Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

CLP 197 (2011): Early Chinese Paintings in Japan: An Outsider’s View


As my title indicates, I write as an outsider, being neither Chinese nor Japanese, reading neither language really fluently. My qualifications are a long career of devotion to the painting traditions of both cultures, in which I spent all the time I could, first in Japan when U.S. citizens could not travel to P.R. China, and later in China when it was opened to us. A special area in my research and writing has always been the relationship between the two painting traditions, as viewed by an outsider, somewhat independent of the special dictates and constraints that operate within each tradition, who could apply his understanding of the one, limited as it was, to the study of the other. It should not need saying that I have always had the deepest respect for both traditions of painting, and for the traditions of connoisseurship that accompany them; I hope that nothing I write below will be taken to indicate otherwise.
In considering the great wealth of early Chinese paintings in Japanese collections, as it is represented so richly in this exhibition, one large observation can be made at once: The paintings came to Japan mainly in two great waves, widely separated in time and very different in character. The first was the early period of importations called kowatari, “old crossings,” which happened mainly in the twelfth to fourteenth centuries and brought to Japan mostly the kinds of paintings loosely included in the term Sôgenga: literally meaning “Song and Yuan paintings,” but in usage referring to the limited range of types of paintings that were appreciated and acquired by Japanese monks, shoguns, and others during that early period. What these were will be outlined briefly below; what is most important to note is that they included types that were not highly valued and preserved in China. The other wave was the importation of important Chinese paintings, early works among them, for sale to Japanese collectors in the early decades of the twentieth century. This, by contrast, is less well attested in the standard histories; it has recently been the subject of excellent writing by a group of my younger colleagues, who will be credited in what follows. Chinese paintings that entered Japanese collections in this second period and manner include, as Sôgenga did not, fine works of the so-called “Southern School” and other types highly valued in China that had mostly been missing from earlier Japanese holdings. Japanese loans in the present exhibition are mostly of the kowatari kind, about twice as many as those from the later importation, by my loose calculation.

Between the Great Waves
In the period between these two waves, Chinese paintings continued to be imported, but not, with few exceptions, Song-Yuan paintings. The question of how Chinese paintings of the Ming-Qing dynasties came to Japan in the Edo period, seventeenth to early nineteenth century, and thus became available as models for Japanese artists of the Nanga and other schools active then, was the subject of a study of my own, prepared for a symposium on Sino-Japanese cultural relations. [1]  Briefly: Chinese paintings were brought for sale to Nagasaki, the only port then open to commerce; they had been purchased by Chinese merchants mainly in the flourishing markets of the Jiangnan region of China, and included works of kinds not highly valued in China but saleable in Japan: Ming paintings of the Zhe school, works by late Ming Suzhou masters, paintings by artists such as Gong Xian who were still underrated in China. From Nagasaki the paintings, purchased at auctions by Japanese dealers, were brought to a succession of markets: those in Kyushu, Shikoku, the Kansai region, and finally the Kanto region. They were eagerly awaited by Japanese collectors in those places, and by artists anxious to keep up with new currents on the mainland. Some of the old-family collections in Japan that have become private museums are strong in Chinese paintings of these kinds.

That the paintings were of kinds not at that time valued highly in China does not reduce their value to us now: like early Western collections such as those of Charles Lang Freer and the British Museum, they included many “bad” paintings (by orthodox Chinese criteria) that might otherwise not have been preserved but which today allow studies of those huge areas of Chinese painting that lay outside the boundaries prescribed by the Chinese literati critics. Only recently have we begun to realize how terribly the surviving body of Chinese paintings.

[1]James Cahill, “Phases and Modes in the Transmission of Ming-Ch’ing Painting Styles to Edo-Period Japan.” In: Papers of the International Symposium on Sino-Japanese Cultural Interchange, Hong Kong, Institute of Chinese Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1985, 65-97. The paper can be downloaded from my website,, as CLP (Cahill Lectures and Papers) no. 9. The mode of importation outlined there was based on information given me by another symposium participant, Professor Oba Osamu. My account of the kinds of paintings imported was based on my own observations of what Chinese sources early Nanga artists in Japan used in their paintings. For the latter question, see also my Sakaki Hyakusen and Early Nanga Painting (Berkeley, Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1983); and "Yosa Buson and Chinese Painting."  In:  Reports of the 5th International Symposium of the Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Property:  Interregional Influences in East Asian Art History, Tokyo (1982), pp. 245-263.

has been reduced by the censorship of those critics, and by the highly selective preservation practices of dealers and collectors who followed their dictates.   The addition of false signatures, seals, and attributions to Ming-Qing paintings of quality in order to turn them into spurious Song-Yuan works, a practice common in Ming-Qing times, can be credited also with preserving a great many paintings of kinds that could otherwise have been lost. I have suggested that any full account of the survival of Chinese paintings should include a chapter titled “In Praise of Bad Taste.”

First Wave: The Kowatari
The earlier, kowatari wave itself happened in two parts. In the first, from the late twelfth century increasingly through the thirteenth and fourteenth, Japanese monks of the Zen and other Buddhist sects were returning to Japan after study in the great monasteries of Southern China, principally in Zhejiang but a few also in Jiangsu, and Chinese priests were coming to Japan to teach. More than 250 Japanese monks traveled to China during Song-Yuan times, for stays averaging ten to fifteen years; a dozen or so Chinese monks came to Japan in that period. Some of the paintings they brought to Japan, such as chinsô portraits of Chan masters and figure paintings of Buddhist and Daoist subjects (dôshakuga), were iconic; others no doubt were simply paintings they enjoyed, or brought as gifts. Works by popular artists of the Jiangnan (Jiangsu-Zhejiang) region were among these, paintings that today can scarcely be found outside Japan. They included bird-and-flower or flower-and-insect paintings by unnamed artists of the Piling school, represented by two fine works in the exhibition (Nos. 66-1, 66-2.) Names of artists probably mattered little in this phase, since the paintings were not objects for connoisseurship and collecting. In a second phase, the Ashikaga shoguns of the early Muromachi period, notably the first, Takauji (ruled 1338-58), and the third, Yoshimitsu (ruled 1368-94), collected Chinese paintings enthusiastically, obtaining them both from the monasteries and through a re-established commercial trade with China. Lists of their holdings survive, along with a collection of brief notes on Chinese artists, the famous Kundaikan Sayû (or Sô) Chôki.[2] In this phase, by contrast, works by particular masters were sought and appreciated—masters who include, along with well-known artists of the court academies, a few who were known and recognized only in Japan, identified by their signatures and seals on the paintings.

[2]See Carla M. Zainie, “The Muromachi Dono Gyôko Okagami Ki: A Research Note.” In: Monumenta Nipponica 33:1, Spring 1978, 113-18.

Later Wave: Early Twentieth Century
As for the second wave of importation of early Chinese paintings to Japan, which took place mainly in the first three decades of the twentieth century, recent research and writing by a group of younger specialists has illuminated it in admirable ways; I can only summarize it here.[3]  Underlying it is the momentous and fruitful interchange in this period between scholars, especially those we might term proto-art-historians, which produced the earliest attempts at histories of Chinese painting.[4]  Chinese histories of Chinese art published in the 1920s were heavily indebted to earlier attempts by Japanese writers, as well as to Western concepts of historical progression as mediated through Japan. Learning from these, and from all the lectures and journal publications that preceded them, made the wealthy and powerful Japanese collectors newly aware of the great gaps in Japanese holdings of Chinese paintings: the very area that Chinese connoisseurs and collectors valued most, the so-called Southern School of literati or scholar-amateur painting, and works by those Song-Yuan artists they claimed as predecessors—all absent from Sôgenga.
The job of educating them in this way and importing for sale Chinese paintings of the kinds that, as they became increasingly aware, they needed to acquire, was accomplished chiefly within a circle of scholars and dealers active in Kyoto, with the Chinese scholar-dealer Luo Zhenyu (1866-1949), the Japanese dealer Harada Gorô (1893-1980), and the Japanese historian of China Naitô Konan (1866-1934) prominent among them. The make-up of this circle, the contributions of its members, and its importance for opening up the second wave of collecting early Chinese paintings in Japan have been admirably laid out in a soon-to-be-published article by Tamaki Maeda. [5] Among the notable collections that were

[3]See, in the notes below, the published and unpublished articles by (alphabetically) Julia Andrews, Zaixin Hong, Tamaki Maeda, Kuiyi Shen, and Aida Yuen Wong. All of these have been generous in sharing with me their unpublished writings, and I can only express again my deep gratitude to them for opening up this important new chapter in Chinese-Japanese cross-cultural relations. Some of their work was done for symposia and projects directed by Joshua Fogel, who thus also deserves much credit for stimulating and supervising it.  
[4]Basic research on this development has been done by Andrews and Shen; see Kuiyi Shen, “The Japanese Impact on the Construction of Chinese Art History as a Modern Field: A Case study of Teng Gu and Fu Baoshi,” (awaiting publication). An expert account of it is also in Aida Yuen Wong’s Parting the Mists: Discovering Japan and the Rise of National-Style Painting in Modern China, Honolulu, Univ. of Hawaii Press, 2006, Chapter 2, “Writing New Histories.”

[5] Tamaki Maeda, "(Re-)Canonizing Literati Painting in the Early Twentieth-Century: The Kyoto Circle," in The Role of Japan in Modern Chinese Art

built in this period are those of Abe Fusajiro, which entered the Osaka Municipal Museum; Ueno Riichi, studio name Yûchikusai, whose collection came to the Kyoto National Museum; Ogawa Mitsunosuke in Kyoto, who owned an important landscape handscroll attributed to Wang Wei; Saitô Tôan in Osaka, whose collection included notable “Dong Yuan” and “Juran” works, now dispersed; and others whose collections were turned into private museums: the Kurokawa Collection in Ashiya, which contains an important early Dong Yuan attribution; and the collection of Yamamoto Teijirô, which once included the famous “Five Horses and Grooms” by Li Gonglin, now believed to have been destroyed, as well as a “Trees on the Plain” ascribed to Li Cheng and many other important works now in the Chôkaidô Museum of Art, a private museum in Yokkaichi.
There are still some notable gaps in Japanese collections of Chinese paintings; they are not strong in works by the Orthodox-school landscapists who followed Dong Qichang, the “Four Wangs’ and others of the 17th-18th centuries, or, for an earlier period, by the “Four Great Masters” of the Yuan. These latter are admirably filled in, for this exhibition, by famous landscapes in the Shanghai Museum by Ni Zan (No. 53), Wang Meng (No. 52), and others.

Differing Modes of Appreciation and Preservation
The Chinese collector’s mode of appreciating handscroll and album paintings, as we know from the images in numerous “Examining Antiquities” pictures, was to spread them out on a table and sit looking at them from close-up. This way of viewing paintings had little appeal to the Japanese, who preferred to gaze at simple images in hanging scrolls hung on the wall, ideally in the tokonoma alcoves of tea-ceremony rooms. The normal Japanese house did not, moreover, provide wall spaces or other facilities that easily accommodated large hanging scrolls. (The walls of shoguns’ palaces were, of course, a different matter; they offered enough space to hang triptychs newly made up of Chinese hanging scrolls originally separate.) How these differences affected the modes of preservation of paintings can be observed in works in the present exhibition. The Ma Yuan “Solitary Fisherman” (No. 45) is a fragment cut from a larger hanging scroll, as the heavy horizontal cracking reveals; Ma Yuan would never have painted this kind of image alone, with no setting except waves. The Ma Lin “Autumn Colors and Evening Light” (No. 30) was originally two album leaves,

(tentative title), edited by Joshua A. Fogel (Berkeley: University of California Press, forthcoming).
On Luo Zhenyu’s activities in selling Chinese paintings in Japan, see also the detailed study by Zaixin Hong,  “A Newly Made Marketable ‘Leftover’: Luo Zhenyu’s Scholarship and Art Business in Kyoto (1911-1919)”, awaiting publication in a volume of papers from a workshop on “Lost Generation: Luo Zhenyu, Qing Loyalists and the Formation of Modern Chinese Culture” held at the School of Oriental and African studies, London University, in August 2008.

calligraphy and painting, which a Chinese connoisseur would have viewed side by side as facing leaves in the album; some Japanese tea-master, perhaps, had them remounted one above the other in a hanging scroll, and generations of lecturers on Song painting (including myself) have talked about this remarkable work in which large characters appear in the sky above the water.[6]   Handscrolls, apart from narrative scrolls of the type known in Japan as emaki, were not much appreciated during the early period, and they were often cut up, with segments featuring individual images mounted as hanging scrolls. Handscrolls by Muqi representing vegetables, fruits, and other miscellaneous subjects were presumably cut up in Japan in this way to produce the now-famous hanging scrolls representing persimmons, chestnuts, and other subjects; these will be discussed below. The great “splashed-ink” landscape paintings by Yujian and (attributed to) Muqi representing “Eight Views of the Xiao-Xiang Region,” now to be gazed at as hanging scrolls (Nos. 33, 32), were originally parts of handscrolls. Another work by Yujian, his “Mountaintops of Mt. Lu”, was too large and complex for some Zen-inspired owner, who cut away the waterfall at left to make of it a separate scroll for gazing.[7]  Any regrets we might feel about these alterations should give way to gratitude that the paintings were preserved at all.

As for what was collected within the two cultures: In the later wave, early 20th century Japanese collectors were learning and emulating the Chinese tradition of connoisseurship, and the paintings they acquired were generally congruent with those sought by Chinese collectors. In the older kowatari period, by contrast, collecting in the two countries and cultures differed sharply. Chinese collectors of the Yuan dynasty and later were being strenuously enjoined by the influential critics that technical proficiency and lifelikeness, qualities that had distinguished Southern Song Academy painting, were no longer to be valued highly; instead, it was brushwork, the hand of the artist, cultivated visual references to old styles, and the elusive “spirit consonance” (which everyone claimed to recognize without being able to define) that should inform one’s judgments of quality and one’s choices for collecting. No such criteria were understood or recognized in Japan; paintings in the Song Academy manner were sought and valued there, and one large category within the kowatari imports of Sôgenga was what we commonly refer to (without being able, ourselves, to define it clearly) as Chan or Zen painting. This, with few exceptions, was critically dismissed and not collected or preserved in China—not, at least, in the prominent, “mainstream” collections, those with published catalogs and traceable routes of transmission.
The separation of Chan painting from literati painting is an art-historical process too complex to recount fully here, but a brief summary may be useful. The group of painters and calligraphers associated with the beginnings of literati painting, belonging (loosely) in the circle of Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, and others, included

[6]I am told that it was Hui-shu Lee who first noticed and pointed out that this famous work was in fact made up of two album leaves, one mounted above the other.
See Siren, Chinese Painting, vol. III, pl. 347; also Kokka 691.

[7]see Siren, Chinese Painting, vol. III, pl. 347; also Kokka 691.

Chan monks, and for this early period one could argue (as I once did) that literati and Chan painting might be considered as a single large movement. The mid-12th century monk-painter Fanlong, as represented by his signed “Sixteen Arhats” handscroll in the Freer Gallery of Art, could still in some sense be numbered among the followers of Li Gonglin.[8]  But after that the two movements gradually diverged, and by the late Song period were going in sharply different directions. Literati painting, done by amateur artists of the (would-be) scholar-officlal class, continued to emphasize firmly controlled brushwork and adherence to established styles, while artists painting within or for the Chan sect departed radically from these norms to employ looser, broader brushwork and insubstantial forms. Among these was the “apparitional painting” style (Ch. wangliang hua, Jap. môryôga), a manner of painting in pale ink washes used by the monk-artist Zhiyong Laoniu (1114-1193).[9]  Added to this is the jianbi (“abbreviated brushwork” manner used in Liang Kai’s (presumably) post-Academy works such as his “Huineng Cutting Bamboo” (No. 14) and “Li Bo Walking” (No. 47). The outcome of these developments within Chan painting can be seen in numerous Chan figure paintings—in the present exhibition, “Monk Budai Patting His Belly” ascribed to Muqi (No. 15) and, in extreme form, “Two Patriarchs Harmonizing Their Minds,” fine 13th-century works with an old, absurd attribution (based on an interpolated “signature”) to the 10th century artist Shike (No. 10). Strikingly outside the confines of “good brushwork” also are the great splashed-ink Xiao-Xiang landscapes by Yujian and (attributed to) Muqi (Nos. 33, 32.) These aberrations of technique and style made Chan paintings anathema to the mainstream Chinese critics and unwelcome to major Chinese collectors. For these paintings to be returning now to China, where they were painted long ago but from which they have in effect been banished for centuries, is itself a momentous and moving art-historical event: they are like once-disowned children who are now being welcomed back home.

Another crucial difference between the two collecting traditions was that Chinese collectors wanted works with famous names attached to them, even if insecurely; “small-name” artists (xiaomingjia) held no attractions for them, even those who produced estimable works. My good friend the late Wang Jiqian (C. C. Wang) always insisted that “a great painting has to be by a great artist“--meaning, for him, an artist whose name figured in the Orthodox canon. In Japan, by contrast, fine works by small-name artists, including some not recorded in Chinese

[8]Freer Gallery of Art, accession no. 1960.1; purchased (on my recommendation) from C. C. Wang. See Thomas Lawton, Chinese Figure Painting (Washington, D.C., 1973) no. 20.
[9]On this, see Shûjirô Shimada, “Môryôga ni tsuite (About Apparitional Painting)”, in Bijutsu Kenkyu 84 (Dec. 1938) and 86 (Feb, 1839). A small painting representing a buffalo and herdboy with Zhiyong’s seal appears acceptable as his work, and displays this style; see my Sôgenga: 12th-14th Century Chinese Painting as Collected and Appreciated in Japan, Berkeley, University Art Museum, 1982, no. 29.

compilations of artists’ biographies, were prized. Two artists in that category who are represented in the present exhibition are Xia Yong and Sun Junce, both active in the Yuan dynasty. From the Song Imperial Academy, Chinese collectors mostly valued and preserved signed works by major recorded artists, or paintings accompanied by colophons written by notable figures—a good example of the latter in the exhibition is the handscroll representing “An Official Departing” by the late Northern Song Academy master Hu Shunchen, which bears an inscription by the famous prime minister Cai Jing (No. 3).

Japanese admirers of Chinese paintings in the kowatari period, by contrast, both monks and shoguns, valued Southern Song Academy-style paintings done outside the Academy by forgotten artists; many of these are now treasured, quite properly, as masterworks of that age. Buddhist iconic paintings by specialist artists unrecorded and long forgotten in China, notably those active in the port city of Ningbo, were imported in huge numbers to Japan, where hundreds of them are still preserved, mostly in temple collections. Three fine examples by Lu Xinzhong, a nehan-zu or Entry of the Buddha Into Nirvana and two from a series of Ten Kings of Hell, are in the exhibition (nos. 16, 17-1 & 17-2) along with two Arhat paintings from a signed series by Jin Dashou (Nos. 18-1, 18-2.) As for secular works by unknown or small-name Southern Song masters working in the Academy mode but outside the Academy, fine examples preserved in Japan are numerous; they include the three surviving pieces from a series of “Landscapes of the Four Seasons, With Travelers.”  [10] One of these is the “Winter Landscape with Traveler” {modal url=images/Fig1o.jpg|title=Fig 1:Winter Landscape with Traveler} (Fig.1){/modal}, a superbly evocative painting that exhibits at its highest level the Southern Song capacity for rendering complex spatial programs. Space opens out from behind and below powerfully-shaped earth masses; a traveler walking with a staff pauses and turns back to listen to the sound of the waterfall above and the calls of two gibbons, scarcely seen but heard by him. Two tall stalks of bamboo, bent down slightly by the weight of snow, push into the cold, misty atmosphere. The unknown artist exhibits, that is, exactly those representational skills and subtle narrative imagery that were despised by the influential Chinese critics and banned from “refined” painting.

In the end, we can be deeply grateful to collectors and connoisseurs of all times and places for having, with their strongly divergent tastes and beliefs, preserved for us such a wealth of correspondingly different kinds of Chinese painting. We can be grateful also to the organizers of this exhibition for allowing us to see together the fruits of these different collecting traditions, and so giving us a broader and richer picture of the greatness of early Chinese painting than we have heretofore been able to see in any single time and place.

[10]For all three, see Siren, Chinese Painting, vol. 3, pl. 241-43; also Kokka 155. The autumn and winter scenes are in the Konchiin, Kyoto; the summer scene in the Kuonji; the spring scene is lost.

Notes on Method
The foregoing paragraphs include large, sweeping observations of the kind that were encouraged and respected in an earlier age of art-historical practice, but are avoided by most of the leading specialists in Chinese painting studies active today; those specialists, my younger contemporaries, are as a group strongly inclined instead to stress the exceptions and question or deny the large patterns. Even the momentous takeover of the dominant mainstream of Chinese painting by literati artists and critics in the early Yuan period, which I and others of an older generation have termed a “revolution,” has recently been called into question by several of the leading specialists in the U.S., including Jerome Silbergeld at Princeton and Richard Vinograd at Stanford.[11]  Can my broad observations about differences between collecting and connoisseurship in the two cultural traditions similarly be called into question?
Of course they can, and they should be, along with all other art-historical and other cultural formulations. These are not, like the Mongol conquest of China and the fall of the Song, real historical events; they are constructions, or observations, subject to dispute. But their validity is not therefore completely a matter of opinion: they can fit, or fail to fit, observable cases. Long ago I presented at a symposium an intentionally confrontational paper showing how certain characteristics in the biographical accounts of middle-Ming artists correlated closely with the kinds of paintings they did, in subject and style--artists of one type make pictures of a “corresponding” type—and I challenged the disbelievers among the audience to find exceptions. None of them ever could.[12]   An observation that fits all the data at hand, and for which no significant exceptions can easily be found, is not therefore beyond challenge, but nonetheless deserves the designation of a quasi-fact—we can term it an Art-historical (AH) Truthlet. The distinctions and correlations I am presenting here cannot neatly be reduced to simple, demonstrable rules; but I will conclude this essay by pointing out some cases, involving artists and paintings in the

[11]See Jerome Silbergeld, “The Evolution of a ‘Revolution’: Unsettled Reflections on the Chinese Art-Historical Mission,” in Archives of Asian Art LV, 2005, following my article “Some Thoughts on the History and Post-history of Chinese Painting.” See also Silbergeld’s “The Yuan ‘Revolutionary’ Picnic: Feasting on the Fruits of Song (A Historiographic Menu)” in Ars Orientalis 37, 2008. Also, in the same volume, Richard Vinograd, “De-Centering Yuan Painting,” which aims not so much to deny the early Yuan revolution as to “de-center” Yuan painting as a concept, so as to include more kinds that lie outside the literati “mainstream” from Zhao Mengfu to the “Four Great Masters,” and open it to studies exploring visuality rather than artistic style.
[12]See, on my website, CLP (Cahill Lectures and Papers) nos. 64 and 96, “Life Patterns and Stylistic Directions: T’ang Yin and Wen Cheng-ming As Types,” paper for Wen Zhengming symposium, Ann Arbor, January 1976. See also my “Tang Yin and Wen Zhengming as Artist Types: A Reconsideration,” in Artibus Asiae 43, 1/2, 228-248; also on my website as CLP 14, 1990.

exhibition, that appear to me to bear out these observations and help to establish them in this way as AH Truthlets.

The Case of Xia Yong

Xia Yong appears to be unrecorded in the standard Chinese listings of artists and collection catalogs; no entry for him (apart from one reference to a modern compilation) is found, for instance, in John C. Ferguson’s Lidai zhulu huamu, which indexes many of these catalogs. In Japan, by contrast, he is recorded in the Kundaikan list, and respected as an artist. He may be mentioned—the identification is uncertain—in an obscure Chinese book as painter of palace pictures in line drawing “as fine as the eyelash of a mosquito.”[13]  His signed works seem to have been passed down principally in Japan; a few are in foreign collections, purchased from Japan early in the 20th century. In China, paintings likely to be from his hand appear to have mostly been re-attributed to more prestigious artists, sometimes with spurious signatures and seals added by Chinese dealers and other owners who, as noted above, preferred works with more famous names attached to them; works by Xia Yong appear there under the names of Zhao Boju, or Wei Xian, or just “Anonymous Yuan.” It is a recent, and commendable, event to find one of his paintings included under his own name in the Shanghai Museum collection (No. 41).

The Case of Sun Junce

Sun Junce is given a simple notice in the late Yuan compilation of notes on artists Tuhui baojian, which records only that he was a native of Hangzhou and painted landscapes with figures in the manner of Ma Yuan and Xia Gui. Four paintings in Japanese collections bear his signature or seal; others are attributed to him there by style. In the present exhibition, Landscape in Snow (No. 42) is one of the signed works; Scholar Gazing Into Misty Valley (No. 43) is attributed by style. This latter painting was originally kept in one of the sub-temples of the Daitokuji, the great Zen temple complex in northern Kyoto; it came onto the market and was acquired (if my memory is correct) by the collector Harry Packard, who tried to export it to the U.S. It was stopped by the Bunkachô, the Cultural Properties Bureau, and (presumably) classified as an Important Cultural Property. Such is the esteem that Japanese scholars hold for this artist: even a work attributable to him only by style merits national-treasure registry.

In my book on Yuan dynasty painting[14]  I reproduced still another painting by Sun Junce, “Villa By the River” {modal url=images/Fig2o.jpg|title=Fig 2:Villa By the River}(Fig.2){/modal}. This one, by contrast, had been transmitted in

[13]See the entry for him in my An Index of Early Chinese Painters and Paintings, Berkeley, U.C. Press, 1980, pp. 277-78.
[14]Hills Beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty, 1279-1368. Tokyo and New York, John Weatherhill Inc., 1976, Colorplate 4.

China, as is apparent from its manner of mounting and labeling, and had been acquired in China by the New York dealer from whom I purchased it. Is this, then, an exception to my observation about works by small-name masters going unappreciated in China?

Not really; in order to be valued and preserved in China this painting by Sun Junce necessarily underwent a falsification, a redating and re-attribution. A stroke of ink, made to look like a “texture stroke” on a rock, was applied over Sun’s signature in the lower left corner; the signature, however, can still be read clearly under a strong light, and matches those on Sun’s paintings in Japan. An outer label on the scroll, however, calls it an “Anonymous Song” (Songren) work, and adds the note: “Positively done by Ma Yuan” (Ding wei Ma Yuan suo-zuo.) I discovered the signature only some months after I had bought the painting in New York, for a small price, as what I took to be a fine work of early Ming date; coming back from a symposium in Cleveland on Yuan-period art, in which I had presented a paper about minor traditions in Yuan painting, [15] I confronted the painting hanging on my living-room wall and realized that if I listened to my own argument, this must be a Yuan-period work. Further examination revealed the Sun Junce signature, and the painting was on its way to becoming famous—it was exhibited among the “Masterworks of World Art” at the Osaka World’s Fair. Such is the dominance of names in the world of Chinese painting.

The Case of Master Li’s “Dream Journey in the Xiao-Xiang Region”

This superlative handscroll painting (No. 49) is now recognized to be the work of a certain Master Li, active in Anhui in the mid-12th century. One of a number of Song-period colophons accompanying the scroll, the first dated 1170, provides this information, along with identifying the recipient, who commissioned it from the artist, as a Buddhist monk. The painting came from China to Japan in the early 20th century, in the later “great wave.” Can it be taken, then, as an example of the preservation and appreciation in China of the work of a small-name or virtually unknown master?

Once more, not really.  Some owner in later centuries, noting that the Master Li who painted it came from the same region in Anhui as the renowned literati master Li Gonglin, wrote a spurious “Li Gonglin” inscription and signature at the end of the scroll, and the scroll was reverently preserved, in both China and (for a time) in Japan, as the work of that more famous painter. Seals of Xiang Yuanbian, Gao Shiqi, and other famous collectors appear on the scroll, along with the (unwelcome, oversized) seals and inscriptions of the Qianlong Emperor; a colophon by Dong Qichang, written when it was in Xiang’s collection, appears

[15]“Away From a Definition of Yuan Painting,” presented at the symposium on Yuan-period art at the Cleveland Art Museum, October 10-12, 1968; on my website as CLP 63.

on the mounting silk preceding the painting—all extolling it as a great work by Li Gonglin. (My own, private and personal opinion is that Li Gonglin, whose strengths as an artist lay elsewhere, could never have painted it; it is far beyond his ability.)

It is interesting to note that the “Dream Journey” scroll was kept, from the late 17th century until the early 20th, in a box with another handscroll formerly—and again wrongly—ascribed to Li Gonglin, a panoramic picture-map of the upper reaches of the Yangtze River dating from the late Song period. This scroll, titled “A River in Shu,” is now in the Freer Gallery of Art, and similarly bears colophons by Dong Qichang, Gao Shiqi, and the Qianlong Emperor, all praising it as a work of Li Gonglin. It was acquired in 1916 by Charles Lang Freer from the Shanghai collector-dealer Pang Yuanji.[16]

The Case of Liang Kai

Strongly represented in the exhibition by major works is the great late Song Academy-to-Chan master Liang Kai. The standard account of his career has him quitting the Academy after receiving its highest honor, the Golden Girdle, which he left hanging on the wall of his room as he went off to live out his remaining years in a Chan monastery; this account is based in part on written evidence but also on conjecture from his surviving paintings, which suggest some such transition. Here, surely, is an artist whose work fits both Chinese and (kowatari) Japanese taste, since his works were passed down within both traditions?

The answer this time is: yes and no. His works were indeed preserved and valued in both China and Japan; but they are not the same works, and the

[16]Freer Gallery of Art, reg. no. 16.539, titled “A River in Shu,” See Kokka no. 273, also the Freer website, “Song and Yuan Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy,” where a complete documentation of the scroll is provided. A colophon by Gao Shiqi tells how he acquired the scroll in 1694, brought it together with the “Dream Journey” scroll which he already owned, and presented both to the Qianlong Emperor as a pair. The Emperor combined them with two other treasured scrolls, calling them the Simeiju (Four Beauties Complete) of the imperial collection and having a special hall built to house them. The “Li Gonglin” pair came out of the imperial collection, along with many others, in the early 20th century, and the two scrolls were separated and sold to different collectors in Japan and the U.S.
Added note: that Gao Shiqi presented the scrolls to the emperor does not mean that he himself necessarily believed in them as works by Li Gonglin; his private collection catalog, made accessible only in recent times from a manuscript copy, classifies the works he owned from the highest category, “Keep forever,” to lower ones, ”Use for trade” and “Present to the Emperor.” (I write this from memory, my copy having disappeared.)

difference makes Liang Kai seem almost like two different artists. Chinese collectors recognized and collected Liang Kai the brilliant Academy master—as represented by the signed work “Tao Yuanming Walking” in the National Palace Museum in Taipei {modal url=images/Fig3o.jpg|title=Fig 3:Tao Yuanming Walking}(Fig.3){/modal}. This is a painting of the kind typically done by Academy artists for those who wanted to present to other officials paintings carrying political messages such as this one does (ideal retirement from official service, or entry into reclusion). Chinese collectors, when they thought of Liang Kai, were also likely to remember the nickname he bore in his lifetime, Liang Fengzi (Liang the Eccentric, or Crazy Liang.) That image of him is attested by the signed Liang Kai album leaf in the Shanghai Museum representing, in an intentionally gross image, the monk-bodhisattva Pudai {modal url=images/Fig4o.jpg|title=Fig 4:Monk Pudai}(Fig.4){/modal}. The facing leaf bears a playful inscription by the Yuan-period landscapist Huang Gongwang. Liang Kai the painter of Chan subjects is well represented in China, to be sure, by the Eight Famous Monks handscroll in the exhibition (No. 13); its subject is indeed Chan--but the style is entirely in the Academy mode. Liang Kai the master of the abbreviated-brushwork (jianbi) manner survives only in Japan, and is represented in this exhibition by two masterworks, The Sixth Patriarch Chopping Bamboo (No. 14) and Li Bo Walking (No. 47). (A later Chinese artist’s imagining of how Liang Kai’s works of this kind must have looked can be seen in the “signed” but (I believe) spurious Ink Immortal album leaf in the National Palace Museum, Taipei: see the catalog Chinese Art Treasures, no. 63.)

Still another Liang Kai, painter of deeply serious masterworks in a late Song Academy-derived manner, is represented by two paintings in the exhibition, his Sakyamuni Descending From the Mountains (No. 12) and his Snowy Landscape with Two Men Approaching a Pass (No. 31). The former he signs in a way that suggests he has left the Academy and is working for a Chan Buddhist clientele; the latter may be a work done while he was still within the Academy, and represents perhaps the best bridge between the “two Liang Kai’s.” It was once hung as sidepiece in a triptych, with Liang’s Sakyamuni Descending picture in the center; its history in Japan is long and distinguished, and its classification in the exhibition as “attributed,” calling its authenticity into question, seems to me disturbingly wrong. If any proof of its status as a reliable, safely signed Liang Kai work were needed—as it should not be—it can be found in a small companion picture, a kind of aftermath to the snow landscape with figures, in which what appear to be the same two mounted travelers, having gone through the pass, are now descending on the other side. This is a signed Liang Kai album leaf in the Palace Museum, Beijing, which I had the honor of publishing for the first time.[17]

Once more, the differing traditions of connoisseurship that produced the “Two Liang Kai’s” can be observed today: C. C. Wang was unable or unwilling to recognize the greatness of his abbreviated-brush pictures in Japan, and a noted Chinese museum curator (whom I will not name) came back from a visit to

[17]James Cahill, The Lyric Journey: Poetic Painting in China and Japan, p. 62, fig. 1:53..

Japan, where he viewed these works for the first time in the originals, asking also: why are these so highly valued in Japan, given national-treasure status, with their bad brushwork? Future generations may see the disappearance of this disparity between the two traditions of connoisseurship; for now, it seems to me to persist. We can be grateful that the rich representation of Liang Kai in the present exhibition allows specialist scholars, along with a great many regular viewers, to see so many of his works together, make comparisons, and form their own conclusions about his brilliantly varied output.

The Case of Muqi

The monk-artist Muqi is, by general recognition, greatest of the Chan painters, and unlike Xia Yong and Sun Junce he is given ample space in the Chinese written record. Much of the early writing on him, however, is strongly negative in tone; early sources such as Huaji buyi and Tuhui baojian speak slightingly of him as a painter of vegetables and other commonplace subjects in pictures that were “coarse and ugly, not in accordance with ancient canons, not suitable for refined enjoyment, good only for hanging in monk’s huts” etc..” [18] Such critical dismissal is not unanimous: a few writers of Yuan times and later express more positive opinions of his work. His paintings might well have been preserved into Ming-Qing times in Chan monasteries; what appear to be copies after them are made by later artists, notably by Bada Shanren in the early Qing.[19]  But his works were barred, by their “coarse and unrefined” subjects and execution, from the prestigious Chinese collections. I have argued, in my recent series of video-recorded lectures and elsewhere, that Muqi belonged to that large, unjustly neglected group of Chinese painters who were impelled by their special representational projects to move into the use of “bad brushwork,” since the more disciplined “good brushwork” inevitably dropped a screen of style between viewer and painted image. For Chan artists, it robbed the viewing experience of that un-intellectualized directness that the Chan mode of being-in-the- world required. Whatever the reason, Muqi’s paintings were excluded from mainstream Chinese appreciation and collecting.

Or were they? Again, one of the leading figures in the younger generation of Chinese painting specialists, Marsha Weidner, has raised the question in an excellent and valuable study of the preservation and appreciation of paintings in

[18]The dismissive entries for Muqi in Zhuang Su, Huaji buyi, and Xia Wenyan, Tuhui baojian, are translated in the opening pages, 50-51, of the Weidner article cited below.
[19]See my article “Survivals of Chan Painting Into Ming-Ch’ing and the Prevalence of Type-images,” in Archives of Asian Art L, 1997-98, 63-75.

Chan temples and monasteries from the Yuan period onward.[20]  Her paper was presented at a symposium on Yuan dynasty visual culture, in which the above-mentioned writings of Silbergeld and Vinograd also appeared; this was in some part a concerted effort by some of the best of the younger specialists to topple the old and (as they see them) outmoded edifices that dominated the earlier terrain of Chinese painting studies. In doing this they are only carrying out what appears to be the burden of their generation, as I am trying to carry out the burden of mine; their writings are highly informed and strongly reasoned. They nonetheless demand responses, I believe, with counter-arguments defending the old edifices, which still younger generations will need in future if they are to restore the strengths of a newly-revived narrative, Gombrich-style art history.[21]

Weidner writes: “Pejorative comments by Xia Wenyan and others have been used to support the problematic notion that works by such Song and Yuan monks were rejected in China and only found a true audience in Japan, where they were preserved and appreciated. . .” [22]  And she points out that Muqi paintings are recorded in Chinese collection catalogs (using the same Ferguson Index as I cited above for Xia Yong), and that “two paintings in the catalogue of the Qing imperial collection carry colophons by the famous Ming collector Xiang Yuanbian.”[23]  How can this information be reconciled with my argument that Muqi’s paintings were not appreciated and collected in the mainstream, prestigious circles of Chinese connoisseurship?

The answer this time is: by looking, not at catalogue entries, but at the paintings, which tell a very different story. The “Muqi” who was admired and acquired by these orthodox Chinese collectors was another artist, not the true rule-breaking Chan master. Two of the Muqi handscrolls of miscellaneous subjects survive in China in copies probably made in the early Ming, and it is these copies that were in the Qianlong imperial collection. One {modal url=images/Fig5o.jpg|title=Fig 5:Muqi handscrolls}(Fig.5){/modal} is now in the National Palace

[20]Weidner, “Fit For Monk’s Quarters: Monasteries as Centers of Aesthetic Actiity in the Later Fourteenth Century,” in the same special issue of Ars Orientalis (cf. note 11), 49-77.
[21]In the first lecture of my video-recorded lecture series A Pure and Remote View: Visualizing Early Chinese Landscape Painting (soon to be made available on the web and on disks), I explain what I mean by Gombrich-style art history, why I am using it, and why I believe it must be revived. A renewal of respectful scholarship on Sir Ernst Gombrich’s career and writings is reportedly going on in England and elsewhere. My veneration of Gombrich was not shared by my old History of Art colleagues mentioned below, but that is another issue I am not discussing here.
[22]Weidner, p. 52. She cites, as an example, the catalog by Jan Fontein and Money Hickman Zen Painting and Calligraphy (Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, 1970) p. xxxvi, thoughtfully avoiding citing the writings in the same vein by her old teacher, myself.  
[23]Weidner, op. cit., note 13, p. 73.

Museum, Taipei, the other in the Palace Museum, Beijing. They appear to have provided a source for imagery of this kind in paintings by such prestigious Ming masters as Shen Zhou, Chen Shun, and Xu Wei.[24]  But what has been lost in the copying can be seen by a comparison of two similar pictures of flowers: one, representing hibiscus {modal url=images/Fig6o.jpg|title=Fig 6:Hibiscus}(Fig.6){/modal}, from a real Muqi scroll as cut up and remounted in Japan for tokonoma hanging, the other, representing rose mallow {modal url=images/Fig7o.jpg|title=Fig 7:Rose Mallow}(Fig.7){/modal}, from the opening of the copy scroll in Taipei (cf. Fig. 5, upper right corner). Even this pairing of relatively tame images reveals what, in the real Muqi, could not be tolerated by Chinese advocates of good-brushwork: scratchy, split-brush drawing of stalks, petals with darker ink dropped into still-wet puddles of dilute wash, freehand and semi-controlled sketching-in of leaf veins, and an all-over explosive energy that seems to expand the image toward the viewer, with some leaves pointing outward and a large one at the bottom pushing out into our space, all charging the image with a depth that seems almost to pull it from the paper surface. None of this survives in the copy {modal url=images/Fig7o.jpg|title=Fig 7:Rose Mallow}(Fig.7){/modal}, in which Muqi’s image has been reduced to acceptably disciplined brushstrokes and a properly limited range of ink values. And it is on this cleaned-up, “good brushwork” image that we find the seals of Xiang Yuanbian, the Qianlong Emperor, and other prominent mainstream collectors. Muqi, painter of pictures once judged suitable only for hanging in monk’s huts, could now enter the imperial palace, but only after he had been emasculated, drained of his original potency, and had all his teeth pulled.

Conclusion: An Autobiographical Note

These notes on paintings and artists represented in the exhibition are intended to support the broad patterns in Chinese and Japanese connoisseurship and collecting over the centuries that I have attempted to draw, by considering what might seem to be exceptions to those patterns and showing that they are not really exceptions at all, but serve instead to confirm the patterns. Exceptions can, of course, still be found, but not enough, I believe, or not significant enough, to negate them. Observations of the kind I have attempted, filled out and brought together into quasi-narrative accounts, were what made up the old kinds of art history--and will make up, I believe, the revivals and renewals of those kinds that must follow the weakening of the current dominance of “theory” and other synchronic modes.

I once jokingly, in defending the early Yuan “revolution” as a major turning-point in Chinese painting history, put myself in the company of Jacob Burkhardt, author of Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy: if the Renaissance can be recognized, I argued, why not the Yuan revolution? But for the large observations offered above, about differences between the Chinese and Japanese traditions of

[24]Examples of such derivations are reproduced and discussed in my “Survivals of Ch’an Painting” article cited above.

connoisseurship and collecting, closer models can be recognized among my own colleagues in the Department of History of Art at U.C. Berkeley, especially Svetlana Alpers and Michael Baxandall. Both were good friends, frequent adversaries in arguments, and people from whom I learned a great deal. Svetlana’s drawing of distinctions between the Northern (Dutch and Flemish) and Southern (Italian) practices of painting in the 17th century, Michael’s descriptions of how modes of looking and seeing in Renaissance Italy affected painters of that time and place, along with his lectures and writing on German wood-carvers and others, were models for me on how to construct and present large art-historical formulations.[25]   In their methodological writings, Alpers heralded the decline of a “diachronic” art history and the rise of a “synchronic” one while continuing to practice both; Baxandall famously declined to be pushed into the new age of Theory, writing that when someone lectured him about how he should practice art history, his immediate urge was (I quote from memory) “to go off and existentially measure a plinth.” [26] It may be that Alpers’s students today are searching for exceptions to her distinction between Northern and Southern painting styles in 17th century Europe, and Baxandall’s trying to show that his observations about practices of looking apply not only to High Renaissance Italy but to many other times and places as well, so as to erode or topple the structures they built. But even if they are, the structures will surely outlast the would-be topplers. I cannot hope to produce AH Truthlets on the level of theirs, but I can cite these two scholars as examples for others to read and learn from. Along with my other colleagues in that great department—the medievalist Jean Bony, the modernists Tim Clark and Ann Wagner, others—they were influential in shaping how I work, and how I believe good art historians should work. I am confident that when “diachronic” or “narrative” art history, the kind I learned about and attempted to practice throughout my long career, is properly restored to dominance in our field, all these old colleagues will again become models, as inspiring for younger scholars as they have been for me.

[25]Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century, University of Chicago Press, 1983; Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy, a Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style, Oxford University Press, 1972, and The Limewood Sculptors of Renaissance Germany, Yale University Press, 1980.
[26[Svetlana Alpers, “Is Art History?” in Daedalus vol. 196 no. 3, Summer 1977, 1-13. For the response I wrote her after reading this, see CLP 180 on my website. Michael Baxandall, “The Language of Art History,” in New Literary History 10 (1979): 453-65.

Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...