CLP 115: 1995 “Huangshan in Modern Chinese Painting.” Preface, reproductions of paintings of Huangshan by recent and contemporary Chinese artists

Huangshan in Modern Chinese Painting

The scenery of Huangshan, the spectacular range of "Yellow Mountains" in southern Anhui province, is seen so frequently in recent Chinese painting that one might assume it to have been an old, classical subject within Chinese landscape. In fact, Huangshan was seldom depicted before the late Ming period. It was not until the beginning of the 17th century that Huangshan was "opened" by a Buddhist monk named Pumen, who began the construction of climbing paths and rock-cut steps, and of temples where travelers could lodge, that made the mountain accessible to seekers after its sublime views. Before this, Huangshan was principally a Buddhist and Daoist sacred mountain, with its two principal peaks, the Tiandu-feng (Heavenly Citadel Peak) and Lianhua-feng (Lotus Peak), climbable only by skilled herb-gatherers--others could do no more than gaze up at them in awe, from a distance. After its opening, Huangshan became a place for aesthetic and literary pilgrimages by scholars and poets, as well as commercial travelers engaged in the thriving trade of the Huizhou region to the south. The peaks and pines were given names, and became the subjects of a large outpouring of poetry composed by climbers of the mountain. The association of Huangshan with Ming political loyalists and their doomed resistance during and after the Manchu conquest deepened the meaning carried by portrayals of the mountain in poetry and painting.

A school of artists, known sometimes as the Huangshan-pai, flourished in the region during the 17th century and into the 18th. Masters such as Hongren and Xiao Yuncong, Mei Qing and Zheng Min, devoted a large part of their output to portraying the thirty-six major and thirty-six minor peaks of Huangshan, along with the sheer, angular cliffs and the pines that hang from them, typically using a linear manner of painting with dry brushwork and only spare washes and pale colors if any. Paintings of Huangshan scenery were popular: those who climbed the peaks wanted pictures to remind them of their experience; those who planned to do so, or were unable to make the trip, wanted them as sources of visual information.

Huangshan has become a favorite subject for landscapists again in the 20th century, with the revival of landscape as a major subject of painting from the 1930s on. As the present volume amply illustrates, most of the famous landscapists of the past sixty years have traveled to Huangshan and made paintings of it, and new political and other meanings have built up around its now-familiar sights. The scenery of Huangshan continues to offer artists the possibility of reconciling abstraction with naturalistic representation, since the angular patterns of the fractured rock formations can suggest cubist or minimalist forms of art, while permitting also evocations of the grandeur of nature at its most sublime.

International recognition of the importance of Huangshan and the Anhui School of painting culminated in 1984 in a great symposium held in Hefei, the provincial capital, in which I was privileged to participate--this was, so far as I know, the first international symposium on Chinese painting to be held in China. Afterwards we all visited the home-towns of the artists and climbed Huangshan together. The symposium was accompanied by a large and excellent exhibition of works by the Anhui artists, drawn from thirty-six museums in China. Professor Chen Zhuanxi, editor of the present volume, was principal organizer of that symposium and exhibition, so we have been friends from that time. He tells me that he plans another volume made up of reproductions of Huangshan paintings by Ming-Qing artists, as a companion to this one. I congratulate him on the success of all these projects, and express the gratitude of scholars of Chinese painting for his important contributions to this absorbing branch of our study.

James Cahill

Professor Emeritus, History of Art
University of California, Berkeley

3641 SE Martins St.
Portland, OR 97202

November 17, 1995
Professor Chen Zhuanxi

Art Department
Nanjing Normal University
Nanjing, P.R. China

Dear Prof. Chen:

After receiving your letter of October 18, with the news of your new publication of recent and contemporary paintings of Huangshan, I have written out a preface which I hope will serve the purpose. It may be a bit shorter than you asked for, but I can't quickly think of anything to add. Hsingyuan is very much occupied with teaching here (at Reed College in Portland) and on other work, as well as in taking care of our twin boys Benedict and Julian, now nearly three months old. So I can't ask her now to make the Chinese translation. If you will have one made by someone there--it should be simple and straightforward--and send it to us before the book is printed, she will go over it and check for accuracy.

I don't have a photograph of myself here that I can send; I will try to remember to send you one after I return to Berkeley in early December, and will hope that it arrives in time to be used.

Best wishes,
James Cahill

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