CLP 199 Early Chinese Paintings in U.S. Museums: An Insider’s View


Early Chinese Paintings in U.S. Museums: An Insider’s View

(With Supplementary Notes On the Paintings)


Last year, inspired by the Shanghai Museum’s exhibition of early Chinese paintings from Japanese collections, I wrote an essay with a similar title, “Early Chinese Paintings in Japan: An Outsider’s View.” It was printed in the exhibition catalog and elsewhere, and was generally well received. Now I am writing another essay with the above title to help celebrate the Shanghai Museum’s follow-up exhibition of Sung-Yuan paintings from U.S. museums, In my title for the  previous essay, I called  myself an outsider because I am neither Chinese nor Japanese, and could take a position between the two great traditions of collecting and connoisseurship  so as to discuss the  strengths  and  weaknesses of both with an attempt at impartiality. My calling myself an “insider” in the title above, by contrast, reflects the fact that for three of the four museums represented, their main acquisitions as included in the present exhibition were mostly made during my period of activity as a scholar, and I knew well the curators and museum directors who were responsible for them, as well as the  dealers from whom they came,  and interacted closely with all  of them. So, if an “outsider’s view” was of some value in providing a context within which the paintings from Japan and their modes of transmission could be understood, an “insider’s view” should help to provide a very different context for understanding the achievements of U.S. museums in acquiring old Chinese paintings. (My “supplementary notes” on the individual paintings are  intended to fill out the information on them provided in the catalog entries, and to relate some stories about them from my own memory and notes.)

Collecting  Old Chinese Paintings in the U.S.: Early  History

Of the two U.S. museums that house the earliest acquisitions of old Chinese paintings, one, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, is well represented in this exhibition; the other, the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., cannot be, since by the terms of the will of its founder, Charles Lang Freer, it can never borrow or lend any works of art--it can only acquire, keep, and display them. (The recent addition to it of another, newer collection that has no such limits does not alter this situation; I am writing only about the Freer Gallery proper.) Freer’s early success in acquiring old Chinese paintings was the subject of a recent lecture and published paper of mine;[1] in it I trace and document how in the summer of 1907 Freer was able to see, in the company of  established Japanese  collector-connoisseurs, “practically all of the early Chinese paintings owned publicly and privately in Japan” (as he himself writes in a letter). The eye-training that this experience gave him, along with the skills in connoisseurship that he had already developed, set him ahead of nearly all his U.S. contemporaries, and permitted him in the years that followed to acquire the masterworks that we still admire. Freer was also advised by Ernest Fenollosa, who had developed much of his expertise in Japan, learning from Japanese teachers. This was in a period when China was not yet accessible for that kind of study, so Westerners learned about Chinese art principally through Japan.

The early phases of early Chinese painting collecting at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts reveals the same pattern of dependence on Japanese sources and the Japanese tradition of connoisseurship. The first curator of Asian art at the MFA, who began their collecting of early Chinese paintings, was Okakura Kakuzo, who held the position from 1911 until his death in 1915. He was succeeded by John Ellerton Lodge, who in turn was succeeded by Kojiro Tomita, who was Assistant Curator from 1916 and moved into the curatorship in 1921, holding it until shortly before his death in 1976. I was able to visit him and talk with him, and be shown some of the collection by him, when I visited the MFA as a young student in 1951.  I was more impressed and inspired, however, by their Japanese art curator Robert Treat Paine, who was the scion of an old and distinguished Boston family and suffered for many years under his superior Tomita in much the  same way that Aschwin Lippe suffered at the Metropolitan under his superior Alan Priest.

The old Chinese painting collection of the Boston MFA reflected its Japanese inspiration and origins, being rich in the kinds of paintings collected and appreciated in Japan, much of it quite different from those most treasured by Chinese collectors: album leaves and hanging scrolls in the styles of the Southern Song Academy masters, Buddhist and Daoist paintings including some of the kind acquired by Japanese temples from Ningpo, paintings and calligraphy associated with the Emperor Huizong. Paintings by post-Song literati masters had to be acquired by later curators such as Tseng Hsien-chi, Jan Fontein, and Wu T’ung.

Later Collecting of Chinese Paintings: Nelson-Atkins and Cleveland

Since most of the paintings in the exhibition from the Metropolitan Museum of Art are relatively recent acquisitions, I will save it for consideration at the end, turning first to the collections in Kansas City and Cleveland. And those are mainly to be credited to two great director-curators: Laurence Sickman and Sherman Lee. I have delivered tributes to both, with fond memories of long and close associations with them, in my Freer Medal Acceptance Address referred to earlier, so I will concentrate here on their acquisitions of old Chinese paintings.

Sickman, to begin with him, was a pioneer in the Western study of Chinese art history, and familiar with the market in both China and Japan. Many of his best purchases of Chinese paintings were from Japanese sources--for instance, the landscape ascribed to Li Cheng (no. NA 1) from the Tokyo collector-dealer Michelangelo Piacentini. And Sickman moved comfortably through the labyrinthine world of selling and acquiring Chinese paintings in China. I remember sitting with him once in the Freer Gallery’s library looking through a newly-arrived picture-catalog of paintings in the Liaoning Museum, and how, when he saw reproduced in it a  handscroll ascribed to Li Cheng, he groaned and told me the story of how he had almost acquired it for his museum. He and Langdon Warner had arranged to purchase a group of major Chinese paintings from the former Imperial Collection through a representative of Puyi, but the deal fell through when Warner, displaying his sound New England moralism, refused to pay the necessary bribe to this go-between. Sickman also kept abreast of the U.S.  market, both the auctions and the  major dealers such as  Hochstadter and C. C. Wang. And his personal friendship with the major collector John Crawford reportedly induced Crawford to sell to the Nelson-Atkins, instead of to the Metropolitan in New York with the rest of his collection, the highly desirable “Red Cliff” handscroll by Qiao Zhongchang. (It was Sickman who chaired the original committee that catalogued and published Crawford’s collection, with myself having the honor of writing up the Qiao Zhongchang painting for the first time.)

Collecting old Chinese paintings at the Cleveland Museum of Art probably began early, when Freer gave them a few pieces from his own collection as starters. But it really began as a serious enterprise when Sherman E. Lee arrived in 1952 as Curator of Asian Art; he became Director of the museum in 1958.  Sherman Lee’s background supplies another “Japan connection”: he had served from 1946, as an officer in the U.S. Navy, in the Monuments and Arts Commission in Japan, and later as an advisor to General MacArthur on matters of art preservation. Sickman had served with him there in the same office. Sherman had great tales to tell about, for instance, the opening of a Japanese temple shrine to reveal a wooden sculpture sealed away from human sight for centuries. His tastes and connoisseur’s eye had been heavily conditioned by his experiences in Japan. He was less capable in research in Chinese literary sources, and depended on his curator Waikam Ho for that. Lee and Ho worked together for years in a collaboration of opposites, the one using his eyes to study works of art, the other using his to read texts and seals; together they made up a highly effective team, although Lee was often exasperated by Ho’s slowness in finishing assignments and preparing writing for publication.

Sherman Lee and Laurence Sickman carried on, for years, a friendly rivalry over who could assemble the largest and best collection of old Chinese paintings. The outcome of their rivalry, of course, was the great joint exhibition and catalog Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting: The Collections of the Nelson Gallery-Atkins Museum,  Kansas City, and the Cleveland Museum, published in 1981. Besides the two of them and Wai-kam Ho, other contributors to that catalog included Sickman’s successor as Director of the Nelson-Atkins, Marc F. Wilson--who had already by then married one of my  best former  students,  Elizabeth Fulder--and another of my  former students, Howard Rogers.  Wai-kam Ho failed to complete some of the entries assigned to him,  while writing a long and  excellent prefatory essay about the Imperial Academy of Painting and other matters; Sherman angrily added a few brief entries at the end of the  book to cover some of Wai-kam’s omissions. The exhibition was, needless to say, huge--have so many top-class Chinese paintings ever been brought together in one place, aside from the Imperial Palace? As for who came out ahead in the competition: I had the pleasure of giving a public lecture at the Nelson Gallery with Sickman, very old, in the audience in which I hailed his achievement as “the greatest feat of collecting Chinese paintings ever carried out in modern times.” That  can be argued, but it certainly represented my  real opinion.

Important Dealers in Old Chinese Paintings

Next big question: who were the major dealers in the U.S. from whom Chinese paintings and other kinds of East Asian art could be purchased? Yamanaka & Co., based in Japan (Kyoto), were important in the early period, but were forced out of business early in the Second World War, and were never really strong in Chinese paintings. C. T. Loo and his successor Frank Caro were important sources for Chinese art generally, but neither was really strong in Chinese paintings--Loo depended on others, notably C. C. Wang, for recommendations on those. A dealer with a shop in New York named C.  F. Yao sold a large number of Chinese paintings with impressive attributions and documentation to Ada Small Moore, who bequeathed her collection to the Yale University Art Museum, where it can still be seen; but few of the paintings are genuine. Walter Hochstadter was a dealer active in the U.S. who had a very sharp eye for Chinese paintings, as well as for ceramics and other objects, and introduced quite a few important paintings to U.S. collectors; but they were almost all post-Yuan, Ming and Qing works--to my knowledge, he handled only a few paintings ascribed to Song-Yuan artists, and his eye for those was not so sharp. My longtime friend Cheng Chi, who lived mostly in Tokyo with another home in Hong Kong, was a collector-dealer who supplied quite a few pre-Ming Chinese paintings to U.S. museum, especially to the Cleveland Museum. He mostly sold paintings that he had acquired in Japan, where he watched the market carefully and acquired early paintings as they became available. Many of these were worthy acquisitions for the museums that bought them, but his eye and judgment were not by any means as sure as C. C. Wang’s. Cheng knew that excellent Song-Yuan paintings, especially of the type I have termed Sôgenga which had not been valued and preserved in China, were available in Japan for what were sometimes surprisingly low prices. I myself acquired quite a few of them there, all bought for prices in the hundreds of dollars--less, that is, than a thousand.

The collector-dealer who, in the end, introduced and sold more fine Song-Yuan paintings to U.S. museums and collectors than any other was Wang Jiqian, best known as C. C. Wang--my old teacher and good friend over many years.  He was especially strong in paintings by the Yuan-period literati artists, particularly Ni Zan--he had calculated how many Ni Zan paintings were extant, and how many he himself could acquire for his own collection or for sale. If he made a few mistakes (in my opinion) on paintings ascribed to the Song and earlier periods--I will write below about one of them, the landscape titled “Riverbank,” that is in this exhibition--this is because the Chinese traditional system of connoisseurship depended on sensitivity to brushwork, the hand of the artist, as it can be recognized in most Yuan and later painting; Song and earlier painting, by contrast, which typically does not display such individual brushwork, thus presents problems for Chinese connoisseurs. I write this as someone who learned a great deal from C. C. Wang and respected him deeply as a person whose eye for paintings, for the later periods, was better than my own. He used to show me Song and earlier paintings he was considering buying, not so much because he trusted my judgment on them as because I could tell him, with considerable accuracy, how curators and collectors in the U.S. were going to respond to them.

Besides selling Chinese paintings directly to museums and collectors himself, C. C. Wang was an important advisor to others, notably  C. T. Loo and his successor Frank Caro. Walter Hochstadter was forced to admit, in a court case that he brought against Wang after he had come off badly in a trade they had made, that he had depended on Wang’s judgment for paintings, since his own expertise was rather in Chinese objects. The transcript of this court case survives, and is one of the really entertaining documents in our field, as Wang and Hochstadter and their  lawyers try to explain to a bewildered judge why a certain painting, once mounted in a scroll together with Liu Guandao’s “Whiling Away the Summer” (in the present exhibition as NA 9),  could or could not be by the same artist as that excellent work. Sherman Lee, testifying on behalf of Hochstadter, delivered an accomplished art-historical lecture on how to detect copies and forgeries, a  lecture that I have quoted in my own lecture on that large problem, which appears as Addendum 2 to my Pure and Remote View video-lecture series.

U.S. Museums: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

I have left until last, in this account of the collecting of early Chinese paintings by the four museums that have lent to this exhibition, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It belongs here because, although would-be early Chinese paintings were entering the Met from early in the 20th century, when they acquired in 1913 a large group of them partly as a gift and partly through purchase from John C. Ferguson, very few of these stand up to scrutiny now as truly early--perhaps a handscroll by the early Yuan master Qian Xuan is the only one. In 1947 the Met purchased, for a large sum and on the strong insistence of the then-curator of Asian art Alan Priest, the A. W. Bahr collection of Chinese paintings, most of which had been published in Osvald Siren’s 1938 book Early Chinese Paintings From the A. W. Bahr Collection. Priest, who had somehow managed to secure an unbreakable appointment to this curatorship for life, was a strong proponent of the notion, common in the early period of Chinese painting studies in the West, that this tradition had achieved greatness in the early periods through Song, declined in the Yuan, and degenerated in the later Ming-Qing period to the point that these later paintings were not worth acquiring by serious collectors and museums. Even if the Song-attributed paintings were not really that old, Priest argued, they were still more beautiful than any Ming-Qing painting could be. Priest continued to hold to this misguided doctrine long after a more balanced view had been reached by other scholars in the field--reached notably through the exhibitions and publications undertaken around 1950 by Laurence Sickman and Jean Pierre Dubosc. When I was a fellowship student at the Metropolitan Museum in 1953-4, spending the last half of that year at a desk in Priest’s office but feeling closer in spirit to the curator Aschwin Lippe whose office was in the next room, this controversy was still raging, with Priest arranging for a whole large gallery to be hung with would-be Song paintings from the Bahr collection and calling it “the  most beautiful room in the world,” while Lippe was trying unsuccessfully to get a few good Ming-Qing paintings bought for the Met’s collection. I remember that he had borrowed a fine album by Zhu Da, or Bada Shanren, which had to be returned to the dealer-owner because Priest refused even to consider purchasing it, proclaiming it to be (if my memory serves) “a clumsy joke.”

Later curators, then, and especially my esteemed colleague Wen Fong, had to build up the Met’s collection of Song-Yuan paintings from other sources; and the principal source on which he depended, wisely, was C. C. Wang. Wen Fong managed to arrange for the purchase of two large groups of paintings from Wang--one of them shortly before he joined me and others on the month-long trip in 1977 of the Old Chinese Painting Delegation to China, which I led as Chairman, and which included several other scholars who had criticized Wen Fong’s group purchase from C. C. Wang, so that there was still some tension in the air as we made our way around China. My own view, then and now, was that although my own choices from Wang’s holdings might have been somewhat different, the purchase was on the whole a wise one. And another group, purchased from C. C. Wang in the late 1990s by Wen Fong’s brother-in-law Oscar Tang for eventual gift to the Met, was also on the whole a wise one. (I will discuss below the single inclusion, in my opinion, of a painting that should not be there, the landscape titled “Riverbank.”)

The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection of old Chinese paintings was also greatly augmented by their acquisition in 1981, partly as a gift, partly by purchase, of paintings from the private collection of John M. Crawford Jr. As noted above, Crawford had sold a single Song painting, the great  “Red Cliff” handscroll by Qiao Zhongchang, to the  Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, as a tribute to his long friendship with Laurence Sickman--the two often traveled  together, and this was  a painting that Sickman especially coveted for his museum. It is included in the present exhibition. But the remaining Crawford paintings that went to the Met, including an important handscroll ascribed to Guo Xi and an album of Song-period paintings (two of which are the present exhibition--one by Liang Kai, the other attributed to Ma Yuan),  greatly enhanced the Met’s holdings of early Chinese paintings. Nearly all the Song and earlier Chinese paintings owned by the Metropolitan are included in Wen Fong’s excellent 1992 picture-catalog Beyond Representation: Chinese Painting and Calligraphy, 8th-14th Century.

John Crawford was originally a collector of old manuscripts and fine printing, and a prominent member of the Grolier Club in New York (where his Chinese painting collection was first exhibited!). Completely un-knowledgeable about Chinese painting himself, he had depended on a remarkable dealer, now unjustly forgotten, named Joseph Umeo Seo, who had once been  a  member of the Yamanaka team in Japan and Beijing, and had  an especially good eye for calligraphy.  Nearly all the paintings came  from a dangerous  source: the artist/dealer/forger Zhang Daqian. That none of Zhang’s fakes and forgeries ended up among Crawford’s purchases (to my knowledge) is a tribute to the good eye of Seo. But for reasons I don’t understand, Seo came to be neglected, and received not even a mention, much less an invitation, at the 1985 symposium that celebrated the Met’s acquisition of the paintings. Crawford was, among his other weaknesses, a vindictive man, and he may well have dictated the absence of Seo to the organizers, because the two had reportedly had a falling-out of some kind. Reports are that Crawford was forced to sell his paintings to the Met, not his original choice, when he lost a great deal of money through being the victim, or mark, in a large-scale confidence game. That, if true, would also be typical of Crawford, who was the flabby (both physically and intellectually) son of a strong father who had made the family fortune as an inventor of oil-drilling equipment--a fortune that Crawford dissipated freely.

Paintings In the Exhibition,  I: The Metropolitan Museum

Met 1: Riverbank

I turn now to considering the individual paintings in the exhibition, beginning with the  Metropolitan Museum of Art, and with the only painting in the exhibition that I  firmly believe should not be there: the “early” landscape titled “Riverbank.” This is a painting that I believe--indeed, I know--to be not an old painting at all, but a forgery by the recent artist-forger Zhang Daqian. I have made this argument over many years, and have amassed evidence that should satisfy any open-minded person; for a summary of it, with the addition of new physical evidence, see my website and watch the last two in the “Pure and Remote View” lecture series, Addendum A Part 2 and (especially) Addendum B Part 2. The physical evidence includes the clear presence on “Riverbank” of a distinctive pattern of artificial silk-ripping, as part of the “aging” process--a pattern found on others of Zhang Daqian’s fakes on silk but not on any genuinely old paintings. But the close correspondence of features of style in “Riverbank” with those in signed works by Zhang Daqian, and  again not to be found in truly old paintings, is the principal evidence, and, I believe, damning.

The one advantage to including this high-level forgery in the present exhibition is that it will give audiences in China the opportunity to see it in the original. It was once hung in the National Palace Museum in Taipei beside the masterworks of Song painting by Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, and Li Tang, and, I am reliably told, looked ridiculous in that company--as indeed it does in the photograph I have of that ill-matched foursome. It will look equally ridiculous beside the genuinely old paintings in the present exhibition; but it will be there for Chinese viewers to see and judge for themselves.

(Met 2: deleted. A much finer and genuinely old painting that was in the same group-purchase from C.  C. Wang, an old palace painting with many figures of palace ladies, was originally to be included, but was removed for showing in another exhibition. Its absence is to be regretted; it would have balanced, as an excellent choice, the embarrassing choice of “Riverbank.”

Continuing with the Metropolitan’s offerings in the exhibition:

Met 3: Unidentified Artist (11th century): Portrait of Bi Shichang

On this I have no comment, except that it is a genuinely old and important painting, one of a group of five of which others are in the Freer Gallery and in the Yale University Art Gallery. They are well documented, above doubt in their authenticity, and (for me) quite unexciting.

Met 4: Calligraphy: Huang Tingjian (1045-1105): Biographies of Lian Po and Lin Xiangru

I assume that these works of calligraphy are associated with the portrait of Bi Shichang (Met 3). If they are not, it should not have been included. No, calligraphy and painting are not a “single art”--they are two separate and very different arts. Like others of the great old Chinese “poetic truths,” this one should be respected but not believed. Visitors to an exhibition of early Chinese paintings should see pictures, not writing.

Met 5: Li Gonglin (ca.1041-1106): The Classic of Filial Piety

This, a promised gift to the Metropolitan from the Tang Family Collection, is in my view a fine and important painting, quite plausibly a genuine work by Li  Gonglin, and one of Wen Fong’s most successful acquisitions. There are a few who doubt its age, but I am not one of them. The difficult but necessary remounting of the scroll was done by great Kyoto mounter Oka Bokkôdô. A complete study of the scroll has been made and published by Richard Barnhart.[2]

Met 6: Unidentified Artist (before 1140) after Zhou Wenju ( In the Palace

Leaving aside the old attribution, this is a fine and important old painting; it is part of a longer scroll, other parts of which are in the art museum at Harvard University (former Bernard Berenson Collection) and in the Cleveland Art Museum (see below, CM 2.)  Another version of the whole composition, also old, was in the collection of the late Xu Beihong, and is now in his Memorial Museum in Beijing. The original scroll--and I am not sure myself which is older, they both appear to be copies made during the Song dynasty--seems to have been be a kind of antique collective fenben, copying the compositions of a number of older paintings in the Zhou Fang/Zhou Wenju style, and it is valuable as that. The scroll, or one version of it, must at some time have been in Japan, because a Kano-school copy of the whole is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (reg. no. 42.61). A listing of the various parts and versions can be found in my Index of Early Chinese Painters and Paintings, p. 29.

A colophon dated 1140 by Zhang Cheng, a nephew of Li Gonglin, states that he had this copy made in the baimiao or ink-outline mode after a Zhou Wenju original that was in full color. If reliable, this would establish a date for this copy.

Met 7: Unidentified Artist (mid-12th century): Emperor Xuanzong’s Flight to Shu

This fine painting was acquired for the Met in 1941,   and so  must have been chosen by Alan Priest--I remember well how proud he was of it, and how enthusiastically he wrote about it.  It was then called “The Tribute Horse”--the present identification of the subject came later, along with the attribution to the Jin Dynasty in north China. I myself wrote of it in my Index as “probably a fragment of a larger composition,” and that still seems likely--it would be unusual as a complete work. But what was this larger composition, some kind of screen? In any case, it gives us an excellent example of fine Song-period figure and horse painting set in a somber landscape.

Met 8: Ma Yuan ( Viewing Plum Blossoms by Moonlight

This and the following painting are two leaves from what was originally a  collective album of Song-period album  leaves. It was published first, to my knowledge, in the auction catalog that the Shanghai dealer E. A. Strehlneek put together when he tried (unsuccessfully) to sell some of his paintings at auction through the Tokyo Bijutsu Kurabu in 1929.  (A scholarly study of Strehlneek and his importance for the early collecting of Chinese paintings in the West has been written by Zaixin Hong.) This group of Strehlneek’s paintings was dispersed, and the album passed eventually into the hands of Zhang Daqian, who sold it to John Crawford,  and it came to the Met along with the rest of Crawford’s collection. This leaf ascribed to Ma Yuan is likely, in my estimation, to be by a follower rather than by the master--the drawing of the plum tree and other things in it is too hard and angular to be from  Ma Yuan’s hand. But it is a fine early work in his style, and worthy of a place in this exhibition.

Met 9: Liang Kai (act. first half of 13th century): Poet Strolling by a Marshy Bank

This simple but lovely small painting is one of the safely signed works by this great late Song master. I remember when we first saw it, and marveled at it, among the paintings bought by Crawford from Zhang Daqian, and Max Loehr wrote it up for the Crawford catalog. I have nothing new about it to offer, and will only note that the composition belongs to a late Song type that is diagonally divided with the heaviest part above, the figural and other detail below--here lightened by a band of mist. The hooded figure pauses, as travelers in Song paintings often do, to listen to natural sounds or observe   bits of scenery. The weight of the overhang above him adds a touch of the ominous to this poetic moment.

Met 10-11: calligraphy

See comment on Met 4 above. In my view, calligraphy should be included in an exhibition of paintings only when it is clearly attached in some way to a painting, and then it need not have a separate entry, apart from that of the painting. These works of calligraphy appear to be unrelated to paintings in the exhibition, and so has no place here.

Met 12-13: Jin Chushi (act.late 12th century): Ten Kings of Hell (30.76.290)

The series of ten paintings of paintings of Ten Kings of Hell from which this is one was acquired for the Met in 1930 from an unknown source, presumably in Japan, since it belongs to the distinctive category of paintings imported for Japanese temples from Ningpo--paintings that were well represented also in last year’s exhibition of old Chinese paintings from Japan, The “Kings of Hell” series, of which a number are extant, have been studied in the writings of Lothar Ledderose. They were intended to frighten their viewers, with their horrific imagery of the tortures of hell, into accepting and practicing the Buddhist doctrines, just as images of Heaven were meant to entice them to act so as to ensure their rebirth there.

The real name of the artist was Jin Dashou (for him, see my Index of Early Chinese Painters and Paintings, p. 77). He was one of the Ningpo masters who specialized in Buddhist figure paintings of this kind, and was active in that region near the end of the Southern  Song period. For an excellent account of the entire series with good color reproductions, see Wen Fong, Beyond Representation, pp. 341=52..

Met 14: Attributed to Zhiweng (early 13th century): Meeting Between Yaoshan and Li Ao

Purchased in 1982, presumably from a Japanese source, this is another smart acquisition by Wen Fong, one of the kinds of Song-period painting preserved only in Japan, along with the rest of Chan Buddhist painting: it is a fine example of the “Chan Meeting” type. The artist to whom it is attribuited, Zhiweng, was an early 13th century Chan monk-artist. Others of his paintings bear his seals; this one does not.

The event depicted is the famous encounter between the Neo-Confucian scholar Li Ao and the Chan master Yao-shan. In these encounters as recorded in Chan texts, the Chan master always comes out ahead, even if only by giving some enigmatic response, a word or a gesture (such as pointing upward), to the secular figure’s question.

Met 15: Qian Xuan (ca.1235-before 1307): Pear Blossoms

Previously in the collection of Sir Percival David, this was purchased for the Metropolitan in 1977, after his death, from Lady (Sheila) David, along with the great horse painting by Han Gan, both major acquisitions. It bears more than twenty colophons of the Yuan period and later. Similar to a pair of paintings by the same artist in the Freer Gallery, it appears at first to be only a lovely painting of flowers, but the inscription, as read and interpreted by Wen Fong,  puts it into the category of political paintings, since it  identifies the  flowers with a beautiful woman who  survives into a new situation,  and makes it a symbol for the fall of Song China to the Mongols.

For me, it recalls sad memories of knowing Sir Percival David in his last years. He had established himself earlier as an eminent authority on Chinese ceramics, especially porcelains, and had “translated” (edited with notes a translation made by a Chinese assistant named C. J. Chen, as was common in his time) the late 14th century miscellany Ge gu yao lun, “Essential Criteria of Antiquities.”[3] And he was determined to carry out, while he still could, a study of  early Chinese painting as thorough and authoritative as his earlier studies of Chinese ceramics. But time and the problem of mobility--he was crippled and moved around with difficulty--worked against him, and his reputation rests elsewhere.

Met 16-17: calligraphy

See comment for Met 4 above. What is it  doing here in an exhibition of old Chinese paintings? Would an exhibition of major European paintings include written  letters and documents of the time, unrelated to the paintings? Of course not. Why is it tolerated for China?

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Met 18: Wang Zhenpeng ( Vimalakirti and the Doctrine of Nonduality

A fine painting, probably genuine as attributed. I remember when it appeared at auction in New York in 1980 and was acquired by the Met. Another version of the composition, once attributed to Li Gonglin but now re-attributed to a little-known late Song master, is in the Palace Museum, Beijing.

Met 19: Zhang Yucai (Celestial Master, Zhengyi sect of Daoism, r.1295-1316; d.1316): Beneficent Rain (Dragon In Clouds)

A signed work, and the single extant painting, to my knowledge, by the 28th Daoist Tianshi, or “Pope.” Another painting of a dragon in the clouds, grasping at the ever-elusive pearl, it is an interesting comparison with the earlier scroll by Chen Rong in the Boston MFA (MFA 5), but of course suffers beside that greatest of extant dragon paintings.

Met 20: Luo Zhichuan (ca.1265-ca.1340): Crows in Old Trees

Luo Zhichuan is a “rediscovered” artist, unrecorded in Chinese artists’ biographical sources but mentioned in writings by late Ming literati and in Japanese and Korean sources. This is one of only three paintings that can be credited to him because of his seals on them--the others are in the Cleveland Museum and the Tokyo National Museum. All of them are pictures of trees in a landscape, with crows and other birds. It is unclear why he chose this subject, or what he meant to convey in it.

Met 21: Tang Di (ca.1287-1355): Painting After Wang Wei’s Poem

This is a rare case of a painting by a noted early master existing in two versions, both of which appear to be genuine.  The well-known version in the National Palace Museum was painted in 1338, this one in 1342. Wen Fong, noting that the figure groups in the two paintings are identical, suggests that the painter used a stencil to reproduce them. This one was bought from C. C. Wang, who seldom made mistakes in judging paintings by Yuan-period masters.

Met 22: Wu Zhen (1280-1354): Crooked Pine

This painting, purchased for the Met in 1985, is new to me, and I have no idea where it came from; it appears genuine to my eyes.  Wu Zhen’s inscription on it, which is dated to 1335, states that he painted it after a real pine tree that he saw on a trip to the “Cloudy Grotto,”  and it is, indeed, unusually realistic for a work by this Yuan master.

Met 23: Wang Mian (1287-1359): Fragrant Snow at Broken Bridge

A fine and genuine plum-branch painting by this artist, purchased by the Met in 1973 from C. C.Wang--it must have been as part of that first group-purchase carried out by Wen Fong.

Met 24: Ni Zan (1306-1374): Wind among the Trees on the Riverbank

This fine work by Ni Zan was in the Crawford Collection,  described but not reproduced in the Crawford Catalog (no. 49). It bears seals of many noted collectors, including Xiang Yuanbian and Gao Shiqi.

Met 25: Lu Guang (ca.1300-after 1371): Spring Dawn Over the Elixir Terrace

An important work by this rare artist, this painting was once owned by the great Japanese collector Yamamoto Teijirô, and later by C. C. Wang. Purchased in 1982, it must have been part of the first group purchases made for the Met from Wang. The autobiographical inscription reveals that it represents a Daoist temple, in which the artist is staying, at daybreak.

Met 26: Zhang Yu (1333-1385): Spring Clouds at the Pine Studio

Painted in 1366, just before the fall of the Yuan, this is the sole surviving work of this little-known artist, who spent his later life in Wuxing and was a friend of the great poet-literatus  Gao Qi. The landscape style of Gao Kegong of the early Yuan, seen here in a fine example, was to  be favored in the early Ming by professional artists; here it is still the choice of a scholar-amateur. The middleground area hung with heavy fog, parting to reveal a cluster of houses, is painted with great sensitivity; the “Pine Studio” of the title must be the tall building seen through the tree-trunks in lower left.

Met 27: Zhao Yuan ( Farewell by a Stream on a Clear Day

Part of the 1973 group purchase for the Met from C. C. Wang, this excellent painting is notable for existing also in two modern copies that were passed for a time as originals.  Wang acquired it as one of a major group of early paintings from the great Shanghai collector Zhang Heng, better known as Zhang Congyu (1915-63), and quite a few works in that collection were painstakingly duplicated in facsimile copies, seals and all, before they left China; some of these duplicates were sold by Frank Caro. For a detailed account of this whole affair, and especially of this painting and its different versions, see Wen Fong’s 1962 article on forgeries.[4]

MFA 1. Fan Kuan (late 10th –early 11th century), attributed to: Winter Landscape with Temples and Travelers

This old and impressive painting should be labeled, not as “attributed to Fan Kuan,” which leaves open the possibility that it is really by the master, but as “Follower of Fan Kuan” or “School of Fan Kuan,” since it is obviously (from its  style) later than Fan Kuan’s time--the long sloping mountaintop covered with foliage that  extends from the top of the composition down to its center is one such  later feature. I recall that when the great Chinese Art Treasures exhibition from the National Palace Museum in Taiwan was shown at the Boston MFA, the curators there arranged a “parallel”exhibition of their own holdings in an adjoining gallery, with an air of: “They have theirs, we have ours.” And one later curator, Wu T’ung or Tom Wu, has  called it “the best representative work of the Fan Kuan School in the West.”[5] The painting was acquired by the MFA in 1914, and thus represents a notable acquisition for that time, when the truly great masterworks of the Northern Song were still more or less unknown in the U.S.

MFA 2. Emperor Huizong (1082-1135): Five-colored Parakeet on a Blossoming Apricot Tree

This justly famous scroll is one of the few paintings that in my opinion can be reliably ascribed to the Emperor Huizong, and thus is a real treasure. (I have recently proposed a new way of reading the works “painted by Huizong,” in one of my video-lectures, Lecture 10B, and will not repeat that argument here.) Those qualified to judge calligraphy are virtually unanimous in considering the writing on this scroll to be reliably from his hand. The scroll was purchased for the MFA by Tomita in 1933 from the great Japanese collector Yamamoto Teijirô; it had previously been in the Qing Imperial Collection. Wu T’ung, in Tales of the Dragon p. 141, suggests that the original order of painting and calligraphy was probably  reversed in remounting.

MFA 3. Emperor Huizong (1082-1135): Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk

Another early and important handscroll associated with Emperor Huizong, this one acquired for the MFA as early as 1912,  by Okakura Kakuzo,  presumably from some Japanese collector or dealer. As in so many other Song court copies of older paintings, the landscape painted on the fan held by a girl gives away the real date of the painting. An inscription by Emperor Zhangzong of Jin states that is it copied after a work by the Tang master Zhang Xuan.

To add a personal note: After my Skira book Chinese Painting was published in 1960, I was criticized for not including in it this and other major early paintings in the Boston MFA. The truth is that the MFA had unwisely turned over all responsibility for providing color images of pieces from its collection to a commercial firm called Sandak which used color negatives, and Skira refused to deal with them. This practice was rescinded shortly afterwards, and the MFA now does its own color work, like other museums.

MFA 4. Formerly attributed to Dong Yuan (10th century): Clear Weather in the Valley

The old attribution to Dong Yuan is meaningless; this is a fine work of the late Song period, I believe,  or early Yuan. Near the beginning a donkey-riding traveler, followed by two servants carrying luggage,  approaches the point of embarkation on the shore; a boat with three passengers and the boatman  makes its way across to the further shore, where a flagged inn or wineshop waits to welcome them. The landscape style belongs loosely to the late Song Academy mode, but in a softer form than was used by most academicians; the work might, as Wu T’ung argues, be by an artist working in the north under the Jin. The painting was acquired in 1912 for the MFA from the important Manchu collector Wanyan Jingxian, who also sold many paintings to Freer and to John Ferguson around this sane time.

MFA 5. Chen Rong (first half of the 13th century): Nine Dragons

About this great and unique scroll I have very little to say, except that it is the finest and most important of the many dragon paintings attributed to this artist, and in excellent condition. Attached to it  is an impressive series of early--fourteenth century--colophons. It was acquired for the MFA in 1917; previous owners include the early Qing collector Geng Zhaozhong, the Qianlong Emperor,  and Prince Gong, from whose hands it presumably returned to the world outside the palace. Another version,  I assume a copy, is in the Guangdong Provincial Museum. I mean to devote a whole  lecture in my second series to this powerful work,  along  with some lesser paintings of dragons in clouds.

MFA 6. Zhou Jichang (second half of the 12th century): The Transfiguration of a Lohan

MFA 7. Zhou Jichang (second half of the 12th century): Lohans Bestowing Alms on Suffering Human Beings

MFA 8. ): Lohans in a Bamboo Grove Receiving Offerings

MFA 9. : Zhou Jichang (second half of the 12th century): Lohans Watching the Distribution of the Relics

These four are, of course, from the hundred-painting series representing the Five Hundred Arhats, with five in each painting, of which all  but six are in the Daitokuji,  Kyoto. The missing six, these four and two now in the Freer Gallery of Art, were removed from the series while forty-four of them were in the U.S. on  exhibition, a showing arranged at the MFA by Ernest Fenolossa in 1894. After the exhibition he bought ten of the scrolls for the MFA; two of these later went to Freer, which still owns them. The Japanese were later to regret having sold them, but it was too late to retrieve them. This purchase marked the beginning of the MFA’s collecting of old Chinese paintings.

The whole series of a hundred paintings are works of two otherwise unknown artists named Zhou Jichang and Lin Tinggui who were active in Ningpo; they painted them during a ten-year period, 1178-88. The series was brought to Japan in the 13th century, and entered the Daitokuji in the late 16th century. The paintings belong, then, to the huge number of religious paintings--representing arhats, kings of hell, etc.--purchased over the centuries by and for Japanese temples from commercial artists in Ningpo.  I recall my Japanese colleague Suzuki Kei, who was carrying out a large-scale photographing and cataloguing project in the late 70s-early 80s, to be published as the multi-volume Comprehensive Illustrated Catalog of Chinese Paintings in 1984, telling me of the many hundreds of paintings he and his helpers had photographed in Japanese temples, and adding, with an expression  of despair, “What are we going to do with  all these?” There were too many to publish with proper scholarly studies, and of course they were extremely repetitive in character. Interest in the Ningpo religious painting industry has been limited to Japan, where it inspired an exhibition and many studies; can it spread to China? Ningpo is, after all, an easy drive from the Shanghai Museum, and evidence for this huge-scale production of religious paintings by local commercial  artists  must still be there to be retrieved.

MFA 10. Wang Zhenpeng (act.about 1280-1329): Mahaprajapati Nursing the Infant Buddha

About this painting I have no special opinion; Wu T’ung in his Tales From the Land of Dragons questions the authenticity of the signature, but I have no way to check this. It is a fine early painting in any case, representing an unusual and iconographically interesting subject. It was acquired by the MFA in 1912, and so is another of its earliest acquisitions.

MFA 11. Yao Yanqing (early 14th century): Winter Landscape.

A fine work by this little-known artist, acquired by the MFA in 1915, long before the 1970s flurry of scholarly writing about the Li Cheng-Guo Xi school of landscape in the Yuan period. I had devoted some pages to it in my 1976  Hills Beyond a River book on Yuan-period painting, reproducing this painting; elsewhere I had engaged in argument with my colleague Richard Barnhart, and had, probably mistakenly, considered the Yao Yenqing of this painting and the Yao Tingmei of the Cleveland handscroll (see below, CM 6) to be two different artists. Barnhart corrected me in his 1977 article “Yao Yen-ch’ing, T’ing-mei, of Wu-hsing.”[6] Wu T’ung (Tales From the Land of Dragons, pp. 221-2) explains the difference in style between the two paintings by assuming that the MFA hanging scroll may be a copy after a work by Guo Xi. I myself wrote about it (Hills, p. 79) as an attempt, only partly successful, to recapture the greatness of the Northern Song monumental landscape tradition. The identity of these two artists is probable but not firmly proven.

MFA 12. Xia Gui (late 12th-early 13th century): Sailboat in a Rainstorm

A rightly famous little painting, this was acquired for the MFA, presumably from some Japanese source,  in 1912, so it is one of the earliest acquisitions. Perhaps Fenollosa, who used the  Japanese pronunciation Ka kei in writing about the artist, was responsible for the purchase. The artist’s signature, nearly hidden beneath the leafy trees, was discovered, if I remember right, by Zhuang Shen. Wu T’ung notes that this signature is on the same silk as the rest of the painting, and written in the same ink, so it appears reliable, not a later addition.

MFA 13: Emperor Xiaozong (1127-1194, r.1162-1189): Calligraphy of Poem by Su Shi in Semi-cursive and Regular Scripts

The poetic couplet from a poem by Su Shi written by Emperor Xiaozong (reigned 1162-89) that inspired the Xia Gui fan painting (MFA 12) properly accompanies it here: calligraphy belongs in a painting exhibition only when it is closely associated with one of the paintings in it. The couplet reads (as translated by Wu T’ung): “The ceaseless river rain always lulls me to sleep./ Winds beat the cliffs all day to move my boat along.” The imagined poet belongs, then, not among the houses seen below trees on the shore, but in the windblown boat on the river, and the scene must be understood as a vision in his mind of what lies beyond the rain that surrounds him. Has a poetic conceit ever been translated more sensitively into an artistic image? Here lies much of the genius, still under-appreciated, of the Southern Song Academy masters.

Nelson-Atkins 1-9.

NA 1. Li Cheng (919-967): A Solitary Temple amid Clearing Peaks

A genuine and important example of the great Northern Song monumental landscape hanging-scroll type, one of the few to be seen outside China and Taiwan--and one of the many brilliant acquisitions by Laurence Sickman for the Nelson-Atkins. My only criticism is the unwarranted listing of it here as a work by Li Cheng--at best it should be “attributed to Li Cheng,” and even that overstates the association of the painting with that great early master, since the attribution is probably not old and has no sound basis. It may be no older than the previous owner from whom Sickman bought it, the Italian collector-dealer Michelangelo Piacentini

Piacentini was an Italian scholar of art history who was interned in Japan through the Second World War, and stayed on there afterwards; he published scholarly writings on Renaissance  Italian art. When I knew him in 1953-4,, he was working in the Daimaru Department Store arranging exhibitions. He also collected and sold Chinese paintings--I bought one from him. This “Li Cheng” painting came from him; so far as I know, it is nowhere recorded, and its previous ownership is obscure--the attribution may be no older than Piacentini’s time, and based on nothing more than the presence in it of bare trees--old paintings featuring them  were frequently ascribed, loosely, to Li Cheng. I was once criticized at a symposium for questioning the attribution by the organizer, who had made me promise not to raise such questions. (The other “Li Cheng” in the U.S. that he and others take seriously, the “Donkey Rider” painting now in the Metropolitan Museum, has even less likelihood to be “genuine”--it is, in my opinion, another Zhang Daqian forgery, like “Riverbank.”) Another scholar has argued in print for attributing the Nelson-Atkins  “Li Cheng” to an obscure early Song master, for reasons known only to himself. ‘

In style, this important masterwork, the “Solitary Temple and Clearing Peaks, appears to my eye to be datable to around the  later eleventh century, the time of, for  instance, Guo Xi’s “Early Spring.” It follows the Northern Song landscape hanging-scroll convention of building the composition in three ascending parts: a secular level at the bottom, a village with houses and figures; an ascent to a Buddhist or Daoist temple seen through bare trees on the mountain ledge; and the unreachable peak towering above.

NA2. Qiao Zhongchang (act.12th century): Illustration to the Second Prose Poem on the Red Cliff

As noted in the opening discussion: this superlative handscroll, the only known work by the artist, who was a follower (and relative?) of Li Gonglin, was sold to the Nelson-Atkins at Sickman’s special request by the collector John Crawford. Finer to my eye than any of the paintings ascribed to Li Gonglin, it represents ideally the early stages of the new scholar-artist movement. The attribution to Qiao Zhongchang is based on a colophon that is recorded but no longer attached to the scroll. The first colophon still present is by a certain Zhao Lingzhi, a member of the Song imperial family who in his youth was a friend of Su Dongpo. Reading the “Red Cliff” ode, he writes, makes one feel “as if he himself were transported from the yellow mud flat and traveled beneath the Red Cliff.” The painting bears numerous seals of Liang Shicheng, a “wicked minister” under Emperor Huizong, who may have done the writing of the ode on the scroll. Although recorded in the Qianlong imperial catalog Shiqu Baoji, the scroll bears no seal of the Qianlong Emperor, for which we can be thankful.

NA3. Jiang Shen (ca.1090-1138): Verdant Mountains

I have no reason to doubt the authenticity of this signed work of the artist, although in style it resembles Yuan-period landscapes, and the reliability of the artist’s signature and seal are doubted in the Eight Dynasties catalog. But, as a Song-period painting, it is unusually dull--I remember  first unrolling it, nearly three meters of  it, expecting to find some arresting scenery but encountering none. The artist Jiang Shen was active in the early Southern Song period, and was a follower of the  Dong Yuan-Juran tradition, following the examples of Mi Fu and Mi Youren--he lived in Zhenjiang, where the two Mi’s had lived,  and his wife’s family had known them well. The Dong-Ju landscape tradition had already by then come to be venerated by the literati amateurs (who disparaged and pushed into obscurity the deeply moving monumental landscape tradition of Northern Song), and the monotony of his style was perceived by them as  a virtue--appreciating this style, and valuing it above the painting of the despised professionals and academicians, was supposed to indicate a higher taste. As I have written elsewhere, it is long past time for us to recognize this literati dogma as the self-serving doctrine of a male elite minority, and stop seeing it as some kind of “higher truth” about Chinese painting.

The scroll was purchased in 1953 from C. T. Loo & Co., and had come from the former Manchu Imperial Collection, with seals of the Qianlong and Xuantong Emperors, as well as the great collector Liang Qingbiao. It was, then, one of Sickman’s  many wise acquisitions, if a relatively unexciting one.

NA4. Ma Yuan (act.befor 1189-after 1225): Composing Poetry on a Spring Outing

This excellent work bears no signature, and so should be catalogued as attributed to Ma Yuan, not as positively by him. But the attribution is plausible, and the quality of the painting very high. I knew it from old photographs before Sickman bought it, and was trying to contact the dealer who formerly owned it, Owen Roberts, to acquire it for the Freer Gallery. But Sickman, always alert for opportunities to add major paintings to the Nelson-Atkins collection, happened (as he told me) to see it included a forthcoming Parke-Bernet auction, and purchased it there in 1963. His assistant and successor Marc Wilson, writing about it in the Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting catalog, offers an entertaining guess at what it might really represent, one of the parties of a notable rich Hangzhou gentleman who is recorded as having entertained his  guests in  unusual ways.

NA5. Xia Gui (ca.1180-1230): Twelve Views of Landscape

This handscroll, which contains four of the originally twelve “views” or scenes, all with written titles--is in my opinion an early copy of an important work by Xia Gui. Several other, later copies exist that contain the entire twelve views. It has been published many times, and was included in the 1935-36 London exhibition of Chinese art, along with another handscroll ascribed to Xia Gui but likewise not by him--that one an early Ming work, one of  the whole group of non-genuine “early” paintings deliberately chosen by the Chinese government’s selection committee to be sent to this exhibition instead of the real masterworks.[7] Why the Nelson-Atkins scroll is not an original work by Xia Gui can be explained only with detailed  visual analysis not possible here; interested readers can find it my video-lecture on Xia Gui, Lecture 10B in the “Pure and Remote View” series accessible through my website The scroll was purchased in 1932 for the Nelson-Atkins by Sickman--who, to  state it once more, did not make many mistakes--from the dealer Owen Roberts.

NA6. Li Song (act.1190-1230): The Red Cliff

A small but fine and genuine painting with a reliable signature of this Southern Song Academy master, and an important addition to our group of early depictions of this literary theme, a group that begins with the Qiao Zhongchang handscroll listed above (NA2.) It was purchased in 1948--the Eight Dynasties catalog gives the previous owner as Hayasaki Kauichi, which must be a misprint for Kan’ichi. But we would know even without this information that the painting has been preserved in Japan. How can we know? By the cracking on it. Chinese collectors preserve fan paintings in albums, mounted flat. The Japanese, by contrast, like to make hanging scrolls of them to be hung in the tokonoma alcove and gazed at there.  And rolling a Chinese fan painting on silk (against the weave, which was not intended for that kind of rolling) produces horizontal  cracks, of the  kind that are clearly  visible on this painting. As noted earlier, many of the finest works by Southern Song Academy masters, or by their  contemporaries working outside the Academy in related styles, have been preserved only  in Japan--types that were not favored by Chinese collectors with  their obsession with literati-amateur values.

Sickman understood this well, and depended on Japanese  sources for many of his  best acquisitions.

NA7. Ren Renfa (1255-1328): Nine Horses

A particularly fine and important example among the extant horse paintings by this artist, with a reliable signature and date (1324). Part of the composition exists also in other versions--Ren Renfa himself probably did multiples of his works. It was purchased in 1972 from the collector-dealer Cheng Chi, who lived mostly in Tokyo and acquired his paintings mostly in Japan. That the scroll was in Japan by the 18th century is indicated by a Kano-school copy of that time. Marc Wilson’s long entry for the painting in the Eight Dynasties catalog (pp. 176-80) supplies detailed information on its  history and on its relationship  to  similar paintings by the artist.

NA 8. Sheng Mao (ca.1330-ca.1369): Enjoying Fresh Air in a Mountain Retreat

This excellent painting, one of the finest known works of the artist (consistently called Sheng Mou in Western-language sources), bears no signature but only two of the artist’s seals. A colophon by Dong Qichang mounted beside the painting proclaims it, rightly, to be a genuine work of the master. Sickman bought it for the Nelson-Atkins in 1932, presumably when he was in China and from some unspecified Chinese source; it was still another of his wise early purchases, made at  a  time when very few Western scholars were paying attention to post-Song painting. It is recorded in Li Zuoxian, Shuhua jianying, mid-19th century.

NA 9. Liu Guandao ( Whiling Away the Summer

Depicting a painted screen within another screen painting, this deservedly famous work is a kind of Yuan-period descendant of Zhou Wenju’s  “Double Screen” composition. But an even more fascinating story is attached to it: the discovery by the great Shanghai connoisseur-collector Wu Hufan of a hidden signature  reading Guandao on it that revealed its true authorship. It was then in the collection of another Shanghai collector, Zhang Congyu or Zhang Heng; it was later owned by C. C. Wang, and was purchased from him by Sickman in 1948. (Wu Hufan’s colophon is translated in Lee and Ho, Chinese Art Under the Mongols, no. 194.)

For the story of how another, lesser painting (representing “Zhuangzi’s Butterfly Dream”) was once mounted together with this painting but later removed, and for the court case involving this deceptive pairing, see above under “Dealers” about Walter Hochstadter and C. C. Wang. This event is also recounted and  illustrated in Addendum 2A to my Pure and Remote View video series, the one titled “Notes on Priority and Authenticity.”

Cleveland Museum of Art 1-9

CM 1. Juran (, attributed to: Buddhist Retreat by Stream and Mountain

Purchased by the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1959 from a source unknown to me, this was an acquisition of which Sherman Lee and Wai-kam Ho were especially proud. The attribution is possible, but it could also, and more likely, be a Song-period work in Juran style. The over-abundance of “alum-head” lumps on the upper surface of the mountain appears, to my eye, to be a later feature. Writing on the back indicates that it was originally part of a screen, or a series of tall, narrow scrolls hung together, as we can see such series represented as hanging in some interior scenes in old paintings. The composition was known to Dong Qichang, who copied it, much abbreviated, in an album  now in the Princeton Art Museum. It is, then,  an important if unexciting painting.

CM 2. Artist unknown, Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279): Ladies of the Court

The complex relationship of this with the similar scroll in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (see above, Met6) and others of this group, and their relationship in turn with the scroll with the same composition in the Xu Beihong Memorial Museum in Beijing, cannot be treated at length here, and I have nothing new to write about them, beyond the long entry in my Index of Early Chinese Painters and Paintings, p. 29. Several scholarly studies of the group are cited in that entry. As noted there, this  Cleveland Museum scroll, which they purchased in 1976 from the University of Pennsylvania Museum, bears a colophon by Zhang Cheng dated 1140. A Japanese copy of the whole original scroll is in the Metropolitan Museum (reg. no. 42.61.)

CM 3. Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322): Bamboo, Rocks, and Lonely Orchids

The long, detailed entry for this painting by Wai-kam Ho in the Eight Dynasties catalog (pp. 100-101) provides information about it--the person for whom it was painted, later writers of colophons for it, the artist’s signature and seals at the end--that cannot be summarized here. This is, I believe, a safe attribution and a major work by this great artist. It was bought in 1963 from Frank Caro.

CM 4. Yan Hui (1st half of 14th century): The Lantern Night Excursion of Zhong Kui

Purchased for the Cleveland Museum in 1961 from Frank Caro, this is one of Sherman  Lee’s best acquisitions, and one of which he was justifiably proud, as is clear from the  article about it he published in their Bulletin (issue of February, 1962). It bears what appears to be a reliable signature; two colophons originally attached to it, by Yu He (dated 1389) and Wu Kuan (1435-1506), were probably transferred to the similar scroll owned by the late Ye Gongzhuo, a major collector who stayed in China during the bad Cultural Revolution years--I remember his nephew, my good friend Yeh Kung-chao or George Yeh, telling me how paintings taken from his uncle’s home by Red Guards were later returned to him with a note of apology written by Mao Zedong.  Still another similar handscroll painting was owned by Zhang Heng, or Zhang Congyu. The relationship between these and others requires a scholarly study still to be made.

CM 5. Ni Zan (1301-1374): Bamboo, Rock, and Tall Tree

One of the best of Ni Zan’s pictures of bamboo and trees growing by rocks, this one was purchased in 1978 from C. C. Wang, for whom recognition of the distinctive “handwriting” or brushwork of Yuan-period scholar-amateur painters like Ni Zan was a basic element of connoisseurship. Wang had learned this kind of connoissership from his teacher Wu Hufan, and within its limits he virtually never made mistakes. That the materials of the picture all lie more or less flat on the surface, with little depth, was not a failing but a virtue, since the viewer’s eye was meant to be held to the surface by the admirable brush-textures the artist has achieved. As Sherman Lee notes in his entry for this painting in the Eight Dynasties catalog (pp. 135-6), all the inscriptions on the painting are by the artist’s contemporaries.

CM 6. Yao Tingmei (act.14th c.): Leisure Enough to Spare

The identity of the artist who signs this work with the Yao Yanqing of the Boston MFA hanging scroll (see MFA 11 above) is probable but not absolutely certain; see the article on this problem by Richard Barnhart cited there.  Wai-kam Ho, in his entry for this painting in the Eight Dynasties catalog, makes no mention of the Boston painting, and presumably discounted the idea that it might be by the same artist.  In any case, this is a  fine late Yuan (dated 1360) landscape-with-figure composition painted in a relaxed form of the Li Cheng/Guo Xi tradition. A long inscription by the famous late Yuan litterateur Yang Weizhen, dated 1359, is mounted above it. It was previously owned by the Shanghai collector Zhang Heng or Zhang Congyu, and was purchased for the Cleveland Museum in 1954 from Frank Caro.

CM 7. Zhang Wo (act.1335-1365): The Nine Songs

A genuine, if unexciting, work by this late Yuan specialist in classical figure painting who was a follower of Li Gonglin, this scroll is unsigned but the attribution seems safe--similar scrolls by him are in the Jilin and Shanghai  Museums. It was purchased in 1959 from C. C. Wang, whose seals appear on it, along with those of Xu Bangda; colophons attached to it include those of Ye Gongzhuo and Wu Hufan. Viewing such a scroll is, for me, like watching an over-bred cat or goldfish: elegance without real force or distinctive character.

CM 8. Zhao Zhong ( half of 14th century): Ink Flowers

Safely signed and dated to 1361, this is a fine example of the Song-Yuan ink-flowers tradition, represented earlier by the long, anonymous “One Hundred Flowers” handscroll in the Palace Museum, Beijing, probably a work of the late Song.  This one, depicting only a lily, narcissus, and peony, is painted on sized, or powdered, paper. The artist was a doctor and calligrapher who mostly painted figures in the baimiao or ink-outline manner; his two other known works are a “Nine Songs” figure scroll seen only in an  old reproduction album, and four landscape  studies mounted in a handscroll with paintings by others, now in the Palace  Museum, Beijing. I remember well seeing this ink-flower scroll first in the collection of Cheng Chi in Tokyo, the previous owner, and admiring it in a limited way, while recalling with sympathy the observation made by Alexander Soper, in an old article, about how the literati taboo against rich color and realistic depiction robbed flower painters of the very qualities that should properly be basic to their art, replacing them with a neo-classical coolness that “true connoisseurs” were supposed to prefer. As I argued in an earlier note, it is past  time to reconsider our devotion to this narrow doctrine and recognize it as the special, over-cultivated taste of a male elite minority. And the richly colored, realistically rendered flower paintings by the early Academy masters and their professional contemporaries deserve, by contrast, to be more highly valued than they have been.

CM 9. Possibly by Gao Tao (13th century): Birds in a Grove in a Mountainous Landscape in Winter

Acquired in 1966 from Frank Caro, the painting may have come from the collection of the contemporary collector Wan’go Weng, since a seal of his ancestor Weng Fanggang, from whom he inherited his collection, is on it. The artist’s signature and perhaps his seal (undecipherable) are on the lower left edge. The artist is obscure; he may have worked under the Jin dynasty. This is, to my knowledge, his only known work. It is a fine, if conventional, landscape with birds in wintry trees, painted in the Yuan-period version of the Li Cheng tradition. Another version of the same composition is in the Freer Gallery of Art (70.32, Meyer Gift.)

That completes my notes on the paintings, and my essay. I am sorry that I won’t be able to attend the exhibition, but I will be there in spirit, as I was in last year’s show of paintings from Japan. I hope that this essay will help to publicize the exhibition and fill in those who come to it with more information and background for the paintings, as well as about the directors and curators who acquired them for their museums and the dealers from whom they were acquired.

James Cahill, June 2012

[1] “In Defense of the Visual: Reflections On An Illustrious Career.” My Freer Medal acceptance address, delivered on the occasion of the awarding of this medal to me on November 18, 2010. edited for publication with new title. In: Ars Orientalis 41, 2012, pp. 7-26.

[2] Richard Barnhart, Li Kung-lin’s Classic of Filial Piety, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1993.

[3] Sir Percival David (tr.): Chinese connoisseurship: the Ko ku yao lun, The essential criteria of antiquities.  London: Faber and Faber, 1971.

[4] Wen Fong, “The Problem of Forgeries in Chinese Painting,” in Artibus Asiae XXV (1962) pp. 95-119.


Wu Tung, Tales from the Land of Dragons: 1,000 Years of Chinese Painting. Boston, MFA, 1997, p. 139.

[6] Richard Barnhart, “Yao Yen-ch’ing, T’ing-mei, of Wu-hsing,”  in Artibus  Asiae vol. 39 no. 2, 1977, pp.105-22.

[7] For a detailed account of this event, important to our field in that it set back the study of early Chinese painting in the West by several  decades, see my article “London 1935/36 Exhibition: ‘Early’ Paintings From China,” on my website under The Writings of  James Cahill.

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