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A Pure and Remote View: Visualizing Early Chinese Landscape Painting — A lecture series by Professor Emeritus James Cahill

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Lecture 1 - Introduction and Pre-Han Pictorial Art

I begin by introducing my three major teachers, and go on to outline the background of the series: early attempts at histories of Chinese painting, photographing and cataloguing projects carried out in the 1960s-70s, changing ideas about how art history should be constructed and written. I introduce Ernst Gombrich as a model for the kind of art-historical narrative I will attempt, but also emphasize the strong tradition of critical and historical writing in China that underlies my account. This first lecture ends with a brief introduction to early pictorial art in China: Neolithic painted pots, hunting-style bronzes, the earliest paintings on silk from Changsha.

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Lecture 2 - Han Painting and Pictorial Designs

This lecture considers the growth of pictorial art during the Han dynasty (208 BCE to 220 CE), beginning with paintings on silk (including the famous "flying garment") from the tombs at Changsha, continuing with pictures on tomb objects (mingqi) and lacquer designs, and ending with the remarkable relief pictures on tomb tiles found in Sichuan. Early renderings of space and the beginnings of expressive brushwork are revealed in visual analyses of all these.

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Lecture 3 - Six Dynasties Painting and Pictorial Designs

The third lecture treats the pictorial art of the variously named period between the Han and Tang dynasties, a period of political division and warfare during which relative peace in the Yangzi Delta region around Nanjing permitted the emergence there of major artists and a flourishing tradition of picture making. Detailed looking at scroll paintings ascribed to one artist, Gu Kaizhi, introduces issues of dating and the faithfulness of copies after a lost original; brief discussions of two early essays open a continuing consideration of the rich Chinese critical and theoretical literature on painting.

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Lecture 4A - Tang Dynasty Figure Painting

This lecture is about figure painting of the Tang dynasty (610–907 CE). Tomb paintings of the early Tang, works associated with the legendary figure master Wu Daozi, reliable copies after palace-lady pictures by Zhou Fang and others together with one original, make up a detailed exploration of this greatest age of figure painting in China.

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Lecture 4B - Tang Dynasty Landscape Painting

Landscape painting in the Tang dynasty takes two directions: a detailed and colorful style, and the beginnings of an ink-monochrome style. Examples of both in surviving copies and fragments, along with a tomb wall painting, a rubbing from a stone engraving, and the background landscape from a Buddhist image are shown and discussed in this lecture.

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Lecture 5 - Five Dynasties Painting: Reliable Works

Another period of political disunity bridging the brief gap (907–960 CE) between two long-lasting dynasties, the Tang and the Song, the Five Dynasties was nonetheless an age of great innovation in landscape and other painting. This lecture uses reliable works of the period and close copies for visual exploration of striking pictorial images that draw the viewer's eye into their intricate spatial systems.

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Lecture 6 - Five Dynasties Painting: The Great Landscape Masters

Also in the Five Dynasties, five great masters of landscape—Jing Hao and Guan Tong, Dong Yuan and Juran, Li Cheng—brought to this art a new profundity of conception and diversity of styles. Although no surviving work can be firmly accepted as by any one of them, major paintings of high quality and importance are attributed to them and are given close visual analysis in this lecture, which also introduces new theories and concepts of how landscape imagery can carry profound human meaning.

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Lecture 7a - Early Northern Song Landscape

A time of greatest achievement in the development of landscape painting in China, the early Northern Song period saw the emergence of a fully formed monumental landscape art as achieved by three towering masters, Yan Wengui, Fan Kuan, and Xu Daoning, all represented by extant genuine works. These are explored in detail, along with paintings by some of their followers and imitators.

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Lecture 7b - Late Northern Song Landscape

This lecture is devoted to the late Northern Song master Guo Xi, the last of the great masters of monumental landscape, beginning with his essay on painting landscape, continuing with a prolonged exploration of his masterwork Early Spring, and ending with a consideration of other paintings ascribed to him.

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Lecture 8a - Noblemen Painters of Late Northern Song

After discussions of some large theoretical and methodological issues, this lecture presents paintings by two artists who were members of the Song imperial family, Zhao Lingrang by birth and Wang Shen through marriage. The strengths and limitations of their works are brought out in a discussion of the implications of amateurism in painting.

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Lecture 8b - Literati Painters of Late Northern Song

The beginnings and early stages of the scholar-amateur movement in painting, known first as shidafu hua and later as wenren hua, are presented through works by or attributed to the early literati masters, notably Su Shi or Su Dongpo, Mi Fu, and Li Gonglin. An especially fine painting from the next generation, the Red Cliff handscroll by Qiao Zhongchang, is given a longer, detailed treatment.

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Lecture 9a - Li Tang and His Followers

After looking at three late Northern Song handscrolls, one by Wang Ximeng and two others attributed to the brothers Zhao Boju and Zhao Bosu, this lecture is devoted to the major landscapist of that period, Li Tang, and his followers active in the Imperial Academy later in the Southern Song period. The lecture concludes with two more handscrolls by Li Tang followers.

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Lecture 9b - Political and Poetic Themes in Southern Song Painting

A consideration of political themes in Southern Song Academy painting, especially in works by Li Tang and his followers, ends with long sections on two subjects of this kind: buffalo and herd boy paintings and paintings of swimming fish. The part that follows, on poetic themes in Southern Song, is largely devoted to works ascribed to Ma Hezhi. A great anonymous handscroll of this period, the "Dream Journey in the Xiao-Xiang Region," is shown at length, and followed by shorter treatments of other handscrolls, including those illustrating "Wenji's Return to China."

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Lecture 9c - Masters of Representation: The Southern Song Academy

After an opening discussion of the unwarranted neglect of Southern Song Academy masters in studies of our subject, this lecture treats a succession of these masters and their works: paintings of children, of animals and birds, of flowers, of narrative and genre scenes. A handscroll depicting "The West Lake at Hangzhou," paintings of arhats by Liu Songnian, and some evocative paintings of figures in various settings conclude the lecture.

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Lecture 10a - Bird-and-Flower Painting: The Early Centuries

This lecture is devoted to the first attempt at constructing a style-history of this important subject category in Chinese painting, from its beginnings in the Tang dynasty into the Southern Song. Bird-and-flower paintings that are loosely datable are looked at in close detail, so that the new modes of depiction in successive periods can be traced. The lecture ends with a close look at a handscroll by the late Northern Song master Liang Shimin.

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Lecture 10b - Bird-and-Flower Painting: Emperor Huizong and After

Beginning with a long consideration of Cui Bo's "Hare and Magpies" of 1061, this lecture continues by looking at the bird paintings ascribed to Emperor Huizong and offering a new proposal for how these were made. It goes on to show and discuss bird-and-flower works by Southern Song Academy masters, especially Ma Yuan and his son Ma Lin. Continuing with a handscroll of ink-monochrome images by a late Song literatus-artist, it ends with a miscellany of album-leaf paintings in the Academy styles.

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Lecture 11a - Great Masters of Southern Song: Ma Yuan

This, the first of four lectures on artists who might be called the Four Great Masters of Southern Song Academy painting, introduces and discusses many works by Ma Yuan and his close followers and imitators, mostly landscapes with figures but also small scenes of birds-in-landscape and other subjects. Questions of authorship and authenticity, identifying the artist's hand, are raised and considered in relation to the many works ascribed insecurely to Ma Yuan.

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Lecture 11b - Great Masters of Southern Song: Xia Gui

This long lecture is devoted to Xia Gui, the artist who is, in the speaker's opinion, the greatest of the Four Great Masters. It includes an especially long treatment of his masterwork, the Pure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains handscroll. A myth or program of this and many other Southern Song Academy paintings, the "lyric journey," is introduced as underlying this scroll and determining its basic structure. Questions of authenticity and problems of constructing a body of reliable works for this master occupy much of the discussion.

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Lecture 11c - Ma Lin and Others: The Lyric Journey

Ma Yuan's son, and the last in a family lineage within the Southern Song Academy, here receives more attention than he is usually given in writings on Chinese painting. His works are seen as carrying almost to excess the practice of choosing and portraying pictorial materials so as to intensify their emotional impact. A selection of paintings exemplifying the "lyric journey" theme, done by artists inside and outside the Academy, is followed by a group of album leaves demonstrating their mastery of multispace compositions with implicit narratives.

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Lecture 11d - From Academy to Chan: Lian Kai

This last of the four Southern Song Academy masters is shown as providing a bridge between that tradition and the new kind of painting associated with Chan (Zen) Buddhism, which will make up the topic of most of the lecture 12 group. The gap between the way Liang Kai is regarded, and his works collected, in China and in Japan also introduces a large problem that complicates the whole concept of Chan painting: why it was preserved almost entirely in Japan and scarcely at all in China.

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Lecture 12a - Paintings of the North: The Jin Dynasty

While the Southern Song Dynasty ruled in the south of China, the Jin dynasty of the Jurchens, a nomadic people, ruled in the north. Chinese artists working under the Jin mostly continued Northern Song traditions, out of touch with new developments in the south. This first part of lecture 12 is devoted to some of their paintings.

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Lecture 12b - The Beginnings of Chan (Zen) Painting and Muqi

This is the first part of a long attempt to deal with the highly problematic subject of Chan painting—that is, painting associated in various ways with the Chan (Zen)  sect of Buddhism. Shown and discussed at length are works by and ascribed to the most famous Chan painter, the monk-artist Muqi.

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Lecture 12c - Six Persimmons

This central section of lecture 12 concentrates on a single work probably by Muqi: his famous small picture of "Six Persimmons." Viewers are made to gaze at this simple but mysterious work for a long time, while our lecturer attempts answers to the central, ultimately unanswerable question: what is Chan painting, and how does it differ from literati painting?

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Lecture 12d - Sōgenga and Chan Landscapes

Our final lecture, which winds up the series (except for a postlude and two addenda), deals with the many Chan-associated paintings preserved in Japan that are grouped here, loosely, under the term Sōgenga. It concludes with the surviving works from two series of "Eight Views of the Xiao-Xiang Region," one attributed to Muqi, the other by Yujian—paintings that can be taken as representing the last stage in the long development of landscape painting in China that has been the central subject of this series.

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Lecture
Arguing the Aftermath: Postlude to A Pure and Remote..

A long discussion of how we can understand the direction that Chinese painting took after the end of the Song dynasty, and why the great Song tradition of ink-monochrome landscape was not really continued in China. Some additional thoughts on the quality of representational truthfulness, "likeness" or "mimesis," which we are admonished by Orthodoxy advocates not to look for in Chinese painting, ends this lecture.

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Lecture
Addendum 1A: Freer Medal Acceptance Address

On November 18, 2010, James Cahill was awarded the Charles Lang Freer Medal. This is the acceptance address he delivered then, outlining his long career, offering tributes to his predecessors, and suggesting how Freer's experiences in Japan in the summer of 1907 sharpened his connoisseurial eye for Chinese paintings

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Lecture
Addendum 1B: Riverbank: The Controversy

In December of 1999 a symposium titled "Issues of Authenticity" was held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art with papers mostly arguing for and against the age and authenticity of a painting titled Riverbank that the museum had recently acquired and believed to be an early masterwork, while others, spearheaded by Cahill, believe it to be a forgery by the late Zhang Daqian. Revelations about the background of this symposium, and additional opinions by others about this controversy, are offered here.

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Lecture
Addendum 2A: Notes on Judging Authenticity and Dating

A general discussion of the fundamental problem of authenticity and dating in Chinese painting studies, using some examples from the lectures but also others that exemplify the methods and criteria by which good judgments can be made. My arguments of course emphasize the visual approach over the verbal--the reading of inscriptions and seals, etc.--important as those also are.

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Lecture
Addendum 2B: Riverbank: A Closer Look

Our lecturer returns, finally, after avoiding it throughout his series, to the controversial painting titled Riverbank, on which widely variant opinions are held by different authorities. He offers what he hopes is a convincing argument about why Riverbank cannot be old and must be a Zhang Daqian forgery. An insert near the end, added at the last moment, delivers what he believes to be decisive visual evidence to support his contention.

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Lecture Links

Please click here to view all of the lectures in this series

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