CLP 162: 1989 Instructions (handout) for "Painter's Practice" seminar: working methods, potential sources

The Painter's Practice in China: Practical Aspects of the Production and Uses of Paintings in China

Form: we will gather data: cases, information, anecdotes; and from these we will try to piece together an account of our subject. What we are looking for will not be found written out in any systematic way in any of the Chinese sources we will use; that remains for us to do. We could almost define our set of topics as those aspects of Chinese painting that traditional Chinese writers avoid writing about.

Obviously, all the aspects of the "painter's practice" that we will be looking into change from period to period, school to school, etc. No case will be exactly like another. Nevertheless, we must begin by looking for pervasive (not universal) patterns, and later refine these as we find more data and come to better levels of understanding. The point is that without making such a start, we won't know what we are looking for, won't recognize relevant information when we encounter it.

When our data are assembled, we can attempt classifications: types of artist-client relationships, ways in which paintings were commissioned or otherwise requested, etc. We will illustrate these types with examples. Without trying to be comprehensive, we will set up frameworks within which later, more detailed studies of these subjects can be carried out.


Together we will gather, from a wide range of sources, clues and scraps of information and illustrative cases that throw light on the topics of the seminar, as these are outlined below. In the beginning stage it will be more efficient if everybody in the seminar gathers data on all the topics, instead of one person pursuing data on one topic (and disregarding data on others contained in the same texts.) Each participant will be responsible for scanning or reading a text or a group or type of texts, to identify in them clues and references to our set of topics; he/she will be responsible also for providing notes on these to the seminar. The data assembled in this way will be indexed in a computer database (already begun, using the material gathered by Shan Guoqiang.)

At some further stage in the seminar, we should come together to consider collectively each of the topics, with each participant summarizing what he or she knows or has gathered about that topic. Participants will make written outlines of their presentations, with bibliographical references that can be used by others. A recorder (who will have to be bilingual, Chinese/English) will keep a written record of the presentations.

At this point, topics for seminar papers (or perhaps articles, for those not enrolled in the seminar, including our Chinese colleagues) will begin to emerge. I would suggest that the papers should not be limited to particular artists or schools or even periods, but should address the phenomena that concern us over longer periods, across boundaries of schools, trying to discern broader patterns. Typical topics might be: the artist's use of assistants and "ghost painters", with joint works (ho-tso ) a sub-topic of this; patterns of commissions, how paintings were ordered or requested, the use of go-betweens; copying, fen-pen and other ways of transmitting designs, compositions, motifs, figure types, etc.; the entertainment of artists, artist-in-residence situations, painting to repay hospitality; and others. Any of these should be possible on the basis of the cases and other data developed in the early stages of the seminar, along with further research.

We will depend heavily on the contributions of our Chinese participants, with their wide knowledge of the field and its bibliography gained through their years of experience. Those who read Chinese more easily than I will be asked to scan the Chinese periodicals for articles that contain valuable information. The database and other materials that we develop will obviously be of a value far beyond the limits of the seminar itself, serving all of us in our research and writing in the future.

Please understand that the listing of topics below, an attempt at breaking down our large area of interest into smaller subject areas, is not intended to cover all the motivations and situations under which Chinese paintings came into existence. We are not ruling out factors of inner motivation in the artists, the factors of "inspiration," the urge to self-expression, the types of situations that match to some degree the Chinese theorists' formulations about the artist "doing paintings to amuse himself," "painting only to give lodging to his feelings," and the like. Nor are we denying that such factors can be important in artistic creations of the kinds that also brought the artist some sort of profit. We are choosing to concentrate, for now, on the practical aspects of Chinese painting, in the conviction that these have been systematically neglected in most of the literature on the subject.

The following is a tentative outline and breakdown of our area of concern by topics and sub-topics, with a few suggested potential sources. This is only a draft for discussion. We should have a more complete outline with better categories before we begin searching for information, classifying it, making it accessible through the database.

I. External (i.e. not "inner") motivations for producing paintings.

A. Commissions (more or less overt and straightforward). Letters to artists (Anne Burkus paper for Cleveland symposium). Ch'iu Ying's letter (Dubosc article in Archives)

B. Other ways in which the client or would-be recipient conveys to the artist his wishes and expectations. Go-betweens. Jao Tsung-i paper on Chu Ta album.

C. Statements in inscriptions of the type: "So-and-so requested (sometimes ling or ming ) a picture [of this subject] from me, and I responded by doing this painting for him."


D. A patron of the artist introduces others to him: Shih-t'ao etc. (Common in Japan: Yoko Woodson dissertation.)

E. Other communications between client and artist.

II. Modes of payment or other reward to the artist

A. Monetary payment (how rare was this, actually?)

B. Gifts, some exchangeable for money? (Paper, silk, etc.) Rice; food; wine.

C. Exchanges of favors; obligations and discharging them. Reciprocity. (My paper on artist-patron transactions.)

D. Hospitality provided by client; the artist-in-residence situation.

E. Artist forced by circumstances to sell paintings.

F. Artist refuses to paint. The reluctant artist. The overworked artist; the impatient client.

G. Artist gives paintings to others to help them. Can be sold by recipient for money.

III. The market; modes of sale.

A. Temple fairs, open markets ("he would hang his paintings in the marketplace for sale"): how did this work? Mounting shops. Painting shops. Other outlets. Michael Sullivan paper for Taipei 1980 conference.

B. Dealers, go-betweens who arranged sales. Chan Ching-feng, Tung-t'u hsüan-lan pien. Wu Ch'i-chen, Shu-hua chi.

C. Types of direct sale from artist to client. (Cheng Hsieh's price-list etc.)

D. Prices of paintings; questions of value.

E. Advisors to collectors.

F. Exhibition of paintings (sales, other.)

IV. Painting for occasions, specific demands, etc.

(Here, there should be a classification of types of paintings by subject categories etc., correlating with the situations in which, or the occasions for which, they were produced. But this subject-area is too large, probably, for us to address as a whole. Still, we can compile in our database a bibliography of studies that deal with this aspect of Chinese painting: Scarlett Jang's work; Chu-hyung Rhi's masters thesis on birthday paintings; writings on topographical painting; Susan Bush's and other papers for Jerome Silbergeld's 1986 CAA session on "Chinese Landscape Painting: Content, Context, and Style" (in binder in 419A); my chapter on "Meanings and Functions in Chinese Landscape Painting," growing out of the seminar on that subject, and the chapter on "Political Themes," growing out of another seminar--both are in my forthcoming Three Alternative Histories of Chinese Painting; and so forth. It will be useful to have all this pulled together.)

V. Sources and transmission of designs and motifs

A. Copying: types and techniques (excluding fang, free or creative imitation, which is outside our subject: we are concerned with copying for practical purposes rather than imitation for aesthetic purposes.)

B. Studio repertory albums? (Ku Chien-lung album in Nelson Gallery etc.) Fen-pen.

C. Woodblock-printed books and their uses. (Again, this is probably too extensive a subject for us to address as a whole; it could be a seminar topic in itself.)

D. Forgeries.

E. Other sources: memory.

VI. Studios, apprentices, assistants, joint productions.

A. Any evidence for studio organization, master-pupil relationships, etc.? (As there is, for instance, for Kano School in Japan.)

B. Using apprentices or assistants for subordinate roles (e.g. doing the coloring after the master has done the basic drawing, from Wu Tao-tzu to Ch'en Hung-shou and beyond.)

C. Joint works with parts assigned to specialists, e.g. faces and figures by portraitists and figure paintings, architectural specialists, etc.

D. "Ghost painters": cases of Chou Ch'en/T'ang Yin; Tung Ch'i-ch'ang; Chin Nung; others.

E. The artist as teacher: earning money by taking students. Kung Hsien, Shih-t'ao, etc.

F. The painter as forger: Wang Hui; who else? Lu Yüan? Shen Shih? Cases of the artist misdating own works?

G. Painting as performance; painting at parties, etc.

H. Painting executed over several days, months,years. Fast vs. slow execution.

I. Eye-witness accounts of artist working.

J. Artist as copyist.

K. Artist as illustrator.

BIBLIOGRAPHY (very preliminary & incomplete; we should generate more bibliography as we go along.)

Technique, Materials, etc.

R. H. van Gulik, Chinese Pictorial Art as Viewed by the Connoisseur. Rome, 1958.

----, trans. Scraps from a Collector's Notebook. Beirut, 1958. Translation of Lu Shih-hua, Shu-hua shuo-ling (part of his Wu Yüeh so-chien shu-hua lu ), 1776.)

Fritz van Briessen, The Way of the Brush: Painting Techniques of China and Japan. Rutland, Vermont, and Tokyo, 1962.

Yü Feian, Chung-kuo hua yen-se ti yen-chiu , Beijing, 1955. Trans. by Jerome Silbergeld and Amy McNair, Chinese Painting Colors: Studies of Their Preparation and Application in Traditional and Modern Times, Hong Kong and Seattle, 1988. (See also Herbert Franke translation of Wang I text on portraiture, in Oriental Art III/1: includes section on "Technique of Painting in Colors.")

Laurence Sickman, "Introduction" to: Chinese Calligraphy and Painting in the Collection of John M. Crawford, Jr., New York, 1962. Also "Some Chinese Brushes," in Technical Studies in the Field of the Fine Arts VII, 1939 (Fogg Museum, Cambridge, Mass.)

Benjamin March, Some Technical Terms of Chinese Painting, Baltimore, 1935.

See also passage on Wang Yüan-ch'i's practice of painting, as observed by a contemporary, in Siren, Chinese Painting, V, 204-5 (from Chang Keng, Kuo-ch'ao hua-cheng lu .)


Erich Zürcher, "Imitation and Forgery in Ancient Chinese Painting and Calligraphy," Oriental art I/4, 1955.

Wen Fong, "The Problem of Forgeries in Chinese Painting," Artibus Asiae XXV, 1962, pp. 95-119.

Chinese Writings on Connoisseurship etc.

Chao Hsi-ku, Tung-t'ien ch'ing-lu chi , ca. 1230. In MSTS I/9.

Kao Lien, Yen-hsien ch'ing-shang (1591). In: MSTS III/10.

Wen Chen-heng, Chang-wu chih , late Ming. Ch. 5 on painting. In: MS:TS III/9. ("Calendar for displaying of scrolls" from this translated by van Gulik in Pictorial Art pp. 4-7.)

Chang Ying-wen, Ch'ing-pi ts'ang , edited by his son Chang Ch'ou (Chang Ch'ien-te ). In: MSTS I/8.

Ko-ku yao-lun (1388 version by Tsao Chao , augmented edition 1462 by Shu Min and Wang Tso ), book on antiquities for collectors. Trans. as: Sir Percival David, Chinese Connoisseurship: The Ko Ku Yao Lun, London, 1971.

Chan Chin-feng (1528-1602), Tung-t'u hsüan-lan pien

In: MSTS V/1.

Patronage, Relations with Clients, etc.

James Cahill, "Types of Artist-Patron Transactions in Chinese Painting." Lecture given at Nelson Gallery, Kansas City, Nov. 1980; to be included in Artists and Patrons: Some Economic and Social Aspects of Chinese Painting, forthcoming.

Huang Yung-ch'üan , "Cheng Min 'P'ai-ching-chai jih-chi ch'u-t'an" . Paper for 1984 symposium in Hefei; pub. in Meishu yanjiu 1984/3, pp. 39-50. (Other painters' diaries? Li Jih-hua, Wei-shui-hsüan jih-chi ? Kuo Pi's diary, Yüan dynasty? (article by Richard Rudolph in Ars Orientalis III, 1959.)

Cheng-chi (Ginger) Hsü, Patronage and the Economic Life of the Artist in 18th Century Yangchou Painting. Doctoral dissertation, Berkeley, 1988.

--- "Cheng Hsieh's Price List: Painting as a Source of Income in Yangchow." Paper for symposium on Ch'ien-lung-period painting in Phoenix, Arizona, October 1985.

Scarlett Ju-yu Jang, Issues of Public Service in the Themes of Chinese Court Painting, doctoral dissertation, Berkeley, 1989.

Hongnam Kim, "Chou Liang-kung and His Tu-hua lu Painters: Social and Economic Aspects of Mid-seventeenth Century Chinese Painting." Paper for "Artists and Patrons" workshop, 1980. (Information on prices of paintings. For prices of old paintings, see also Kao Shih-ch'i, Ch'ing-ho shu-hua mu, and P'an Cheng-wei, T'ing-fan-lou shu-hua chi, in MSTS IV/7 ; what he paid? in index at beginning of book.)

Julia Andrews, "Landscape Painting and Patronage in Early Qing Yangzhou." Paper for CAA session, NYC 1986, on "Chinese Landscape Painting: Content, Context, and Style."

Richard Vinograd, "Situation and Response in Traditional Chinese Scholar Painting." Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism XLVI/3, Spring 1988, pp. 365-74.

Jean-Pierre Dubosc, "A Letter and Fan Painting by Ch'iu Ying." Archives of Asian Art XXVIII, 1974-75, pp. 108-112.


James Cahill, Three Alternative Histories of Chinese Painting. Lawrence, Kansas, University of Kansas, The Spencer Art Museum, 1988.

Chin Yüan (late Ch'ien-lung period), Shih-pai chai shu-hua lu Manuscript copy in Stanford library. Fascinating & problem-ridden text. (Lovell #69; without author or date.) Needs work.

Michael Sullivan, "Some Notes on the Social HIstory of Chinese Art." Paper for International Conference on Sinology, Academia Sinica, Taipei, 1980. Draft, manuscript.

Wai-kam Ho, "Late Ming Literati: Their Artistic World and Life." Essay for The Chinese Scholar's Studio exhibition catalog.

Other Relevant Papers

Ann Burkus, "Invitations to Paint: Chen Hongshou's Birthday Pictures and the Question of His Professional Status." Paper for Cleveland symposium, May 1989. (Binder in 419A)

Ann Clapp, "The Commemorative Paintings of T'ang Yin." Paper for same symposium as above.

Ellen Johnston Laing, "Qiu Ying and the Xiang Family." Paper for same symposium as above.

Susan Bush, "Landscape as Subject Matter: Different Sung Approaches." Paper for CAA session in NYC 1986 on "Chinese Landscape Painting: Context, Content, and Style."

Julia Murray, "The Nü hsiao ching and Sung Textual Illustration: Problems of Reconstruction and Artistic Context." Unpublished paper.

Peter Sturman, "The Auspicious Image from Hui-tsung to Kao-tsung and Mi Yu-jen." Paper for CAA session, February 1987.

Appendix: Notes from Shan Guolin’s Talk, Dec. 14, 1989

Mostly based on materials in Shanghai Mus.; inscriptions, mostly mid-Ming or later. Colophons, letters. Hope these will be use for for research. Organized under four topics.

I. Painting as a Commodity. How painter values economic aspect of painting from mid-Ming. Concept of mercantile value in mind of artist. How this affected their work.

Most will be about literati: available information. Mercantile ideas already current w. profes. artists earlier; Ming and later w. literati.

Since Sung: literati believed ptg was properly for self-amusement; selling was degrading. Common practice: exchange of ptgs & gifts. SEparate from common social exchange of gifts: more practical, with gain as motive.

- Wang Ku-hsiang wrote official, Wang T’ing, 1523, asking him to inscribe album for high-ranking official in Board of War., Very polite. Lung-chü? assistant, assumed position of Prefect of Kaifent (?) Gift exchange: Wang Ku-hsiang and Wang T’ing were Suchou people; recipient Shantung.

- Hsing T’ung bought works from Chu Shih-lu (?). Hsing sold own calligraphy in south for money; meanwhile collected works of another calligrapher. Also collected earlier & famous callig. for purpose of resale. Dealer sold those for him in south.

Commodity exchange of works of art in late Ming quite common. Two letters. (1) Hsing to Chu, asking for 16 papers + 20 fans of calligraphy; he collected these, also old masters such as Chao M-f, to re-sell through dealer. (2) Wrote to person whom Shan thinks was dealer/agent.

- Ch’en Hung-shou inscription on ptg called Butterfly in Spring Wind; he records that he exchanged paintings for other things. Long story: originally, Ch’en presented ptg. by Wen Cheng-ming to a certain Mou-chai. Later, friend of Ch’en’s fell sick; Ch’en borrowed 1 tael (liang) of silver from Mou-chai. But later, Ch’en (perceiving himself as literatus) felt uneasy about this; did album leaf in boneless style to repay Mou-chai. Ch’en then had to borrow another tael of silver to buy rice for friend. Finally, ptd this scroll for Mou-chai. [Interesting that he writes all this down on the ptg!] Colophon by Kao Shih-ch’i.

Despite fact that Ch’en trying to get around stigma of commercialism, in fact actually treating ptgs much like commodities. Exchanges of this kind could go on forever, w/o uncomfortable feelings: not same as selling. (Gifts, loans unrepaid; Ch’en keeps one step ahead.)

- Letter from Ling Chen-ch’u to Ch’ien Ku: asks Ch’ien Ku to paint 20 album leaves, two hanging scrolls, one framed ptg; paid him: . Ends letter w. following words: “Please receive & reply that you have received.” Ch’ien Ku was highly-regarded student of Wen Cheng-ming; but even such a literati ptr as he sold ptgs fairly openly--

2. Ming (mid to late): Go-between.

- In previous case (Ling & Ch’ien), toward end of letter, Ling asks a reward for acting as go-between/agent: “My health has been bad recently; my friend died, also brother; comfort me by giving me some ptgs in styles of old masters, Ching & Kuan, Ma & Hsia.”Assumption: since this appears twd. end of Ling’s letter, probably asking this as reward for favor he’s doing Ch’ien Ku.

- Hsü Hsiao-lien . Second letter of Hsing T’ung spoke of him as person in south who acted as agent for him. This phenomenon continues into Ch’ing. When Yün Shou-p’ing in Hangchou, asked nephew to deliver ptgs to patron, collect money for him. (In Yün Nan-t’ien shu-hua chi, Shanghai Mus. publication) Inscription on ptg?

- Wang Shu , K’ang-hsi to Ch’ien-lung calligrapher; also P’an T’ien-shou. Wang Shu’s letter: his second and sixth younger brothers asking them to find ptgs by Wang Hui and Yün Shou-p’ing, buy them for him. Letter addressed to his 6th younger brother, in it asked him to go to 2nd, ask him for money. Probably had some money in 2nd brother’s hands for this purpose.

- P’an Kung-shou letter to his third brother saying he was in tight state of finances, asking him to send money--uses terms suggesting that money previously deposited, he’s now getting it out. Uses commercial terminology.

Before Ch’ien-lung period, use of go-betweens convenient way to use friendship to facilitate exchanges. From Ch’ien-lung on, institutionalized, more openly commercial.

3. Kinds of patrons; painter doing ptgs according to needs of market

Influence of patrons on painters: commonly believed to begin in Yangchou school in 18th cent. But that would make late; already common by middle to late Ming. Popularizing of literati styles.

Letter from Ling Chen-ch’u to Ch’ien Ku, mentioned earlier, mentions commission by one Wang Chün: Kuan-yin in ink style; other was “Dirge of Autumn” after Ou-yang Hsiu’s poem. Request/order/commission sent through agent. If we take this case to bear on pattern of Ch’ien Ku’s painting, very repetitious: figures, etc. repeated. General understanding was that ptr. loved this topic and did it over & over therefore. But now seems that patron played part.

- Hsing T’ung again: letter. Expresses his view that in society, calligraphy based on Chin style espec. highly valued. For instance, Callig. works by Chao Meng-fu in own style worth only half as much as Chao M-f in style of/copying some Chin masters.

- Relationship between dealers in ptgs and literati ptrs underwent changes in mid-Ch’ing. Literati ptrs in closer relationship w. dealers, even humble twd. them. Some practical considerations: had to sell ptgs (Ch’ien-lung to Chia-ch’ing).

- Letter from P’an Kung-shou to ? (member of his family) saying: some birthday ptgs I want you to sell to dealer in brushes & ink etc. named Lin Hao-sheng . When he comes, be polite to him. Shows respect for dealers.

4. Prices of ptgs & calligraphy

Not much info. on prices. But some documents not believable. Chang Keng’s Kuo-ch’ao hua-cheng lu: case of ptr named Chou Hsün, put ptg of dragon in Huang-hao-lou w. price of 100 taels of silver. [Etc.: waits for person to appear who is willing to pay that much; when he appears, gives him ptg for far less: only wanted to find someone who valued his ptg that much.] Story could be more-or-less true, with price exaggerated.

- Another: story about Huang Shen. Supposed to be given woman for painting. Shan believes woman worth too much, story unlikely.

- Prices of ptg and callig. in mid + late Ming fluctuated a lot. No standard for what certain ptg or callig would fetch. Sometimes payment symbolic, can’t use in commercial sense to understand other cases. [No way to make sense of prices in this period.]

- Chin Tsung , mid-Ming calligrapher. Sometimes so-called charges for ptgs was nominal. Chin Tsung was 21 years yhounger than Wen Cheng-ming; wrote letter to Tsung Lu: ptg you requested for your child has been completed. Don’t want any payment; but ask (certain official) for medicine for eyes. Didn’t want anything more.

- Case of Ch’en H-s handscroll (in photos, discussed above.) Only one tael of silver (loan) Value of ptg must have been much higher. (Bird & bamboo; narcissus; rock, butterfly, and flowering branch. Late Ming-early Ch’ing: price paid for ptg was largely nominal. One tael of silver didn’t reflect real value. But by time of Cheng Hsieh, more openly commercial. Artist accepting nominal payment still had client obligated to him; would benefit some time in future. Case of Ch’ien Ku for Ling: more reasonable price. 20 album leaves, 2 hanging scrolls, 1 fan ptg. For this (as above, payment.) Shan compares w. contemporary prices: = 18 tan of rice, or 1620 kg. of rice! + 2 catties of tea.

Cheng P’an-chiao: first who dared to formally record price list. He has t’i-pa in Yang-chou ts’a-tse chüeh? Refers back to Huang Shen case: woman for painting. Case involving Cheng Hsieh recorded in his colophons: Young girl named Yao, teen-ager, daughter of tea-shop owner. Cheng encountered her soon after death of wife. Two talked, mutually attracted, said would marry. Cheng took exam, didn’t get job, too poor to marry. Girl left waiting. Friend of Cheng visited girl’s family(?), heard story, asked to tell Cheng: can’t wait, will marry daughter to someone else. Friend so moved he paid 500 taels for her, sent her to Cheng. (Somebody else had already offered 1000 taels for her.)

According to record written by Cheng Hsieh, ptrs listed: Wang Shu, Chin Nung, Li Shan, Huang Shu-ku, Cheng Hsieh, Kao Hsiang, Kao Feng-han: these exchanged his ptgs for money; income ranged from several hundred taels of silver per annum (at least) to 1000 in good years. Now we must consider what this means. Superintendent, 3rd-rank official, in charge of salt transport, received 130 taels of silver per year. County magistrate: official income below 100 taels. Improved after Yung-cheng period: special pension, lit. means “nourish uncorruptibility.” Magistrate could get 1000 taels of silver. But altho that true, 1000 for ptr still good income. [Chris Reed: a lot of “extra income” came from assistants, mu-fu, who collected for magistrate: “meeting charges” etc.]

Two problems from this.

- On basis of previous records, ptrs like Cheng had to be very prolific. His price-list: 4 taels of silver for medium-size hanging scroll. So had to paint 250 of these to make 1000 taels of silver. Leads to problem of quality: how to keep up? Also to problem of tai-pi, ghost ptrs. We know Chin Nung used them. All relate to attitudes twd artistic creation.

- Also: Date for previous record by Cheng was 1748 (CL 12), still official in Shantung. So even at that time, earned abt 1000 taels of silver thru selling ptgs. AFter he retired, went to Yangchou and lived by ptgs; no loss of face: natural. Also natural development of society: increasing commercialization.

To sum up: we know that production of ptgs from mid-Ming to later Ming closely related to commodity exchange; natural development; had tremendous impact on all aspects of artistic creation.

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