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Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

Shang Ku Libation Cup

Photo: Elizabeth Mann

Shang Ku Libation Cup


Morris Graves

born Fox Valley, Oregon, 1910; died Loleta, California, 2001

Having identified the chalice as the symbol for his spiritual journey, Graves naturally took to the study of ancient Chinese bronze vessels, which he saw in the Seattle Art Museum. To most people these vases on view were just “a museum symbol-fragment of an ‘historic culture,’” he said. But he imagined them engaging modern viewers on a spiritual level. He believed that the vessels transferred enlightenment from one culture to another. He painted the Shang dynasty ku, libation cup, shrouded in mystery. We cannot fully understand its talismanic properties, but somehow we can feel them.

Ink and transparent and opaque watercolor on green-toned paper, now faded to tan
25 3/8 × 15 1/8 in. (64.5 × 38.4 cm)
Gift of James W. Clise
Provenance: The artist; to [Willard Gallery, New York], 1947; purchased by Seattle Art Museum with funds provided by Mr. and Mrs. James W. Clise, Seattle, Washington, December, 1947
Photo: Elizabeth Mann
Not currently on view


Exhibition HistoryNew York, New York, Willard Gallery, Morris Graves, Mar. 3 - Apr. 10, 1948. Cat. no. 14, reproduced [as “Shang Ku” Libation Cup].

San Francisco, California, California Palace of the Legion of Honor, Morris Graves: Retrospective Exhibition, May 21 - June 29, 1948 (Santa Barbara, California, Santa Barbara Museum of Art, July 4 - 31, 1948; Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Aug. 7 - Sept. 6, 1948). No cat. no., p. 18.

San Francisco, California, San Francisco Museum of Art, Trio: Paintings by Morris Graves, Mark Tobey, Kenneth Callahan [Western Association of Art Museum Directors Circuit Exhibition], 1950 (Tacoma, Washington, Tacoma Art League, 1950; Los Angeles, California, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1950; Portland, Oregon, Portland Art Museum, 1950; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, University of British Columbia, 1951; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery, 1951; Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, Art Center of Greater Victoria, 1951). No catalogue.

Eugene, Oregon, University of Oregon Museum of Art, Morris Graves: A Retrospective, Feb. 8 - Mar. 13, 1966. Cat. no. 78.

Tacoma, Washington, Tacoma Art Museum, Morris Graves, Nov. 2 - 30, 1971. {No catalogue}.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Asian Affinities, Aug. 28, 1999 - Jan. 2, 2001. No catalogue.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Morris Graves and Seattle, Nov. 1, 2001 - Oct. 20, 2002. No catalogue.

Seattle, Washington, Seattle Art Museum, Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: The Mythic and the Mystical, June 19 - Sept. 7, 2014. Text by Patricia Junker. No cat. no., pp. 4, 39, reproduced p. 34, pl. 17.

Seattle Art Museum respectfully acknowledges that we are on Indigenous land, the traditional territories of the Coast Salish people. We honor our ongoing connection to these communities past, present, and future.

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