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CLP 25, 1997 “Toward a Remapping of Chinese Painting.” Hume Lecture given at Yale University

Toward a Remapping of Chinese Painting


I'm grateful to Yale's Council on E. Asian Studies for inviting me to give this year's Hume lecture; it's not only an honor (as one sees immediately in looking over the list of previous Hume lecturers, a daunting lineup) but also a timely opportunity for me to attempt to pull together some themes that have been appearing persistently in recent years in my own work and that of some of my students and colleagues, and to see them as making up a large phenomenon, potentially and ideally a change of direction in Chinese ptg studies, instead of just a cluster of small ones.

Let me begin with a general statement of my argument, which is in a sense scarcely new, since it's based on things we've known all along. We've all known from early on that the version of the history of Chinese painting presented to us in Chinese writings is heavily slanted toward those types practiced by the literati or scholar-amateur artists, since the writers were themselves of that status and persuasion, and that their constructions of quasi-art-historical lineages were designed in large part to support their own positions. We've known that the body of paintings presented as meriting our attention, assembled and passed down to us by collectors, preserved today in museums and serious private collections, recorded in catalogs, published in reproduction books, was made up principally of works judged to be reliably from the hands of a succession of prestigious name artists, whose names and affiliations any traditional account of Chinese painting history will supply-- and they will all supply more or less the same lists. Our own collecting has tended to follow the guidelines laid out in the Chinese writings that we translated and tried to interpret for our readers; we took pride in the acquisition of pieces that would elicit approving nods when we showed them to visiting Chinese connoisseurs. (I recall taking the first official emissary from P.R. China after the thaw, Huang Zhen when he came to Berkeley in the early 1970s, around an exhibition of works by the Yangchou Eccentrics at our University Art Museum, and watching with pleasure as he expressed surprise over our having acquired so many genuine works, including a top-class ink plum ptg by Chin Nung.)

But we have known also that these authentic name-artist works, as we might call them, comprise only a small part of the huge corpus of surviving Chinese paintings. The rest can be divided into at least five overlapping categories--which could, instead, be listed as causes for exclusion or neglect. First, anonymous works, which the Chinese catalog under the term wu-ming chia or "master without a name"; secondly, works by lesser and minor artists, hsiao-ming chia or "small-name masters" in Chinese. Old and fine works in both these categories have been admitted into serious collections, but those from later periods are likely to float about more or less unnoticed, or still worse, to be lost. Third, the copies and forgeries of name masters' works, which on the whole occupy the same art-historical hinterland as forgeries of Rembrandt or van Gogh; these can occasionally be good or even great paintings, like some of the now-deposed Rembrandts, but for the great majority of them, the loss is small when they are shunted off into obscurity. In the old days in Hong Kong or Taipei or Tokyo, one could spend many hours looking through hundreds of these in the shops or apartments of lesser dealers, in the hope of finding one that repaid the search. And no amount of egalitarian rehabilitation effort will make me regret not having bought more of them.

Two other categories are not to be so quickly dismissed, and are the ones with which I am principally concerned today. The fourth is a large category of paintings that did not originate as forgeries at all, but were caught in a particular Chinese trap: too high in quality and pictorial interest to be discarded, but lacking the name identifications that would place them in the ranks of marketable and collectible commodities, they have had their original identifying marks removed and have been fitted out by dealers and owners, over the centuries, with wrong attributions, spurious inscriptions and seals, misleading identifications of subjects--all designed to move them, however dishonestly, out of undesirable authorial and thematic categories and into desirable ones. Paintings of this kind are found in large numbers in old collections, especially those assembled by discerning collectors such as Charles Lang Freer whose eye for quality was not matched--could not be, in their time--with the kind of expertise that would permit sound judgements of date, school, and authorship. Paintings in this group might equally be assigned to the "anonymous" category, and in fact enter it once the misleading markings are stripped away from them. The fifth category--or, since it overlaps the others so much, a fifth reason for exclusion--is made up of paintings that, for a diversity of reasons having to do with their subjects and styles and original functions, were excluded from the range of what was held to be art, or fine art. (And yes, let me simply assert without quibbling over language that Chinese critics and connoisseurs did make a distinction similar enough to ours between art and non-art, as well as good and bad art, that we might as well stop fussing and use the words.) Out of a huge output of pictorial matter, the Chinese arbiters of taste and quality in any period dictated what should be preserved and collected, mounted and remounted as the need arose, appreciated and written about, rescued from the burning house--what should, in short, make up the history of Chinese painting.

S,S. In a paper delivered several months ago I used a large, messy metaphor, seeing the whole of Chinese painting as it was produced over the centuries as a great underground river flowing down through time, with islands or eruptions above the surface for works of the kinds judged to be worth preserving--the visible, so to speak. "My term 'underground,'" I said, "implies a metaphorical surface, somewhat permeable but mostly opaque, separating the visible part of Chinese painting--what critics recognized and valued, what collectors chose to preserve--from the more or less invisible, what was not considered worthy of notice and preservation, and is now mostly unrecoverable. What is below the surface is vastly greater in quantity than what is above." We can sometimes obtain glimpses of the sub-surface regions through chance survivals of types for which the likelihood of transmission was small. We also have occasional windows--the two examples I offered were the bodies of paintings by masters of the Chekiang region in the Sung-Yuan transition, 13th-14th centuries, including what we loosely call Ch'an or Zen Buddhist painting, which through historical accident was preserved in Japan and has come to be incorporated into histories of Chinese painting written outside China; and paintings by 17th century Ch'an monks of the Huang-po or Obaku sect who came from the coastal regions of Fukien to Japan, where they continued to practice their amateurish ink-monochrome painting, and where their works are also preserved in some number. These, by contrast, have not been welcomed into our histories, and probably never will be, except for passing mentions, since the works are mostly amateurish in the most negative sense and do not hold one's interest for long. (Chi-fei, 1666; Mu-an, 1682.)

S --. If we had a similar window into the practice of this kind of painting in temples of the Jiangxi region in the same period, I suggested, we would presumably understand better the origins of Pa-ta Shan-jen's imagery and style. (I assume that for this audience, I don't need to identify Pa-ta Shan-jen, since most of you will have seen the major exhibition of his work organized by Dick Barnhart and Wang Fangyu in 1990.) But the minor monk-amateurs of this period, whether in Jiangxi or Fukien or elsewhere, never achieved the stature of Pa-ta--failed Pa-ta Shan-jens, I termed them--and go unrecorded and forgotten in China, and their works untransmitted. (These are not, of course, Ch'an ptgs, and I put them on only to illustrate the difference between a real amateur and a real painter.)

S,S. Similarly, innumerable paintings by other kinds of amateur artists--literati, officials, merchants, whatever--have disappeared--the great majority of them, we can assume, to no great loss. (Li Chung-lüeh, late 12c scholar-official amateur at left.) And the same is true of the fast, minor, more or less repetitive works turned out in great numbers by skilled artists as well, for repaying small favors and the like, works of the kind that can be called "occasional paintings" by analogy with occasional verse or music (one by a painter in the imperial academy, Ma Shih, at right); they doubtless gave pleasure to their original recipients, but the few that survive today suffice to represent the type--we would feel no great urge to fish any large number of them out of the underground river, even if that were possible. (Throw them back as too small.)

S,S. (Leaf from album of copies of old master ptgs on left, w. Tung C-c insc. proclaiming it a genuine work by 10th cent. Tung Yüan; 1616 ptg by Tung C-c himself at right.) For the purpose of my argument today, I want to propose a different metaphor, one more in keeping with the terrain imagery implied in the "remapping" of my title. In this one, we can think of the whole of Chinese painting as it was produced and partly preserved as an extensive, richly variegated landscape, until Tung Ch'i-ch'ang and his army of believers, along with their predecessors and successors, tramp across it, arranging selected mountains and boulders and trees--artists and paintings-- into neat rows and patterns, uprooting and relocating them much as garden-makers in China would relocate selected natural materials such as rocks and trees and watercourses and arrange these to make a garden, taking care to assign them names as well as locations. The end product is manageable and intelligible, like a garden; one of the main attractions of the established history of Chinese painting is its neatness. What is excluded, left outside the wall, need no longer be looked at. We can admire the garden; but when we turn our gaze beyond it, what we see left behind is a grievously reduced, somewhat denuded landscape, since the army, scorning most of what they found, have allowed it to waste away through neglect, besides erecting tall walls to discourage later people from looking at it. In this they have done nothing other than what we have done, at least until recently, with our own art. But we need not remain bound to Chinese criteria for separating art from non-art, good art from bad.

S,S. In trying to persuade a lecture class some years ago that the art/non-art distinction is not a simple matter of quality and interest, I contrasted--an unlikely pairing--George Price and Jonathan Borovsky. The late George Price, who has always seemed to me our most brilliant social and political cartoonist, our Daumier if you will, created in his late drawings complex and incisive pictorial structures of a high artistic order, quite apart from their trenchant commentary on the problem-ridden relationships of people and objects. But George Price's works would never make it onto our art museum walls (he did not, for one thing, adopt the conventions of modernism as did his contemporary Saul Steinberg, who accordingly makes it onto MOMA walls).

S --. (another George Price, the American Legion, from George Price's Ice Cold War.) Jonathan Borovsky, by contrast, whose large-scale exhibition had just closed at our University Art Museum (spring of 1985) after taking over much of its space--a young artist of limited talent and technique who apparently devoted the time he should have spent practicing drawing to writing numbers, up to several millions, and depositing them, as I recall, in a jar--Jonathan Borovsky (if there are admirers of his in the audience, I apologize to them, I am using him only to make a point) Jonathan Borovsky was not only on the museum walls, but could not easily be got off the museum walls--he had pasted a huge, clumsy figure drawing (similar to the one in the slide at right) to one of our largest concrete surfaces so that it could not be removed without destroying it; and that the museum was reluctant to do. We lived with Borovsky's piece, uncomfortably, for what seemed to me a long time. I have no idea what became of it in the end.

S,S. The analogy is not inappropriate--one can similarly contrast amateurish, even inept Chinese paintings that fall within the Chinese critical category of fine art largely because of their authorship, or through their exhibiting some agreed-on characteristics of high art--the late Ming scholar-artist Li Jih-hua, perhaps, who was represented in the "Ming Scholar's Studio" exhibition of 1988 by the landscape handscroll of 1625 (at left) titled "Rivers and Mountains in My Dream," highly praised in the catalog as a work in which "the landscape serv[es] as a vehicle for the poet-painter to express his desire to rise above the vicissitudes of the mundane world." (cat. p. 43.)--one can contrast this with others of far greater interest and accomplishment that fall outside the pale, because they fail to rise above the mundane world, choosing instead of represent it in loving detail. Since I was putting together an outline of this lecture around New Year's, I chose this New Year's picture, and will speak about it in a bit.

Before getting into specific types of paintings that will take their places in my remapping, however, I want to conclude this over-long introduction by setting myself clearly apart from two positions which, although based on very different assumptions, stand in the way of a proper assessment of the material I'm talking about. On the one hand, the Chinese connoisseur's position that denies high-level artistic quality to virtually all painting outside their canon, charging it with bad brushwork, vulgar subject matter, insufficient obeisance to the past. On the other, the position common among present-day writers on art who reject not only the canon but also the very notion of artistic quality, preferring to speak of "visual culture" so as to take in not only the whole surviving body of pictorial matter, including prints and designs on ceramics, but also, in extreme cases, maps and charts and the like. This approach has a lot to recommend it if one's purpose is ethnological, or oriented toward general cultural history, or if one is engaging on ideological grounds in the project of art-history bashing, or for other reasons; I've used some form of it sometimes myself. But in the end, and for now, I'll simply say, since this isn't the occasion to argue the issue, that both positions seem to me in the end to demean the good artists and paintings. I'm not by any means, that is, denying our responsibility to make judgements, distinguish original and interesting work from the repetitive and dull, skillful from inept, high quality from low, art from non-art. We can make the divisions looser and more blurry while continuing to make them; we can expand the boundaries, broaden our criteria, try to break through biases, recognizing in the case of Chinese painting that a great deal of what has been dismissed as trivial and low-class is as worthy of our attention as what has been included. Before we relinquish altogether the category of Chinese painting--and there is a movement now underway in just that direction, driven by the usual charges that setting it apart from designs on ceramics and lacquer and carved jade is elitist, exclusionist, and so forth--we might well take a moment to reconsider just what comprises Chinese painting, both in the historical sense of what was produced and in the more immediate sense of how we deal with what has survived, much of it unnoticed and fundamentally misunderstood. This large project has been behind most of my writings in recent years.

S --. (detail of 1st sec'n) Now, I want to spend the remainder of my time presenting examples of areas of Chinese painting that open up and prove to be unexpectedly absorbing, once one begins looking for them and at them. Rereading recently a familiar passage in the mid-12th century Hua chi of Teng Ch'un, the one about how the author's father, in the course of examining paintings in the imperial collection, comes upon workmen using a Kuo Hsi landscape to wipe the table, I noticed an interesting term: Among the categories of paintings his father was examining were chia-ch'ing t'u, literally "family auspicious pictures," a term presumably designating paintings done for hanging or presentation on certain auspicious family occasions. I've been watching for later uses of the term--there are two in Yüan writings--and even more, for pictures that will fit into this category, and am somewhat surprised at how many there prove to be, once one begins looking. (The same is true, in my experience, of other subject categories that have not been pulled together--we believe they aren't there because we haven't paid attention to them.) This one is in the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, among hundreds of paintings considered "study pieces," below the level of what could be exhibited and published--until, in late 1994, we organized an exhibition titled "New Interpretations of Ming and Qing Paintings" made up in large part of just such works, and published a catalog in which they were taken seriously.

S--. (left part.) Among this painting's qualifications for neglect is an attribution to the early 16th century Suchou master Ch'iu Ying, who obviously did not paint it; once it had been judged a forgery, a "Suchou p'ien" in the dismissive term that connoisseurs apply to such works by later followers of Ch'iu Ying and T'ang Yin, it could be rolled up and forgotten. But once unrolled again and looked at, it proves to be a delightful work, which apart from its artistic merit supplies a lot of detailed information about how New Year's was celebrated in a large, well-off family in late Ming or early Ch'ing China. It is obviously not a good parallel to George Price, since it's quite devoid of irony, or any questioning of the ideal tableau it presents. But that's the nature of these paintings--they tend to be aesthetically innocent in their depictions of the mundane world.

S--. This is the main sec'n of another, abt a century later, mid-18th. Sig. of Leng Mei, but prob. not his--appears not to match his reliably signed works in style. Studio work by follower.) Whether intended for the occasion of a birthday or New Year's (or a combination of the two), it appears to be, like the other, a generic scene rather than a specific representation of a particular event or family. Pictures of these categories were ordinarily offered to a general clientele, we can assume, not produced on individual order. This mode of production, together with the well-known Chinese bias against anything functional, were additional counts, in the eyes of critics, against paintings of this kind.

S, S. Given these circumstances of creation, the sensitivity to human feelings and relationships that infuses the best of them is remarkable--here, the women of the household & the younger children. The portrayal of the women, in particular, attributes more dignity and individuality to them, along with a sense of momentary feeling, than Chinese paintings commonly do.

-- S. In another lecture I juxtaposed this picture with a roughly contemporary painting of roughly the same subject, a collaborative work (typically) by several masters of the imperial academy, including Lang Shih-ning, representing the Ch'ien-lung Emperor and his consorts and children, to make the point that the academy production seems, by contrast, cold and formal, its high polish precluding any effect of spontaneity or direct expression of feeling.

--S. In fact, however, what is embodied in these pictures is not the particulars of the occasion celebrated but an ideal vision of it, or of the future it portends. This example in the Portland Art Museum, with a reliable inscription by Leng Mei, was probably intended for a wedding; but it is a wedding with children already in place, the father a successful scholar-official, two sons already headed toward the same career, as their actions and attributes tell us. It predicts, and in some sense participates in bringing about, these blessings for the newly-married couple.

--S. An example in the British Museum, presumably another birthday picture, also bears a Leng Mei signature, but is too clumsy to be his work, its parts formally unintegrated, and in the wrong style. The argument being made today, with some vehemence, that denounces questions of quality and authenticity as elitist concerns, would like to divorce itself from connoisseurship to use the pictures as more or less undifferentiated carriers of pictorial information about social beliefs and practices. But the unstable positioning of the Chinese works, many or most of which are in some way misrepresented in period, authorship, and subject, presents to those inclined this way the hard fact that until the pictures are sorted out in some old-fashioned art-historical manner and set into their proper positions and relationships, a task requiring, alas, some exercise of connoisseurship, we will find them being introduced as referents or data for the wrong place, the wrong time, the wrong situation. It will sound self-serving to say that usages of these paintings by specialists in other areas of Chinese studies will be insecure until the art historians have done their work, but it's nonetheless true.

S,S. This is the right point to credit the good work done by my colleague Dick Barnhart in rescuing a lot of misunderstood "fake Sung" paintings from neglect by reattributing them on the basis of style to particular later masters. He has done this, among other places, in my own old favorite site for this kind of storage-room archaeology (still another metaphor!), the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington. In doing this he has restored the works to a respectable status and augmented the oeuvres of artists such as Wang Shih-ch'ang (left) and Yeh Ch'eng (right.) But the project of reattributing works by style to name artists, worthy as it is, is not my principal concern today. I am also leaving out the large category of later Buddhist ptg, since many excellent and neglected examples were introduced several years ago, and the whole category well studied, by Marsha Weidner in her Latter Days of the Law catalog.

S,S. (If I hear scarcely suppressed groans from some in the audience who have heard, in one form or another, my lectures on representations of women in late Chinese painting, and are muttering to themselves: no, please, he's not going to give us those again! --relax, I am not. They will be off the screen soon, and won't be followed by others of the type.) In this large study, which has occupied me for some years and will eventually become a book, the first task that underlay all the rest was to cut through the facades of misdirection that have attached to these paintings over the centuries and try to see them as what they are. The work with which the whole project began, on the left, for instance, bears an inscription that would, if trusted, make it a portrait of the famous courtesan-poet Liu Yin, painted in 1643, after she had become the concubine of the prominent scholar-official Ch'ien Ch'ien-i. But any account that accepted and used the painting as that--and there have already been several--falls into the trap set by some Chinese dealer. In fact, it demonstrably dates from about a century later, is by a follower of Leng Mei, and is a generic picture of a beautiful woman, not a portrait of anyone in particular. Moreover, it has been cut down from a composition that originally placed the woman in an elaborate interior, as another version (at right), similarly misrepresented as a self-portrait of the late Ming courtesan-artist Ma Shou-chen, betrays.

S --. This in itself would call into question the 1643 dating, since the placing of mei-jen or beautiful women in interior settings, their boudoirs, cannot on firm evidence be shown to antedate the K'ang-hsi period--this example, dated 1697, is by Yü Chih-ting--and was probably stimulated by contacts with European pictures of such subjects. It should not be necessary to point out that stripping away the falsifications, as in the case of the so-called portrait of Liu Yin, in no way reduces the attractiveness of the work, once we have given up the attachment to names, but only, like removing the mask of the Happy Hypocrite in Max Beerbohm's story, reveals an equally likeable face underneath.

S.,S. Continuing with pictures of family gatherings and observances, these are details of the upper and lower parts of an anonymous work, of some elegance, probably 18th century in date, in the British Museum. It is a group portrait of a family, of which the female members are set within the house and on the verandah, while the male members, seen outside, display different degrees of mobility in their placement and postures.

-- S. The oldest of the males, presumably the father, has ventured out with a boy servant to gather herbs. This picture, by contrast with those shown before, appears to portray a particular family. Assembled and sensitively read, a series of such works (and there are others) could open up understandings of the dynamics of the family in late-period China that would supplement what is written sources reveal.

S,S. A handscroll in the [Tientsin Historical Museum?], which I know only from a small, unclear reproduction (from which these slides were made), appears to be a complex and probably visually splendid portrayal of members of a rich family shown within the lovingly-depicted buildings and gardens of their villa. I hope to see the original on some visit to China; meanwhile, because of the exclusionary attitudes outlined earlier, such a work is unlikely to be well reproduced or receive serious scholarly attention in China.

S,S. Another category of paintings that has not been effectively mined is the erotic albums, of which many examples survive from the later centuries, at least from the early Ch'ing on. Dismissed by mainstream sinologues as crude and prurient, they have been written about chiefly by people with scanty qualifications to deal with them, even to separate the larger number that are indeed crude and repetitive from those examples that are in no way inferior in quality to paintings of other subject categories in the same periods. These are two leaves from an erotic album, sold recently at auction, by Hsü Mei, who was one of the artists called to court to participate in the production in 1713 of a handscroll titled Wanshou tu celebrating the 60th birthday of the K'ang-hsi Emperor. It takes a sharp-eyed viewer to spot the erotic imagery in them--voyeurism facilitated by translucent pants in the garden scene, a tiny glimpse of engaged genitalia in the further room of the other--but these, too, are revealing images--somewhat slanted and special, to be sure--of family life in early Ch'ing China, of a kind that are not otherwise easily to be found.

S,S. The same is true of the leaves in two albums, apparently from the same hand or at least the same studio, dating around a half-century later, the mid or later 18th century, that passed in recent years through New York auctions (where I made slides of them) and then disappeared, at least from my view--if anyone can tell me where they are, I'll be grateful. I've shown and discussed the openly erotic leaves of these albums on other occasions; here are two in which the couples are engaged, not in sex, but in romantic and domestic pursuits that are presented with genuine tenderness. Again, where else can we find these qualities in Chinese painting? The best of the erotic albums, as a group, may offer the closest pictorial equivalents to the Hung-lou meng in portraying subtle interrelationships within an upper-class Chinese household. One might argue that it was exactly the illicit status of these paintings, their association with outright erotica and their dismissal as pornography from the realm of polite aesthetic appreciation, that freed the artists to transgress as well the established boundaries of taste that barred them from depicting subjects of this kind, and even more from investing their depictions with such nuances of feeling.

S,S. Of the hundred leaves of illustrations to Chin P'ing Mei published years ago as Po-mei t'u, the Hundred Beauties, twenty-five (and perhaps more that I don't know about) are available now in western collections, and can be used by social and literary historians of the Ch'ing, whether they are concerned with Chinese sexual practices or the operation of a brocade shop.

S,S. If some colleague had asked me, even a few years ago, where to find illustrations for a paper on childbirthing in China, I would have drawn a blank. Now I can name two: another of the Chin P'ing Mei illustrations, and a fen-pen or preparatory sketch by the late 19th century Shanghai master Ch'ien Hui-an (in the foreground of which the males of the family are being ejected from the room, while the newborn baby is left untended in a tub of water--very unwise.) The same is true of many other subjects that should, when they become known, excite considerable interest among colleagues in other areas of Chinese studies.

S,S. The artists who did these paintings belong mostly to a large, unstudied class of Ch'ing-period painters that I am calling, since there is no established term, urban professional masters. (the Japanese have a term: machi-eshi; if there is one in Chinese, I haven't encountered it.) They produced pictures for a diversity of needs in studios located in the bustling commercial and entertainment districts of cities, especially the great cities of the Chiang-nan region. They have been regarded, when noticed at all, as deriving their styles, including elements of European style, by a trickle-down process from the imperial academy in Peking. I would rather turn this version on its head and recognize that it was from the ranks of these urban professional masters that the academy was in large part staffed--some were summoned to participate in particular collaborative projects and returned to their cities, others stayed on--and that they brought with them at least as much of painterly techniques, styles, and imagery as they took back. The well-known picture at left, representing the three principals of the Hsi-hsiang chi or "Western Chamber" story, is anonymous, but closely related in style with others ascribed to Leng Mei and probably by followers of his; the one at right, which is ten feet wide and represents eight prostitutes on the balcony of a brothel making enticing gestures to passers-by, bears a cyclical date probably corresponding to 1736 and the signature of a small master named Hua Hsüan, who was active in Wu-hsi, and, like most of these painters, did portraiture along with other genres. These, however, belong to a different lecture, and I introduce them here only to sketch out another large region that must be incorporated into our remapping of Chinese painting.

-- S. If we wish we could see what the inside of the brothel looks like, an anonymous work recently published in a volume devoted to an old European private collection may serve. It is described there as a picture of "distinguished ladies" engaged in their domestic occupations, but this is another misdirection--I will not take the time here to explain why. The Hua Hsüan picture (at left) was similarly said to be a group portrait of the six consorts of the Ming artist T'ang Yin, and was first published in the 1920s catalog of the Shanghai dealer E. A . Strehlneek (who also sold the Freer Gallery's "West Chamber" picture, presumably to Freer himself;); the anonymous one was acquired, probably in the 1930s, by the Munich stage designer Emil Preetorius. These and similar examples present us with another curious pattern: just as the Japanese, with their special tastes associated with Zen Buddhism and the tea ceremony, have rescued for us types of Chinese paintings that came to be depreciated in China and have virtually disappeared there, so did the low tastes (as the Chinese saw it) of western collectors and dealers in the early part of this century permit the survival of a lot of paintings that otherwise might well have been lost. When a detailed history of the collecting of Chinese painting is written, it should include a section titled: In praise of bad taste. S,S. Within portraiture, a number of special types can be found that have not yet been pulled together and studied as groups. One, which as I seem to recall has been discussed by Dick Barnhart [where?], presents an official being received at the imperial court; examples are in the Historical Museum, Beijing (left) and the British Museum (right), the latter by the Ming painter Chu Pang.

S,S. The depiction of the central figures makes it clear that these are not generic pictures, but portraits of particular people, perhaps done to congratulate them on appointments to high posts--although it is possible that the rest of the pictures were ready-mades, and only the portraits, or even the portrait faces, changed from one to another.

S,S. Simpler forms of essentially the same type include these two, an anonymous representation of Tung Ch'i-ch'ang at left, a portrait of Huang Tao-chou by a certain Tsao Fang, dated 1645, at right. Both are seen waiting for audiences with the emperor. These pictures should be of interest, in both their substance and their function, to those who work in the political and institutional history of China.

S --. And what of this, a painting I know only from a small, blurry reproduction in an auction catalog (and again, any information on its whereabouts will be welcomed)? It would appear to represent a grand occasion on which some great household is receiving the visit of a high-ranking guest, perhaps the emperor--the figure about to enter in lower right may be wearing a dragon robe. It might have been painted to commemorate the occasion, and we can guess that it was kept in the family to record a peak moment in its history. Or did it illustrate a story that included such an event? In either case, it could be the subject of a long and interesting study. But pictures of this kind pass through auctions and disappear; neither private collectors nor museums see them as desirable acquisitions, and Chinese studies programs and libraries typically have no funds for such things.

S,S. If the pictures are of erotic subjects--for instance, this album of illustrations to Jou-pu t'uan that appeared in a New York auction several years ago--the chances are even smaller that they will end up in a public collection or one easily accessible to scholars. Corresponding recently with a colleague who is making a study of printed illustrations to Chinese fiction, I wrote about the numerous painted versions of these, with which he was unfamiliar; but I could not tell him where to find more than a few of them published, and could only say, weakly, Come and go through my slides.

S,S. A large category of paintings which, while not altogether rejected from the canon, has been consistently denigrated and unappreciated is made up of works in which the artist undertook some unusual, and for Chinese critics unacceptable, representational project. These were likely to "break the rules" in a double sense: by utilizing illusionistic techniques that could be seen as implicated in the forbidden pursuit of hsing-ssu or form-likeness; and by sacrificing--necessarily, given the artists' purposes--elements of style such as brushwork and stylistic allusions to earlier masters that, for traditional connoisseurs, more or less defined the upper levels of quality in painting. Works of this kind have typically come down to us innocent of the collectors' seals and appreciative inscriptions and colophons that more prestigious kinds of old paintings have accumulated over the centuries. I have sometimes used, to exemplify this phenomenon, the extraordinary portrayal of bamboo, old tree, and rock at left, in the Shanghai Museum, a painting that still has found no comfortable place in Chinese accounts of early painting. For the late periods, it is exemplified by artists such as Chang Hung of the late Ming, who has now begun to take his well-earned place in exhibitions and studies; and Lu Wei of the early Ch'ing, seen at right in one of his strange paintings in which he uses new techniques that I called, in an article on him, "brushlessness and chiaroscuro."

S.S. Other early and middle Ch'ing artists, such as the early 18th century master Ch'en Mei, who served in the imperial academy but did paintings (such as this one) for a non-imperial patronage, also drew on European illusionistic techniques to create effects of space, light, and a striking immediacy in their works. But for this they paid the penalty of rejection by critics of their time and later. This extraordinary painting was on the New York market in the 1950s with an attribution to the 11th century landscapist Hsü Tao-ning; I tried to persuade the Freer Gallery's director John Pope to purchase it, but was successful only after I had attached a name to it, identifying the artist through stylistic comparisons with signed works. It is now exhibited proudly by the Freer as a Ch'en Mei. S,S. (If this lecture seems more than usually disconnected, it is because I am trying to present a broad range of painting types without having, or wanting to have, any clear principle of order for arranging them--a principle of order would bring us back to a more structured mapping of Chinese painting than I am arguing for.) Ming-period depictions of particular people's villas and gardens, usually more or less schematic in character, by prestigious name artists such as Wen Cheng-ming (left) have been published in some number. But nowhere among published pictures, except, again, in an auction catalog, can we find anything like the one at right:

S --. (detail) the high-level work of some specialist master, perhaps, dating around the 14th century (Dick may have a firmer opinion), it presents to us a far more informative and enchanting picture of the appearance and layout of an elegantly designed riverside villa and garden than any of the literati works. Perhaps it was too conservative and Sung-like to win the artist enough recognition for his name to remain attached to it. My argument throughout (with the Jou-pu t'uan album as a possible exception) is that expanding the "visible" regions of Chinese painting need entail no lowering of quality, only some rethinking and broadening of criteria of quality.

S,S. Returning to the question of court and city paintings in the late period: a number of the large collaborative works produced by academy artists, sometimes with help from painters temporarily engaged from outside, have recently begun to be studied and included in our histories. Notable cases are the two series of long scrolls depicting the southern tours of the K'ang-hsi and Ch'ien-lung Emperors, the objects of special research by Maxwell Hearn. They are splendid productions, especially the Ch'ien-lung series--these are two sections from the scroll in the Metropolitan Museum depicting the Emperor's visit to Suchou, ending with the Tiger Hill outside the city. The project was accomplished over a period of six years, between 1764 and 1770, by the court artist Hsü Yang--who himself came from Suchou--no doubt with the help of assistants, who go unnamed. The scrolls include a lot of detail of street scenes and urban activities, but the figures and buildings are rather repetitive and stiff. These scrolls may in the end leave us with a desire to escape from the grandiose display that was laid on everywhere the emperor went, to look into everyday urban life as it continued after he had gone home to the palace.

S,S. The same Hsü Yang had painted another panoramic scroll of Suchou for the Emperor in 1659, again ending with the Tiger Hill; this, too, is remarkable and informative as a cityscape but offers only a rather cool and distant view, in which the figures and shops and boats have a somewhat ready-made character and lack liveliness, as the detail at right reveals. It is as if the artist and his assistants were not really much interested in the daily life of the city, besides being too respectful of the emperor and the court to inflict such trivialities on them. We may wish that we could move in for closer and more intimate inspection of some of the activities portrayed, and persuade the people engaged in them to relax a bit, act as they do when off camera.

S, S. Here, again, one of the forgotten urban-professional artists obliges. Around the same time that Hsü Yang and his workshop were producing the "Ch'ien-lung's Southern Tour" series, in 1768, an unnamed painter, presumably a small master of Suchou, was engaged to do a scroll commemorating a visit to the Tiger Hill by Su Ting-yüan, who had served for five years as viceroy of Chiang-su, and who was invited on an outing to the eastern suburbs of the city by a Mr. Lao. We see Su and some of his entourage in this detail from near the beginning of the scroll. His is a much more modest procession than Ch'ien-lung's, the central part of which appears in the slide at right.

-- S. More of Su's party. The faces of his companions appear to be portraits, and presumably include his host Mr. Lao, the one who engaged the artist (unnamed but designated in the accompanying inscription as a hua-shih, professional master) to do a pictorial record of the visit. Whether the painter accompanied the group and made sketches as they moved about or simply was familiar with the shops and restaurants at the foot of Tiger Hill is not made clear. The scroll, not surprisingly, is in a western collection, that of a retired British diplomat living in the suburbs of London.

S,S. The outriders leading the procession, with standard-bearers proclaiming the coming of the Viceroy of Chiang-su, pass by an antique shop; below, gentlemen are seen partying in pleasure boats on the canal, eating dinner and playing music. Further on we find a welcoming party including an elderly couple and what appear to be two beautiful entertainers, who are being ogled through a kind of monacle by one of the waiting men. The boat below, empty except for the boatmen, is ready to accomodate Su, his guests, and the entertainers. The contrast between this and the imperial scrolls typifies the relationship between "high" and "low" in paintings of this kind: it is the "low" example that provides an abundance of particulars specific to the time and place, along with a kind of witty social commentary,

S,S. and even betrays some interest in the feelings of the people who appear in it. Servants in a restaurant by the canal buy fish and prepare dishes, carrying them to banqueters in the upstairs room, while a female servant hangs the laundry and two women eat their dinners as they wait, we imagine, for a call to entertain guests. Another woman entertainer, in the detail at left, gazes moodily out over the water as her child tugs at her; three simple bird-and-flower pictures pinned to the wall behind suggest a way of life that is [austere] but not without its small refinements. Such a scene may recall the lovely entertainers in Japanese prints by Harunobu (in exactly this period) who have come out from the party to stand alone on the verandah, subtly expressing melancholy in their postures and faces.

S,S. It is paintings like this that allow us to escape somewhat the conventions of the iconic mei-jen type of single beautiful-woman pictures, designed as those are to cater to the special desires of male gazers, and see more deeply into the lives of the women--although, of course, these too would no doubt be seen to follow other conventions if we had more of them. A group of richly-robed, geisha-like women with gold hair ornaments, again accompanied by children, pass the time between entertaining guests in a boat; a boat-girl waits below a bridge, hoping to attract a passenger, while her little boy peeps through the door.

S,S. In a shop selling dolls, the bespectacled artisan touches up the head of one of them; in another selling roly-polys, like the Japanese Daruma dolls, the shopwoman is observed by a man with spectacles, while in the back room an older woman sews costumes for the toys. Pictures like this one persuade us that there was a Chinese equivalent to ukiyo-e, but that unlike the Japanese works, subjects of a vast literature, it has gone largely unnoticed. How far it can stiill be recovered is a question for the future.

-- S. Finally, at the entrance to a temple, behind a row of monks, is a booth selling objects not easily identified, where one can also buy unmounted mei-jen pictures, the Metropolitan Museum's so-called T'ang Yin beauty on a banana leaf, a bird-and-flower picture, or a landscape in the manner of Ni Tsan, according to one's tastes and needs. And these are only a sampling of the delights offered by this scroll. No misdirection is involved here--the painting presents itself as nothing other than what it is. But its honesty goes unrewarded; it bears the compounded stigmata of anonymity, functionalism, popular style, and engaging subject matter; no respectable Chinese connoisseur would do more than glance at the opening passage before rolling it quickly up again.

The point I want to make strongly, and have tried to make in relation to the series of works introduced today, is that it is not merely a matter of the excluded categories of Chinese painting being, on the whole, equal in quality to the more familiar kinds, if we can expand our criteria of judgement; they exhibit qualities that cannot easily be found among the accepted categories. This is because the artists who did them were permitted, by their very exclusion from the realm of "polite" painting, to infuse their works with expressions of human feeling and warmth, incident and drama, close observation of the world around them, more relaxed renderings of scenes of everyday life, that were taboo for their critically more elevated contemporaries. High quality in Chinese painting has been implicitly defined as the absence of just those qualities, which marked the lower levels of the art, since true connoisseurs should not succumb to such blandishments; and we have unthinkingly and uncritically accepted this version of the matter. Another generation of searching out, reattributing, re-ordering and re-assessing these paintings will be needed before we can make with confidence the kind of statement I am about to make as a conjecture. What we have assumed to be deficiencies in Chinese painting, the absence of areas of subject matter and expressiveness that are taken for granted in the European and American painting tradition, may prove to be absences only within the confines of the "official version" of the art. Much of what we have felt to be missing from Chinese painting, that is, may well prove after all to be there, once we look outside the conventional boundaries, beyond the walls that the Chinese literati critics have erected.

S,S. I will conclude with a brief look at another little-known handscroll, which will serve today to represent the large class of historical pictures of a kind that are usually preserved, if at all, in historical museums and archives, carefully segregated from the works of art.

At the end of this scroll is a false, interpolated signature of a recorded artist named Chiang Tzu-ch'eng (YCH p. 1356), who served in the imperial court in the early 15th century, and a date corresponding to 1428. Based on this, the authors of two colophons written in 1956 speculate that it represents a Japanese raid on the China coast that happened in 1419. But this is another misdirection: the real subject of the painting was identified first by Fang Chao-ying, and later conclusively by Gary Ledyard (whose detailed study of the scroll is unpublished), as the Battle of the Noryang Straits, which took place on the coast of Korea between October and December, 1598, in which the combined Korean and Chinese forces drove off the last remnants of the Japanese troops from Hideyoshi's attempted invasion. (The opening section, at right, depicts the arrival of Chinese troops by sea.)

S,S. The following section, which represents a staff meeting involving both Chinese and Koreans, could be used to illustrate the Chinese ideal of the wen or civil dominating the wu or military: the civil official sits at a table at the pinnacle of the triangle, flanked by two generals. It illustrates also the extraordinarily fine figure drawing, which cannot be matched closely in any other Chinese painting known to me. The reason the scroll continues to be little-known is that the owner when I first saw it, and the present owner as well (reportedly a collector in Hong Kong), refuse to relinquish the wrong attribution and identification, and so will not allow it to be exhibited or published.

S,S. The central section portrays the assault on the fortress of the Japanese general Konishi. Fang Chaoying speculated, and Ledyard agrees, that the artist, because of his detailed familiarity with the trappings and actions of warfare, might have been a specialist on the staff of one of the Chinese generals or admirals.

S --. The defenders are firing muskets (which alone would make the early 15th century dating impossible); the attackers are carrying cowhide shields. Such details, along with inscriptions in cartouches on the scroll, match up with written accounts to confirm beyond doubt the identification of the subject. The dominance of the Chinese forces in the picture, and the playing-down of the Korean participation, would seem to rule out the possibility that it is a Korean painting.

S.S. Toward the end of the scroll is the terrible scene that Ledyard calls "The Noryang Inferno," the great naval battle in which the Chinese fired rockets and threw faggots onto the Japanese ships, and the sea was filled with Japanese soldiers who jumped overboard to escape the flames, only to be killed with spears and arrows, or captured and beheaded.

S -- (closer detail). In my Painter's Practice book I quoted Alexander Soper on the disappearance of references to battle pictures from the literature of Chinese painting after the T'ang, and their near-absence from the corpus of surviving paintings as well. This is true enough; but, like most generalizations about Chinese painting, it applies to the respectable kinds, not to the totality of what was produced. Once more, we can wish that more works of this kind had survived, since they serve as well as paintings can in providing visual information and reportage for China before the late 19th century, when, as Jonathan Spence and Annping Chin's recently-published The Chinese Century richly demonstrates, photography takes over this function.

S,S. (Dark slides.) There will no doubt be some in the audience, and in other audiences, who, after seeing and hearing all this, will feel that the Chinese connoisseurs were right all the time, that what I have shown is indeed low-class and trivial, afflicted with bad brushwork, and so forth. But that response only testifies, in my own thoroughly biased view, to the success of centuries of indoctrination. My hope is that those people will be outnumbered by others who are open to liking and admiring these pictures, as I do. Those among Chinese painting specialists, and especially younger ones, who share my enthusiasm for them have their task ahead of them, a task for which I have only pointed the way. It is nothing less than a radical expansion of the visible regions of Chinese painting, a remapping that incorporates the kinds I have shown and others. The remapping will always be spotty in some areas for which the survival rate has been poor, for reasons I've suggested. But even these areas are not altogether beyond recovery, and will certainly reward our efforts. In addition to the little-explored holdings outside China, there are many lesser, little-known collections in China, belonging to art colleges and other institutions and individuals; and even when the committee of distinguished connoisseurs currently making its rounds of mainland collections has gone through their holdings and published those pieces judged worthy of attention, or the institution itself has published a volume of what it considers to be its best paintings, we can be sure that these will still be confined mainly to the name-artist category, and that works of the excluded kinds will continue to languish in obscurity, until attitudes change and someone takes the trouble to dig them out and make them accessible. In any case, we can assume that each of the paintings I have shown represents what was originally a large category, and even allowing for the bad survival rate, there usually will be enough others extant, if we can locate them, to permit a kind of reconstruction of the type or genre, and the addition of it to our understanding and our histories of Chinese painting.

Other difficulties will arise in the study of these paintings, however, even after they have been located and set properly in place through the practices of connoisseurship and art-historical analysis. Paintings of the hitherto excluded kinds are likely to present interpretative problems more difficult than those posed by name-artist paintings, at least as those problems have been construed in our studies. Taking an artist as a focus greatly facilitates the formulation of a research plan: one can look into his biography and his writings, go about seeing and studying his works, analyze his style and his development. Whole symposia have been held, in China and here, that never got beyond those concerns. Paintings of the kinds I've talked about today don't offer such easy handles for grasping; they raise harder questions--but for me, at least lately, and for a growing number of others, they are very absorbing questions, opening new areas of research. And specialists in the future will identify and address still more interesting and complex questions, beside which mine will appear simplistic and naive. But one must make a beginning, and my talk today has been meant as no more than that.

Thank you.

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