“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”
— Mark Twain

Remembering the Western Arts Gallery on Weihai Road

Posted: November 5th, 2015 | 1 Comment »

This post is one of a series on the old bookshops of Shanghai which includes the Uchiyama Japanese book shop, the German Book Mart store on Yu Yuen Road, the Zeitgeist left wing bookshop on North Soochow Road and the French Bookstore on Soochow Road – all of which I’ve blogged about before here, here and here respectively. The Western Arts Gallery was owned Heinz Egon Heinemann and is well remembered in several memoirs including Ernest Heppner’s Shanghai Refuge. The shop-cum-gallery specialised in buying and selling antiquarian books. A number of interesting folk worked there including Kurt Schwarz (credited as a co-founder and co-owner of the bookshop in some sources) and Illo Koratkowski (and they both deserve a bit more mention)…

The Western Arts Gallery was primarily located at 904 Weihai Road in the Settlement, though with another store and offices at 1166 Avenue Joffre (now Huai Hai Road) in the French Concession. It was effectively half a store, the other being occupied by a Mr Tsao, a Chinese curio dealer. The store was a popular meeting place for Shanghailanders, especially Germans and members of the city’s diplomatic corps. The Gallery was really more of a bookstore, with a small office, though did hold the occasional exhibition and a porcelain pagoda, large enough to reach to the ceiling, stood in the middle of the store.

Heinz Egon Heinemann was originally from Wiesbaden. He had been forced to leave Germany by the Nazis and moved to South Africa but upon discovering he could not bring his family to South Africa he left for Shanghai. As well as founding the Western Arts Gallery he owned five bookstores in Shanghai, Peking and Nanking. He stayed in Shanghai till the communist takeover when he was, unsurprisingly as so many were, arrested on charges of espionage by the Communists. In 1953 he eventually settled in Montreal (arriving with just $30 and 5 books), where he continued to be an antiquarian book dealer. He died in 1979.

Kurt Schwarz was from Vienna originally where he had studied for a Phd in art history and worked in his family’s antiquarian bookstore, Antiquariat Schwarz. After the Nazi takeover of Vienna he moved briefly to Paris and then London, where he worked as a book scout. He then applied for and was offered a post working in the library of the Royal Asiatic Society in Shanghai. That library was forced to close in 1941 and so Kurt moved to a job with the Western Arts Gallery in its bookshop. He remained in Shanghai until 1947 when he emigrated to the USA and settled in Los Angeles.

Illo Koratkowski was born in Berlin to a Jewish family. Her father, Paul (a bank manager in Germany), had moved to Shanghai to escape the Nazis but left his family behind in Berlin. He had hoped to secure transit to America and for them all to reunite there. In 1939 things in Berlin took a turn for the worse and Illo’s mother managed to get two tickets on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Dairen (Dalian) and then on to Shanghai. Paul had started an accountancy firm in Shanghai and managed to settle the family in an apartment on Hardoon Road. Illo worked briefly for a literary paper in Shanghai, but that folded. As she spoke English and French, as well as German, Heinemann, who was a client of Illo’s fathers, agreed to take her on at the Western Arts Gallery. Heinemann agreed to teach Illo all about the rare book trade as well as Western and Oriental art.

If anyone else knows anything about the Western Arts Gallery, especially should you happen to have a photo, I’d love to hear from you….


Heinz Egon Heinemann…in Montreal


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One Comment on “Remembering the Western Arts Gallery on Weihai Road”

  1. 1 FAITH GOLDMAN said at 4:29 pm on August 12th, 2018:

    Robert Goldman was born and raised in Shanghai 1940-1958. He stayed with his Father Noah – both had Polish Passports. Wanted to know if young teenagers would have come into your stores after 1949. Robert was an avid reader and was still in school (Ms.Cubbins) until 1953? Does anyone know of this school? Writing about my husband’s life as he passed away with most of his memories. Thank you.

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