1848, giving it a much more lavish exterior as was the fashion of the day. The pavilion was demolished in 1892, but its tapestries, lacquerware and porcelains are preserved in the Chinese Salon at the castle, and paintings of both those pavilions can be seen at the Hong Kong exhibition. Prince Max von und zu Liechtenstein, second son of the reigning prince, is chairman and CEO of the LGT Group, and says he hopes that “in an increasingly polarised world, there is an opportunity for art to foster mutual understanding”. Silvan Colani, CEO of LGT Bank (Hong Kong), sits in one of the office’s meeting rooms in Exchange Square, Central. Behind him is a canvas of a bright burst of pink flowers, a replica of Roses (1843) by Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller, acquired by the Princely Collections in 2004. Colani sees the collection as a tangible, long-term investment. “Talking about it is one thing, but to actually see what has been collected over 400 years illustrates it in a good way,” he says. “And, of course, the art is beautiful and something people can relate to.” Masterpieces from the collection not only adorn LGT Bank’s walls, they also feature in its brochures and marketing materials, underscoring the story of family ownership and helping to differentiate it from some of its competitors. As Hong Kong emerges from the pandemic, Colani hopes the exhibition will reignite the city’s spark and give Hongkongers something to look forward to. Now in Hong Kong and enjoying the dim sum, Kräftner is delighted that after many months of intense planning all of the hard work has come to fruition. “It will be a big thing for the Hong Kong Palace Museum, for Hong Kong and for us in Europe to start this collaboration between continents,” he says. “It’s a big step forward after Covid.” “Odysseys of Art: Masterpieces Collected by the Princes of Liechtenstein” is showing at the Hong Kong Palace Museum until February 20. Tickets (HK$120 for adults; HK$60 for concessions) are available through West Kowloon Cultural District Authority ticketing platforms. The 5 Liechtenstein princes whose collecting informs the exhibition Prince Karl I von Liechtenstein (1569-1627) Prince Karl I von Liechtenstein was raised as a Protestant but converted to Catholicism in 1599. Shortly afterwards, Emperor Rudolf II appointed him Lord High Steward to the highest office in court. In a quarrel between the emperor and his brother Archduke Matthias, Prince Karl I sided with the latter, who elevated him in 1608 to hereditary princely status, making him the first member of the Liechtenstein family to become a prince. He founded the Princely Collections, acquiring and commissioning works from the artists of his time. Highlight : Portrait of Prince Karl I von Liechtenstein , Prague, circa 1622-1623, oil on canvas. Prince Johann Adam Andreas I von Liechtenstein (1657-1712) Acquired a great number of artworks, commissioned important architectural projects and built up one of the largest private collections of works by Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. Highlight : Portrait of Clara Serena Rubens, the artist’s daughter , by Peter Paul Rubens, circa 1616, oil on canvas. Dr Daisy Wang Yiyou: “Rubens’ artistic influence has loomed large over artists for many generations. He was a prolific artist, partly through running a large workshop of his own, and took on a wide range of genres from portraiture to landscapes, along with an extraordinary output of religious and mythological scenes.” Prince Joseph Wenzel I von Liechtenstein (1696-1772) Prince Joseph Wenzel I was a respected military commander and diplomat. Between 1735 and 1740, he served as the Holy Roman Emperor’s envoy to Berlin and Paris and often sought out artists on his trips and diplomatic missions. Highlight : The Audience with the Emperor of China, from the Grand Mogul cycle , Berlin, circa 1715, tapestry, wool and silk. Seated on a throne, the Emperor of China receives homage from his guests. It is unclear how the tapestry entered the collection, but its place of origin, Berlin, suggests it may have been acquired by or gifted to Prince Joseph Wenzel during his time there. Prince Alois II von Liechtenstein (1796-1858) Prince Alois II von Liechtenstein was at the cutting edge of art. He commissioned the Viennese artist Friedrich von Amerling to paint his children. The small portrait of the slumbering two-year-old Princess Marie Franziska von Liechtenstein is the strongest in the series and one of the best-known works in the Princely Collections. Highlight : Portrait of Princess Marie Franziska von Liechtenstein (1834-1909) at the Age of Two , by Friedrich von Amerling, 1836. Prince Hans-Adam II von Und zu Liechtenstein (born 1945) The radical reorganisation and recovery of the family’s finances by Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein enabled him to reacquire works sold in the years following World War II and make major acquisitions that complemented the existing holdings and filled gaps in the collections. Highlight : The Conversion of St Paul , by Peter Paul Rubens, circa 1601-1602.