72. One Mag, Three Memories

72. One Mag, Three Memories

The latest (September 2009) issue of Orientations arrived today (9//16/09), and looking through it (beginning at the back, as I customarily do) I come upon three items that arouse memories, even before I reach the scholarly articles, or (far from least in interest) the full-page, full-color dealers’ ads that open each issue. The three are:

- p. 113, under  “Auctions in Beijing,” this news: “The greatest surprise in the category [of “classical Chinese paintings”] happened . . . in Council’s “Classical Painting” on 26 June, when a 1.77 metre-high painting by Bada Shanren, ‘Imitation of Ni Zan’s Landscape,' sold for a monumental RMB84million, setting a new international auction record for Chinese painting (lot 1033, estimate RMB14/16million.” The tiny reproduction reveals which Bada it was: the former Contag Collection landscape that C. C. Wang acquired, along with some 140 other Ming-Qing paintings (including everybody’s favorite Shitao album, the “Album for Daoist Yu,” a fine Wu Bin handscroll now in the Honolulu Academy, and many other important works) after the planned sale of the Contag paintings to Avery Brundage was shot down, for bad reasons, by the awful Yvon d”Argencé (see Reminiscence no. 32, “What Became of the Contag Collection,” on my website for an account of this.) Brundage could have bought all of them for about $450,000--he was spending sums like that on single pieces of Khmer sculpture, and would not have missed the amount. And now one of the paintings, not even the most valuable, goes for more than US$10 million. And this painting, along with the greatest Shitao album and many other fine Ming-Qing works, was lost to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and to all of us through the machinations of one small-minded person who resented and opposed anything he took to be an incursion on his special relationship with Brundage.

Is this the end of the sad story? Alas, no. A worse one, which I can only allude to without telling it fully (since I don’t know enough for a full account), is about what happened to some of the most important and valuable paintings owned by C. C. Wang upon his death. It is public knowledge that a lawsuit between his daughter Yien-koo, who had devoted much of her life to caring for him, and his son Shou-kun who was rescued from P.R. China where he had remained when C. C. with his wife and daughter moved to the U.S. in 1957, had tied up those paintings that were found after Wang’s death. Worse, however, is that some of the most valuable and important of his paintings, including the famous Wu Congyuan scroll, the Shitao album, and (I believe) this Bada landscape, had disappeared, taken from the collection and hidden away by one of the parties in this struggle. Now the Bada turns up in a Beijing auction; can we assume that the others will surface also in Chinese auctions or museums, to the immense profit of whoever took them, and also be lost to us?

- p. 101, Obituary for Rose Hempel (1920-2009). I have not been in touch with Rose Hempel for at least four decades, and read this with interest, learning a lot about her later years. An event in her life that is not mentioned in it is that the 1954-55 year she spent in Japan, doing research in her favorite subjects in Japanese art, Ukiyo’e and Zenga—she acquired for her museum, I remember, the Museum of East Asian Art in Cologne, a painting by Hakuin. This was the same year when Jan Fontein, Bill Watson, and I were all in Kyoto, and went around together seeing collections etc.; Rose Hempel was sometimes with us, although our different fields of study—ours Chinese art, hers Japanese—separated us much of the time. What I recall most about Rose Hempel was her reticence, her determination to act as she understood a Japanese lady of good breeding should act—the Japanese she spoke was a Japanese woman’s language, uttered with modest mildness. On the Fulbright program that year and also living in Kyoto was an American woman scholar, whom I won’t name, who got a reputation  for the opposite kind of behavior: self-assertive, even pushy by Japanese standards, so much so as to bring down complaints that embarrassed the Fulbright office. But, as I remember noting at the time, her assertiveness paid off, she achieved much of what she had set out to accomplish, leaving upset Japanese behind, while Rose Hempel, behaving with what she felt to be propriety, accomplished much less. It was not a lesson I was happy to absorb.

So far this set of reminiscences has taken a negative turn: bad guys win, good people lose out. I am happy to conclude with a more positive story, about two (definitely) good people winning, and still enjoying (I hope) a happy outcome.

- p. 102, under “News”, I read (I knew this already, but I am reminded): “Marc F. Wilson has announced that he will retire as Menefee D. and Mary Louise Blackwell Director/CEO of The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on June 20th.” Not mentioned in the brief notes that follow is Marc’s wife
Elizabeth, who was once my student. They seemed to me, and I hope still are, a perfectly matched couple. I write this out of memory, and entirely admiring memory: I can’t say whether the “perfectly matched” still holds, but trust that it does, and  trust also that those two people involved will enjoy this account, not resent it.

In the years after I moved back to Berkeley in 1965 to begin teaching there, one of my best students was Elizabeth Fulder. She transferred to Art History from the Design Department, and was always strong in visual analysis. Her then-boyfriend Herbot Riedel, who took his doctorate at U.C. Berkeley in Music, writing about Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” believed strongly that the success and value of works of art are susceptible to determination through formal analysis—more internal relationships makes for a more complex and satisfying work—and Elizabeth was then a kind of disciple of his, making the same argument in our seminars. She was also very smart in other ways, and always contributed strongly to discussions.

My seminar on late Ming painting, held over two semesters in the 1970-71 academic year, had eight students, all (as it happened) women. Elizabeth was one of these; and she was the one, when we were trying to think of a good title for our exhibition, who came up with “The Restless Landscape.” This inspired title became the model for the poetic titles of my books and other exhibition seminars (Hills Beyond a River, Shadows of Mt. Huang, etc.) The eight students were a varied group, but all outstanding in their different ways. With small funding from a Kress Grant, we flew to the East Coast and toured collections there to see and choose paintings for the exhibition. Various stories could be told about that trip: I have recently recounted how, because of the reputation that Berkeley had for political liberalism and the leftward leaning of several of my students, East Coast people were referring to us as “Cahill and his Red Detachment of Women.” The exhibition was a big success, as was its catalog, still a classic in our field. Several of the introductory essays, each written by one of the students—on late Ming painting in relation to intellectual, social, and political history of the time, the problem of “Western influence,” and other big topics—were first attempts in directions later followed up as major issues in our field of study. Fred Wakeman from our History Department sat in on some of the early meetings and was an active advisor to the participants. Elizabeth Fulder’s essay on “The Achievements of Late Ming Painters” was an ambitious and largely successful attempt to identify large issues and qualities that were common to much of the best late Ming painting, under such categories as “Innovation” and “Abstraction.”

I spent a lot of time in Japan in those days, and my advanced students were often there at the same time, living separately but coming together with me for daytime visits to museums, collectors, and dealers. Elizabeth and I were in Tokyo on one such occasion and went around together in this way—she was always a lively and entertaining companion, with great stories (about catching a cold and being told by a Japanese doctor not to take a “basu” for some days, by which he meant “bath,” but which she understood as “bus”—leading to a curious interchange: why not take a bus? Or her observation about the charm of the Japanese name for custard, which was purin, pronounced with a flap-r in the middle and derived from “pudding” but not meaning that—there was a separate word, puddengu, for that.)

When we came together on the evening of one day we had spent apart, I told her: “Today I met the man you are going to marry.” This was Marc Wilson, whom I had encountered for the first time at a viewing-gathering at the Nezu Museum. (Another story, about why Marc was late: riding in a Japanese taxi, he passed the Museum entrance and saw us waiting there for him, but without Japanese, was unable to tell the driver to stop, and could only wave at us wildly through the window as he drove by—the correct Japanese, we told him, which any Japanese would use on such an occasion, was “STOPPU!”) He and Elizabeth seemed to me alike in so many ways that they might well be an ideal couple. Elizabeth listened skeptically, and after meeting Marc the next day at another gathering, pronounced me quite wrong: he was too ambitious, would never make a good husband.

Fast-forward: Elizabeth takes on a dissertation topic, the great Southern Song academy master Xia Gui (my own favorite among Chinese painters), and goes off on a teaching career. Marc Wilson, who was a protégé of Laurence Sickman, Director of the Nelson Gallery in Kansas City and more or less set to succeed him in that position, returns to Kansas City, where he is working on a dissertation on the other great Southern Song academy landscapist Ma Yuan. Elizabeth has a teaching job at the University of Colorado in Boulder. By this time they are deeply attached to each other, and finally, deciding that they are spending too much time and money flying back and forth to be together, decide to marry. Their marriage took place in Berkeley, where Elizabeth’s mother—a remarkable German woman of great culture—still lived.  By sheer chance, my daughter Sarah was chosen to play piano music at their wedding. I could not be there—was I at Harvard? Where?—and sent a telegram (this was before emails) with this quatrain:

“Ma is wed at last to Hsia STOP Greetings from your absent Pa STOP Looking forward to the fun STOP Of welcoming distinguished Sun (Chün-tse) DON’T STOP.”

This requires some exegesis: Ma and Hsia are of course the artists they were working on, Ma Yuan and Hsia Kuei. Sun Chûn-tse was an early Yuan-period master who worked in the Ma-Hsia manner. (I was later to acquire a major painting by him, which has become my daughter Sarah’s.) Sun can be pronounced like son (and so forth—you get it, I hope.)

Elizabeth never finished her dissertation or took the doctorate, nor did she attempt to continue teaching after the move to Kansas City. Instead, she followed up another earlier interest, or passion: collecting old and unusual textiles in Japan, such as could then be acquired cheap and in quantities at temple fairs or in specialty shops by anyone who knew enough to choose, and using these to make very elegant women’s-wear items (and men’s neckties). For this she teamed up with a dress designer and opened the company called Asiatica, which has been extremely successful. It used to run advertisements regularly in the New Yorker; and an article by Calvin Trilling about Kansas City culture, published in the New Yorker (I can’t supply the date), featured Asiatica as one of the city’s most distinguished attractions. I visited it more than once when I was in Kansas City (without buying anything--even neckties were too expensive, and Elizabeth discouraged me), and kept in touch with her and Marc for a while. And Elizabeth came for my retirement celebration in Berkeley in 1995, giving a typically amusing speech with reminiscences. (Sample: “He taught us that when you hear a piece on the car radio and don’t know who composed it, it’s always Saint-Saens.”) But in recent years we haven’t corresponded much. And now Marc has retired as director, after years that were, I remember reading somewhere, not entirely rewarding for him but beneficial for the Museum. He and Elizabeth have, or had, a farm in the country outside K.C. with horses, and pursued their common enthusiasms, such as a taste for good wines. Freda Murck reports that more recently they have been growing tobacco, and that Elizabeth told her that “they had no intention of changing to a more politically-correct crop.” That sounds like the old Elizabeth. I trust that they are still, as they were then, an ideal couple, and I  mean this mini-essay as a tribute to both of them.

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