A Group of Anonymous Northern Figure Paintings from the Qianlong Period


A Group of Anonymous Northern Figure Paintings from the Qianlong Period

James Cahill



Fig. 1. Anonymous, third quarter eighteenth century. "Scene from the Story of the Western Wing." Hanging scroll (mounted as a panel), ink and colors on silk, 198.5 cm x 130.6 cm. Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1916.517.


Among the finest figure paintings of the late period in China are a group of five works that are all essentially anonymous, even while four of them bear, respectively, an old and absurd attribution, an interpolated inscription, an unreliable signature, and misleading seals. In fact, no reliable evidence for dating or authorship accompanies any of them. One, the well-known depiction of the principals of the "Romance of the Western Chamber" drama in the Freer Gallery of Art, carries an old attribution to the tenth century figure master Zhou Wenju (Fig. 1).[i] Another, the  “Beautiful Woman in Her Boudoir” in the Sackler Museum at Harvard, bears an inscription purporting to have been written in 1643 by a painter named Wu Zhuo, claiming it to be his portrait of "Mme. Hedong," i.e. the famous woman poet Liu Rushi or Liu Yin (1618-1664) (Fig. 2). The inscription has clearly been added, probably when the work was cut down in size, to give respectability to what is really an anonymous and generic meiren or beautiful woman picture, painted long after 1643.[ii] These two and a third painting, a representation of the bodhisattva Guanyin and the boy Sudhana in the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Fig. 3),[iii] agree in so many fine points of imagery and style--the faces, the drapery drawing, the meticulous portrayal of gold ornaments, textile patterns, spotted bamboo (the chair in the "Western Wing" picture, the fan frame in the "Mme. Hedong")--that they might be seen as works of a single studio, if not of a single hand.


Fig, 2, Anonymous, third quarter eighteenth century. “Beautiful Woman in Her Boudoir.” (Falsely called "Portrait of Mme. Hedong," i.e. Liu Rushi or Liu Yin; interpolated inscription with signature of Wu Zhuo and date 1643.) Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 118.4 x 62.2 cm. Courtesy of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Oriental Objects Fund, 1968.40.


Fig. 3. Anonymous, third quarter eighteenth century. "Guanyin on a Lotus Leaf." Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 106 x 61 cm.  Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. John Roberts, Jr. (77.315).


The other two works are close in style to these, although not enough so to suggest that they are products of the same studio or hand. Both, as it happens, are wrongly ascribed to the figure painter Leng Mei (ca. 1670-1742 or later), whose reliable oeuvre is distinctive and consistent enough to permit the exclusion from it of non-conforming works. (Because of Leng's fame and popularity, such works are many—his name, like Qiu Ying's in earlier periods, becomes more a designation of type than of real authorship.) One, a large family-occasion picture probably intended for New Year's hanging, bears a "Leng Mei" signature, but like Yonezawa Yoshiho, who first published the painting,[iv] I would take this to be an interpolation and see the work as anonymous (Fig. 4). The other is an eight-leaf album of erotic scenes bearing seals purporting to be those of Leng Mei; here, too, the style is different from Leng's, and, I will argue, later (Fig. 5).[v]


Fig. 4. Anonymous, third quarter eighteenth century (interpolated signature of Leng Mei.) "A Family Celebrating New Year's." Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 159.8 x 110,5 cm. London Gallery, Tokyo (formerly Yoshiro Murakami collection, Tokyo.) (From: Kokka, no. 776, 1956.)


Fig. 5. Anon., third quarter eighteenth century (false seals of Leng Mei). “Gardener Boy and Maid.” Leaf from an album of eight leaves, ink and colors on silk, 29.2 x 28.3 cm. Private collection (formerly Paul Moss, London.)


A number of other paintings known to me only from reproductions and photographs can provisionally be added to these, on the basis of their style; I will mention only two. A second version of the "Madame Hedong" picture, valuable for revealing the complete composition (the other has been cut down in size), was published in an old journal (Fig. 6);[vi] this one, too, is misrepresented as a portrait of a famous woman, this time a "self-portrait" of Ma Shouzhen (active 1592-1628). The other painting (Fig. 7), now to be seen only in an old photograph, represents a woman in a bordello or a courtesan's chambers being presented to a guest (the viewer) by a maid; it bears an interpolated inscription signed "Tang Yin" but is far later than the time of that great Ming master (1470-1523).[vii]


Fig. 6. Anonymous, third quarter eighteenth century. “Beautiful Woman in Her Boudoir.” Complete version of same composition as Fig. 2; inscription falsely claiming it to be a self-portrait of Ma Shouzhen (1548-1604).  From Ostasiatische Zeitschrift vol.1, 1912, p. 58.


Fig. 7. Anonymous, third quarter eighteenth century. (False inscription and signature of Tang Yin). “Woman in a Brothel Presented to a Guest.” Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 167 x 62.5 cm. Formerly E. A. Strehlneek, Shanghai.


These false indicators should not be misunderstood to mean that the paintings were done as forgeries; they were turned into that by later dealers and other owners who wanted to elevate their respectability and market value. Nor does their anonymity make them inferior to "genuine" name-artist works; on the contrary, they reach levels of refinement and nuances of expression quite beyond the attainment of Leng Mei in any but a few of his paintings. Their high quality and importance in late Chinese figure painting is in fact good reason for trying to give them a provisional art-historical placement, in the hope that some works in the same style with reliable signatures or seals may eventually turn up that will confirm or alter it, and bestow on the artists the credit they deserve.

I will state here at the outset my tentative conclusions about these paintings, and then will offer the evidence and arguments that support those conclusions. First, that they were executed some time around the third quarter of the eighteenth century, the 1750s-70s. Second, that they were done by artists working in the Beijing area. Third, that they can best be understood within the development of a northern school of figure painting that had its inception in the late Kangxi and Yongzheng eras, i.e. the early decades of the eighteenth century. Fourth, that they belong within the "outside" wing of a rich interaction of artists and styles inside and outside the imperial court Academy. And fifth, that they (and other pictures of this kind) were done for a clientele made up in some part, although certainly not exclusively, of princely households. My plan is to proceed on an inward spiral, so to speak, moving around this group of works, referring to them only glancingly without discussing them in detail (as is done in my book), introducing relevant information and related paintings in the hope that doing so will bring us closer to understanding the circumstances of their production, even though we never reach a center, in the sense of a firm and detailed art-historical placement of them, a goal that seems at present beyond attainment.

A Northern School of Figure Painting

Evidence for the rise and development of a northern school of figure painting in the eighteenth century, flourishing chiefly in the Beijing region, outside the imperial court Academy but interacting closely with it, is presented in my in-press book Pictures for Use and Pleasure: Urban Studio Artists in High Qing China.[viii] The leading northern figure master of late Ming, born in Shandong and active in Beijing, was Cui Cizhong (d. 1644). Some features of his bizarre, archaistic style, with its attenuated figures and Western-derived shading, must have been carried on in early works by the Shandong-based masters Jiao Bingzhen (act. 1680-1726) and his pupil Leng Mei (ca. 1670-1742 or later), and brought with them when they entered the imperial Academy in the late Kangxi era.[ix] The relaxation of this style into a more naturalistic mode, in some part through contacts with artists from the Jiangnan (Yangtze Delta) cities, many of whom had come north in search of patronage or to be employed in the court Academy, might be seen as the starting point for our northern school development. We can see it exemplified, I believe, in a painting by Jiao Bingzhen that has recently come to light, his "Lady Arranging Blossoming Plum Branches in a Bronze Pot" (Fig. 8). The signature on it, written small and neat, reads Jiao Bingzhen gong hui (Respectfully Painted by Jiao Bingzhen); I would tentatively suggest that this formula, similar to the one used on imperially-commissioned paintings but lacking the word chen, "your subject," that accompanies signatures on works done for the emperor, indicates a non-imperial high-level patron, perhaps a prince. In any case, the differences between the woman seen here and those in Jiao's works for the court are striking: where the women in his court paintings are unnaturally elongated, with stiffer bodies and simple oval faces,[x] the woman in the hanging scroll sits in a relaxed posture, her articulated body revealed by her clothing, her face drawn more naturalistically and imparting some sense of inner life. Differences of this kind will be seen to typify the diverging stylistic and expressive directions of the two closely related but separable spheres of painting production, the court Academy and our hypothetical northern school outside it.


Fig. 8. Jiao Bingzhen (act. 1688-1720),  “Woman Arranging Flowers in a Bronze Pot.” Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 154.5 x 97.5 cm. Collection unknown. From: Christie’s Hong Kong auction cat., Fine Classical Paintings and Calligraphy, April 25, 2004, lot no. 430.

 An important northern figure painter who has received little attention is Cui Hui (act. ca. 1720s-1740s or later). He was from Liaoyang in present-day Liaoning Province, but was active in Beijing--one of his works is signed "Beiping Cui Hui."[xi] He was probably from a bannerman family; his surname and the term given as his birthplace, Sanhan, suggest that he may have been of Korean ancestry, but the evidence is inconclusive. Several of his paintings are in the Palace Museum, Beijing (one of them, an album of bird-and-flower paintings, dated 1721) and the Tianjin Municipal Museum. There is no record of his having worked within the court, although he is said to have studied painting under Jiao Bingzhen; he must have known Leng Mei. From Cui's hand are two of the most original and moving images of women we have from late-period China: an imaginary portrait of the twelfth-century poet Li Qingzhao (1084-ca. 1151) in her study,[xii] and a painting of a woman in a garden pavilion in autumn, awaiting the return of her husband from a frontier garrison, based on a Li Qingzhao poem (Fig. 9). The affinities in the figure style and the figure-and-setting relationship with such a painting as Jiao Bingzhen's  (Fig. 8) are clear: the natural pose of the figure, the overtones of human emotion, the use of surrounding space to allow reverberations of feeling.  Even closer in many respects is the album bearing (misleading) Leng Mei seals (Fig. 5)—so close as to suggest an attribution of that album to a follower of Cui Hui, or conceivably to Cui himself. These connections, and the high quality of his work, establish the importance of Cui Hui as an identifiable master within the development we are tracing.


Fig. 9. Cui Hui (act. ca. 1720s-1740s or later), "Lady in Garden Pavilion." Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 143 x 79 cm. Palace Museum, Beijing.


Types of Patronage

The situation of academic-style painting in Beijing in the Yongzheng-Qianlong eras seems to have been like that in Hangzhou in the Southern Song period, when artists trained in that tradition worked both inside and outside the court, and considerable interaction occurred between the two spheres. Outside the Academy, we can conjecture (with a few clues), support and commissions for artists came from wealthy and powerful patrons of several categories, beginning with the Manchu nobility. Many imperial princes, sons and grandsons of the emperor, lived within the Forbidden City, and many others, mostly those of the emperor’s generation and older, lived in lavish style with their large households in imperial villas northwest of Beijing, and in the imperial gardens, the Changchun Yuan and Yuanming Yuan.[xiii] These, along with well-to-do and powerful Manchu officials and Qing bannermen families living in the Beijing area, must have made up a rich community of consumers for this growing output of technically finished, relatively naturalistic painting, which suited their aristocratic tastes, and which was too time-consuming and technically demanding to be within the reach of all but the most well-off commoners.

Howard Rogers writes about, and cites evidence for, "a rise in private patronage among Manchu nobility and high officials" as a "major development of the later Kangxi era."[xiv] Prosperous Han-Chinese officials, and presumably merchants as well, must be added to the mix of those with enough wealth and status to collect paintings and support artists. We can begin to note, with suitable caution—the evidence is still scanty—what appears to be a pattern in the kinds of paintings they preferred. The Han-Chinese officials seem to have been the main support for artists from the south, such as Luo Ping from Yangzhou, who worked in some version of the literati or "amateur" styles even while they were in fact making their livings through their painting.[xv] These officials were also the principal patrons for the portraitist Yü Zhiding (1647-1710 or after), another from Yangzhou. Members of the Manchu nobility, perhaps in part because they grew up seeing pictures in the "academic" manner in the court and princely environment, seem to have preferred paintings in that manner, whether by Academy masters who produced some work outside the court, by independent Beijing-area masters such as those who made up our Northern school, or by painters from other places who followed the "academic," Song-derived styles. Examples of the last include Wang Yün (1652-ca. 1735) from Yangzhou, who spent seventeen years in the capital and was a favorite of Prince Kang,[xvi] and Yuan Jiang, another Yangzhou master who specialized in landscapes with palaces and villas in Song-derived styles. One of Yuan's extant paintings bears a seal of Prince Yi (1686-1730), thirteenth son of Kangxi and half-brother of Yongzheng, a seal he used from his enfoeffment in 1723 until his death in 1730.[xvii] The problem of Yuan Jiang's activity in the north will be considered in the section that follows.

This possible correlation between styles and patronage is put forth only as an hypothesis to be tested and refined. It obviously cannot hold true for the Jiangnan cities, where the "academic" styles were popular among urban, not aristocratic, audiences. And the Qing emperors did, to be sure, sponsor literati-style paintings also, especially landscapes, mostly done by painters who also held official rank in their courts, But the mind-numbing repetitiveness of most of those, their relatively strict adherence to established Orthodox-school style, suggests that they served more as emblems of status and legitimacy than as pictures to be enjoyed.

The Problem of Yuan Jiang At Court

A Chinese source written around 1735, shortly after Yuan Jiang's period of traceable activity ends (his last known dated painting is from 1730), states that he served in the court as a zhihou (painter in attendance) during the Yongzheng era (1723-35). Another, published around 1790, adds that his service was in the Outer Yangxin Palace Hall, an "outer branch" of the painting academy set up by Yongzheng in 1731 in the Yuan Ming Yuan, the great imperial garden just outside the city wall to the west, where he was to spend much of his time.[xviii] Yongzheng had already installed a second zaoban chu, the office directing the imperial workshops, in the Yuan Ming Yuan in 1723, the first year of his reign.[xix] That Yuan Jiang was in Beijing in the 1720s-30s seems beyond question; the painting mentioned above with a seal of Prince Yi used in the period 1723-30, and an extant work dated 1724 and done, according to the artist's inscription, "in Yantai" (an old name for Beijing), are evidence for  that.[xx] The problem has to do with his reported service as an academy painter in Yongzheng's Outer Yangxin Palace, and arises from the fact that no Yuan Jiang paintings can be found recorded in the Qianlong imperial catalog, Shiqu Baoji, nor do any of his extant signed works bear imperial seals or the chen signature, which would indicate a painting done for the emperor. A number of writers on Yuan Jiang, including myself in an early article,[xxi] have proposed solutions to this problem. I suggested that Yuan had been put to work doing decorative kinds of painting for which artists were not individually credited. Others, including Nie Chongzheng, retired curator at the Palace Museum in Beijing who is a specialist on Qing court painting and has made good use of his special access to Qing court records, have argued that Yuan Jiang probably never served at court at all, and that has been the most widely accepted theory.

The truth of the matter, I believe, is that we have all missed a crucial circumstance, "the elephant in the room." It is true enough that no signed painting by Yuan Jiang is known from his presumed service in Yongzheng's "outer branch" of the Academy in the Yuan Ming Yuan. But the same is equally true of nearly all the other artists who worked there: no signed work by them is known. With surprisingly few exceptions—some paintings by the Italian Jesuit artist Lang Shining (1688-1766), landscapes by Tang-dai (1673-after 1752), several paintings by Chen Mei (d. 1745) done alone or with other artists, four or five auspicious pictures, perhaps a few others unknown to me[xxii]—the entire output of Yongzheng's court painters appears to have been absorbed into the project of producing, anonymously and collaboratively, a huge body of paintings in hanging-scroll, handscroll, and album form, many or most of them including images of Yongzheng himself. The recent publication of two large selections from these permits us to assess this great expanse of nameless work in "homogenized" styles. It is like some massive Cultural Revolution project in which teams of artists worked selflessly in turning out a series of elaborate and detailed pictures, most of them with Chairman Mao in the center. To observe that most of these paintings were probably intended for decorating the palaces and other buildings erected during the great expansion of the Yuanming Yuan carried out under Yongzheng's reign, and to furnish them with pictures for the emperor's enjoyment, helps to account for their character but not to excuse it: great paintings had been made throughout the previous centuries for the decoration of palaces, many of them the acknowledged work of individual masters.

Yuan Jiang was probably, I believe, one of such a team of artists engaged in the Yongzheng project; many of the paintings are imposing architectural compositions with palace buildings and figures, exactly the genre in which Yuan excelled.[xxiii] It is true that we cannot easily distinguish his individual hand among these, but neither can we detect in them the recognizable hands of any other court artists.[xxiv] All those who took part in this undertaking were willing, or forced, to submerge their artistic personalities—insofar as these had survived into the Academy at all--to the will of a ruler who wanted, apparently, pictures with images of himself prominent in them, along with his ministers and servants, consorts and concubines—pictures not cluttered with artists' signatures or inscriptions--and who cared nothing for style. A recent writer, on the basis of Yongzheng's support for the imperial workshops and his love of antiques, has called him "the first true art lover among the Manchu rulers," but that judgment needs some qualification.[xxv]

Who were the artists of Yongzheng's court Academy? Howard Rogers identifies three who entered it at the beginning of the era, and names others who probably served in the "outer branch" of the Academy in the Yuan Ming Yuan.[xxvi] A chronological charting of Qing court painting, compiled by the Palace Museum staff from court records, lists four artists who were assigned in 1723 to study with Lang Shining, and eleven others who entered the Academy in 1726.[xxvii] Yuan Jiang's name does not appear on either list, but these are surely not complete: they do not include, for instance, Zhang Zhen, a Yangzhou master who probably had entered court service in the late Kangxi or early Yongzheng era, and his son Zhang Weibang, both of whom must have served under Yongzheng.[xxviii] Zhang Weibang is one of four artists named in a record of 1736 as holding an appointment in the Yuan Ming Yuan at the beginning of the Qianglong era, when artists were again able to assume more distinct personalities and sign their works.[xxix] We know the names of quite a few who served in the Yongzheng Academy, that is, but by no means all of them.

Major figure masters who had been active there earlier, on the other hand, seem to have avoided service under Yongzheng. Jiao Bingzhen painted an album of scenes of palace ladies during this period, and signed it xiaochen Jiao Bingzhen gonghua ("Respectfully painted by your lesser subject. . ."); but inscriptions on facing leaves are written by Prince Bao, who would become the Qianlong Emperor, and Jiao may have been staying with him, the two producing this album together for presentation to the emperor. Jiao's name does not appear again in court records or on paintings. Leng Mei may also have been a "painter guest" in Prince Bao's household, as suggested by Nie Chongzheng; in 1735 he painted an album that bears a seal used by Prince Bao before his succession.[xxx] Chen Mei, as noted above, entered the Academy in 1726 and painted a birthday picture for Yongzheng in that year, and in 1728 began work on the Qingming Shanghe Tu, the collaborative handscroll that would be presented to the new Qianlong emperor in 1736.[xxxi] But some time around 1728 he was "granted a leave of absence from the court so that he could return home to marry." His works done outside the court, which like those of Leng Mei can be identified by the way they are signed, date between 1728 and 1735. On the accession of Qianlong Chen Mei was back in court, and produced many paintings in the years after that, until his retirement to Hangzhou and his death in 1745.

Whatever the reason, all of Chen Mei's out-of-court paintings are landscapes, some with figures and animals, in a distinctive semi-westernized style. No such pictures, on the other hand, are to be seen among those he made as an Academy artist, judging at least from extant and published works. We may speculate that the kind of informal and atmospheric naturalism of these paintings, with their strong effects of sunlight and shade, unpatterned tangles of tree limbs and foliage, and convincing recessions of earthy ground surfaces, was as unwelcome in court circles as were the more relaxed and humanized kinds of figure painting. That hypothesis is supported by comparison of two Chen Mei paintings with identical compositions, one dated 1730, the other 1735; the latter bears two collector's seals of Prince Bao, and suggests that Chen Mei, as another of the future Qianlong Emperor's "painting guests" at the end of the Yongzheng era, redid his earlier picture for his host. The earlier version has all the striking depths and nuances, achieved with highly unorthodox brushwork and strongly contrasting ink values, that distinguish Chen Mei's out-of-Academy works. In the later one these qualities are mostly gone, replaced by a drier, flatter mode of execution and forms closer to those of the Orthodox mode.[xxxii]

Leng Mei's Period Outside the Academy

Since Leng Mei's absence from the court during the Yongzheng years may be relevant to the development of our northern school, the circumstances behind it are worth recounting here. They have been reconstructed, tentatively but convincingly, by Yang Boda and Nie Chongzheng.[xxxiii]

Leng had come into the Academy about 1690, and between then and 1723 had produced a number of dated or datable paintings and taken part in collaborative projects such as the huge pair of handscrolls, titled Wanshou Tu,  "Myriad Blessings" pictures, prepared for the Kangxi emperor's sixtieth birthday between 1713 and 1717.[xxxiv] Some time late in the Kangxi era he painted an album of didactic Confucian subjects titled Yangzheng Tu (Preservation of Righteousness PIctures), probably for the instruction of one of Kangxi's sons who was favored to succeed to the throne.[xxxv] But another son, Yinzhen, seized the throne by force upon Kangxi's death and declared himself the Yongzheng emperor, imprisoning or executing the rival imperial princes and purging the court of their supporters.[xxxvi] Leng Mei, through his association with one of the other princes, may have been one of those banished. Additional factors that can be suggested for his leaving court service, supposing it was in some part voluntary, may have been the supplanting of his and his teacher’s figure style in imperial favor by that of artists from Yangzhou, and the prospect of having to take part in the huge anonymous and collective project that, as described above, seems to have dominated court painting during the Yongzheng reign.

Whatever the cause, there is no record that Leng Mei did any work at court during the thirteen years of the Yongzheng era, nor, in any painting dated to those years, does his signature include the word chen, which would indicate that it was a court production. Moreover, the paintings on which Leng Mei himself wrote dates are all from these years outside the Academy.  As noted earlier, he may have been, late in that period, a "painter guest" of Hongli or Prince Bao, who succeeded to the throne as the Qianlong emperor on Yongzheng's death in 1735.[xxxvii] Leng Mei was reinstated at court in that year, and began again to produce signed works for the court—no less than eight in 1736 alone, when Qianlong issued the highly unusual order to "give Leng Mei eight pieces of painting silk, and have him paint them as he wishes."[xxxviii] He served with high honors until he retired from the Academy in 1742. How much longer he lived is not known.

The question of Leng Mei's activity as a painter during the "missing years" is of particular concern here, since some of his works that can be provisionally assigned to those years, done presumably for patrons outside the imperial court, fall into the genres that appear to have been specialties of the "northern school" artists: meiren or "beautiful woman" pictures, “occasional” works to be hung for New Year and other family gatherings, birthday presentation pictures. The abundance of his output during this period, judging from the number that have survived and the shallow and sentimental character of many of them, lead to the assumption that he employed studio assistants in this kind of product. The signature that appears on most works of this period is Jinmen Huashi Leng Mei, ("Painting Master [i.e., professional painter] from the Golden Gate [the imperial court], Leng Mei”). The Jinmen, which he uses also in his seals, asserts with pride his status as a former court painter; he presumably would not have used it while serving in the court Academy.

There are also some high-quality paintings that bear no signatures, but only Leng Mei seals--the British Museum Woman Resting from Reading is one of them[xxxix]--works that do not match in style those with reliable signatures, and should perhaps be ascribed to studio followers. Their existence encourages the hypothesis that Leng Mei, during his years away from court, may have set up a studio to fill the demand for these kinds of functional works. Painting studios in China were commonly family studios, in which relatives were employed to color or otherwise complete compositions sketched out by the master, or to fulfill less important commissions.[xl] In the year immediately following his return to the court, 1736, Leng Mei asked and obtained permission from the Qianlong emperor to employ his son Leng Jian to help him; a second son, Leng Quan, appears to have worked in the capital but was never employed in the court.[xli] It is possible that these two, and perhaps others such as Leng Mei's student Yao Wen-han. who also served in the Qianlong Academy, had been apprentices or assistants to Leng Mei during his years away from court, and that the Leng Mei studio, once established, continued after his return to the Academy, and probably beyond his lifetime, to produce high-quality figure compositions, relying on the prestige of Leng's name and his association with the Imperial Academy but also on the technical excellence of their creations.

Academic-Style Painting in Early and Middle Qing

The foregoing sections have laid out a background for paintings of the kind represented by our group, identifying some of the circumstances attending the development of a "northern school" of figure painting in the Beijing region within which it can be located. They also, I hope, have opened the way for using the term "academic" in a sense free of negative connotations. About academic-style painting as it concerns us, several     things can be said. Its ultimate basis is in the styles of the Southern Song imperial Academy and their extension into the production of painting outside it, along with the continuation of both in some painting of the Ming. Throughout the later centuries it was for the most part critically depreciated; by the end of Ming, good artists could scarcely practice it without some admixture of archaism or other ingredient that tempered its effect, for this period, of being flavorless and outworn. But demand for paintings in the academic styles, pictures to be hung and used by individuals and households somewhat apart from the prestigious works that made up serious collections, did not lessen; the growing prosperity and expanding market of this time saw to that. (These are the kinds of paintings that my Pictures for Use and Pleasure book is about.)

The willingness of many early Qing painters who did pictures of this kind to adopt, and turn to their new and special purposes, elements of Western style from pictorial materials that had become accessible to them was a major factor in a new flourishing of these academic styles among what I call "urban studio artists," those openly professional masters who worked, largely in response to commissions and demand, both in the great Jiangnan cities and in the Beijing region in the north. It is the Jiangnan city masters, artists from Suzhou and Yangzhou but also Jiading, Nanjing, Changshu, Wuxi, Zhenjiang, and others, who mostly staffed the imperial Academy in the early decades of Qing. As Yang Boda points out, court artists working under the Kangxi and Yongzheng emperors were called “southern craftsmen” (nanjiang); it was only under the Qianlong emperor that this designation was changed to “painters” (huahuaren).[xlii] The styles the Jiangnan artists brought with them were already affected by Western borrowings; these were reinforced by interaction with northern masters such as Jiao Bingzhen and Leng Mei, and later with Jesuit painters employed in the court, especially Lang Shining. The kinds of selfless collaborations to be discussed in the following section, which appear to have been aimed at erasing individuality of style and personal handwriting in the pursuit of impersonal, "styleless" but strikingly true-to-life images, might in fact be regarded as a Chinese attempt, conscious or not, to approximate the condition of European paintings as they saw them. Consistent with that hypothesis is the prominence of Lang Shining as leading master in many of these collaborations (his name is usually—always?--first in a list of participants), the praise and high honors accorded him by the emperors, and his role as teacher to other Academy artists.

This brief account of the practice of academic-style painting in the early and middle Qing points up a serious imbalance in our studies. Painting of the Manchu imperial Academy, as one manifestation of it, has received a great deal of scholarly attention, partly because the paintings are easily accessible and its history well documented, partly because of the allure of "Forbidden City," second only, perhaps, to "Silk Road" in popular visions of East Asian art. The practice of this kind of painting in the great Jiangnan cities, by contrast, scarcely figures in either Chinese or foreign accounts; and the growth of what I want to call a "northern school" of figure painting in the Yongzheng-Qianlong period, related to and affected by both the former two, has not been recognized at all.

Collaborative Work in the Qing Academy

Collaborative work, in which several or many artists work together on a single painting, sometimes with each contributing some special skill to the joint task, become frequent in the Qing court from the late Kangxi period on. The earliest large-scale Qing example is the production of the Kangxi Nanxun Tu, a set of twelve long scrolls documenting the emperor's second Southern Inspection Tour made in 1689; the project was directed by Wang Hui (1632-1717) and carried out by a number of artists under him over the period 1691-98.[xliii] Other collaborations, already mentioned, include the 1713-16 Wanshou Tu commemorating Kangxi's sixtieth birthday, the large-scale collaborative project carried out by nameless Academy masters under Yongzheng, and the well-known updated version of the Qingming Shanghe Tu done by Chen Mei and three others, begun in 1728 and finished in 1736. Quite a few others could be added.

By the beginning of the Qianlong era, then, the collaborative production of academic-style paintings was a well-established practice.  The project of recording Qianlong's first southern tour (1751) in twelve scrolls, following the precedent set by Kangxi's series, was accomplished this time by a court Academy master named Xu Yang during the period 1764-70. Xu Yang signs the last scroll as though he were the single painter of all of them; Maxwell Hearn, in his study of these scrolls, concludes that the absence of collaborators' names "At the very least . . suggests that Xu had fewer helpers available to him than were available to Wang Hui and that their roles were comparatively unimportant." He adds that "Efforts to curtail the amount of detail in the scrolls, notably by devoting long sections to the depiction of water," also suggest "a shortage of manpower and increase the likelihood that Xu did the majority of the work himself."[xliv] These are good observations; one may nonetheless suspect, viewing the many hundreds of figures and long stretches of street scenes, the sheer square footage covered with finely detailed painting of high technical finish, that Xu Yang (who was also the single credited maker of another complete set of the scrolls executed on paper) enlisted assistants to do some of the routine filling-in of scenes he had sketched out. Team projects of this kind testify to the availability in the city of minor artists trained in the academic styles who could be called upon when needed. We will encounter a few of them below.

A collaborative work that has some stylistic affinities with our group is an album of twenty scenes of porcelain manufacture, done around 1743 by Ding Guanpeng (entered Academy 1726; d. 1770) and two other artists of the Qianlong court; it was sold at auction in 1996 and is presently whereabouts unknown.[xlv] A leaf depicting the glazing of pots will serve to exemplify the style: clearly defined and interrelated spaces within which the figures are set; objects such as the vats of glaze and the well shaded for three-dimensional effect; washes of pale color for a sense of atmosphere (Fig. 10). Ding Guanpeng, who was from Beijing, served as the top-ranking master in a number of collaborative projects of this kind; he was one of six top-grade artists of the Qianlong Academy, and under Yongzheng had received the highest salary of any.[xlvi] His success is an indication of the esteem that a northern master working only in the academic manner could win by this time.

Fig. 10. Ding Guanpeng (entered Academy 1726; d. 1770) and two other artists, "Illustrations of Porcelain Manufacture." Leaf from an album of twenty leaves, ink and colors on silk, 29 x 25 cm. Collection unknown. From: Christie's Hong Kong auction catalog, 28 April 1996, The Imperial Sale, lot no. 65.

This, the Xu Yang "Southern Tour" scrolls, and other collaborative paintings done in the Qianlong Academy represent another stylistic coalescing, like the one seen in the Yongzheng court paintings, into a more or less homogeneous, highly polished mode of depiction. Although some joint works by nameless collaborators continue to be made in the Qianlong period, following the Yongzheng model, the Qianlong court collaborations are more often signed, with the artists all named; they can exhibit subtle differences in style. But on the whole they fit comfortably into Hearn's characterization of the style of the Xu Yang scrolls, which, he writes, "may be summarized as meticulous in detail, eclectic in its sources, but homogeneous in appearance, with idiosyncracies of personality subordinated to a universal Academy manner."[xlvii] Included in its eclecticism, as noted earlier, was a strong admixture of foreign style, learned from European paintings and prints to be seen in China, but also from Jesuit artists working in the court, especially Lang Shining. By this time it had been so thoroughly absorbed into the homogeneous Academy manner as to have lost its exoticism and become a well-established way of enhancing the illusionism, the "true-to-life" quality, of the paintings.

Quite apart from the obvious reasons for employing multiple artists on a single work—combining skills, faster production, larger and more elaborate compositions incorporating more visual information--collaboration permitted a further degree of what was already a deliberate erasure of individual style and handwriting. We now are inclined, with good reason, to regard this impersonal character negatively, as robbing the paintings of feeling and aesthetic interest, but for the emperors it had positive value. What Qianlong, like Yongzheng, mostly expected from his court painters was optically "true" images, not manifestations of personal style; if he felt inclined to enjoy the latter, he could turn to the works of individual famous masters in his unparalleled collection, or (in principle if scarcely in practice) to paintings by "literati" artists serving as officials in his court. The paintings of his Academy artists recorded visual experiences convincingly enough to function like photographs in preserving and evoking memories of those experiences—his travels, his hunts, court ceremonies (all selectively re-imagined, to be sure), his pets and his consorts—or recalled his viewings of old paintings such as the Qingming scroll by doing a copy or imitation of it. They might also stimulate imaginings of ideal experiences he might have. We will return later to this last function.

Excursus on Words

The above references to "academic" styles and "optically 'true'" images raise the continuing problem of our usage of characterizing terms of this kind. It emerged in several contexts during the "Bridges to Heaven" symposium, perhaps most strongly at the end in response to Richard Barnhart's paper on "The Song Experiment with Mimesis." Apart from the familiar dangers of applying foreign terms, with their unavoidable baggage of foreign concepts, to Chinese styles and art-historical episodes, the legitimacy of calling one style or image more "mimetic" than another (or more naturalistic, realistic, true-to-life—which term fits best is a separate problem not addressed here) is today frequently questioned, on the curious grounds that elements of convention can be identified in the achievement of any effect of verisimilitude; the artist is not simply "portraying what he sees." The former problem had come up long ago at another Princeton symposium, the "Artists and Traditions" of 1969, when a colleague in European classical art criticized our use of the term "archaism," pointing out that we applied it (for instance, in writing about early Yuan landscapists' revival of pre-Song styles) to somewhat different situations than they did. My response then, and my belief now, is that if we were to allow ourselves to be dissuaded from employing an English-language term in our writings because it did not correspond neatly with its usage in Western art-historical studies, we would be left without a working vocabulary, Our only sensible course was and is to define our particular usage as best we can and go on using the term. (My own contribution to that project, on that occasion, was an attempt to define "orthodoxy" in Chinese landscape painting as fully and exactly as I could.)[xlviii] At the more recent symposium we were told—unsurprising news--that mimesis in Song painting as Barnhart used the term (and everyone present knew what he meant by it, whether or not they agreed with his use of it) was different from what is called mimesis in the European painting tradition. We also learned, from Maggie Bickford's original and perceptive paper, that the quality of "lifelikeness" in some bird-and-flower painting of the Huizong Academy and earlier was achieved by unsuspected means. The eye is fooled; but so is it fooled, in a different direction, by some French Impressionist paintings that appear to have been executed in a quick and spontaneous manner but turn out to have been produced by careful, systematic overlays of brushstrokes. The effect in each case is no less of truth-to-life or of spontaneity. What these observations--quite legitimate and valuable in themselves-- lead to, then, is mimesis-plus, or mimesis modified, or mimesis attained by unexpected means. What none of them leads to is non-mimesis--they cannot, that is, negate or seriously dilute the strongly mimetic character of much of the best Song painting. Similarly, we could list and analyze the ways in which Song or Qing academic painting differs from, say, French 19th century academic oil painting; that would be worth doing. But the French examples no more nullify the academicism of the Chinese than the Chinese do the French: they are different varieties of academicism.

The Gengzhi Tu Album by Xu Pu

The homogeneous "universal Academy manner" for the Qianlong period, once firmly established both inside and outside the Academy as an all-purpose mode of depiction, no doubt served as the basic training for apprentices aspiring to be professional masters, and could be used as well by a single artist as by a group. A little-known academician named Xu Pu (active mid-18th cent.) used it in copying the series of Gengzhi Tu, or  "Pictures of Rice Culture and Silk Culture," painted originally in the 1690s on order of Kangxi by Jiao Bingzhen and first printed by woodblock in 1696 (Fig. 11).[xlix] Jiao Bingzhen's original paintings have not been preserved, but a number of painted copies, of which this is one, are based on the printed pictures. (That Xu Pu worked on the basis of the prints is indicated by his writing "copied and added colors" with his signature.) The figure style and the landscape settings have affinities to those in several leaves (not reprohere) of the "Leng Mei" album (cf. Fig. 5 and note 5)—in the diagonal recessions, in the shading on figures and animals, in the sense of atmosphere and distance achieved by washes of pale blue and green. (The last two features pertain to Xu Pu's style, not Jiao Bingzhen's, since Xu knew Jiao's pictures only by way of the linear woodblock prints.


Fig. 11. Xu Pu (active mid-18th cent.), "Plowing," from Gengzhi Tu ("Pictures of Rice Culture and Silk Culture"), album of forty-two leaves, ink and colors on silk, 22.2 x 23.8 cm. National Historical Museum, Beijing. From: China, Treasures and Splendors, exhib. cat., Montreal, Palais de la Civilizations, 1986, no. 130.


The information on Xu Pu in the standard dictionary of artists records a collaborative project he carried out with three other minor painters in 1751, a Zhigong Tu, "Tribute Bearers," which probably consisted of preliminary research and sketches for the handscroll series of that title, a kind of illustrated ethnological study showing pairs of figures from many countries and cultures accompanied by long informational texts, painted in the Academy by Ding Guanpeng and three other artists from 1761.[l] Two of the artists who worked with Xu Pu were graduates of the Guozi Jian, the Imperial College set up in the capital, which brought them little prestige or access to official positions;[li] they may have contributed more to the documentary than to the pictorial side of the project.  No painting by any of them is known to me; we can include them among the numerous minor artists working in the academic style in the capital, for various kinds and levels of patronage.

Xu Pu's Gengzhi Tu album, undistinguished in other respects, takes on some importance for our investigation when we observe the pattern of signature and seals on it. He signs, in small, neat characters on the last leaf: Neifu Jiao Bingzhen ben, chen Xu Pu gongmu shi'se ("Your subject Xu Pu has respectfully copied Jiao Bingzhen's original in the Palace, and added colors.") The presence of the character chen ordinarily indicates that it was made for the emperor, and Qianlong imperial seals appear on several of the leaves, including the Shiqu Baoji seal which normally would point to the inclusion of the work in the imperial catalog of that name. But it appears not to be recorded there. A collection seal on the mounting of the first leaf reads ceng cun Ding-fu You Heng Tang, indicating that it was owned at some time by Prince Ding. This must be Mien-en (d. 1822), grandson of Qianlong, who inherited the title on the death of his father in 1750 and was deprived of it for wrongdoing in 1776.[lii] The album, then, might have been painted by Xu Pu for this prince, perhaps as a painter-in-residence, and then presented to the emperor. Alternatively, it was painted for the emperor while Xu was an Academy artist and presented to Prince Ding. The absence of any seals of later emperors supports the latter account, as does the chen signature--although the possibility should be left open that painters might have sometimes used this signature on works done for imperial princes.[liii] In either case, the album provides another example of the interchange between court and princely households--the environment, I am arguing, for much of the painting under consideration here.  

Idealizing Images of the Emperors and Imagined Consorts

Among the kinds of painting done in the Academy that portrayed the emperor in some ideal situation, or depicted scenes and spaces into which he could imagine entering, some have distinct erotic implications. He might be assigned a role in the Han-Chinese narrative of the scholar-beauty romance, as in a pair of panel (?) paintings portraying Qianlong as a scholar in his study, gazing through a window at a beautiful woman putting a flower in her hair, preparing to receive him.[liv] These are unsigned, but probably a collaboration between Jin Tingbiao (entered Academy 1757, d. 1768) and Lang Shining. Others show the emperor surrounded by beautiful consorts, or gazing at them.[lv] Another type, which represents an adoption into the court of a genre popular outside it, simply presents the beautiful woman in an interior, open to the gaze of the (presumably male) viewer outside that space; this is the imperial equivalent of the popular genre of meiren hua or beautiful-woman pictures. Yongzheng's version of this type can be seen in the famous "Twelve Beauties" paintings, works of the late Kangxi period (they bear inscriptions written by Yongzheng while he was still a prince.) Originally they were panels in a pair of weiping or "surrounding screens" within which he could sit in his favorite haunt in the Yuan Ming Yuan (where they were kept), gazing at imagined Han-Chinese concubines in lavishly-appointed palace interiors (Fig. 11).[lvi] A painting of this type done for Qianlong is the "Beautiful Woman Arranging a Flower in Her Hair" by Jin Tingbiao (Fig.12).  



Fig. 12. Anonymous, ca. 1710-1720, "Beauty in Palace Interior." Panel of a twelve-fold screen, ink and colors on silk, 184 x 98 cm. Palace Museum, Beijing.



To achieve their effects—which are very different from the refined aesthetic experiences literati paintings were meant to arouse—paintings of this kind needed to be as if transparent, free of impediments to "seeing through" the surface to the scene or occupied space beyond. Song paintings had aimed at similar effects; the difference is that the Qing-period academic-style pictures more often make inconspicuous use of perspective and other devices to locate the viewer in a way Song  paintings did not, firming his implied relationship with the scene or object viewed. Prominent brushstrokes marred this effect by holding one's attention at the surface, as did inscriptions and seals, which are usually confined in such pictures, if present at all, to marginal areas of the composition. (It is significant in this regard that the inscriptions in the Twelve Beauties paintings are written as though on surfaces within the picture, not on the painting surface.) In the large hanging-scroll pictures of this kind that are meant to function visually like doorways or windows that draw the viewer's gaze, and sometimes in imagination the viewer himself, into the space beyond, even those are eliminated; if the artist signs, it is in tiny, all-but-invisible characters in hidden places. (Hidden signatures on academic-style Song paintings are to be understood the same way—they do not hamper the pictorial effect.) These pictures were virtually always painted on silk, a more "transparent" surface in that it allowed finer detail and more even shading, and discouraged rough-brush and other eye-catching distractions.

Jin Tingbiao's meiren picture bears a "hidden" signature in lower left, using the chen character that identifies the emperor himself as the intended recipient. Its affinities with the paintings of our group, especially the Freer "Western Wing" picture (Fig. 1), are immediately apparent: the stage-like foreground within which the large figures are set as principal subjects; the woman leaning on a table; the deep, step-by-step penetration created beyond (in both cases continuing into a garden); the rich furnishings and antique objects; the tokonoma alcove with a landscape painting hanging in it. (The bordello scene (Fig. 5), otherwise similar, probably featured such an opening-back before it was cut down in size.) None of the earlier examples of the type (cf. Figs 8 and 11, both probably late Kangxi in date) offers a recession so deep, so insistent, so systematically worked out. The woman in Jin's painting is placed a bit farther back, and is of course unaccompanied, except by the maid; she is putting a flower in her hair, preparing for the emperor's coming, or to go to him.

That this kind of composition, as noted above, is much more common outside than inside the Academy suggests that Jin may be deliberately creating here for his imperial patron a kind of meiren composition not truly proper to their world. The Manchu emperors' somewhat surreptitious fascination with the erotic culture of the Jiangnan cities, and their employment of Jiangnan urban masters to recreate aspects of it in their paintings for the court (Jin Tingbiao was from Wuxing in Zhejiang), is a sub-theme of one chapter in my book, where I argue also that the Yangzhou artist Zhang Zhen and his son Weibang were probably doing the same for Yongzheng in the "Twelve Beauties" paintings. The similar sizes of paintings of this kind—the "Twelve Beauties" scrolls, Jin Tingbiao's meiren, and the Freer painting are all roughly two meters in height—indicates that the scale was calculated carefully to facilitate imagined access to the foreground figures, which appear as they would if located a short distance beyond the "opening" of the picture plane. Pictures of this kind are not entirely devoid of individual traits of style—Jin Tingbiao's beauty, for instance, has a thinner face, and the drapery drawing is heavier than that in the Freer painting. But style in the sense of idiosyncratic distortions or simplifications of form, those creative acts by which images are transformed into configurations of brushstrokes, are not to be seen, and are quite irrelevant to academic-style painting. Jin Tingbiao, a versatile master, was quite capable of other styles as well, in works intended for other kinds of viewing.[lvii]

Since Jin Tingbiao's period of activity is known, the resemblance of his painting to at least one of our group supports the dating of the group about the same time, the third quarter of the eighteenth century.

The Qianlong Albums Master

Among the high-level erotic albums produced in this period, which would appear to be a high point in the development of that genre, are three by an unknown artist whom I have termed the Qianlong Albums Master. His surviving oeuvre, so far as I know, consists of these three, all clearly by the same painter, all originally made up of a mix of erotic and non-erotic leaves (the erotic leaves have been removed from two of them, or from the publications of them.) Twelve leaves from one of the albums (here designated QAM A) are now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Fig. 14); these and twelve more are known from an old reproduction album, and it is very probable that those twenty-four, since they belong to a subject type that consistently accompanied openly erotic leaves in what I call part-erotic albums, were joined originally by an approximately equal number of erotic leaves. This was a large-scale project, then, and an imperial project: an additional leaf bears seals, which appear to be genuine, of Qianlong and his successor Jiaqing (r. 1796-1820). The published album reproducing the non-erotic leaves, moreover, bears a note saying that it was formerly in the imperial palace.[lviii] The second album is presumably complete in twelve leaves, evenly divided between erotic and non-erotic (Fig. 15); here designated QAM B, it was sold at auction in 1983 and is presently whereabouts unknown.[lix] The third album, QAM C, is known only in another old reproduction book from the same Shanghai publisher, again with a note saying it came from the palace. It contains a selection of leaves, some double-size horizontal; these, too, must have been accompanied by openly erotic leaves in the original album.[lx] Both QAM A and QAM C contain leaves virtually identical in composition (in one case reversed) to leaves in QAM B; they must all, then, have originated as separate works, and cannot be parts of a single series.


Fig. 15. Anonymous, third quarter eighteenth century. ("Qianlong Albums Master), "Man Tugging Woman, Asking for Sex." Leaf from album of twelve leaves, ink and colors on silk, 36.4 x 34 cm. From: Sotheby's auction catalog, June 18, 1983, lot no. 11.

The non-erotic leaves (Fig.  14, 15), as always in the part-erotic albums, portray scenes and suggest situations leading up to, or following upon, the openly erotic encounters; they serve to contextualize those encounters and deepen their emotive resonances. What is significant for our present concern is that the Qianlong Albums Master seems to have been another who worked both inside and outside the imperial court: the separate leaf in QAM A with Qianlong and Jiaqing collectors' seals presumably establishes his insider status, while the absence of any such evidence associated with the other two indicates that they were done for other than imperial patronage, The absence of imperial seals on the leaves of QAM A themselves suggests some mode of production other than official Academy production and open display. Belonging also to this same shadowy category, presumably, are the four albums of illustrations to Jin Ping Mei, two hundred large, highly detailed pictures, some of them openly erotic, that were done, I have argued, for Kangxi by the Suzhou master Gu Jianlong (1606-1687 or after) during his period at court in the 1660s-70s. Here, too, accompanying leaves bear Qianlong's collector's seals, but no imperial seals are on the paintings.[lxi] We can imagine such albums as having been kept and enjoyed by the emperor and others separately from the more open system of imperial production, cataloguing, and storage, Further research may eventually clarify these elusive circumstances.[lxii]

It is worth noting also that the usual distinctions in style and expression between paintings done inside and outside—the court Academy productions stiffer, cooler, more elaborately finished, those outside more relaxed and somewhat looser in execution—do not apply here; no such shadings of difference can be observed among the three QAM albums, which seem midway in style between the stiffness and formality of Academy productions and the more humanized and expressive qualities that "outside" works typically display. A strong likelihood is that this painter worked within the palace environment for a clientele that included both the emperor himself and other high-level Manchu patrons, most probably princes. The three albums, along with others unknown, would then belong to a still unrecognized and unstudied interchange between a somewhat clandestine, informal production of paintings done for the Manchu emperors and a closely related production, much of it by the same artists, done for Manchu princely households by painters they supported.

The figures that occupy the domestic scenes in these albums are not portrayed as Manchu nobility; the mature men wear scholar's caps, and the women are in Han Chinese dress. Like virtually all other high-level Chinese erotic albums, these present the imagined world of a rich and powerful Han Chinese household, not unlike, except in their open practice of sex, the Jia family household in the novel Hong Lou Meng—or, earlier and closer in that respect, the household of Ximen Qing in Jin Ping Mei. Both novels were well known and enjoyed in the Manchu court. Erotic pictures made for the emperors and princes portrayed, then, not their own situations but this Han Chinese romantic-erotic ideal, the same that the Manchu emperors also enjoyed in some of the paintings by artists they had brought into the court from the Jiangnan cities. Pictures of these kinds, made outside the system of proper court Academy painting, escaped to some degree the formality that ruled there, permitting them to take on some of the more engaging qualities that "outside" pictures offered.


In recognizing this difference in expressive effect we move closer to making an informed appraisal and placing of the paintings of our group. Any clearer defining of the levels of patronage for which they were done must await further research and the uncovering of more evidence; for now we can only suggest again that it was outside, but closely related to, the imperial Academy, and most probably included princely households. And we can begin to correlate the expressive distinctions among the paintings with this inside/outside pattern.

The restrictions within which the proper Academy masters worked can be further revealed by a comparison of two closely related works, both large compositions portraying Qianlong and his consorts and sons celebrating the New Year's holiday.[lxiii] One, which must be the finished and accepted version, bears an inscription with the date 1738 and the names of the artists: Lang Shining, Chen Mei, Tangdai, and three others. The other painting, uninscribed, is very probably an earlier version by more or less the same group that was rejected (but, untypically, preserved), and the differences between them allow us to speculate on what the emperor found unacceptable in the original picture. There he is placed further off center, located within a strong perspectival recession that draws the viewer's attention away from him, and is shown looking down fondly at a squirming baby in his lap while striking a sounding stone with a mallet to amuse the child. The finished, accepted version eliminates this charming anecdotal touch, portraying Qianlong sitting stiffly upright, holding only a lingzhi fungus and looking straight out of the picture. It also reduces the perspectival pull and moves the emperor closer to center.

To turn from both these to the family New Year's picture in our group (Fig. 4) will dramatize strikingly the inside-outside difference: the "outside" picture is full of activity, of anecdotal and human-interest detail, to a degree unthinkable within the Academy.[lxiv] This is especially true of the left section, where the women of the household look after the younger children (detail, Fig. 16); they are exempted from the dignified demeanor that the father and older sons necessarily display. The young woman holding up the baby at far left, her face turned mostly away from us, is especially affecting, with her slightly parted lips, her concerned look.

The other paintings of our group exhibit, in different ways and degrees, the same qualities. In the Freer painting (Fig. 1) it is tender love, conveyed, despite the expressionless faces of the lovers, in their exchange of looks, their postures, the play of fingers and flower in their hands. The "Liu Yin" meiren painting (Fig. 2) projects an open appeal and sensuality that Jin Tingbiao's pin-up for Qianlong (Fig. 13) lacks. Even the Indianapolis Guanyin (Fig. 3) projects a quasi-secular seductiveness (which is, to be sure, an attribute of one manifestation of the bodhisattva, in which she used her sexual lures to bring about men's spiritual transformation and conversion to Buddhist faith.)[lxv] And the leaves of the "Leng Mei" album (Fig. 5), as would become clear if more of them were reproduced and discussed here, are witty and evocative, inviting narrative-like readings of the indelicate scenes they present. Similar expressive qualities can be found in the best of southern city artists' works; now, by way of earlier northern masters such as Jiao Bingzhen and Cui Hui who must have learned them from Jiangnan painters and paintings, they have been absorbed into the northern school, where they enjoy a final flowering.


Fig. 13. Jin Tingbiao (act. ca. 1757-1767), "Lady Putting Flowers in Her Hair." Hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, 222.7 x 130.7 cm. Palace Museum, Beijing.

It is significant that many of the surviving paintings of this kind are found in old foreign collections, acquired by early, "naive" collectors who had not yet learned the more refined, literati- and brushwork-oriented tastes of cultivated Chinese. If we more recent enthusiasts have failed to recognize the pleasures these paintings offer, it is because we have been indoctrinated by our readings of Chinese writings, and by observing the reactions of Chinese connoisseurs to such paintings, into believing the older kind of response to be inappropriate and low-class—a learned attitude that needs to be reconsidered.

The fast decline of court Academy painting from the late Qianlong era through the Jiaqing and beyond is painfully apparent in the less skilled drawing and repetitiveness of works produced by court artists of those later periods.[lxvi] The same decline can be assumed to have beset academic-style painting outside the court, since really capable artists would have been recruited if they had been available. No evidence known to me, moreover, indicates any healthy continuation of such painting into the 19th century. Brilliant and moving figure paintings would still be done, by such masters as Ren Xiong and Ren Bonian, but they would be in other styles. The paintings of our group stand, then, as the last significant manifestations of a long and, for its late phases, badly under-appreciated tradition.


My writings and lectures of recent years have sometimes ended with an apologia, renouncing any claim to having "proven my case," acknowledging a too-frequent use of such qualifiers as "probably" and "presumably." These studies have been made in the hope that the hypotheses and tentative formulations they offer can be put on more solid ground (or altered or contradicted) in future by further archival and other research. Meanwhile, I have been inclined to venture incautiously into areas of painting for which the visual evidence is strong, the archival or written evidence scanty, in the hope of bringing some initial order into those areas. They contain some of the most interesting of surviving Chinese paintings, and are in danger of remaining, otherwise, in limbo status for a long time. The foregoing study is another of that kind.

[i] Well discussed in Lawton, Chinese Figure Painting, no. 15, 84-7. But see also Stuart, “Two Birds with the Wings of One," 25-28; Stuart calls into question the usual identification of subject, arguing that the work may be only a generic scholar-and-beauty scene.

[ii] First published in Cahill, ed., The Restless Landscape, no. 82; it was later the subject of an article by Robert Maeda, “The Portrait of a Woman”, Archives of Asian Art, vol.  XXVII (1973-74), 46-52. The misidentifications of subject, date, and authorship are accepted in both publications.

[iii] Published in Marsha Weidner, ed., Latter Days of the Law: Images of Chinese Buddhism, 850-1850 (Lawrence, Kansas, Spencer Museum of Art and Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1994) no. 50, 162-4, with a brief, perceptive text by Gary Baura.

[iv]Yonezawa, Shin-ga Taji Tu.  

[v]For color reproductions of all eight leaves, see Moss, The Literati Mode, no. 22.

[vi] In Ostasiatische Zeitschrift vol. 1, 1912, 58.  Physical evidence that the Sackler Museum picture has been cut down and altered can be seen in a faint shadow of the expunged round window in upper right, and marks remaining from furniture cut away on both edges. I am grateful to Robert Mowry for reporting the outcome of his detailed examination of the work.

[vii] I acquired the old photo from the estate of Archibald Wenley, Director of the Freer Gallery of Art, upon his death in 1962; he must have received it from the Shanghai dealer E. A. Strehlneek, whose writing is on the back, during his early years in China. Included is the price: "Mex. $950." Both this painting and the previous one are dealt with at greater length in my book-in-press, see following note.

[viii]Publication of this book has been long delayed by the serious curtailment of the series project for which it was originally written, "The Culture and Civilization of China." The book is in the hands of Yale University Press, and will presumably be published by them. Since, however, it will not appear soon, I have lifted a few passages from the book for this essay.

[ix]A presumably early work by Leng Mei representing two foreign-looking men, one with tilted, foreshortened face, watching a boy atop an illusionistically shaded elephant, appears to link him with the Cui Zizhong style; see Zhongguo Huihua Quanji , v. 27, pl.170.

[x]A good example is Jiao Bingzhen's twelve-leaf album of "Occupations of Palace Ladies" in the Palace Museum, Beijing; see Nie Chongzheng, comp., Gugong Bowuyuan, 1. The possibility that the "Arranging Flowers" painting was in a princely collection is strengthened by an inscription on the Japanese box claiming that the work was once owned by the Xuantong Emperor (r. 1908-1912).

[xi]A small, imaginary seated portrait of Li Qingzhao in the Palace Museum, Beijing. See Zhongguo Meishu Quanji, vol. 10, pl. 108.

[xii] See Gugogn . . .  Shinu, 38.

[xiii] Rawski, The Last Emperors, 120 ff.

[xiv] Rogers, "Court Painting, 306; the discussion of patronage 306-10.

[xv] Much information about Luo Ping"s patrons in Beijing is in Karlsson, Luo Ping. On the commercialization of painting in Yangzhou in this period, including or even especially that in the "eccentric" styles, see Hsü, A Bushel of Pearls,

[xvi] Chung, Drawing Boundaries, 58.

[xvii]Murck, "Yuan Jiang", 230.

[xviii] The first is Zhang Geng, Guochao Huazheng Lu; the second, anonymous, is Huaren Buyi. Both are cited in Murck, "Yuan Jiang," 229. See also Chung, Drawing Boundaries, 68, where the various theories, including Nie Chongzheng's, are reviewed.

[xix] Yang Boda. “The Development of the Ch'ien-lung Painting Academy” ,335-36.

[xx] Murck, "Yuan Jiang", 230.

[xxi]Cahill, "Yuan Chiang and His School," Part II, 208-9.

[xxii] See Zhongguo Gongting Huihua Nianbiao, 40-42.

[xxiii] The paintings are reproduced in Nie, Gugong Bowuyuan, nos. 39-44, and in Nie, comp., Qingdai Gongting, nos. 10-20 (occupying 66 pages). They make up all but one   the paintings in both volumes from the Yongzheng period. More—many more?--are in the Beijing Palace Museum collection, unpublished; three large-scale scrolls if this kind produced under Yongzheng are mentioned in Wei Dong, "Qing Imperial 'Genre Painting'", 19.  The series “Portraits of the Yongzheng Emperor in the Twelve Months” (Nie, Gongting Huihua, 20), twelve large, elaborate hanging scrolls of palace buildings and figures, particularly suggest the possible participation of Yuan Jiang.

[xxiv] It is true that I have argued, in a published article and in my forthcoming book, that the figures in some of these appear to be in the manner of the Yangzhou master Zhang Zhen and perhaps his son Zhang Weibang. But this is a matter of local and family style, not individual hand. The article is Cahill, “The Three Zhangs"

[xxv]Krahl, 243. A welcome break with a general reluctance to recognize the dullness of a great deal of Qing Academy painting is Souren Melikian's review of this Three Emperors exhibition, which appeared in The International Herald Tribune, February 17, 2006 under the title "A Show Heavy on China, Light on Art." As an outsider to Chinese art, Melikian wonders how the Qing emperors, themselves accomplished calligraphers and (especially Qianlong) connoisseurs of antique paintings, can have tolerated paintings of the kind shown in this exhibition--the work, as he sees it, of "anonymous hacks who had little in common with the great masters of Chinese painting" and whose pictures are "worthy forerunners of the posters of {Chairman] Mao as the Great Helmsman." He understandably goes wrong on several issues, but points up the need for more discerning and critical writing about Qing court painting by us specialists, writings willing to distinguish, however unfashionably, between paintings as art and pictures as visual records.

[xxvi] Rogers, "Court Painting," 308.

[xxvii] Zhongguo Gongting Huihua Nianbiao, 40-41.

[xxviii] On these, see Cahill "The Three Zhangs”.

[xxix] Yang Boda, "Development of the Ch'ien-lung Painting Academy", 338.

[xxx] Yang Boda, "Leng Mei"; also Nie, "Jiao Bingzhen, Leng Mei, 59.

[xxxi] Zhongguo Gongting Huihua Nianbiao, 41; Rogers, "Court Painting," 307.

[xxxii] The 1730 painting exists on two versions. One, which was sold in a Sotheby's Hong Kong auction, Important Classical Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy, October 29, 2000, no. 31, is presently in a U.S. private collection; the other, unpublished so far as I know, is in the Nanjing Museum. These correspond too closely to be both by the artist, and we must assume an original-and-copy relationship. For the 1735 painting see Kaikodo Journal XV, January 2000, no. 18, with an article by Howard Rogers. This painting was previously in the Fujii Yurinkan, Kyoto.

[xxxiii] In the writings cited in note 30. An English summary of their findings is in Brown and Chou, Heritage of the Brush, 76.

[xxxiv]See Rogers, "Court Painting," 307. The original painting has not survived; the composition can be seen in a well-known woodblock-printed version and in a copy made by Qianlong-era court artists. For the first scroll of the latter, no less than 37 m. long, see Rawski and Rawson, China: The Three Emperors, no. 24.

[xxxv]Reproduced in Nie, Gugong Bowuyuan, pl. 3:1-10.

[xxxvi]Wakeman, The Fall of Imperial China, 95-96.

[xxxvii]Nie, "Jiao Bingzhen, Leng Mei" 59. An album by Leng Mei dated to 1735 and bearing seals with names used by Prince Bao before his enthronement leads Nie to speculate that Leng may have stayed with him for part of his time outside the court academy.

[xxxviii] Zhongguo Gongting Huihua Nianbiao, 42; Yang Boda, "The Development of the Ch'ien-lung Painting Academy, 348.

[xxxix] Ars Asiatica IX, 55.

[xl]Cahill, The Painter's Practice, 102-12.

[xli]For Leng Jian, see Yang, “Development of the Ch’ien-lung Painting Academy,” 345, also Yang Xin, "Court Painting," 346.  Nie Chongzhen (personal communication) believes that Leng Quan was probably another son of Leng Mei.  For a painting of palace ladies by Leng Quan, see Guo and Zhang, eds. pl. 108.

[xlii] Yang, "Development of the Ch'ien-lung Painting Academy", 333-356.  See also Nie Chongzheng’s essay on the Academy under the Qing, in his Qingdai Gongting, 1-24 (Chinese) and 25-27 (English summary); this reference on 5.

[xliii]Hearn, “Document and Portrait". An important late Ming predecessor to these court-produced collaborative handscrolls has recently been identified: see Wu Meifeng. Wu argues convincingly, with stylistic comparisons, that Ding Yunpeng (1547-1625 or after) was one of a group of artists who produced, at the court of the Wan-li Emperor (r. 1573-1620), probably around 1683, two long handscrolls, now in the National Palace Museum, Taipei, representing two imperial outings. (The English title and summary mistakenly give the artist's name as Ding Guanpeng.)

[xliv] Hearn, "Document and Portrait," 118.

[xlv] Christie's Hong Kong, 28 April, 1996, The Imperial Sale, lot 65.

[xlvi] Yang Boda, "Development of the Ch'ien-lung Painting Academy," 341.

[xlvii] Hearn, "Document and Portrait," 119.

[xlviii] Cahill, "The Orthodox Movement."

[xlix][xlix] Some leaves reproduced in China: Treasures and Splendors, no. 130.

[l] Yu Jianhua, 719. For the finished scroll painted by Ding Guanpeng and others, see Nie, Gongting Huihua, 75. Clarifying the relationship between these two projects requires research that is beyond the scope of this paper. Zhongguo Gongting Huihua Nianbiao 49 states that Xu Pu painted a Zhigong Tu, and left the academy, in 1770. Again, I do not know whether this refers to the same project or a separate one. This is the only indication I have found that Xu Pu served in the academy at all. For a fuller account of the production of the Zhigong Tu scrolls, see Wei Dong, 22-24.

[li] See Elman. "Social Roles of Literati", 366. The other three are Men Qing'an (Yu Jianhua, 565, a Han bannerman); Sun Daru (Yu Jianhua, 678), a figure specialist; and Dai Yuji (Yu Jianhua, 1451). Men and Dai were graduates of the Imperial College.

[lii]Hummel, ed., 2, 728-29, entry for Tsai-ch'ûan.

[liii] Two authorities on Qing imperial history to whom this question was put, Harold Kahn and Evelyn Rawski, both responded that it was possible in principle, but neither of them had encountered any case of it. Other paintings raise this question, e.g. an album of twelve scenes of unidentified places by Jiao Bingzhen, signed chen Jiao Bingzhen gonghui but devoid of imperial seals: see Christie's Hong Kong, Fine Classical Chinese Paintings and Calligraphy, May 30, 2005, no. 1044.

[liv] See Nie, Gongting Huihua, 45. These are discussed in my Pictures for Use and Pleasure.

[lv] Examples are in Nie, Gongting Huihua, 12.1 and 12.5, for Yongzheng, and Ibid. 59, for Qianlong.

[lvi] For these, see Nie, Gugong Bowuyuan, 41-42, also Rawski and Rawson, 173. An old misidentification of them as "The Twelve Consorts of the Yongzheng Emperor" was corrected in an article by Zhu Jiajin, "Guan yu Yongzheng". Seals and inscriptions on several of them—written and impressed as though on surfaces within the paintings—bear names used by Yongzheng before his enthronement, and date the works to the late Kangxi era.

[lvii] See for examples Nie, Gugong Bowuyuan, 110-114, four paintings that serve well to demonstrate his versatility. All these others bear inscriptions and seals of the emperor.

[lviii] Yanqin yiqing "Intimate Scenes of Leisurely Love." Some leaves from it are reproduced by R. H. van Gulik, Erotic Colour Prints, 155-6 and Pl.V-VI; and his Sexual Life in Ancient China, pl. XVI-XVII, both with an absurd attribution to Qiu Ying. Also in Beurdeley et al., 61, 66, 67, 71.

[lix] Sotheby's New York, June 18, 1983, Fine Chinese Paintings, no. 11. Fortunately, I made slides from all the twelve leaves before it was sold. These albums are discussed also in Cahill, ""The Emperor's Erotica," and in greater detail in my forthcoming book.

[lx] Naishi xingle, “Pleasures of the Age”

[lxi] For these, see Cahill, "Where Did the Nymph Hang?"; also the correction note in Cahill, "The Emperor's Erotica", 40-41. The entire series has been reproduced as Qinggong Zhencang Bimei Tu.

[lxii]The albums of Jin Ping Mei illustrations are said to have been looted from the (Shenyang?) palace by Zhang Zuolin in the 1920s and owned later by his son Zhang Xueliang, who reportedly took them to Taiwan during the Nationalist exodus in 1948; two groups of leaves from the series have indeed surfaced, and been sold, recently in Taiwan. There is a strong possibility that Albums QAM A and QAM C have had more or less the same recent history. A disinclination among collectors to publicize their erotic holdings makes tracing them difficult.

[lxiii]Nie, Gugong Bowuyuan, 50 (inscribed) and 59 (uninscribed); the latter also in Rawski and Rawson, no. 16. These paintings are discussed at greater length in my unpublished Pictures for Use and Pleasure.

[lxiv] A trompe-l'oeil perspectival wall painting in the Yucuixuan of the Ningshougong in the Imperial Palace portrays an interior with a consort, her maid, and playing children in an informal and naturalistic manner quite unlike the Academy style; this, too, appears to belong to a special mode of production within the court, meant for the intimate enjoyment of the emperor and those close to him. See Nie Hui, fig. 3.

[lxv] Chün-fang Yü, “Guanyin: The Chinese Transformation of Avalokiteshvara," esp. pp. 166-69, "Guanyin As Seductress." This theme is further explored by Yü in her Kuan-yin, 421 ff. This quality in the Guanyin painting is recognized by Gary Baur in his catalog entry, see fn. 3.

[lxvi] For a selection of these, see Nie, Gugong Bowuyuan, 135-51.

A Yuan “Revolution” in Painting?


A Yuan “Revolution” in Painting?

That question, meaning: was there a decisive change in the direction that Chinese painting was taking around the end of Song dynasty and the beginning of the Yuan, decisive enough to justify the common practice of writing of a Yuan “revolution” in painting?--that question may seem too esoteric and specialized for ordinary readers.  But those who read further (bless you) will find that arguing it, as I and two others have done, raises large basic questions about how we “do” art history, and may help to clarify the thinking of others who come to be engaged, one way or another, with that problem, since both my correspondents write with uncommon clarity and make strong cases for their beliefs, as I myself (I hope) do also. The main body of this text is made up of a correspondence that went on between Jerome Silbergeld, Richard Vinograd, and myself back in the winter of 2009--I have taken this long in getting around to writing an introduction to it and posting it on my website. What preceded the correspondence is what I will now outline.

Some time in 1999 I was invited to give an endowed lecture, the Haley  Lecture,  at Princeton. The lecture I gave can be read on this website as one of the CLPs:

CLP 34: 1999 "Some Thoughts on the History and Post-history of Chinese Painting." Haley Lecture, Princeton.

I had already given a similar lecture shortly before at Stanford, and got the responses of Vinograd and his students--more later on that. The lecture was eventually published as:

“Some Thoughts on the History and Post-History of Chinese Painting.” In: Archives of Asian Art LV, 2005, 17-37.

I had asked the editor of Archives, when she accepted my lecture for publication, to ask two younger colleagues,  Jerome Silbergeld at Princeton and Robert Harrist at Columbia, to write responses to be printed after it.
Both did; and when  I read them I was surprised to find that they didn’t so much respond to what I had considered the “main idea” of my lecture--the idea of seeing post-Song Chinese painting as belonging to a “post-historical” period--as to my use of the conventional designation of the division in early Yuan as a “revolution.” (I don’t have their responses here to reread, and am writing mainly of Jerome’s, since he was involved also in the subsequent correspondence. Please find and read Bob Harrist’s for yourselves.) In other words, my “big idea” that I had expected to arouse controversy in fact received little attention, and what they focused on, instead, was a term and concept that I had thought of as generally accepted and un-controversial.

What was my “big idea,” the main point of my lecture and article? It was to adopt for post-Song Chinese painting   the term and the concept of “post-historical” from Hans Belting, who had expounded it in his major book:

Hans Belting, The End of the History of Art? Trans. by Christopher S. Wood, Chicago,1987.

He argued--convincingly, I thought--that the production of art had followed a kind of “history” that can be traced--and has been, endlessly over the centuries in Europe and the U.S., until some recent time--I forget when he places it, after Impressionism & Post-Impressionism & Cubism, I would assume--after which  the production of art  longer seems to follow a “historical” or quasi-developmental pattern, so that one can no longer write “histories” of it. He points out in his book that histories of art are indeed written up to that time, and  carcely attempted afterwards. In my lecture I made the same point about Chinese painting, citing Belting: Chinese  writings on painting that can  be called historical, from Zhang Yenyuan’s  Lidai minghua ji (or earlier) up through Guo Ruoxu in the eleventh century and Deng Chun in the twelfth--and then no  more. From the Yuan-Ming-Qing we have biographical texts, theoretical texts,  technical essays--but no histories. Rick Vinograd, after my lecture, agreed that I had a strongpoint there, even though he couldn’t accept my idea as a whole.

Hans Belting

(I later met Belting, by the way, when we were on a panel together at a symposium at Japan House in New York, where his daughter was a curator, and I had a chance to talk with him. The paper I gave on that occasion is on this website as:

CLP 32: 1999 "Something Borrowed, Something New: Cross-cultural Transmission and Innovation in East Asian Painting." Lecture, Japan House, New York.)

For readings on how artists and their works can take on, over time, the pattern of a series, one following another in a quasi-orderly way, read the works of late Ernst Gombrich--and, for a very interesting theoretical discussion of this phenomenon, George Kubler, The Shape of Time: Remarks On the History of Things. When this book appeared in 1962, all of us seriously involved in Chinese painting studies were reading it and corresponding with each other about how his ideas might apply to our subject. Young people I talk with today not only haven’t read Kubler’s book, they haven’t even heard of it--this is the outcome of a basic tenet of Big Theory: don’t bother to consider or argue against the alternatives, just reject them as hopelessly backward and outdated.

To continue with our narrative leading up to the correspondence: in 2006 Nancy Steinhardt, old friend and distinguished professor at U. Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who specializes in Asian architectural history, decided to organize a symposium on Yuan painting to coincide with the first exhibition of six important Yuan paintings in a private collection there. She phoned me and wrote to me, wanting me to be a “keynote speaker.” But, alas, it was a time when I could not travel--too soon after my heart attacks and operations of that year. The symposium, titled “New Directions in Yuan Painting,” took place on December 2nd 2006; Jerome Silbergeld gave the keynote talk,  Rick Vinograd the last (except for one by Nancy herself on Yuan tomb painting), and Bob Harrist was  discussant.

Jerome Silbergeld


Rick Vinograd

The papers from the symposium were later published in Ars Orientalis no. 37, under the title Current Directions in Yuan Painting. You can read there Jerome’s and Rick’s papers:

The Yuan "Revolutionary" Picnic: Feasting on the Fruits of Song (A Historiographic Menu)
Jerome Silbergeld

De-centering Yuan Painting
Richard Vinograd

When I received my copy of that issue of Ars Orientalis, I wrote Nancy--but  no, we have now reached the point where the main body of this essay (or whatever it is) begins. I will only add, before turning to that, that an old paper of my own alluded to by Jerome and Rick is also readable on this website:

CLP 63: 1968 “Away from a Definition of Yuan Painting.” Yuan art Symposium, Cleveland Art Museum

That symposium was held on the occasion of the great exhibition of Yuan-period art organized by Sherman Lee and Wai-kam Ho, “Chinese Art Under the Mongols: The Yuan Dynasty”--the catalog, under the same title, was for many years one of the basic books in our field. At the symposium I presented a curious paper, intended as a friendly jab at Max Loehr and his insistence that we should pay attention only to the new and significant in art and ignore all the rest; I argued (just for that occasion) that if we wanted to, we could construct a non-history of Yuan painting that took into account all the painting done in that period, including inconsequential continuations of Song traditions. (My title was of course a play on the common “Toward a Definition of…”) Now that paper, which I never “published” in a true sense and which I never meant to be taken really seriously, has come back to haunt me.

(Looking at it on my website now, I see that several other papers in the symposium are also there--Suzuki Kei’s, for one--along with a long list of participants with their mailing addresses! You will have to scroll down to find my paper.)

Finally: as an indication of just how important this issue is to me, how deeply I believe in that great change at the end of Yuan (the virtual end of a great tradition of ink-landscape painting, the rise to the fore of the literati or scholar-amateur movement that casts the long-dominant professional masters into decidedly less prestigious art-historical roles), watch the Postlude to our video-lecture series, which is titled: “Arguing the Aftermath.” That, too, can be accessed through this website. (See? You scarcely need to go outside…)

Now at last (says patient but somewhat exasperated Reader) can we get to the correspondence? Yes, replies your long-winded Introducer, here it is, what you have all been waiting for,


An Early Yuan “Revolution” in Painting?

Correspondence with Jerome Silbergeld & Richard Vinograd (winter 2009)

Dear Nancy, (letter to Nancy Steinhardt)

The copy of Ars Orientalis came in the mail this morning, along with the separate offprint of your article. I had already received AO through regular subscription, and have read several of the pieces in it; not yet yours, which I’ll read now.

Although I couldn’t be there for the symposium and am not represented as an author in the volume, I feel very much there in spirit—and target, although everybody is thoroughly respectful and I am cited often, and positively. The pieces by Jerome and Rick follow up on the responses written by Jerome and Bob Harrist to my lecture article published several years ago in Archives, in which I used Hans Belting’s concept of a post-historical period in art history to propose it for the great break (as I persist in seeing it) from Song to Yuan in painting. I recommended to the editor (Marsha) that Jerome and Bob be asked for responses, and they wrote them, both fine pieces expressing the conviction of their (younger) generation, which I would characterize as: Yes, but we don’t recognize revolutions any more. I had already heard that from Rick when I gave the lecture at Stanford, and wasn’t at all troubled by it, as I’m not now. We are talking, after all, only about a concept or construction, not a historical event like the Mongol invasion and the fall of Sung; and whether one accepts that particular construction or not isn’t a matter of great moment. Jerome cites Panofsky pointing out that if one chooses, one can emphasize continuities with Late Medieval and do away with the Renaissance in Italy or Europe. So I am in the company of Jacob Burckhardt (The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, was it?), and feel comfortable there—Jacob and I have no worries about how posterity will judge our cultural constructions. I’ll send copies of this to Jerome and Rick—Hi, both of you, enjoyed your pieces, good expressions of the collective attitudes of your generation (joke from Old Professor). I’m just finishing up the recording of a series of video-recorded lectures, ending, as it happens, with the end of Sung, and some comments on what follows; so I’ll make a reference to the pieces by you two, and the whole issue or controversy, there.

Best, Jim

dear jim,

greetings! it's always good to hear from you, no matter what the message. you are in good company, not only with burckhardt but panofsky, too. panofsky faced resistance to "THE renaissance," to its rootedness in notions of period style and regional privileging, but the thrust of of his book, R&R, was to stand by the original concepts. and yet, "my" generation didn't come out of nowhere and you're not off the hook. you asked us to be alert to traditional Chinese class interests and to be skeptical of literati exceptionalism (barnhart resisted; i enthused that someone of some influence in the field felt rather like i did about such things), and i think that today's skepticism about revolutions and period style -- not throwing these concepts out but trying to account for them in increasingly complex and nuanced ways -- is the logical and natural extension of your own questioning manner. in the AO articles, we write of you (as you put it) in a way that is "thoroughly respectful," and that is not just for personal reasons but because we still find your work very much akin to our own and we remain deeply indebted to it. one phrase in my AO article is, "generational trend (by which I mean a generation of thinking, not the age of the thinkers themselves) . . . ." i always thought of you as the bridge -- the main thoroughfare -- between generations, the most forward thinking, forever young-minded and always generous to the young -- and i still do.

i hope you're doing well. fairly well, at least. and perhaps moving toward moving, south and back to berkeley. i spent three hours today with wen, going over a chapter that he's been writing, and he always speaks of his very special affection for you, with lots of nostalgia. let's hear it for nostalgia, something our ancient chinese friends understood well.

all the best from here, and stay in touch


Dear Jerome, (late night musing on your response)

It is generous and thoughtful of you to write as you did in response to my paragraph for Nancy.  Yes, I played some part in opening up different ways to construct our “histories,” or whatever we call them, in some of my writings--the “Three Alternatives”, before that the “Away From a Definition” talk, which two of the papers cite—I did that, I can’t remember why it was, but to needle Max, and it had that effect. My whole point has been that different ways of thinking about “what happens” in Chinese painting lead to different concepts of “Yuan painting,’ or whatever; and that since they are concepts, they aren’t right or wrong, but can be more or less productive or useful in opening the way to new kinds of understanding. The question of whether the Renaissance in Europe “happened” is the wrong question; asking whether it has been a productive concept is the right one, and obviously it has, when one thinks of the vast literature and kinds of understanding it’s led to. And when I adopted Belting’s post-historical idea and applied it to the Sung-Yuan “revolution,” and pointed out that the Chinese just then (as Belting, whom I quoted, says they necessarily will) gave up writing quasi-art-historical accounts of their painting, after centuries of writing them (exactly the centuries over which we can, if we want, construct a Gombrich-like developmental “history”)--I thought that might be accepted as a confirmation of the applicability of the concept to that epochal (right word?) moment in Chinese painting history. And Rick, after hearing my lecture, acknowledged that I had a point there, I recall, but still went on to do the “we don’t recognize revolutions any more” thing. I was, frankly, disappointed then, and later when neither you nor Bob tried to consider the possible applicability and usefulness of the post-historical concept to the Sung-Yuan whatever. Was the pressure to disavow that kind of formulation as obsolete, no longer acceptable, whatever, so powerful? And is it still? Does some great taboo descend on everybody below a certain age, blocking out the possibility of entertaining that concept as perhaps an applicable and useful one? My respect for you two, and for Bob, is undiminished, so I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m bewildered that the blockage is so powerful, in such good people.

Anyway, the series of recorded lectures I’m working on—which now will run to some thirty hours of talking, with nearly 2000 images—will break all those taboos again, in lots of ways. And will, I hope, help to open the way for the re-recognition of certain modes of thinking about art history that still seem to me quite productive, however “wrong” they may seem to be right now.

Enough; I’ll send this to Rick too, declaring once more that it isn’t meant as any kind of put-down of two major leaders of the generation after mine, and two old and good friends.

Best, Jim

Good, Jim.

It is always assuring to become engaged in the flow of ideas. I mentioned my three hours yesterday with Wen going over his latest manuscript, and you can be sure (as he well knows) it is not at all that we agree about what he is saying, only that it is worth saying. I have gone over most of his manuscripts for him in the past decade trying to help him determine and express what he thinks as best as he can. I write this, defensively perhaps, to indicate that I am not resistant to hearing other formulations of history; quite the opposite, without dialogue (external or internal) there is no real thought. The possibility of an artistic revolution is not one that I would rule out, and I think we would agree that the difference between there being a revolution or an evolution is largely a matter of how one looks at things, what one looks for. You and me aside, I have yet to see evidence that Yuan artists saw themselves engaged in any revolutionary activity, however one might define that. Arthur Danto wrote, in reference to Belting and himself, "It was not my view that there would be no more art, which 'death' certainly implies, but that whatever art there was to be would be made without benefit of a reassuring sort of narrative in which it was seen as the appropriate next stage in the story." One can focus here on the "narrative" or, rather, on the "reassuring sort" of narrative. Was the history of  pre-Yuan painting really organized around a narrative, a reassuring one or otherwise. If one thinks that the drive toward greater naturalism, occularity, unification of ground plane, whatever was it, then I guess it becomes easier to imagine a Yuan revolution. But if one thinks that "naturalism" itself is complex and means different things, that without the aesthetic revolution in calligraphy begun by Zhang Xu, Huaisu, and Yan Zhenqing and brought into painting by Wu Daozi (there was a revolution!), then advanced later on by Su Shi which would not have happened without the changes wrought in the structure of government by early Song emperors, there could have been no "Yuan painting" in the narrow sense of the term, and that all this is merely part of the historical picture, then where is that narrative? And if there was a Yuan revolution, then wasn't it designed to reestablish some "reassuring sort of narrative," so I would ask, how is that revolution consistent (from the Yuan literati point of view) with "the end" of a "reassuring" art historical narrative rather than the beginning of some new narrative (conceived of by them as "revived") with some new reassurances built in? Or is it only an "end" from our point of view vis a vis a modern Western history of (cum assumptions about) styles? To me, and perhaps to Rick - I'm not sure, what all this comes down to more than "revolution" and "end of narrative" is the matter of complexity, and whether we prefer to emphasize, are more comfortable with, and think of history more in terms simplicity and clarity or complexity and messiness. I stress the mess. I believe in it. But if I claimed that my generation shares that view, then I would have to believe in period style, and so that's perhaps too simple.

These are old issues, but always with us.



Dear Jerome,

Yes, complexity and messiness—but in selected situations. I used the example of the Renaissance in Italy, but I could use others. If someone is teaching or writing about the transition from Impressionism to Post—Impressionism, or about Cezanne-to-Picasso-and-Cubism, do you and others stop them and say: yes, but what about all that other painting going on at the same time? Not likely. The Sung-Yuan Whatever is quite as clear-cut an art-historical situation/formulation as those, at least. No, all the artists of the time didn’t think they were revolutionaries, but most of them, and the ones we now recognize as most innovative and important, pretty much rejected Southern Sung painting, especially Academy painting; they pretty much downplayed, even ridiculed, Mu-ch’I and the kind of great Ch’an painting preserved only in Japan (I’m doing the lecture on that now) so that if it weren’t for Japan we wouldn’t have it—and so forth. Why insist on looking at the diversity in that situation, not in others? My argument is that you and Bob and Rick could have noted that the situation is more complex than “revolution” or “beginning of the post-historical period in China” cover, as is always the case, but then paid some attention to the concept, instead of dismissing it as what we don’t do any more.

Well, we begin to repeat, we aren’t going to resolve this. As I wrote, I’m using enough outmoded & outlawed formulations and approaches in my recorded lectures to call forth all kinds of denunciations, but I trust in there being enough unbiased, open-minded people to sit through them and gain something from them. Old-person’s hopeful attitude, I suppose. We’ll see. Apparently (by the way) a Gombrich revival or reappraisal is going on in England and elsewhere—I had some correspondence with a journal editor about it. To use my familiar simile, I remember when we were all assured that tonal music was over, no serious composer could do it any more.

Enough. Best, Jim

Dear Jim and Jerome: (rec’d 1/30/10)

Thanks for copying me on this conversation. I think Jerome's initial reply must have dropped out of the string I received, but I think I can reconstruct some of what he said from the acoustics of Jim's second message, so to speak.  A little hard to sort all this out in some kind of coherent way, but here's my crack at it:

1. First, about my contribution to the AO collection of essays -- I was trying to be descriptive, rather than prescriptive or hortatory. I took a some large  parts of the architecture for the article from various things that you wrote Jim (as Jerome seems also  to have noted).  So there is the revolutionary Yuan, but also the more inclusive Yuan of "Away from a Definition" and the more Mongol-centric Yuan of your piece on Gong Kai, and the less independent or distinct Yuan of your Sogen-ga catalogue. As you say, they each have a certain validity for certain purposes, even if you prefer one formulation over all the others at this point.

2. The second part of the description was just to map where the field has been headed in the last couple of decades -- broadly, away from monographs on scholar-painters, and toward institutional, thematic, treatise and discourse  centered studies etc.. Again, not  a question of right or wrong directions, just mapping the vectors. Lots of factors contributing to this, including trends in art history or humanities studies more generally -- the higher profile of visual culture paradigms and discourse analysis for example. One could argue whether this is an enhancement of or a diversion from some sense of proper mission, but it does broadly represent an expanded field of attention and concern.  I don't mean that in a specifically Roz Krauss sense, but just that as the field  matures and grows it's more or less inevitably going to seek new topics of investigation. Mostly a good thing, I would say, but in any case pretty much inevitable.

3. So on to Wang Zhenpeng, etc. Putting Wang at the center of things is a kind of historiographic thought-experiment or provocation, to be sure. It just acknowledges that he is more connected to the multiple dimensions of what Yuan painting comprised -- court/Mongol, Buddhist, jiehua etc. -- than Wu or the other later Yuan scholar-painters. And that those are likely ongoing or growth areas for research.  I would just note that is a different order of issue than the question of whether Wang was in some sense  a better or more important painter than Wu or any of the others   --  they represent different nodes of interest, that don't readily  map onto each other.

4. A couple of parallels. Jim, you say "if you are writing about Cezanne to Picasso and Cubism, what about all that other painting?" That's a possible kind of question, like Wang Zhenpeng vs. Wu Zhen; how many Beaux-Art painters are worth one Picasso? But that first question, Cezanne to Cubism, is also substatnially  tautological or self-fulfilling: it presumes that's the only development that matters, so how could all that other painting count? But what if the question is, "if you are writing about early 20th century Europe, what story is more central, Cezanne to Cubism, or, say,  Symbolism to Surrealism?" That's a real historiographic alternative, and it's obviously been realized by the October group. One can prefer one or the other kind of art, but I'm not sure there's much basis for comparing  them. One story is centered in painting and representation; the other in photography and mixed media and some complex of the psychoanalytic, symbolic, and semiotic. They involves different practices, playing a different sort of game, more radically different than Wang Zhenpeng and Wu Zhen, to be sure, but analogous in some way. You could say, "but it (Dada-Surrealism, say) isn't art" and the response might be, quite so, it's anti-art art. There is at least a coherent alternative narrative proposed, and which agenda and narrative gets pursued may have more to do with the changing sociology of academia than some arguable or defensible criteria.

5. Back to Yuan art.  My general view is that we have three components of our understandings of it:

a. the surviving corpus of art -- fragmentary, messy, and unarticulated

b. historical,  Yuan era discourses -- also fragmentary, incomplete, contradictory, and not to be taken entirely at face value,

but certainly to be taken account of, as best available raw material for forming historical narratives or understandings

c. our modern historiographic constructions and narratives -- usually if not necessarily selective, partial, evaluative, and shaped

You mention the "post-historical art" lecture and essay (by the way, I don't remember saying "we don't recognize revolutions anymore" -- somehow doesn't sound like me, but never mind).  I actually like the post-historical notion a lot, in both Belting's and your uses of it, but I don't think it necessarily equates to a revolution in Yuan painting, although indeed it possibly might. To explain: something happened in Tang Song painting history discourse, after Guo Ruoxu, or Xuanhe huapu, or Deng Chun or thereabouts. The notion of a long historical development, with different summits of figure painting and landscape painting fell into disuse, and painting history became more about biography, collecting and cataloguing, painting techniques and secrets etc. It's less clear to me that this maps neatly onto the Song-Yuan divide, or that it maps onto the conquest of illusionistic pictorial representation in yours and Loehr's sense. No doubt that was part of what the Tang and Song historical critics admired in contemporary painting, but  bound up I think with other values, dynamism and animation in figure painting, some qualities of order and the symbolic in landscape perhaps.

So why the transition to the post-historical, if not because the large representational project and its narratives were completed (and I certainly agree that's one plausible account)?  Well, if the change occurred closer to Huizong's time  and the Northern Song breakup,  maybe because the political and institutional underpinnings of painting were no longer seemed coherent and unproblematic. Or perhaps because the counter-discourses of the scholar-officials in Su Shi's circle and after  brought the old criteria into question.

I think  then that what I would have been trying to say about your post-historical paper was that the discursive phenomenon may well be valid and important without necessarily  equating  to a Yuan revolution in painting. In other words, Loehr's narrative isn't the Song/Yuan narrative in some direct or unproblematic way. Also, , there is the work that has been done on Jin and S. Song versions of scholar or literati painting, so that there seem to have been alternatives to   let's call them  academic values all along since the late Northern Song.  If the Yuan literati picked up and amplified those elements,  maybe it's just a quibble to call that something other than a revolution, but it becomes at least less clear-cut seen through that kind of historical lens.

6. Finally, to close for now, if you (Jim) said, "Ok, but c'mon, isn't Wu or Zhao or Ni or Wang after all more interesting and important, as painter/writer/ cultural presence than any of the other types of painter you could name?"  I might well agree with you. But, once again, that's a different thing than saying that's where the field will go, or should go. And just as some part of what Zhao and the others did was designed to stake out a position distinct from the Southern Song court painters or whomever, it's not surprising that intellectual or professional imperatives  should play a part in pushing others in the field toward alternative topics and approaches than yours or mine.

There, I've gone and stayed up way past my bedtime!

Best, Rick

Rick and Jerome: Great! haven't absorbed it all yet, but will tomorrow--up late after watching late movie. Now we have a substantial body of argument, going beyond what we wrote in my lecture and your papers. Sorry not to have sent Jerome's responses on to you, Rick--will you do that, Jerome? Or I will later. I've twice had extensive correspondences with colleagues published--the Cahill/Barnhart/Rogers lectures published by the IEAS, and the correspondence with Dick, Mike & Stephen Little on Du Jin published in Kaikodo Journal. We'll have to think whether to go that route. Meanwhile, I spent some time yesterday and today writing out another Reminiscence, inspired by the death of Salinger, and will attach it for your entertainment. Most of my Reminiscences I'm happy to have only on my website, but this one may turn out to be of broader interest--if either or you thinks so, and knows a big-media person to send it on to, I'll appreciate it.

Yours as always, Jim


Dear Rick,

I’ve read over several times your long email, and really haven’t much to write in response except: very thoughtful, good, and some of it makes me realize I mis-characterized your AO piece, which was indeed a fine article on the various ways one can construct “Yuan painting,” much in the spirit of what I did long ago, but better. No, I don’t recall that you actually said anything after my lecture like “We don’t recognize revolutions any more”—that was/is my own reading of the underlying message, more, in Jerome’s and Bob’s responses in Archives. My memory, though, is that we had a discussion period the day after my lecture at Stanford, and that you and your students all seemed to be saying something in that direction, less directly perhaps. Anyway, your points about the continuity through Jin and the rest are good. Jerome may well—probably will—want to comment on all this, and maybe we can end there, for now, all having spoken our pieces. My own inclination would be to put it all on my website—a kind of publication that stops short of the old printing-and-distributing form. But I wouldn’t do it without the agreement of you two, of course. Jerome?

Best, Jim

dear jim and rick

i'm fine if jim wants to quote us online. so here are a few "final" words, at his invitation . . .

best, and thanks


like rick, i disown "not recognizing revolutions." i believe there are revolutions, though i'm not exactly sure what is or isn't a revolution. still, the difference is significant, or has historically be regarded as significant, and for there to be a revolution there have to be followers as well as leaders. you can't just study the "great" men (art "history" in western practice, like literary and music "history," being the study of exceptional, not typical, people), or the "best" artists, and proclaim that a revolution has passed this way. in the yuan, we haven't studied typical artists well enough to draw any demographic conclusions. (no aspersions here; jim has probably dealt with "lesser" artists and "minor" trends better than anyone else.) while i wrote that every revolution looked at more closely reveals an evolution, i've already voted (rightly or not, in my note to jim a few days ago) for the early 8th century calligraphers as providing a real revolution in aesthetics, first adapted to painting by wu daozi (to the best of our limited knowledge). also like rick, my approach to this topic has employed a descriptive mode rather than anything more prescriptive or "hortatory." yet i will own up to the fact that "going historiographic," while seeming to put things at arm's length, in itself represents a particular choice, and embraces a particular view of history. ("relativistic" is the way peter novick put it, quoted in my AO article.) rick's recent note nicely describes "three components" for understanding yuan painting. except for briefly illustrating (literally illustrating, not discussing) what rick calls the "fragmentary" and "messy" nature of what survives, my AO piece sticks to his second and third items, which can be rolled into one as "reception" (older and newer responses, by which i understand him to mean critical, textual) to which i would add the practice of favored styles as constituting an artistic mode of reception. looking at the history of reception tells us something important, both particular and in general. in doing so, i'm not excoriating anybody, not blaming nobody for having held such-and-such an opinion at such-and-such a time but rather i've mostly tried to describe and understand historical patterns of changing taste and viewpoints. and i've tried hard to keep my own opinions low-key, although i certainly have opinions and disagreements with opinions. for example, i think your handling of qian xuan, jim, especially as set out in hills beyond a river, is exemplary. but when you write (in chinese painting - still a great book!) of qian and zhao mengfu and gao kegong as undertaking "a revolution in style," i still don't see how you can get there without leaving out much what of we already know and most of what one can imagine of the fragmentary record of song literati painting. a "revolutionary" expansion in the popularity of a certain way of painting, i could say ok to that: but that's reception not the creation of a revolutionary new style. and after all, it was max who wrote that we should only be interested in the inception of new styles, not in their perpetuation. if you try to account for "yuan" literati style, you can't just lay it at the feet of invading mongols. i have no idea how to account for what took place in the early 8th century. i have some better idea to account for how to account for su shi's ideas on painting, largely in socio-political terms. i also think we can't account for the rejection of southern song painting styles only in terms of stylistic sequences and phases -- there's a lot of politics there, too, and political scapegoating. and so, if as rick puts it, "the large representational project and its narratives were completed" by the end of southern song, then why do we have some of the very finest of chinese "naturalist" bamboo paintings (li kan), horse paintings (ren renfa), plum paintings (wang mian and others), figures, furniture and boats (wang zhenpeng), etc., being done in the yuan period? the record is the record -- both the visual record and the published textual record -- and it constrains us. or maybe it doesn't, because we can say any darned thing we want, and we certainly do. quentin bell noted that in the encyclopaedia britannica of 1912, in the articles on contemporary french and english painting, the artists touted were robert fleury, bastien lepage, meissonier, rosa bonheur, gerome, bourguereau, fromentin, bonvin, cormon, henner, herkomer, luke fildes, frank dicksee (you've got to be a good art historian to have heard of most of these guys!), while monet, seurat, cezanne, gauguin, van gogh, vuillard, etc. went entirely unmentioned. so like 1912, maybe there was a revolution going on in 1312 that most people couldn't recognize. and yet even so, that would still have been a revolution in reception, an explosion in the popularity of an old style (or old styles), including new developments of course, but not a "revolutionary new" style. we're not very good at foreseeing the future, but we also have to ask, how good are we at foreseeing the past, which is forever changing.

Dear Jerome (and Rick),

Your long unbroken response is a good summing-up and augmenting of your position, and maybe marks a good point to close this correspondence for now. Again, as with Rick’s, I find much to agree with, but would still differ on some matters. It will no doubt always be so. We’ll think about putting all this on my website—which of course I wouldn’t do without getting the OK of both of you. I would (will) write a brief introductory section, explaining the background etc., and send that to the two of you, with a file of the whole correspondence. Just having the issues explored in this depth and detail, with arguments and counter-arguments, will be good for younger people to read. Let me think more about this, draft an introduction, get back to you. OK?

Interesting “Heirarchies” symposium coming up in the Tang Center. Of course I won’t be there, but I’ve written for abstracts of several of the papers, eventually the whole papers? Topics that still concern me.

Best, Jim

dear jim,

whatever you'd like to do with this is just fine with me. i wouldn't want us to all think alike, would you? no way. anyhow, we've all learned so much from you and it's always so rewarding to be engaged in discussion with you.


Dear Jim (and Jerome):

Happy to have the discussion posted on your site. I drafted some further thoughts, but maybe should stick with the earlier exchange for now -- hard to keep the  a 3-way conversation on point as it spirals on.


Dear Rick (and Jerome),

By all means, Rick, let us have your further thoughts. We aren’t, I think, aiming at balance, or symmetry, when it cuts out what will surely be valuable additions. You too, Jerome, if you think of more you want to say. I’m in no hurry to wind this up or post it.

Best, Jim

CEP Chapter 2


B. Erotic Painting Up to Early Qing: the Older Album Type

Leaving aside the question of pictorial erotica on walls, the preferred forms for erotic paintings in China, as they are recorded and as extant examples attest, were first the handscroll or horizontal scroll and later the album, both suited to more modest and intimate viewing, since with these, in contrast to the hanging scroll, the paintings are exposed only when the album is opened or the scroll unrolled. Among the Chinese writings cited above that mention erotic pictures, the earliest, those attributed to the Han-period poet Zhang Heng, describe the paintings as in scroll form; in the 1621 print (Fig. 2) the couple are looking at a handscroll, as are the man and girls in the leaf by Gu Jianlong (Fig. 1). Moreover, in Jin Ping Mei, a novel set in the late Northern Song but in fact reporting late Ming practice in material details, the erotic painting that Ximen Qing and Pan Jinlian look at together is a handscroll.[1] Erotic paintings in handscroll form could be either a series of pictures or a single composition. The Secret Play on a Spring Night that the late Ming collector Zhang Chou, as related above, took to be a work by the eighth-century master Zhou Fang, was a single group composition in handscroll form.

Fig. 1.

Fig. 2. 

Although this painting itself is presumably long lost--no actual erotic painting datable before the late Ming period is known to me--a fenben (sketch copy) has recently come to light that appears from its style to preserve the outlines at least of a pre-Song work, and from its subject to be based on this very "Secret Play on a Spring Night" (Fig. 6). The record in Zhang Chou’s catalogue attests that such a painting was extant in the early seventeenth century, and for it to have survived into the early or mid-nineteenth, from which time this fenben would appear to date (again, on the basis of style), would not be surprising. Fenben copies were made by artists from old paintings they encountered, for use in their own finished works; an example by Gu Jianlong was introduced in PUP Chap. 1  (Fig. 1.4). The picture transmitted in this fenben not only conforms loosely to the Zhou Fang style as it is known from copies, but also differs from other extant erotic pictures in so many respects as to locate it strongly in a very different, much earlier stage in the development of the genre.

Fig. 6. 

The shape, first of all, and the way the artist employs it, suggest that the original was probably a short, tall handscroll--copies after Tang figure compositions in this form survive. The scene is self-sufficient, a dramatic tableau presenting Emperor Xuanzong and his favorite consort Yang Guifei (if these are indeed they) engaged in lusty copulation, she in a chair, he on a stool. Both are supported by women servants: one of these pushes the emperor from behind, two more stand beside Yang Guifei, one of them leaning over to provide a backrest for her, while a fourth stands behind her chair to steady it. The large size of the figures within the frame brings the action up close; this, and the volumetric drawing of body parts, typical of Tang figure painting and surprisingly well retained in the copy, set the picture clearly apart from any other erotic painting presently known. Yang Guifei’s body, made up of fleshy, rotund masses, is entirely unlike the ideal female nude of later centuries as it was defined near the end of PUP (Chap. 5, pp. -- ). Even her vulva, with its Y-shaped opening and thick labia, differs markedly from the modest slits that women in the later pictures reveal. Above all, the picture suggests that early Chinese erotica could be truly gross in ways that the later examples seldom are.

The picture corresponds in nearly all respects with Zhang Chou's catalog description of the original.[2] Zhang begins by noting that the principal woman in it might be either Empress Wu (Wu Zitian) or Yang Guifei. and comments that her "luscious flesh and solid bone structure" agree with what he had heard about women in Zhou Fang's paintings. The woman's engorged vulva, he writes, reveals her "passionate state of mind." His description of the rest--the man wearing a cap and boots and having the appearance of an emperor, the woman wearing silk socks and looking like an imperial consort, as well as the various supporting functions of the serving women--also describes closely the fenben copy, which can be provisionally accepted as preserving the composition of this famous early work.  The copyist, however, apparently was permitted some slight flexibility, as can be seen in the double drawing of the man’s penis, for which he tries alternative sizes and positions.

From the early Qing period on, the erotic handscroll all but disappears and the album emerges as the chosen form. Both handscroll and album can accomodate series of pictures portraying sexual positions and activities; the difference is that in the handscroll these can be presented as if occupying a continuous space (except when clearly separated by text or other dividers), whereas in the album they must be treated as separate pictures. The change from handscroll to album as the preferred form opened the way to the development of a new type of erotic picture series and a fundamental change in the genre. The album allows the artist to present his figures in a succession of different settings. It encourages compositional variety by permitting him to experiment from leaf to leaf in offering a sequence of small pictorial pleasures instead of a single extended one. It dictates that the design of each picture be constructed within clear boundaries and in relation to the frame, and encourages the "window" effect in which the observer seems to gaze into a farther space beyond the picture plane--an effect that is greatly enhanced by devices of spatial rendering that were in this period being adopted from Western pictures by Chinese artists (as discussed in PUP, Chap. 3.) In these respects the album leaf takes on some of the capacities of the hanging scroll, although precluded by its size from the convincingly "lifelike" scale possible in the hanging scroll.

This change in the format of erotic pictures, occurring about the time of the Ming-Qing transition, is accompanied by another change even more momentous: from the album or handscroll presenting a simple series of sex acts to one in which pictures of open and active sex are interspersed with others that offer milder, more evocative scenes of amorous or erotic situations. The literary accounts cited above agree in describing erotic paintings before the Qing period, whether in handscroll or album form, as presenting a series of pictures depicting different postures for copulation.  The poems ascribed to Zhang Heng tell of the amorous couples looking at series of pictures presenting different sexual positions;, the detailed description of the first five leaves in the "Zhao Mengfu" album that appears   in Li Yu's Roupu Tuan,[3] along with the references to  Tang Yin's “Six Extraordinary Positions” and Qiu Ying's “Ten Glorious Positions” in van Gulik's somewhat problematic text, suggest that kind of series for Yuan-Ming examples. Although no painted examples so early as those are extant, nor any by such famous masters, the titles and descriptions suggest that all these belonged loosely to the same serial type that made up late Ming woodblock-printed erotic albums, which will be treated in the following section.


The type is seen as well in the plethora of poor-quality erotic albums from later periods, which in this respect follow the old model instead of the newer one.[4] The tiles and paintings described by Casanova in the mid-eighteenth century also seem from his brief descriptions to fit this older model. (We may note, without suggesting any historical connection, that early European erotic pictures, notably the sixteenth-century series I modi by Giulio Romano and Marcantonio Raimondi with accompanying verses by Pietro Aretino, follow the same pattern.)[5] In this older model, the main image in each picture is of a couple making love in some fashion, sometimes joined or watched by a third person, usually (in China) a girl or woman. (Some of the erotic prints, as we will see, expand on this formula while continuing the basic pattern.)

Erotic picture series of this kind might be seen as pictorial equivalents to the sex manuals described and translated by van Gulik and others,[6] and also to erotic fiction before late Ming, such as the Ruyijun Zhuan, probably early sixteenth century in date, which details serially the debaucheries of the Tang Empress Wu Zetian with her lover Xue Aocao.[7] Both genres consist largely of descriptions of one sex act or position after another, with little intrusion of psychological insights or dramatic complexities, and few interludes of non-sexual narrative or description to set off the accounts of copulations. The appearance in the later sixteenth century of Jin Ping Mei, and later Roupu Tuan and others,[8] transformed this literary genre, or created an essentially new one; and that transformation may well have been the incentive that spurred some artists to rethink and re-imagine their pictorial genre. Perhaps the job of illustrating fiction of the new type, together with the new availability of foreign-derived representational and spatial techniques, provided inspiration and enabling conditions for the creation of a new type of erotic picture series, one comparable to the new fiction in the effects attempted and the expressive depths achieved. The new type of erotic picture album that answered these criteria seems to have emerged in the early Qing period, especially in the hands of the versatile and endlessly resourceful Gu Jianlong.

Two erotic painting albums can serve to represent the older type. One (Album A) is by a Suzhou small master named Wang Sheng, who is recorded as active in the late Ming period (another work by him is dated to 1614),[9] so that his album may predate any of Gu Jianlong's by a few decades and thus have the distinction of being the earliest erotic painting by an identifiable artist presently known (Figs.9, 10). Two of the facing leaves of calligraphy contain a date corresponding to 1595, and the ten paintings may have been done in that year. Wang Sheng signs the last of the ten, contradicting Zhang Geng’s observation that “secret-play pictures aren't signed by the artists.” The album follows the older type in a plan basically similar to those of the printed albums. In the first leaf (Fig. 9), a scholar and beauty simply stand beneath a flowering tree on a lakeshore, their amorous feelings expressed in his gentle embrace and her delicately raised hand. The other leaves are simple depictions of copulations in different settings and positions, the only departures from this formula being a leaf with sex in a boat on the shore and another (the last, signed leaf) with a homoerotic encounter (Fig. 82). Thematically, the album has much in common with the closely contemporary woodblock-printed albums, which also include a few leaves picturing homoerotic sex and alternate the heterosexual copulations between interior and garden settings. Even Wang Sheng's scenes of open and active coition (Fig.10) are cool in mood, especially in contrast with the strenuous coupling seen in the fenben picture (Fig. 6). In this respect the album indicates the direction that good erotic painting will take for the rest of its history. Enhancing this effect of reserve are the spacious, uncluttered compositions, typical of figures-in-interiors pictures by Suzhou lesser masters of the Ming-Qing transition. We recognize the artist’s technical finesse in these superficially simple leaves only on longer looking: the fine, even line drawing of the figures against the firmer and fluctuating outlines of the blanket; the rough-brush depiction of the landscape on the screen set against the meticulously rendered pattern of the surrounding brocade. Unfashionable and neglected though they have been, figure paintings by minor Suzhou masters of the late Ming-early Qing period preserve the local tradition of high-level craftsmanship, besides sometimes revealing refined sensibilities. They also provide an art-historical milieu out of which Gu Jianlong and his followers can be seen to emerge and to effect a deeper-going transformation of the genre.

Fig. 9.

Fig. 10.

The second album of the older type (Album R), an exception to the general observation that this type persists after late Ming mainly in low-level examples, probably dates from the late 17th or early 18th century, the Kangxi era, and may be by some artist working in Zhejiang province, perhaps the Hangzhou or Shaoxing region, since elements of style in it are reminiscent of the late Zhe school. Each of the eight leaves depicts a heterosexual couple having or about to have sex. In one, a girl servant helps to support the woman, and in another the man appears to be of northern nomadic origin.[10] Other than these minor variations, the pictures all present youthful couples engaged in amorous couplings in garden or interior settings. The rich mineral blue-and-green coloring of the rocks, the luxuriant trees and flowers (which also serve to set the seasons), all contribute to the auspicious and comfortable atmosphere created in the pictures. The lovemaking is tender, unhurried; no signs of strong passion appear on the faces—at most, slight smiles of pleasure. Genitals are exposed and in most of the leaves engaged, but they are depicted modestly, not blatantly; the women display little pubic hair. No irony colors the pictures, no tension between desire and circumstance. This is just the kind of album, arousing but at the same time calming, that might well have been used in the way seen in one of the pictures, looked at by the couple together before they proceed with sex (Fig. 3). We can imagine that erotic albums by conservative Ming masters may have looked like this, allowing for variations in style.

Thematically, the leaves are close to those in the Wang Sheng album: interiors alternating with garden scenes, the figures large within the frames. The outdoor scene with the lovers beneath a willow (Fig. 11) appears to depict a consummation of young love, carried out with enthusiasm and after some preparation; this is not a spontaneous encounter. They have spread a mat on the ground beside a garden pond, beneath a willlow. With an orchid in her hair, she leans against a backrest, and has set down a fan decorated with butterflies in flight, an emblem of light dalliance. She rests one hand on his shoulder, the other on a pile of painting albums, presumably erotic. She wears a light green gauze jacket over a red moxiong, a garment that Chinese women had worn since the Tang dynasty as a kind of broad brassiere[11]--it is often the only piece of clothing that the woman has not removed in Chinese erotic pictures, an indication, perhaps, that gazing at the female breasts was not the turn-on for Chinese males that it has been in the West. Far more arousing for them were the woman’s bound feet and the small embroidered shoes worn over them, which are shown prominently in the pictures. An interior scene (Fig.12) agrees with similar leaves in the Wang Sheng album in backing the couple with a painted screen—the design here a blossoming plum—and opening glimpses back or sideward into the garden. But here the interior space is not only much more richly appointed, but also more complex and at the same time more readable than Wang Sheng could manage. In the century or so of interim between the periods of activity of the two artists, a new mastery of rendering interior spaces had been accomplished collectively by painters working in different places and in different styles. It is part of what makes possible the new expressive complexities that Gu Jianlong and his followers could achieve.

Fig. 11. 

Fig. 12.

[1]David Roy, in his translation, calls it an album, but he now (private communication) agrees that it was more likely a handscroll. Cf. n. 14 above.

[2] A translation of the inscription is in van Gulik, Sexual Life, pp. 291-92.

[3]Hanan, trans., The Carnal Prayer Mat, p. 47-49.

[4] van Gulik, Sexual Life pp. 128-30, translates a list of positions for sex, with fanciful names ("Winding Dragon" etc.) and descriptions, from an early sex manual, the Tongxuanzi. This is presumably the source for identifications of them supplied in popular books and catalogs illustrating late examples,  e.g. Nik Douglas and Penny Slinger, The Pillow Book: The Erotic Sentiment and the Paintings of India, Nepal, China and Japan (New York: Destiny Books, 1984.).

[5]I modi, drawings by Giulio Romano (1499-1546), engraved by Marcantonio Raimondi, accompanying sonnets by Pietro Aretino (1492-1556), probably first printed in 1524. See I modi, The Sixteen Pleasures: An Erotic Album of the Italian Renaissance, ed., trans. from the Italian, and with commentary by Lynne Lawner (Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press, 1988).

[6]van Gulik, Sexual Life, chap. 10, "Ming Dynasty," especially pp. 268-86; also Douglas Wile, Art of the Bedchamber: The Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics, including Women’s Solo Meditation Texts (Albany, N.Y., State University of New York Press, 1992.) It should be stressed again, however, that Chinese writings offer no support for the foreign notion that Chinese erotic paintings are to be understood as illustrations to such texts.

[7]Charles Stone, The Fountainhead of Chinese Erotica: The Lord of Perfect Satisfaction (Ruyijun Zhuan). (Honolulu: Univ. of Hawaii Press, 2003.) I am grateful to Stone for making his translation of the work available to me earlier in manuscript. The Ruyijun Zhuan does, to be sure, contain numerous historical allusions and moralizing passages, but these are far less integral to the text than the narrative elements of erotic fiction of the later type were to be. Three other fictional works of this type are described by van Gulik, Sexual Life, p. 313-17. Still another, from the later sixteenth century, is the Chi Pozi Zhuan, “A Crazed Woman,” studied by Giovanni Vitiello in "Family Affairs: A Crazed Woman and Late Ming Pornography," in: Antonino Forte and Federico Masini, eds., A Life Journey to the East: Sinological Studies in Memory of Giuliano Bertuccioli (Kyoto: Scuola Italiana di Studi sull'Asia Orientale, 2002) pp. 245-262. Vitiello points out (p. 251) that “As is also the case in Renaissance pornography, postures play a crucial rhetorical role in late Ming pornographic fiction.”

[8]A piece of erotic fiction from the Shunzhi era (1644-1661) that has only recently been recognized as a serious and interesting work that "holds up a mirror to marriage in ancient China" is Yipian Qing; see Huang Lin, "A Mirror to Marriage in Traditional China: Notes on A Tangle of Emotions (I-p'ien Ch'ing), The Gest Library Journal (Winter 1992), pp. 103-17.

[9] Representing a woman, attended by her maid, playing a flute in a garden, it is reproduced in Bimo Jinghua: Duoyunxuan Juancang Guojia Bowuguan Shuhua Xuan (Splendors of Brush and Ink: A Collection of Chinese Calligraphy and Painting to National Museums Contributed by Duo Yun Xuan) (Shanghai: Shanghai Fine Arts Publishers, 2000), pl. 62. Wang Sheng's erotic album is reproduced in its entirety in Le Palais du printemps (cf. note 1), 45-69.

[10] For these two, see Beurdeley et. al, Chinese Erotic Art, pp. 77 and 82. Other leaves of the album are reproduced there and in Liebeskunst: Liebeslust und Liebesleid in der Weltkunst (Zurich, Museum Rietberg, 2002), nos. 154-57, pp. 204-207. The whole album is in Le Palais du printemps, 180-191.

[11] See Robert H. van Gulik, Sexual Life in Ancient China (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1961) p. 299; also Valery M. Garrett, Chinese Clothing, An Illustrated Guide, Hong Kong, 1994, pp. 22-23, where it is referred to as a "bib brassiere."

London 1935/36 Exhibition: " Early" Paintings from China


London 1935/36 Exhibition: “Early” Paintings from China

Prefatory Note: This will be an attempt to assess in greater detail the “early” (pre-Sung and Sung) Chinese paintings among the loans sent by the Chinese government to the London 1935-36 exhibition. (I mean, of course, the International Exhibition of Chinese Art, London, British Museum, 1935-36.) My argument, communicated to several colleagues but never published, has been that the “early” paintings among that selection are so overwhelmingly “bad” choices, and the really early surviving works by major masters among them so few, that we have to conclude that this “bad” selection was deliberate: the Chinese selection committee, either on instruction from higher up or on their own initiative, deliberately avoided sending more than a few of their “national treasure” works to London, probably (I speculate) believing either that it would be too dangerous to send these most valuable pieces overseas, or that the foreigners wouldn’t really know the difference anyway—or both. I knew two people who were members of this selection committee, C. C. Wang and Xu Bangda, but failed to remember to ask them this question while they were still able to respond. (Wang died; Xu was unable to communicate clearly, as reported by a friend who, at my request, tried putting this question to him on a visit to him in Beijing late in his life. See, on my website, R&R no. 67, “Ask Old People Things While They Still Can Answer.”)

To the initial response of some colleagues with whom I’ve raised this matter, that the committee must have made honest mistakes, not yet having determined what the real early masterworks were, I sent the following paragraphs (May, 2010):

“In Berkeley I also did something I could only do there, about the 1935 -36 London exhibition problem. I’m never going to reach the point of writing a learned article about this, but I will post another thing about it on my website eventually, and correspond with interested people.

. “What I did in Berkeley is look into my copy—falling apart—of the important old book that in my Index of Early Ch Ptrs & Ptgs (see Biblio p. 392) is called Nanking Exhib. cat., the illustrated catalog of a government-sponsored exhibition held in Nanjing in 1937, just the year after London. My thought was: if the Chinese committee that chose the paintings to go to London had really chosen all those bad paintings as honest mistaken judgments, then the selection for their own exhibition in Nanjing the year later should be correspondingly weak. What I found was pretty much what I suspected, the opposite of that: all the great early paintings from the Palace Museum collection that didn’t go to London did to to Nanjing for this one: “Ching Hao” Mt. K’uang-lu (#8), Chao Kan scroll (#14), Fan K’uan ((#16), Li T’ang 1124 (#18), Ts’ui Po 1061 (#1061), Kuo Hsi 1072 (#25), Wu Yuan-chih “Red Cliff” (#28), the great Hsia Kuei “Pure and Remote View” scroll (#34), and so forth. Lots of major Yuan ptgs, although the Huang Kung-wang Fu-ch’un scroll is somehow absent. And lots of fine & famous Ming-Ch’ing ptgs; good selection of Shitao and Bada, etc. Famous albums of Sung ptgs. In other words, a selection at least as good as our Chinese Art Treasures show of 1960, which introduced these treasures to US audiences. They knew exactly what they were doing. The preface to the catalog mentions the BM exhibition, and the Chinese government sending things to it, but says nothing about the selection? Someone else should read this, who reads Chinese better, to get the implications. They may be saying that the committee held off on sending the great works to London to save them for Nanjing. But even so, the London selection could have been a lot better, if they honestly meant to send "national treasures" as they claimed to be doing. Anyway, my point, I think, is made. I still don’t have the Chinese catalog of what they sent to London—it’s being shipped—so what I write about that is from memory. But as I wrote before, I think that just about the only “good” early painting that went to London is the Ma Yuan “Banquet by Lantern Light,” which they included because at that time it was believed in China to be the bad one.”

Now (July 2010) I have my purchased copy of the Chinese catalog of painting and calligraphy loans and can proceed with a more detailed analysis.

(Illustrated Catalogue of Chinese Government Exhibits for the International Exhibition of Chinese Art in London, Shanghai, 1936, 4 vols.; volume on painting and calligraphy.)

First of all, of the recognized masterworks of early painting listed above, eight of them, from the “Ching Hao” Mt. K’uang-lu (not all that masterly, really, as shown in my lecture series, in which I show details from it and see it to be an impressive composition executed by a routine hand—a copy?) to the “great Hsia Kuei scroll,” how many went to London? Answer: none. Zero, zilch, naught. The “Anon. Sung”  Banquet by Lantern Light went (no. 58) but only because it was then believed to be the copy, and the one ascribed to Ma Yuan the original. We now know that it’s the reverse. So, what did London get in “pre-Sung” and “Sung” paintings? Enough to send studies of early Ch. painting in wrong directions for a whole generation: (using their numbers)

1. a “Li Chao-tao” Loyang Tower picture, much later;

2. The wrong “Emperor Ming-huang’s Journey” picture, called Travelers in Spring Mountains (Loehr reproduces both in his book);

3. An “Anon. T’ang” Snow LS, really much later;

4. An album of fan=shaped leaves  with facing inscriptions called “T’iao Kwan-yin,  Five Dynasties”—not so early, no association with him;

5. One real masterpiece: Deer in an Autumn Forest, now recognized  as a Liao work, not so highlyvalued then;

6. Anon. 5 Dyn.: “Fisherman on Snowy Day,” much reproduced afterwords, favorite with non-specialists, but surely post-Sung;

7. “Tung Yuan,” the Lungshan Chiao Min picture; good Yuan-dynasty work, much discussed  later for its subject, much  reproduced—how often we gazed at it;

8. Awful fake Chû-jan, not earlier than Ming;

9. “Fan K’uan, “Sittng Alone By a Stream,” later Sung school work, not bad, not The Fan K’uan;

10. “Yen Wen-kuei,” “Three Immortals in a Cave,” strange Ming picture;

11. “Chao Ch’ang” flower picture, “Sui-ch’ao t’u” = New Year’s, Ming decorative work;

12. “Chao Ch’ang” Peonies: ditto (give the foreigners some pretty flower pictures!)

13.”Ts’ui Po” Goose, Yuan or early Ming, ditto;

14., (Sung calligraphy=-for someone else to judge, not me);

15. “Kuo Hsi” Spring snow on Mountain Pass, with insc. dtd. 1072. Yuan work? Much discussed, believed in, e.g. by Loehr.

16. “Kuo Hsi” Landscape (with tall cliff). Ming picture.

17. “Kuo Hsi” Recluse in Mountain Village, Ming Che-school, by Li Tsai? (How could this great artist be represented by three such mediocre works?)

18. “Mi Fei” (Fu), “Pine Trees and Mountains in Spring.” This was in Chinese Art Treasures (not one of my choices); no opinion on real date..

19.”Emperor Hui Tsung” White Goose & Red Polygonums.. Yuan-Ming copy?

20. “Hui-tsung” Evening Scene by Lake handscroll, on paper, broad style; I’ve never known what to do with these, don’t especially like them.

21. More Sung calligraphy: no opinion.

22. “Li Ti” Buffalo and Herdboys Returning. This was in Chinese Art Treasures; I ended up taking it to be a good court copy.

23. “Li T’ang” Milch Cow with eErdboy. Early Ming copy?

24. “Chao Po-chô” Spring Mountains. Ming, close to Ch’iu Ying.

25. Su Han-ch’en, Children At Play. This was in Chinese Art Treasures; fine work, quite likely as attributed.

27. Su Han-ch’en, “A Pedlar of Toys.” Good Ming work.

28. Ma Ho-chih, Willowy Stream in Spring. Fine early work, could be.

29. “Ma Ho-chih,” Busy Idler: man sitting under tree twisting thread. Ming work.

30. “Liu Sung-nien,” Women Weaving. Ming work.

31. “Liu Sung-nien,” Five Scholars of T’ang, Fine; Southern Sung Academy?

32.  “Lin Ch’un” Ten Magpies Singing. Ming work.

33. Chu Hsi calligraphy, with portrait of him at beginning.

34. “Yen Tz’u-p’ing” “Four Pleasures.” Style of Yuan Chiang! Ridiculous as Sung painting.

35. “Li Sung” Arhat. Probably Yuan painting.

36. “Ma Yuan” Gazing At the Moon.” Ming work, by Chung Li, whose signature and seal are still on it!

37. “Ma Yuan,” Solitary Fisherman Sleeping in Boat. Ming work.

38. “Hsia Kuei” Willow Bank on West Lake. Ming work.

39. “Hsia Kuei,” 10,000 Li of Yangtze, Long, long handscroll. Ming Zhe-school work. (I read somewhere that the BM people, or somebody, particularly requested this; doesn’t excuse Chinese committee for sending it.)

40. “Ma Lin” Three Quail Under Tree in Snow. Ming picture.

41. “Lu Tsung-kuei” Birds Welcoming the Spring. Ming work.

42. Album: Li=tai hua;-fu chi-=ts’e. This has several good paintings in it, bird-and-flower pictures, a picture of T’ao Yuan-ming Drunk; but also a “Li Ch’eng” painted by Wang Hui, early Ch’ing. Ch’ien-lung Emperor loved it.

So, to state the question asked above in another way: Were there any paintings in the group from China that were reliable works by any Sung or pre-Sung artist? Answer: maybe one, no. 25, the Su Han-ch’en “Children At Play,” not signed but plausibly by him.  No others, not one.

Nos. 43-62: these are Anon. Sung paintings, including a number of fine and genuinely early ones. The selection committee was much more generous in sending anonymous early paintings than they were with “signed” or attributed ones. As noted before, no. 58, the “Anon. Sung” Banquet By Lantern-light is the work now recognized as the genuine Ma Yuan painting of this subject; it was sent because at that time the “Ma Yuan” version was mistaken as the original.

Nos. 63-103, Yuan paintings: Here, too, the selection was much better, and includes quite a few fine and genuine works. Sending the “wrong” Huang Kung-wang Fu-ch’un scroll (no. 70), the one with Ch’ien-lung inscriptions covering most of the bare spaces, may have been an honest mistake--there was still some disagreement at this time about which was the genuine work.

All-over conclusions: The Chinese government’s selection committee, either acting on their own judgment or on instructions from above, avoided sending any of the recognized masterworks by Sung and earlier artists to the London 1935 - 36 exhibition. This decision, and the subsequent reproduction and citation in writings on Chinese painting of the “wrong” paintings that were sent instead, seriously set back studies in the West for several decades, until the 1961 Chinese Art Treasures exhibition brought the good ones to the U.S., allowed extensive slide-making and photographing, and totally transformed our field of study.  Those of us who studied the subject, formally or just by reading, during the 1940s-50s had to use books by Siren, Cohn, Loehr and others in which the "wrong" paintings were reproduced and discussed, along with the “good” ones, as by Sung artists. Arthur Waley and others who criticized the Chinese selection at the time of the London exhibition were right in doing so; John C. Ferguson and others who maintained that the Chinese datings must be respected because their level of connoisseurship was superior were wrong. It is time for the record to be set straight on this crucial episode in the history of Chinese painting studies.

Added Note: Re-reading the essay by John C. Ferguson (“Reflections on the London Exhibition of Chinese Art,” in T’ien Hsia Monthly II/5, May 1936, 433 -442), I am reminded that his criticism was directed at the British writers of the exhibition catalog and labels for suggesting datings that differed from those given in the Chinese catalog. His long penultimate paragraph (pp. 441-2) provides examples of changed dates for the paintings, and makes clear—no surprise—that the British authorities were not themselves on very solid ground in this area (in contrast to others such as ceramics and bronzes, in which they had themselves engaged in high-level collecting and scholarship). They wrote, for example, of no. 995, the “Children At Play” attributed to Su Han-ch’en—the one Sung-attributed painting in the whole Chinese government selection, as suggested above, that has a good chance of being by the artist to whom it is attributed—they wrote of it as “unsigned but probably Ming.” But this British weakness on dating and attribution of paintings does not, I think, excuse the deliberate choices of “bad” paintings by the Chinese committee, which did know better, as is shown (see above) by the selection made for the Nanjing exhibition in the following year, and by abundant other evidence.

Another added note: Arthur Waley, bless him, wrote in his review of the exhibition (Time and Tide for November 30, 1935): “Despite the admirable way in which the objects are displayed, it must be confessed that this exhibition is something of a disappointment. . . The pictures, indeed, come near to being a fiasco.”

Reading about exhibition organizers who alter the datings of paintings sent from China reminds me of my own experience in 1961 when conservative Chinese authorities in Taipei, after reading our text for the painting section of the Chinese Art Treasures catalog in which we proposed datings later than the traditional attributions for some of the paintings, demanded that we return to the traditional datings—if we did not, they warned, the exhibition would not go forward. How I responded to this demand in a way that could have caused a crisis, and how the Chinese ambassador to the U.S. (and my friend) George Yeh saved the day with a compromise, is told in the opening pages of my essay “The Place of the National Palace Museum in My Scholarly Career,” on my website jamescahill.info as CLP (Cahill Lectures and Papers) no. 117 (2005). The crucial difference, I hasten to point out, is that the revised datings we used in the catalog were not foreign opinions opposed to or “correcting” Chinese, but opinions shared by the real authorities both Chinese and foreign: the selection of paintings for this exhibition, and the re-datings of some of them offered in the catalog, were heavily based on my own experience of looking at these paintings with Chinese specialists such as C. C. Wang and Li Lin-ts’an, and were in line with the views of other really knowledgeable authorities such as the Palace Museum’s Director Chuang Yen. The demand that traditional attributions (based on those made in the Qianlong Emperor’s catalog) be retained was made rather by powerful conservative political figures on the Palace Museum’s governing committee, notably Wang Shih-chieh. This, too, is spelled out in my essay.

Books Read


Intro to Books Read

Now I am going to introduce a curious old document that I found by chance while searching for something else in my old library-study in Berkeley. It is a list--and I can’t recall why or when I made it--of all the books I read during a period of four years or so? from my entry into the Army in 1944 until some time in 1948 when I had returned from the Army and was an undergrad student at U.C. again. The term “books” is used loosely--some are collections of plays, or long poems, etc.

I carried books with me always when I was in the Army, because we spent so much time waiting, time that could be spent reading. I was bawled out often for having a bulge in the pocket of my uniform, a bulge that was a pocket book, one of the Oxford World Classics or something like that. In free time in Ann Arbor I haunted bookstores, especially one called Wahr’s on State Street near the campus--it is no longer there. As a special customer I was allowed to descend into their basement where a great many books were stored--I found treasures there. I carried books in the footlocker that held all the soldier’s belongings; I had (and still treasure) a small leather-bound India-paper volume of the poems of Robert Browning that I meant to take into battle if I were ever sent to the battlefield, to carry over my heart to stop bullets, as the Bible had reportedly done for others.

Many of the books on this list now bring back no memories at all--I can’t remember why I read them, or what they were about. Others, on the other hand, stir nostalgia and an urge to find copies and read them again--as of course I never will. A few are still in my old library in Berkeley--Max Beerbohm’s A Christmas Garland, Ben Hecht’s Count Bruga, for two. (If you enjoy delicious parodies and don’t know Beerbohm’s book, find a copy--a treasure.)

Appended to the List of Books Read is a list of espionage novels that I read and liked during this early period, as a guide to what I considered the especially good ones. A note at the end mentions the authors I would of course include if I were to update it, especially three: John le Carre (his early books especially), Alan Furst, Charles McCarry (serious spy novel readers need to find all of his and read them, ideally in sequence since a kind of all-over narrative connects them.)

So, here it is to browse and wonder over: where did he find that? And why would anybody read it?

James Cahill   February 20, 2012

BOOKS READ (from Jan. 2, 1945, entry into Army, until 1948?)

I. Ann  Arbor (Jap. Language School)

1. Pride and Prejudice: Jane Austen

2,  Count Bruga: Ben Hecht (second time)

3.  The Somerset Maugham Pocket Book (Cakes and Ale, The Circle, stories, essays)

4. Old Man Adam and His Children: Roark Bradford

5. Anna Karenina (2 vols.)

6. Six Elizabethan Plays (1. The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Beaumont & Fletcher; Philemon: Webster; 3: The Duchess of Malfi, 4. The White Devil, Dekker; 5. The Shoemaker’s Holiday, Massinger; 6. A New Way To Pay Old Debts.)

7. Shakespeare Tempest, As You Like It, Merry Wives of Windsor.

8, 9, Ruskin: Sesame and Lilies, Ethics of the Dust.

10-12, George Moore, Hail and Farewell (3 vols: Ave, Salve, Vale)

13. John Austen, Rogues in Porcelain: 18th cent. lyrics.

14. Kenneth Grahame, Pagan Papers (second time)

15-17. Christopher Morley, Thorofare, last half; The Powder of Sympathy (read by bits at USO), Ex Libris Carissimus

18. Flaubert, Madame Bovary (on first furlough)

19, Yeats: five or six plays, many poems.

Poetry of many sorts; magazines (chiefly Encore, Tomorrow)

20. Parts if Romany Rye, Tristram Shandy, Rabelais, etc.

21. Gissing, Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft.

22. Rockwell Kent, Wilderness (this includes much time enjoying the pictures)

23. Kenneth Grahame & wife, First Whispers of The Wind In the Willows.

24, F. A. Steel, Arthur Rackham illus., English Fairy Tales.

25. Hendrik de Leeuw, Cities of Sin—on the Oriental underworld.

26. Robinson Jeffers, The Tower Beyond Tragedy (dramatic poem)

27. Christopher Morley (Arthur Rackham illus.) Where the Blue Begins

28, Poems, Translations from the Chinese; Christopher Morley, The Rocking Horse.

(This much by June1,1945)

II. Basic Training in Alabama.

29. James Stephens, In the Land of Youth.

30. W. B. Yeats, The Great Hern’s Egg, and Other Plays.

31. Lawrence Housman, A Farm in Fairyland.

32. Kenneth Grahame, The Headswoman (second time)

33. Octave Mirbeau, The Torture Garden

34. Alexander Smith, Dreamthorp and Other Essays

35.  Anatole France, Penguin Island

36. George Moore, Evelyn Innes

37.  Llewelyn Powys, Love and Death

38. Robert Frost, The Masque of Reason

39. Isaac Walton, The Complete Angler.

40.John Cowper Powys, The Meaning of Culture

(Second furlough)

41, Thomas Love Peacock, The Misfortunes of Elphin

42. Peacock, Headlong Hall

43. George Moore, Avowals

44, Essays from Charles Lamb

“     “     George Moore, Impressions and Opinions, Modern Art

“      “    the prose works of Francis Thompson

45. Chaucer, The Miller’s  Tale, Reve’s Tale, Monk’s Tale, Merchant’s Tale, from Canterbury Tales

46. John Gay, The Beggar’s Opera

47. Petronius Arbiter, Satyricon

48. Maeterlinck, Pelleas and Melisande

49. The Pilgrim’s Progress, Part I.

50. Ludwig Bemelmans, Small Beer

51.   “         “            , My War With the United States

52. Byron, Don Juan, Cantoes I – IV.

53. Darrel Figgis, The Return of the Hero.

54.Clarence Day, Scenes from the Mesazoic

55. Jean de Bouscheres, illus., Folk Tales of Flanders

56. Hermann Kesten, Copernicus and His World.

57. Abbe Prevost, Manon Lescaut

58. Anais Nin, Under a Glass Bell

59. Anatole France, The Gods Are Athirst

60. Longus? tr. George Thornley, illus. John Austen:  Daphnis and Chloe

61. Kate Greenaway, Under the Window

62. Flaubert, Temptations of St. Anthony

63.George Borrow, The Romany Rye

64. Lord Dunsany, Last Tales of Wonder

65. Horace Gregory, trans., The Poems of Catullus

66. George Dorsey, Man’s Own Show: Civilization (Harriette) ch. 1-8

67. Anatole France, The Revolt of the Angels

68. W.B. Yeats, The Wanderings of Ossian (dramatic poem)

69. Richard Garnett, The Twilight of the Gods (short stories etc.)

70. Lord Dunsany, My Talks with Dean Spanley (?)

71. Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops To Conquer

(To here by Jan.1, 1946)

72. Ella Young, Flowering Dusk

73. H. P. Lovecraft, The Weird Shadow Over Innsmouth etc.

73a. Fiona MacLeod, Deirdre and the Sons of Usnach.

74, Voltaire, Candide (reread) (Here on third furlough)

75. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars

76. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

77.A. Merritt, The Ship of Ishtar

78. A. Merritt, Dwellers in the Mirage

IV. Basic Training, Alabama

79. William Saroyan, 48 Short Stories

80. Five Pre-Shakespearian Comedies, ed. Boas.

1, Fulgens and Lucrece, Medwall

2. The Playe Called the Foure PP, John Heywood

3. Ralph Roister-Doister, Nicholas Udall

4. Gammer Gurton’s Needle, Mr. S. Ma. of Art

5. Supposes, George Gascoigne

V. Fort Snelling, Minnesota

81. H. P. Lovecraft, The Dunwich Horror, The  Shadow Out of Time

82. Walt Whitman, Prose Notes from Nature

83. Henry James, The Death of the Lion (Y.B.)

84. Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Night Flight

85.Oscar Wilde, The Decay of Lying

86.James Thurber, The White Deer

87. Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater

88.  Robert Gibbings, Lovely Is the Lee

89.Erskin Caldwell, God’s Little Acre

90. Walter de la Mare, The Return

91. Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

92. Henry James, The Coxom Friend (?) (YB)

93. Shakespeare, King Lear (reread), Timon of Athens

94. W. H. Hudson, Green Mansions

95. H.W. Longfellow, The Spanish Student (play, worthless)

96. John dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer

97. John Collier, Defy the Foul Fiend

98. D. H. Lawrence, The Lovely Lady

99. Christian Darnton, You and Music

100. Kaufman and Hart, Once In a Lifetime, You Can’t Take It With You

101.Ben Johnson, Every Man In His Humour

102. Sophocles, Oedipus Rex

103. George Gissing, The House of Cobwebs

104, Virginia Woolf, Orlando

105. Ralph Temple, Cuckoo Time

106. Andre Maurois, Ariel: The  Life of Shelley

107. Christopher Morley, Thunder On the Left

108. Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson

109. S. J. Perelman, Crazy Like a Fox

110. H.. P. Lovecraft, In the Vault, The Rats in the Walls, Pickman’s Model, The Music of Erich Zann, The Color Out of Space, The Call of Cthulhu, The Moon Bog, The Hound.

111. Irving Stone, Lust For Life (life of van Gogh)

112. Ludwig Bemelmans, I Love You, I Love You, I Love You

113.Arthur Machen, The Great God Pan, and Other Stories

114.John Collier, Green Thoughts, and Other Stories

115. Aeschylus, tr. Lewis Campbell, The Early Plays: The Persians, The Suppliants, Seven against Thebes,

116, Lord Dunsany, The Book of Wonder

117.James Stephens, The Charwoman’s Daughter (Mary, Mary)

118. Robert Lawson, Mr.Wilson (illus. by author)

119. Aeschylus, tr. Lewis Campbell, The Late Plays: The Orestrean Trilogy: Agamemnon, The Choephoroe, The Eumenides; also Prometheus Unbound.

120. Jessie (?) The Undying Monster

121. Goldoni, The Liar

122. Yone Noguchi, Harunobu

123. Frank Lloyd Wright, Japanese Color Prints: An Appreciation

124. Henry James, Daisy Miller, An International Episode, The Author of Beltruffio.

125. Edward F. Strange, Japanese Color Prints

126. Rupert Brooke, Collected Poems

127. H. Rider Haggard, She

128. (skipped)

129. Sir Thomas Browne, Religio Medici

130. H. Davison Ficke, Chats on Japanese Prints

131. Norman Krasna, Dear Ruth, play.

132.  Sir Thomas Malory, Morte d’Arthur Books I-VII (reread)

133. Algernon Blackwood, Short Novels and Stories

134. Jeremiah Digger, Bowley Bill

135, Sir Thomas Browne, Hyudriotaphia, or the Urne Buriall

136, W. H. Hudson, The Purple Land

137. G. B. Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession (with Author’s Apology)

138. Lord Dunsany, Time and the Gods

139. Samuel Butler, The Way of All Flesh

140. Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

141. Walter Pater, The Child In the House, Conclusion to Studies in the Renaissance, Sebastian von Storck, etc.

142. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Diamond As Big As the Ritz, and Other Stories

143. Virginia Woolf, The Years

144. Stefan Zweig, The Royal Game, Amok, Letter From an Unknown Woman

VIII. Korea

145. H. L. Wilson, Ruggles of Red Gap

146, Dorothy Parker, Sunset Gun: verses

147.A. A. Milne, The Red House Mystery

148. Thornton Wilder, Our Town

149. Alexander Woolcott, While Rome Burns

150,  Pearl S. Buck, The Good Earth

151. Joseph Wechsberg, Looking For a Bluebird

152. Morton Thompson, Joe, the Wounded Tennis Player

153. Herman Melville, Moby Dick or The Whale

154.Nicolai Gogol, Dead Souls

155.Ivan Turgeneff, Fathers and Sons

156. Lawrence Watkins, On Borrowed Time

157.H.H. Munro (Saki) 24 Short Stories

158.Arthur Kober, Thunder Over the Bronx

159. John van Druten, The Voice of the Turtle

160. James Gibson Huneker, Painted Veils

161. Aaron Copland, What to Look For in Music

162. Walter Savage Landor, Imaginary Portraits

163.John Erskine, The Private Life of Helen of Troy

164.Whit Burnett, ed., Time To Be Young (anthology)

165. John O’Hara, Pal Joey

166. Max Beerbohm, A Christmas Garland

167. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse

168. Kaufman and Ryskind, Of Thee I Sing

169. Maxwell Anderson, Elizabeth the Queen

170. Edmund Wilson, Memoirs of Hecate County

171. Maxwell Anderson, What Price Glory

172. Eugene O’Neill, Anna Christie

173. Frederick William Gookin, Japanese Colour Prints and Their Designers

174. John Galsworthy, Escape

175. R. C. Sheriff, Journey’s End

176. Stephen Crane, Whilomville Stories

177.G. B. Shaw, Candida

178. D. H. Lawrence, The Portrait of M. M.

179. Luigi Pirandello, Six Characters In Search Of An Author

180. Edmund Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac, reread.

181 Arthur Schnabel, Music and the Line of Most Resistance

182. Maxim Gorky, The Lower Depths

183. George Moore, Esther Waters

184. E. B. White, The Fox of Peapack and Other Verses

185, Ferenc Molnar, Liliom

186, James Stephens, Collected Poems

187, A. E. Housman, Collected Poems

188. Robert Herrick, Love Poems

189. George Moore, Heloise and Abelard

190. E. B. White, Stuart Little

191. Kenneth Patchen, Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer

192. G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

193. Virginia Woolf, The Second Common Reader

194. Philip Wylie, Night Unto Night

195. Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

196. Sally Carrighan, One Day On Beetle Rock

197. Max Shulman, Barefoot Boy With Cheek

198.Walt Whitman, Specimen Days (pages from his journal)

199. Edwin Bulmer and Philip Wylie, When Worlds Collide

200. Philip van Doren Stern, ed. The Moonlight Traveler, anthology

201. Isaac Dineson, Winter’s Tales

Jan. 2, 1947

202. E. M. Forster, A Passage To India

203.James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man

204. Andre Malraux, Man’s Fate

205. John O’Hara, Pipe Night

206. Adolf Dehn, Water Color Painting

207. Virgil Thompson, The State of Music

208. T. H. White, Mistress Masham’s Repose

209. Christopher Isherwood, Prater Violet

210. Thorne Smith, Rain in the Doorway

211. Joseph Conrad, Typhoon

212.Max Schulman, The Zebra Derby

213. James Stephens, The Crock of Gold, reread.

214. George Papashvilz, Anything Can Happen

214. Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady

216. Ben Hecht, Concerning a Woman of Sin, and Other Stories

217. Henry James, The Turn of the Screw, reread

218. Graham Greene, The Confidential Agent

219. E. E. Cummings, The Enormous Room

220. Henry James, The Lesson Of the Master

221. Walter Pater, Imaginary Portraits.

222. J. M. Synge,  In the Shadow of the Glen, The Tinker’s Wedding, Deirdre of the Sorrows, reread.

223.Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

224. J. M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World, The Well of the Saints, Poems, reread.

225. James Henry Duveen,  Art Treasures and Intrigue

226. Christopher Morley, John  Mistletoe

227. J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands, reread

228. John McNulty, Third Avenue, New York

229. Henry Fielding, Tom Jones

230. G. B, Shaw, Saint Joan

231.William Maxwell, The Folded Leaf

232, E. E. Cummings, Tulips and Chimneys, XLI Poems

233. George Harriman, Krazy Kat, Preface by E. E. Cummings

234. Osvald Siren, The Chinese On the Art of Painting

235. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey

236. E. E. Cummings,  W,  No Thanks, Last Poems
237. Evelyn Waugh, Decline and Fall

238. Joel Sayre, Rackety Rax

239. Walter de la Mare, Peacock Pie (reread), Bells and Grass, verse

240. Virginia Woolf, Between the Acts

241. Five Great Modern Irish Plays, including J. M. Synge, The Playboy of the Western World, Riders To the Sea (already read), Sean O’Casey, Juno and the Paycock, Lady Gregory, Spreading the News, Paul Vincent Carroll, Shadow and Substance.

242. John Dos Passos, Number One

243, Norman Douglas, South Wind

244. Virginia Woolf, Monday Or Tuesday

245. Thomas Hardy, Under the Greenwood Tree

246. Kenneth Fearing, The Big Clock

247. Max Beerbohm, Zuleika Dobson (reread)

248. Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg Ohio

249. Walter de la Mare, Behold the Dreamer

250. William Saroyan, Razzle Dazzle

251. Ambrose Bierce, In the Midst of Life

252. James Branch Cabell, Jurgen

253. Jaraslov Hasek, The Good Soldier Schweik

254. Baudelaire, Selected Poems, trans G. A, Wagner, intro. Enid Starkie

255. Maxwell Anderson, Winterset

256.James Branch  Cabell, There Were Three Pirates

257. P. L. Travers, Mary Poppins, Mary Poppins Comes Back

258. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender Is the Night

259. James Joyce, Ulysses

260. Huysmans, Against the Grain

261. D. H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover

262, Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward Angel

263, George Moore, The Brook Kerith

264. Five Elizabethan Tragedies, including:

Jasper Heywood, Thyestes

Norton & Sackville, Gorboduc

Kyd, The Spanish Tragedy

Anon., Arden of Feversham

Thos. Heywood, A Woman Killed With Kindness

265. Walter Barton, This Is My Beloved, poems

266. Thomas Wolfe, Of Time and the River

267. Dostoievsky, The Gambler, Notes From Underground

268, Herman Wouk, Aurora Dawn

269. J. A. Symonds, Wine Women and Song: Medieval Latin Student Songs

270, Shakespeare, Othello

271. Dostoievsky, The Eternal Husband

272, Thomas Wolfe, A Stone, A Leaf, A Door

273. Mary Webb, Precious Bane

274. Dostoievsky, The Brothers Karamazov

25. Lawrence Housman, Victoria Regina

276. Christopher Morley, Human Being

277. Ruth Benedict, Patterns of Culture

278. Richard Sale, Not Too Narrow, Not Too Deep

279. Isaac Dineson, Seven Gothic Tales

280. Algernon Blackwood, The Silence

281, Kenneth Fearing, Clark Gifford’s Body

282. Graham Greene, The Ministry of Fear

283. E. A. Robinson, Tristram

284. Brahms & Simon, Don’t, Mr. Disraeli

285. Graham Greene, The Orient Express

286. Walter de la Mare, Memoirs of a Midget

287, Frederick Prokosch, The Asiatics

288. Mary Webb, The Golden Arrow

289, John Tasker Howard, This Modern Music

290. Frederick Prokosch, The Conspirators

291. Yosup Chu, Kim Yuan: The Romance of a Korean Woman of the 7th Century

292, W. H. Auden, The Sea and the Mirror, New Year’s Letter, Songs and Other Musical Pieces

293. Andre  Gide, The Counterfeiters

294, Richard Hughes, A High Wind in Jamaica

295. Frederick Prokosch, Idols of the Cave

296. Cecil Stewart, Byzantine Legacy

297. Christopher Morley, The Trojan Horse

298. Stendhal,  The Red and the Black

299. John Dos Passos, 42nd Parallel

300. John Dos Passos, 1919.

301. Eugene O’Neill, The Iceman Cometh

302. Jean Charlot, Art From the Mayans to Disney

303. Bruno Frank, The Days of the King

304. John Dos Passos, The Big Money

305. J. A. Symonds, In the Key of Blue, and Other Essays

306. E. H. Visiak, Medusa

307. Paul Goodman, The Facts of Life

308. Anais Nin, Children pf the Albatross

309, Anais Nin, The House of Incest

310, Thomas Wolfe, The Web and the Rock (unfinished)

311. Will Rothenstein, Men and Memories (vol. I: 1872-1900).

312. Charlotte Armstrong, The Unsuspected

313. E. M. Forster, The Longest Journey

314. Kunigita Doppô, Shôjiki Mono, Jonan, Ummei Ronsha (in Japanese)

315, Will Rothenstein, Men and Memories (vol.  2, 1900-present)

316. Elizabeth Ruggles, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life

317. Elmer Rice, A Voyage To Purilia.

318. M. P. Shiel, The Purple Cloud

319. Ludwig Bemelmans, Dirty Eddie

320. Rudolf Besier, The Barrotts of Wimpole Street

321. Willa Cather, Oh Pioneers

322. G. B. Shaw, Short Stories, Scraps and Shavings

323. Dostoievsky, The Idiot

324. M. P. Shiel, The Black Box

325. Anais Nin, Ladders To Fire

326. John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

327. Chekov, Short Stories

328. Dorothy B. Hughes, The Delicate Ape

329. John Tasker Howard, On Modern Composers

330. (skipped)

331. H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines

332. George Meredith, The Ordeal of Richard Feveral

333. Walter Karig, Zotz!

334. Katherine Ann Porter, Selected Short Stories

335. Thomas Mann, Joseph and His Brothers

336. Pietro Donato, Christ in Concrete

337. Eugene O’Neill, The Long Voyage Home

338. Francois Viollon, Poems, trans. J.P. Lepper (reread)

339. H. G. Wells, The Food of the Gods

340. Aristophanes, Comedies, vol. I: The Knights, The  Acharnnians, Peace, Lysistrata, The Clouds

341, H.L. Mencken, Heathen Days

342. Earl  Stanley Gardner, The Case of the Black-Eyed Blonde

343, William Irish, Phantom Lady

344. Aristophanes, Comedies, vol. II: The Wasps, The Birds, The Frogs, Plutus, The Thesmophorizusae, The Ecclesiaszusae

345. John Gay, Polly

346. W. S. Ede, Savage Messiah

347. Ludwig Lewissohn The Tyranny of Sex

348. F,  L. Green, Odd Man Out

349. E. M. Forster, Room With a View

3509, Natsume Soseki, Inhuman Tour (Kusamakura)

351. George Moore, Celibates

352. H. H. Munro (Saki), The Unbearable Bassington

353. Max Beerbohm, Seven Men

354, Franz Kafka, The Trial

355. Osvald Siren & Others, Studies in Chinese Art and Some Indian Influences

356. D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers

357. Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis

358. Maeterlinck, The Death of Tintagulea

359. Graham Greene, The Man Within

360. Kenneth Fearing, Dagger Of the Mind

361. Norman Lindsay, Age of Consent

362. Richard Wright, Uncle Tom’s Children

363. E. M. Forster, Howard’s End

364, John Cleland, Fanny Hill

365. The Kamasutra

366. Edwin Muir, The Marionette

367. Norman Lindsay, The Cautious Amorist

368. john O’Hara, Butterfield 8.

369, Thorne Smith, The Glorious Pool

370. Elinor Wylie, The Venetian Glass Nephew

371. Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

372. Albert Camus, The Stranger

373. George Cronyn, The Fool of Venus

374. Maude Magher, White Jade

375. Christipher Marlowe, The Jew of Malta

376. Anonymous, The West Chamber

377. Haskins, The Normans in Europe

378, Barker, The Crusades

379. Henry Adams, Mont St. Michel and Chartres

380. Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus

381. Rose Quong, trans., Chinese Love and Ghost Stories

382. Andre Gide, The Immoralist

383. Burkhardt, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy

384. Marco Polo, Travels

385. Alan Watts, The Spirit of Zen

386. Eric Ambler, Journey Into Fear

387.    “    “      , Background to Danger

388.     “    “      , Cause For Alarm

389. Manning Coles, Let the Tiger Die

390. Roger Maxwell, Film

391. Ida Zeitlin, Gessar Khan

392. Charles Louis Philippe, Bubu of Montparnasse

393. Eric Ambler, A Coffin For Demetrius

394. Graham Greene, Brighton Rock

395.    “        “       , This Gun For Hire

396. D. T. Suzuki, Introduction to Zen Buddhism

397. Thomas Mann, Death In Venice

398. Tanizaki Junichiro, Ashikari

399. Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms

400. Tanizaki Junichiro, The Story of Shunkin

401. Arthur Waley, Three Ways of Thought In Ancient China

402. Kenkô Hôshi, The Harvest of Leisure (Tsure-zure Gusa)

403. Gilbert Collins, The Starkenden Quest

404. Anon. Chin P’ing Mei

405. Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

Supplement: List of International Intrigue & Espionage Novels (written ca. 1950, maybe a bit later)

The Great Masters

1. Eric Ambler.

a) Earliest, not so adroit as later: Epitaph For a Spy.

The famous four: b) Background to  Danger

c) Cause for Alarm (these two including Zaleshoff, a

Russian agent, and his sister)

d. Journey Into Fear

e. A Coffin For Demetrios

More recent, still first-rate: f) Judgement On Delchef

Co-authored under the pen-name of Elliott Reed: g. Skytip, another.

2. Graham Greene

a) The Confidential Agent (favorite of mine)

b. The Ministry of Fear. Both masterpieces of the genre.

c. The Third Man. Not really espionage, but same atmosphere. (Later: The Tailor of Panama, comic-espionage.)

d. The Orient Express (early work)

3. Almost in the same rank: Dorothy B. Hughes

a) The Delicate Ape. Finest of the lot; read all in one sitting if possible.

b) The So Blue Marble. Not quite a spy story, but same technique.

c)  The Bamboo Blonde, genuine spy story with same characters as b),

d) The Fallen Sparrow. Also one of the best. Also e) The Blackbirders

f) Johnny, g) The Candy Kid, all worth reading.

4. Peter Cheyney, an English writer, does spy stories of a particular sort, concerning network of British agents masterminded by man named Quayle.

a) The London Spy Murders

b) The Dark Street Murders

c) Dark Interlude, and others.

(He also writes imitation-Hammett private eye mysteries)

5. Darwin L. Teilhet & Hildegarde Tolman Teilhet, co-authored:

a) The Fear-Makers. Good book.

He has written several others, names of which I can’t recall; she has written at least four five spy novels, all including a Colonel Hook as deus ex machina:

a) The Assassins b) The Double Agent c) The Rim of Terror, d) The Terrified Society, or something like that—set in Latin America—a pocket book edition appeared under a different title.

6. John P. Marquand: the Mr. Moto stories. All very skillfully written, enjoyable. Curious semi-glorification of Japanese espionage. Dated, of course. See the movies with Peter Lorre as Mr. Moto.

7. Manning Coles. A long series of novels about a British agent, Tommy Hambledon. More relaxed, slower moving than Green, Ambler, Hughes variety; not so exciting, but worth reading. Drink to Yesterday, A Toast To Tomorrow, are the first of them; many follow.

8. Michael Innes (John Innes MacIntosh Stewart).

a) The Case of the Journeying Boy. His only real spy novel, so far as I know. Wonderful.

b) The Paper Thunderbolt. Same sort of thing, well written, like all his novels. Highly recommended.

9. E. Phillips Oppenheim: the old school of espionage writing, seems rather lumbering now.

10. John Buchan. Also old school, but still holds up, although slow.

The 39 Steps, The Four Hostages, Greenmantle, others.

11. Geoffrey Household. In the John Buchan tradition.

a) Manhunt (movie title: Rogue Male.) Probably his best. [Reread recently, 2009: still holds up.]

b) The High Place. Curious book about a colony on international pacifists.

c) Arabesque. Not primarily a spy novel.

d) A Rough Shoot, e) A Time To Kill. Both somewhat disappointing after the above; e) is actually about the efforts of Russian agents to spread the hoof-and-mouth disease among British cattle!

12. Victor Canning

a) A Forest of Eyes, b) Panther’s Moon c) The Chasm, d) The Golden Salamander, e) another located in Venice, don’t recall title. All above average, well worth reading.

13. John Sherwood, Mr. Blessington’s Imperialist Plot, and another one since. Pretty good.

14. Van Wyck Mason: A long series involving one Major Hugh North. Sloppier, slower, more in magazine-serial style. Last resort reading.

15. Frederick Hazlitt Brennan, Memo To a Firing Squad. Not bad, not first rank.

16. Robert Parker, Passport to Peril, also another one, minor. To be read when one runs out of other things.

17. Kenneth Millar: The Dark Tunnel, perhaps others. He’s the one who changed his name to John D. MacDonald, copied the Chandler formula, went on to write best-seller private-eye books (Lew Archer).

18, Martha Albrand, No Surrender and Without Orders. More realistic, quite good.

19. Barton MacLean (?) The Baited Blonde. Adventure-story type, not first rate, but good enough of the sort.

Haven’t yet read:

David Garth, Appointment With Danger

Pat Frank, An Affair of State

George Griswold, A Gambit for Mr. Groole

Helen MacInnes: Above Suspicion, others. [Later: I read most of hers, enjoyed them, can recommend them.)

(Afterword, June 2010: Needless to say, if this were updated it would include the major John Le Carre books, the Alan Furst books, lots of others. I haven’t the energy or time to attempt updating it, and offer it only as a list of what seemed worth reading back around 1950.

James Cahill.)

(If I were writing about private-eye novels of the Hammett-Chandler type, for people who have read all of theirs and want more, I would recommend Thomas Dewey: pretty good of that genre.)

Anyone interested in the espionage genre should find and read all the books of Charles McCarry, ideally in rough chronological order, since they form a kind of continuous narrative, up to his last book which rounds off the series.


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