Ph.D., Princeton University, 1958
In his nearly five decades of teaching at Princeton University and in his service at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Wen C. Fong, professor emeritus at Princeton, helped to create and shape the academic field of East Asian art history as we know it today.
Born in Shanghai in 1930, Wen Fong studied as a youth under the renowned calligrapher and scholar Li Jian (1881–1956). In 1948 he came to the United States to enroll as an undergraduate at Princeton University. He earned his BA and MFA degrees at Princeton, where he studied European history and Medieval art history, before receiving his PhD for a dissertation on Chinese art history in 1958. It was published under the title The Lohans and a Bridge to Heaven. Wen Fong taught Chinese art history at Princeton from 1954 until his retirement in 1999. He served as chair of the Department of Art and Archaeology from 1970 to 1973, was designated the Edwards S. Sanford Professor of art history in 1971, and in 1998 received the College Art Association’s distinguished teaching award. As faculty curator of Asian art at the Princeton University Art Museum, he involved his graduate students in pathbreaking exhibitions and related publications and helped to build the museum’s outstanding holdings of Chinese art, most notably the John B. Elliott Collection of Chinese Calligraphy, perhaps the finest such collection outside China. In 1959 Wen Fong together with the late Frederick W. Mote established at Princeton the nation’s first PhD program in Chinese art and archaeology. Following the appointment of Shūjirō Shimada as professor of Japanese art history in 1962, the program was expanded to include Japanese art and archaeology. Since then, the program has granted over forty PhDs. Princeton graduates now hold teaching and curatorial positions in Chinese and Japanese art on three continents and, along with their own students, constitute as many as three-quarters of the faculty teaching East Asian art history in the United States today.
Concurrent with his contributions at Princeton, Wen Fong served for nearly thirty years, from 1971 to 2000, as Special Consultant and then Consultative Chairman of the Department of Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Working with benefactors and colleagues to build the collections, expand the Asian art galleries, and organize exhibitions and publications, he fulfilled the museum’s mandate to create at the Metropolitan an encyclopedic presentation of Asian art.