2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 165

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To and From Beijing: Mobile Painting in 18th-Century China

Organizer and Chair: Kristina R. Kleutghen, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

Eighteenth-century Chinese painting has traditionally been characterized within a sharp geocultural dichotomy: either imperially patronized court art from the northern capital, or privately patronized works from the southern mercantile cities. Although significant visual and textual evidence exists for the movement and mutual influence of art, artists, and patrons around the Qing empire, the issue of painting's mobility during the eighteenth century remains largely unconsidered in Chinese art history. This panel therefore seeks to address this subject through a new approach to High Qing painting: by examining both the centripetal movement of various styles, techniques, ideas and individual works of art into Beijing, and their centrifugal movement back out of the capital to northern aristocrats and officials, southern private patrons and commercial interests, and even overseas to Japan and Europe. Major court painters Wang Yuanqi and Chen Mei will be considered alongside Mongol art patron Fashishan, together with the imperial production and non-imperial diffusion of linear perspective and garden images. By overturning the north-or-south production polarity through these five case studies with histories both inside and outside Beijing, we hope to reassess the circulation of painting and painters in eighteenth-century China’s social, cultural, and political economies. Each presenter will be limited to ten minutes in order to encourage discussion, which will first be facilitated as a twenty-minute inter-panel conversation, and then an open dialogue with the audience.

Orthodoxy and Innovation: Wang Yuanqi and an Emergent Qing Court Style
Stephen H. Whiteman, University of Sydney, Australia

Wang Yuanqi (1642-1715), youngest of the Four Wangs of late Ming and early Qing painting, is a example of an artist working both within and beyond the court for whom art historiography has failed to create a cohesive artistic narrative. Major studies of Wang have largely focused on his role as ultimate definer of the “Great Synthesis,” the quintessential expression of Dong Qichang’s theories of orthodoxy in literati painting. In contrast, modern scholars have made relatively little mention of Wang’s other major artistic role, as the de facto leader of the Kangxi court art establishment from the first years of the 18th century until his death in 1715. In either case, court and beyond have remained separate, with scholars seemingly treating Wang as two distinct artists. A broader exploration of Wang Yuanqi’s oeuvre reveals a more complicated picture, however, one in which Wang’s production in and out of the court overlapped not only chronologically, but also stylistically and thematically. This paper explores works from the last fifteen years of Wang Yuanqi’s life, works at once emblematic of his larger production – albums of views after ancient masters and ostensibly generic hanging landscapes, for instance – and representative of a mature, more ambitious mode that bridged historical models and orthodox manners, contributing fundamentally to the innovative use of landscape as a meaningful genre within the Qing court.

Court Painter Outside the Court: A Case Study on Chen Mei (c. 1694-1745)
Lihong Liu, Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts, USA

Although a southerner from Lou county near Songjiang, Chen Mei began to pursue his painting career in Beijing in the 1710s while living with his brother, also a painter, who was connected with the nobles in the city. After Chen's painting was discovered by a court painter-officer, he was recruited into the imperial painting office during the Yongzheng reign (1723-1735). Chen served the court until the first decade of Qianlong's reign (1736-1796), when he finished a monumental, collaborative painting, Qingming shang he tu. Although Chen is known as a court artist, little attention has been paid to the group of paintings that he produced outside of the court, on which he used a peculiar seal-signature, Jiaoliaowo (which can be read as "a bird nesting on a single branch among a forest", alluding to Zhuangzi). By studying these paintings, my research investigates the intriguing interaction between a "court style" and the court artist's individual practice on art. This paper examines the "microscopic" vision of the self-contented world that is conceived by Chen's monumentalizing of ordinary things, and how the striking made-ness of the paintings claim for the artist's individuality in order to provide a larger view and fuller understanding of the dynamism of art agency inside and outside the court in the first half of the 18th century.

The Circulation of Perception and Deception: Nian Xiyao and 'The Study of Vision'
Kristina R. Kleutghen, Washington University, St. Louis, USA

During the Yongzheng era, Nian Xiyao (1671-1738) held a number of prestigious imperially appointed posts including Superintendent of the Jingdezhen imperial kilns. Nian’s privileged position facilitated travel to Beijing, where his elite status, amateur painting practice, and fascination with Western subjects resulted in numerous interactions with the Jesuits. These special circumstances resulted in the singular illustrated treatise 'The Study of Vision' (Shixue) that first appeared in 1729 after consultation with Jesuit court painter Giuseppe Castiglione, before being significantly expanded in 1735. Based on the contents of its short prose prefaces and its relationship to European linear perspective treatises, this text is commonly characterized simply as a Chinese manual on perspective painting. However, by moving beyond the prefaces into the 150-plus illustrations and their accompanying text, this paper investigates 'The Study of Vision' as an advanced discussion of psycho-pictorial deception through perspective-based illusionistic paintings explicitly intended to distort the Chinese viewer’s perception of reality. In addition to reassessing the text’s identity, this paper also addresses the questions of its circulation and influence at and outside the court. What evidence exists for who used the text, and for what purposes? How did its publication by a Jingdezhen superintendent shape the geography of its dissemination? What role did Nian’s work with both painting and ceramics play in the text and in its distribution? More provocatively, is 'The Study of Vision' evidence for the spread of perspectival visuality and pictoriality from Beijing into Suzhou, Yangzhou, Guangzhou, and even Japan?

The Afterlife of the 'Forty Views of the Yuanming yuan'
John R. Finlay, Independent Scholar, France

The Qianlong imperial album of poems and paintings depicting “40 Views of the Yuanming yuan” was presented to the emperor in 1744. Even before this superb album was completed, the emperor ordered it to be reproduced as woodblock prints by the Imperial Printing Bureau. The images created by the Manchu court official Tangdai and the court painter Shen Yuan were thus guaranteed a certain circulation among members of the imperial clan, selected imperial palaces, important court officials and a few other recipients. But, almost immediately, copies of the “40 Views” began to appear outside the strictly regulated court context. Varying widely in style and quality but nevertheless duplicating the original compositions, these unofficial copies spread knowledge of the imperial painting project within China and—at a remarkably early date—to collectors and connoisseurs in 18th-century Europe. Examination of these versions of the “40 Views” raises the question of the visibility of Qing court paintings, of who saw them and under what circumstances. Their diffusion beyond the court implies a knowledge of their existence and a very real desire to possess them. And their arrival in Europe illustrates the mechanisms by which views of far-off China played a role in the Age of Enlightenment.