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CLP 60: 2004 “Eccentrics, Court Painters, and Professionals in 18th Century China.” Lecture, Berkeley Art Museum

Eccentrics, Court Painters, and Professionals in 18th Cent. China

Instead of spreading thank-yous all over in the usual manner of lecture openings, I want to focus more today, and express a really heartfelt gratitude to Sheila Keppel, not only for planning this exhibition but for all the excellent work she's done for the Museum over quite a few years. Sheila, who is a ceramicist, wrote the thesis for her graduate degree on Oribe ware, and has taken part in international symposia on Chinese and Japanese ceramics, has had to become a painting specialist, more than she intended to, to keep the exhibition schedule going, to respond to outsiders who want information and access to the collection, and many other valuable services. For all this, thank you Sheila. I want to dedicate the lecture to her. But I want also to point out that because of a publication deadline she had to write the description of my lecture for me; and while what she wrote would be a very interesting lecture, it isn't exactly the one I mean to give. I'm not, this time, going to "illuminate distinct artistic traditions in the light of social and political trends"--That's very much worth doing, and I've done it in other contexts, but not today. Sorry, Sheila.

I'll talk first about a few large artistic issues in painting of early to mid 18c, period represented by ptgs in exhib., with references more to economic than to political issues; then I'll show slides and speak about individual artists and paintings. As it happens, Sheila has chosen a group of paintings not often shown, which makes it more interesting to talk about them. This wlll be a relatively low-key lecture, and some of it may be familiar to those of you who are well-read in the literature of Chinese painting studies.

Early to mid 18c corresponds, in Ch. history, to late Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong reigns of Manchu (Qing) Dynasty. Follows on one of the highpoints, the great ages of Chinese painting, the late Ming-early Qing, time of major Individualist and Orthodox masters.

S,S. Dong C-c to Four Wangs (Wang Yuan-ch'i)

S.S. Shitao, Hongren?

Deaths of Wang Y-c, Wang Hui, Shitao, all w/in decade can be seen as marking the end of this great age. Corresponds loosely with end of Kangxi era, one of two long, very successful reigns (other is Qianlong's, 1735-95). There are ways in which we can regard the period that follows, the period of the exhibition, Yongzheng and Qianlong reigns, as a bit of a falling-off. But I don't especially mean to make that argument in today's lecture, to which it seems unsuitable, and I'll talk more about what's interesting and admirable in painting of this period.

S: Map. What follows that early 18th century turning point is usually presented, again, in basically polarized pattern: Yangzhou "strange masters" vs. orthodox artists, or, as in exhibition, "eccentric" masters vs. "academic" such as Yuan Jiang. Both useful distinctions; both reflect the real situation, but only in limited ways. The 1985 exhibition catalog The Elegant Brush, exhib. by Chou Ju-hsi and Claudia Brown that covered more or less same period and somewhat later, organized 18c ptg by regions; but that isn't so very useful either. (The catalog, however, is a very useful source of information on artists of period.)

S Will begin by disposing of the Orthodox school of landscape, which isn't by any means the most interesting kind of painting being done in this period. Well represented, for our period, by Huang Ding (1660-1730). Studied with Wang Yuan-ch'i, so was firmly in the Orthodox lineage; much admired in his time. Relatively strong among later Orthodox ptrs; after his time, little innovation in that direction, a lot of dull stuff produced. Ptg in exhib.; "Dwelling in Summer Mts.", gift of my old friend Cheng Chi, maybe still living in retirement (haven't heard from him for several years), major collector and authority on Chinese art who spent most of his time in Tokyo, during the 1970s-80s; I visited him there many times, to see ptgs in his collection and to talk with him about Ch. ptg (he was a great raconteur). He presented this painting to the Museum when it first opened in1969.

Artists painting Orthodox-style landscapes tended to be associated with the imperial court in Beijing, as Huang Ding was, or with officialdom; the Manchu rulers were promoting this style in court, as part of process of legitimizing their rule, persuading the Han Chinese that they understood and respected their culture. (Manchus were non-Chinese, or properly non-Han, people.)

Economic factors can be introduced in accounting for some changes in painting of the 18th century: This is true espec. in Yangzhou. This city became major center of culture in 18c, as Nanjing and southern Anhui had been before. Many people move to Yangzhou, people who have made fortunes in Anhui and elsewhere, build villas and gardens there; artists and others attracted by patronage, including super-rich salt merchants. By circumstances too complex to even outline here, a few salt merchants had been granted franchises by imperial govt. to buy salt, distribute it, in effect control market. But they paid heavily for this, in various ways--espec. Qianlong emperor, who is said to have ruined one of them so he could acquire collection of ptgs. Maybe apocryphal, but indicates situation these people were in. Had to spend vast sums to outfit Chinese troops in border regions, and to entertain emperors when they came to Yangzhou on Southern Tours. These people supported artists and poets, scholarship, had salons...

But also in Yangzhou (Ginger's work) a clientele made up of a middle-level urban mix of officials, merchants, and others, who seem to have represented a new kind of buyers.

S,S. Ptgs by Zheng Xie (Zheng Banqiao), not rep. in exhib. Zheng Xie's pricelist. (Read) Before: artists more likely to do ptgs on commission, or request, for particular clients; took more time on them. Or did studio ptgs of a more painstaking, time-consuming kind, expecting to find buyers for them. All that changes.

S,S. Shitao screen vs. Yuan Jiang., Shitao. As noted before, a number of artists move to Yangzhou in 1690s and after, settle there;, all tend to paint faster, simpler, sloppier pictures. Xieyi as cause of decline . . (my lecture and article). Not everybody saw this development as positive; critics (read Wang Yun).

S,S. Gong Xian, mine; earlier (Nelson Gallery leaf): patient, time-consuming kind of execution; gives way in late years to linear, faster manner.

S.S. Some Zha Shibiao. Two artists who moved to Yangzhou, from Nanjing (Gong Xian) and Anhui (Zha Shibiao), Their move appears to have affected the character of their ptg: did faster, simpler, looser pictures. Judy Andrews, writing about Zha Shibiao, found a passage in a contemporary book that compares him with a lacquer-worker named Jiang Qiushui; the two are paired in a "ditty" of the time: "For dishes in every place it's Jiang Qiushui; for scrolls in every home it's Zha Shibiao."

These two landscapists were active in Yangzhou in late part of 17c, early 18c, but appear to have had little following there. After that, landscape loses its popularity in Yangzhou: patrons and buyers want pictures of other subjects. Portraiture popular: also figure painting, pictures of plant subjects, pictures of strong decorative appeal. Ginger Hsu quotes another saying, or song: flowers bring silver, portraits gold; if you want to be a beggar, paint landscapes.

Another factor in failure of 18c artists to produce masterworks comparable to those of 17c: Loss of access to great early ptgs, most of which had funneled into a few major late Ming-early Qing collections, then into imperial collection, mostly under Qianlong Emperor, who was a voracious and ruthless collector. There were still some Sung ptgs around to see: Yuan Jiang said to have acquired album of Song ptgs, learned style partly from these.

S,S. Another distinction that can be made is between artists of limited technique and thematic range, such as Zheng Banqiao, vs. versatile ones: Hua Yan, Li Shan, Luo Ping; when these worked in "Yangzhou Eccentric" styles, it was because they were popular. Zheng Xie's kind of ptg also, of course, has its strong attractions; he is one of most popular painters and calligraphers, known to all educated Chinese, partly because of the appeal of his poetry. Same true of ptgs by Li Fangying, others rep. in exhib. who had relatively narrow ranges of subjects and style.. What one admires and enjoys in works by these artists are distinctive compositional tendencies, brushstrokes--"individual styles"--and certain odd traits in their paintings that we are inclined to read as expressing some eccentricities in artists. But this reading is very problematic, I think. Anhui-school artists in period that preceded this worked in styles derived from Yuan-period masters such as Ni Can and Huang Gongwang, a style that is associated w. political rectitude and high principles. But again, that is what their audiences wanted in their time and circumstances. No longer true in 18c Yangzhou.

At the same time, I don't want to throw out the "Yangzhou eccentrics" designation altogether. There are those who love to say: these ptgs aren't really all that eccentric, or not really orthodox, or whatever, and point out that Yangzhou "strange masters" aren't really a coherent group; argue as though fact that ptgs w/in a defined group don't all look alike invalidates grouping. I've always tried to understand Chinese groupings, usually found some basis for them, even though their boundaries are never absolutely clear.

S,S. Chen Zhuan. Fan ptg of blossoming plum by him in exhib. Lesser artist; famous as poet, writer; ptg reflects cultivation, sensitivity more than skill. Real amateur. Very dry-brush style. Small album of blossoming plum, former Murakami: 1714, very early. Kind of album that connoisseur-collector could carry around with him, enjoy in leisure moments.

Yangzhou Eccentrics, or Strange Masters, however, were mostly not real amateurs, although they ptd in "amateur" styles; more like Zheng Banqiao: painted to make money.

S,S. Li Shan (1686-1760 or so): attempted government career, unsuccessful; spent time in capital, twice. Retired to Yangzhou, in financial trouble; became famous and popular there. Prolific, versatile. Differs from others in that he had academic training too, besides learning from late Shitao etc.; when he loosens up, keeps structural soundness, visual strengths, a degree of representational integrity. Cf. Robt. Hughes, listing the most admired artists of later 20c and pointing out that they all had strong training in traditional ptg, before going on to do whatever they did from that base. Something like that in China. We tend to admire artists who strike nice balance of representation and the expressive brushstroke and all the rest.

- Leaves from 1735 album, relatively early; Sarah's. Pines; vegetables (cabbage, bok choy.) Five pines: painted at least 5 times, several large hanging scrolls. Associates pines with five types of notables: a statesman, a general, an immortal or Buddha, etc. Emblems of uprightness, steadfastness. Also make strong, dense. interesting compositions.

Mention: liberating crabs. Minor but quite good: also interesting poem on it.

-S,S. Rock and flowers. Odd, interesting composition. 1726.

S. Li Fangying (1695-1734): Educated for official career, held several appointments, friend of poet Yuan Mei. But also supplemented his income with paintings, especially blossoming plum. This is an outstanding example, finest I know among his works. Large, strong. One of problems with this kind of ptg is that it too easily ends up as flat pattern of brushstrokes, with no depth, either visually or expressively. Li Fangying good enough artist to avoid this, in his best works, by varying ink tone, shifting character of brushstrokes constantly, making it all evoke appearance of old, weathered branch putting forth new blossoms. Story of Zhu Jizhan coming to Bky, in late 70s? (my memory unclear), seeing this ptg at entrance to exhib. of Yangzhou ptrs. (Contag collection, so Shanghai 1940s)

S,S. Also four leaves: (eccentricity) (crotchety, willful, idiosyncratic, etc.)

S,S. Jin Nong (1687-1773.) A lot written on him. Brilliant, mercurical, popular personage--"lived by his wits more than by gainful employment." Lived for a time as a kind of traveling antique dealer. Didn't paint until late in life; learned from Chen Zhuan, among others.

S,S. Self-portrait, Luo Ping's.

S,S. Plum branch in BAM (story. I saw it at Alice Boney's, in Tokyo. She was expert in other kinds of Ch. art, not ptg: caveat emptor. I arranged for one of our benefactors (Dr. Roger Spang) to buy it for presentation to UAM. Showed it to Jap. specialists, who were skeptical. Then, through my favorite dealer in Japan, Eda Yuji, Bungado, took it to show great calligrapher & connoisseur Nishikawa Nei. (story) Eda had facsimile made, on good paper, for mounting.) First (unofficial) envoy from China in mid-70s? Huang Zhen, as I recall--happened to have exhib. of Yangzhou ptgs up then, he went around, stopped, expressed surprise--(etc.).

S. Cf. Freer's: Ginger wrote about.

S,S. Gao Fenghan (1683-1748): rep. by large hanging scroll. He wasn't Yangzhou ptr, but from Shandong in NE. Around 1737, when he was about fifty, lost use of right hand, learned to paint with left. (Self-portrait; leaves.) Large ptg by him in exhib. dtd. 1738, so early work in left-handed phase.

S,S. Hua Yan (1682-1756): born in Fujian, active mostly in Hangzhou; traveled a lot. Another very versatile & prolific master. His bird-and-flower ptgs very popular, but also very good at figures, some landscapes.

S. Bird on branch. Cf. Ren Bonian, after Hua Yan.

S. Li Shizhuo (1690-1770): active mid-18c, spent some time in court. Also from NE, sometimes said to be Korean, although this appears to be a mistake. This attractive painting belonged to collection of late Hugh Wass, my very good friend, who lived in Japan for some years, then taught at Mills College; left his Ch. and Jap. ptgs to us on his untimely death. Unknown subject.

S,S. Cai Jia (1687- after 1750.) Came to Yangzhou to live as profes. artist. Painted in styles of various old masters; versatile; hard to define stylistic direction for him. LS: Shows his mastery of brushwork, composition; not espec. original, certainly not eccentric, but quite fine. S,S. Also his Blind Beggars: in BAM col., not chosen for this exhib. (We have a great deal more that could have been in: Sheila had to make choices, went for less-known pieces.) Sensitive, moving ptg. Cf.:

S,S. - Leaves from Huang Shen album, Blind Musicians; Snake Handler. 1730.

Huang Shen (1687-1772) was Fujian ptr, came to Yangzhou, loosened up style, became very popular. Several of his ptgs in BAM. Born 1687 in Fujian; came to Yangzhou 1724, just in time to join "movement" or whatever we call it; later listed as one of "Yangzhou Eccentrics." Really technically adept; ptd, much of time in deliberately wavering line for effect of lightness, spontaneity. Prolific, perhaps too much so. In this album, still reflecting style of his teacher Shangguan Zhou in Fujian.

S. Beggars & street people not popular subject in China, since Ch. ptg mostly of idealized, positive subjects; but a few examples. Well-known album by Zhou Chen, 1516, Honolulu and Cleveland; these may have had political and social meaning. Later: seem milder, w/o bitterness of others, don't portray suffering in disturbing, or even very moving way. European counterpart might be Murillo, with charming, romanticized beggars and urchins. Or Jacques Caillot? French print artist.

S,S. Beautiful Woman by Window: belongs to category I've been working on in recent years; Sheila put it in knowing that. Very different from what we've been looking at, obviously; done by unidentified artist of quite dif. background and economic standing, not necessarily painting for dif. kind of client, but for a different purpose: such ptgs were hung in household, sometimes for special occasions, or simply to create certain kind of ambiance in room. In Hong Lou Meng, great novel of this time, young Baoyu has one hanging in his room--like this, in semi-westernized style. (Point out why.)

S. Show KC ptg; Larry Sickman bought some good examples of kinds of ptg my book is about, but didn't have them in regular collection; showed them to me when I showed interest. After his death, student of mine went there, they couldn't locate. Such is fate of such ptgs.

S. On to one in Philadelphia Museum of Art, seal recently discovered of Mang-ku-li, Manchu artist active in early decades of 18c (late Kangxi era); held high official position; learned Western methods of ptg in academy from Jesuits there. A bit surprising to find him ptg this . . .

S,S. On to something quite different, but related in representing a kind of ptg that was great for hanging on the wall, conservative in style, strong in composition--cf. Japanese screens.

Wang Yun:. Yangzhou professional master, born 1652, active into 1730s; took part in production of Kangxi's Southern Tours scrolls in 1690s. "Spring Thunderstorm" painted in 1715. Came from Victoria Contag Col. (etc.,), bought, along with several others, for the UAM by Elizabeth Hay Bechtel, one of our principal donors in later 1960s, before she moved from Bay Area. Ptg traditional in subject: man has built house overlooking river, huge cliff; open pavilion for viewing, where he stands with guest, wife and son; servant behind. Nothing remarkable in style, but strong, handsome painting.

S,S. Yuan Jiang: (Here, I slip again into mode of reminiscence. (last time today). First lecture I ever gave at U.C.Berkeley, in 1964? was on Yuan Jiang--I happened to be working on an article on him just then, having found some works by him and closely assoc. artists in old col. of the Freer Gallery of Art, where I worked, bought by Freer in early years of 20c with signatures or attributions to more famous early masters. Yuan Jiang is one of artists whose works are frequently misrepresented in this way... (etc.) These could be re-attrib. to later artists, espec. Yuan Jiang, and exhibited and published with pride. My lecture here was for job opening. This was occasion mentioned in recent piece on me in Cal Monthly: walking along Telegraph Ave. on way to place on campus where I was to lecture, saw for first time Cinema Guild, then owned and managed by Pauline Kael and Edward Dahlberg. They were showing two Buster Keaton films I'd never seen. With handout listing other great films I desperately wanted to see, couldn't in Washington D.C., where I was living. After wrestling for a while with the question of whether I could somehow get out of giving the lecture (I was returning the next morning to Washington D.C.) and finding no way out, I decided at that moment that I had to come back to Berkeley.

- Big ptg in BAM: 1719. Yuan Jiang and several associates, studio painters, mostly painted big, impressive landscapes with palaces, loosely in the Sung manner, somewhat updated. There is a story that Yuan Jiang went to imperial court in Beijing, and painted there; but no work can be found in Palace Collection with his signature, no record that he was ever court ptr. Traveled to north, for sure; may have stayed in Beijing or nearby, painting for high-level officials? or members of imperial family?

He also did screens, like the one I showed earlier. This may be panel from one (talk abt subject.) We can recognize the narrative configuration by seeing other examples of it:

S. Cf: Yen Wen-kuei fan-shaped leaf. Subject complete that is only partial in Yuan Jiang.

S. etc. Sheng Mou or follower. Spelled out more; but all this implicit in other. I've been making the argument for some years now that we don't pay enough attn. to ptgs as pictures, looking closely to find out what is really going on in them. In this case, indicates probability that BAM's Yuan Jiang was originally part of larger composition.

S,S. To illustrate this point even more forcibly, I will conclude with another Yuan Jiang ptg, , now in New York private col.; I made slides when it was owned by Hong Kong collector, the late N.P. Wong's. (etc.--details.) No one who has written abt the ptg has noticed its real subject. (On, show series of details)

S. Yuan Jiang learned this practice of embedding idealized narratives in pictures from ptgs of the Song period, when it was standard practice. (Not so later--range of subject matter tended to narrow sharply.) This Southern Sung fan-shaped album leaf, which has gone through auction twice in recent years, is kind of thing he might have seen. I know it only from the auction catalogs. (Describe)

In earlier years, when I was in a mood to proseletyze, I had an idea for wall poster, with a motto in big letters, to send to everybody I know in the Chinese painting field, to put on the walls of their studies, saying: "It's a picture, stupid!" Now I simply rest comfortable with the assumption that reason and light will prevail eventually, in this and many other matters that have aroused my passions over the years; but I welcome opportunities to make my simple points once again, as this lecture has been. Thank you.

Slides: Map.

- Late Gong Xian, Q&S argument

- Late Zha Shibiao, "

- Hua Yan, trilling bird; cf. Ren Bonian's.

- Various Yuan Jiang

- Yen Wen-kuei-

- Li Shan, various. Sarah's album (early): pine, bokchoy. A few great ones: Eda, etc.

- Jin Nong, Freer, w. color; UAM. - Li Shizhuo, Hugh's?

- Cai Jia, blind musicians

- Huang Ding, Cheng's and another

- Chen Zhuan, plum, album

- Hua Yan, birds etc., cf. to album - Wang Yun, big one, UAM.

-Gao Fenghan, Hugh's. Album leaves.

- Li Fangying, various, incl. UAM. - Cai Jia: another? plus one in exhib.

- Huang Shen album, blind musicians. Cai Jia, same subject?

- Chou Ch'en beggar, harsh one.

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  • 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...

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  • 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...