14.Early Western Collecting Of Chinese Paintings

14. Early Western collecting of Chinese paintings: Advice to Hong Zaixin, who is writing a book on this subject.

Yes, your strengths are in being the historical detective. But the detective has to know what direction to look in, and what to look for—to have a bigger context for what he's doing. That's what you need, and unhappily nobody has really written it all out in a way you can use, although most of it is known. My frustration so often is: why haven't we ptg specialists, collectively, spelled out some of the obvious things? Back in my Levenson piece I asked: why haven't we explained what fang "imitation" really is, so that poor Joe didn't make his mistake? Now as I get older I am reminded of Dong Qc (I quote him from an inscription on the Princeton album) joining the Buddha in lamenting that he will leave this life with converting everybody. With me it;s: there are so many obvious and important things lying out there unsaid, because nobody has said them! My correspondence with you, and the one with Elkins, and others I've engaged in lately are in this direction: I know that whatever enlighenment I can pass on to you will be reflected in your published work and writing, and reach the field that way.

Now, some big basic things to begin with. No, please don't try to include ceramics etc.—a lot has been written on that, and it takes you into very different, alien territory. Huge amounts of further research and reading would be needed before you could write really knowledgeably about it. When your research touches on other arts, e.g. with Bahr's ceramic catalog, OK, bring them in. but don't try to do them as subjects in themselves. Your Huang Binhong conections, Strehlneek for the most part, Scott Talbot (forget the Gu Yue Xuan problem, although of course it will come into your chapter) all push you toward painting, your proper subject and the one you understand best. Forget calligraphy—another big set of issues and historical circumstances, to be written about some day by somebody else. OK to touch on these others as your research leads you, but don't try to do them thoroughly. Painting is what you are concentrating on, both old and new.

Your category 2 speaks of "Tang-Song painting" but that's not really what concerns you. How many real Tang paintings are there around? how many went abroad (OK, the Boston Yan Liben maybe.) What you are really concerned with are on the one hand the Song-Yuan and later paintings that good Chinese collectors pursued and owned (and were of course the main strengths of the Palace Collection) on the one hand, and on the other, the kinds of paintings that were offered and sold to foreigners. Of course there are overlaps—Strehneek's auction cat. has some very good Song album leaves—but for the most part we are dealing, in this early period, with these two huge, somewhat separable groups. (It wasn't until later that foreigners really began to move into the Chinese collectors' area—Freer purchases from Pang Yuan-chi, etc. Boston MFA purchases were largely from Japanese sources? a whole different problem. British Museum Gu Kaizhi was loot, not purchase. And so forth.)

So, before we get to the comparison with the Japanese situation, let's go over that once more. The main movement of "good" Chinese paintings continued to be among Chinese, through the traditional means of buying, selling, trading, among Chinese collectors and dealers. When you write of the main market for Chinese paintings, up to quite recent times, that continued to be it. Your subject, the foreign market, was for the most part quite separate, and as you rightly bring out, quite new for China. On the one hand there was the movement out of China of works by China's living artists, going with the growing understanding of this kind of painting abroad—one of your big themes. On the other, the movement of "old"—and a few really old—Chinese paintings to foreign collections. This was in some part stimulated by the 1935-36 exhibitions, by the opening of the Palace Museum in Beijing and other opportunities for foreigners to see old & good Chinese paintings there, etc.

Now, on to comparison with Japan. It isn't just that Japanese painting is more "universal," although there's some truth in that too. The kinds of Japanese art collected in the early period in the West belonged mostly to what we call Japonoiserie, the kind of thing Whistler appreciated—prints, decorative paintings and objects. Freer himself, influenced by Whistler (whom he visited in London) collected this kind of thing at first. Then he was converted, by meeting and getting to know some really good Japanese collectors who taught him about higher standards of connoisseurship, for both Japanese and Chinese art. If you can find it—in fact, do your best to find it, even if it means writing someone at the Freer—get and read Yukio Yashiro's talk on being presented with the Freer Medal—all these talks are published separately in little pamphlets. I have it in Berkeley, but won't go there soon. (I actually did the English text myself—all the big Japanese scholars depended on the dealer Mayuyama to do the English for their speeches abroad; Mayuyama would give it to his assistant Igaki, my close friend and drinking companion; and Igaki would do a rough English rendering and then ask me for a polished one—this was when I happened to be in Tokyo.) (There is a recent book about all this, how major Japanese collectors influenced Freer in a good way, by Christine Guth was it? fuller and more accurate, but more than you need?) Freer went back, anyway, and sold all his Japanese prints and blue-and-white porcelains and other decorative stuff and began collecting serious Chinese and Japanese art—a great moment in the history of Asian art collecting in the US. And in his late years he bought some really find early ptgs—Guo Xi, Gu Kaizhi—along with hundreds of the other kinds, later work attrib. wrongly to early masters.

This is only one of many developments leading toward a better understanding abroad of what the Chinese understood to be the best Chinese art—it's a complicated process. But you need to understand and outline it generally in your book, somewhere.+

Back to the Japan comparison: so, apart from Freer, foreign buyers continued to pursue prints more than paintings in Japanese art—or, if paintings, then works of the decorative tradition, rimpa etc.. These presented connoisseurship issues of their own, but of the kind the Europeans and Americans could manage, with the help of Japanese dealers. But what was the equivalent for China, the things that both appealed to foreigners and could be offered to them at prices they could pay? (Paintings of the kind Chinese collectors wanted were mostly beyond the understanding and beyond the prices paid by foreigners) Paintings of the kinds the Chinese collectors didn't value—Strehlneeks's catalogs contain lots of late landscapes that are perfectly genuine but by minor artists. And "old" paintings consisting of Ming-Qing figural works with wrong signatures and attributions. Much of what I'm working on now comes from these, preserved through this route, lost or inaccessible otherwise—there must be thousands of them in lesser Chinese collections, but nobody catalogs or publishes them.

You don't really have to deal seriously with all these issues—just have them clear as context and background. I'll attach to this the early pages of my book, in which this situation is discussed—it may help.

The fact that the situation for Chinese painting collecting abroad was complicated by all these issues probably helped to push foreign collectors into pursuing ceramics, antiquities, etc. instead. Remember the history of Ch ptg collecting and scholarship in the West: a period of enthusiastic acquisition (maybe spurred in part by the 1935-36 exhibitions) lots bought by collectors and museums in Europe and the U.S.; a period later in which scholars came along and said: yes, but those are virtually all fakes—e.g. the Bahr collection at the Met, bought in the 1950s by Alan Priest, who always said that a Song ptg, genuine or not, was going to be more beautiful than any Ming-Qing ptg could be; the upset of that attitude from the 1950s (around when I came into the field) with Dubosc and Sickman leading the way; then a period in which these old acquisitions are neglected, scorned; then people like myself and Dick Barnhart start going through them and finding some good later ptgs—Zhe-school landscapes by identifiable artists, good figure ptgs by later people, etc.—among the "fakes". And the great development of Chinese painting studies abroad really begins when we collectively realize that Yuan-Ming-Qing painting is great too, when museums are collecting it, when we are all drawing closer to the understanding and attitudes Chinese collectors had all the time. Of course you don't need to go into all that in detail, just keep it as a background for what you write.

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