Exhibition | Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints

Posted in books, catalogues, conferences (to attend), exhibitions by Editor on August 8, 2016


Ding Liangxian, Pomegranate and Magnolia with Bird, (detail), Qing Dynasty, 1700–50; woodblock print with embossing, ink, and colors on paper (multiblock technique with hand-coloring), 11 7/8 × 14 3/4 inches (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts)

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Press release (28 June 2016) from The Huntington:

Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints
The Huntington, San Marino, CA, 17 September 2016 — 9 January 2017

Curated by June Li and Suzanne Wright

The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens will present a major international loan exhibition exploring the art, craft, and cultural significance of Chinese woodblock prints made during their golden age, with works made from the late 16th century through the 19th century. Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints brings together 48 of the finest examples gathered from the National Library of China, Beijing; the Nanjing Library; the Shanghai Museum; and 14 institutional and private collections in the United States. The exhibition presents monumental visual accounts of sprawling, architecturally elaborate ‘scholar’s gardens’, alongside delicate prints with painterly textures and subtle colors depicting plants, birds, and other garden elements so finely wrought they might be mistaken for watercolors. A highlight of the exhibition is The Huntington’s rare edition of the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting (ca. 1633–1703), acquired in 2014, and on public view for the first time in this exhibition.

Research informing the exhibition and an accompanying catalog reveals much about the history and significance of Chinese pictorial printing during the period, including its influence on better-known Japanese woodblock artists and collectors. Coveted for their artistic merit and technical virtuosity, Chinese illustrated books and pictorial works were collected by the literati and wealthy merchant classes in both China and Japan. The Ten Bamboo Studio Manual, for example, contains the inscriptions of five renowned Japanese artists, successive owners who treasured the artistically ambitious and visually creative volumes as an important resource.


Lotus Leaf, Lotus Root, and Two Jitou Capsules, with calligraphy by Sun Yuwang, Fruit 10, from Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, compiled and edited by Hu Zhengyan; woodblock-printed book, ink and colors on paper, each page 9 7/8 × 11 1/4 inches (San Marino: Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens)

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The founding curator of The Huntington’s Chinese Garden, June Li, is co-curator of the exhibition and co-author of the catalog, along with Chinese woodblock print specialist Suzanne Wright, associate professor of art history at the University of Tennessee.

Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints unites several interests at The Huntington. It is the home of one of the most extensive collections of early printed books in the nation, various collections of prints by European and American artists, and one of the largest Chinese scholar’s gardens outside of China.

“This exhibition is utterly evocative of The Huntington’s transdisciplinary nature,” said Laura Skandera Trombley, Huntington president. “Woodblock prints were formative communication and aesthetic tools that served a number of purposes over time, from disseminating Buddhist teachings to depicting ideals of beauty. This perfect fusion of art and language, an integration of emotion and intellectual pursuit, is evidenced in The Huntington’s art and library collections, and is embodied in our stunning Suzhou-style Chinese Garden. We are enormously grateful for June Li’s commitment and guiding vision for this extraordinary exhibition.”

During the late Ming (1368–1644) and early Qing (1644–1912) dynasties, an increase in wealth, stemming in part from the salt, rice, and silk industries, led to higher levels of literacy and education. Consumer demand for printed words and images increased as merchants and scholars looked for ways to display their taste in drama, poetry, literature, and art. For these elites, gardens were central to a cultured life, appearing frequently in woodblock prints as subject or setting. By the 1590s, several enterprising publishers were successfully meeting the strong demand for woodblock prints. They hired renowned designers, carvers, and printers to produce sophisticated and exquisite works, raising the standards of printmaking. During the last decades of the Ming dynasty, several centers of printing around the lower Yangzi River delta grew in reputation, ushering in a golden age of Chinese pictorial printing.

“In the realm of Chinese art, pictorial woodblock prints are not as familiar as paintings, calligraphy, or ceramics,” said Li. “The subject of woodblock prints usually brings to mind Buddhist icons, Daoist deities, or folk images, rather than refined and artistic works. But, over the past few years, scholars researching the historical and artistic aspects of these prints have re-introduced a trove of beautiful works that are highly accomplished.”

Building on this story, Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints is organized into thematic sections with explanatory panels in both English and Chinese. In the first gallery visitors will find an impressive nine-and-an-half-foot long hand scroll that was commissioned by the Song emperor Taizong (r. 976–97). An unusual Buddhist work that depicts landscape rather than images of deities, it is the earliest and only religious work in the exhibition, showing the lofty achievements of woodblock printers by the 10th century, with enormous clarity of line and painstaking attention to the details of mountains, streams, trees, and tiny figures. The accomplishments of such early printing established the technical foundation from which later Ming and Qing artists grew. Illustrations of the Garden Scenery of the Hall of Encircling Jade, an extraordinary set of 45 prints produced around 1602 to 1605, will be displayed in facsimile (the only evidence that remains of the original). Taken as a whole, the prints illustrate the enormous garden estate of a successful merchant, scholar, and book publisher of the early 17th century. The detailed prints show what seems to be acres of a fashionable garden, with a large, elegant hall framing scholars seated in conversation; a courtyard where figures re-enact a famous poetry game around a table; an enclosure for carefully sculpted penjing (bonsai trees); and more than a hundred names inscribed on buildings, ponds, and rocks. The print has an elevated viewpoint and changing perspectives that allow glimpses into interior spaces, revealing a cultivated life of books and men in scholars’ robes deep in discussion.

The exhibition next focuses exclusively on prints about gardens, both historical and fictional. Historical gardens include famous sites recorded by emperors, such as Suzhou’s Lion Grove, a popular tourist destination to this day. Another imperial work, a scroll more than 25 feet long (six feet of which will be displayed), shows urban gardens and the bustle of daily life in 18th-century Beijing.

The effects of exchanges between European missionaries and the Chinese also are explored in the exhibition. One publisher incorporated biblical illustrations into his ink catalog, produced around 1616. The Qianlong emperor in 1783–86 commissioned a set of large copperplate engravings in a European style that showed details of the European pavilions in his private retreat.

Another section of the exhibition explores the styles of print artists from the late 16th through the 18th centuries in publishing centers such as Hangzhou, Huizhou, Wuxi, and Suzhou. On view are several examples by different publishers illustrating a single popular story, The Story of the Western Chamber, making clear their varying visual and artistic interpretations. In some cases, prints were made to resemble known paintings. Sometimes famous painters, such as Chen Hongshou (1598–1652), designed works expressly for printing. The exhibition includes a rare early edition of Chen’s version of The Story of the Western Chamber, as well as a set of cards he designed for a drinking game.

The exhibition also looks at accomplishments in multi-color and embossed printing, such as beautifully printed guides offering suggestions for cultivating taste. These manuals prescribed appropriate pastimes for a cultivated life, instructed on calligraphy, and advised on chess strategy and drinking games for men, and embroidery patterns for women. They also illustrated musical and dramatic works such as the popular Peony Pavilion. Many of these leisure activities took place in the garden, and prints showing scholar’s rocks, which had become precious items for the discerning collector, will be represented by finely printed editions of well-known works including a rare edition of The Stone Compendium of Plain Garden. Two examples of actual scholar’s rocks from The Huntington’s collection will be on view to complement the book.

Additionally, four iPads in the galleries will allow for a deeper investigation of Illustrations of the Garden Scenery of the Hall of Encircling Jade (a work showing the large garden estate of the successful merchant and publisher Wang Tingna) and allow visitors to see all the leaves of The Huntington’s Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, a work that due to its delicate nature can only be viewed a few leaves at a time in the galleries.

Visitors of all ages can view Chinese woodblock printing techniques in a gallery featuring a replica of a printing table, along with carving tools, colored inks, paper, brushes, and burnishers. To better understand the multi-color printing process, a set of woodblocks and step-by-step prints replicating a page of the Ten Bamboo Studio Manual will be on view, a display commissioned from the Shanghai publisher Duo Yun Xuan especially for the exhibition.

T. June Li and Suzanne E. Wright, Gardens, Art, and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints (San Marino: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, 2016), 176 pages, ISBN 978-0873282673, $50.

June Li details the origins and provenance of The Huntington’s Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting, a landmark of multi-block color printing, with particular emphasis on its appeal to 18th- and 19th-century Japanese collectors. Suzanne Wright traces the development of three distinct regional styles of woodblock-printed illustrations during the late Ming dynasty, with striking examples of each style drawn from the exhibition. The 176-page volume, published by The Huntington, features more than 150 illustrations, including full-color plates of each work in the exhibition.

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Exhibition Symposium | Word and Image: Chinese Woodblock Prints
The Huntington, San Marino, CA, 12 November 2016

The late Ming period witnessed an unprecedented production of woodblock images printed for many different purposes, including illustrations for drama and games, decorations for stationery paper or ink making, as well as pictorial works for the market. This symposium will explore the relationship and interaction between image and text in woodblock prints during the late Ming and early Qing periods. Register online here.

•  Kai-Wing Chow (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), “Nature, Print, and Art: Commerce and Garden Culture in Late Imperial China”
•  He Yuming (University of California, Davis), “Illustrating Encyclopedic Knowledge in the Ming”
•  Richard Strassberg (University of California, Los Angeles), “The Kangxi Emperor’s Thirty-Six Views: The Making of an Imperial Publication”
•  Meng-ching Ma (National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan), “‘Poetic Pictures’ in Late-Ming Illustrated Dramatic Publications”
•  Suzanne Wright (University of Tennessee, Knoxville), “The Swallow Messenger: Text and Image”
•  Hu Jun (Northwestern University), “A Panoply of Metaphor: Painting and Intermediality in the Late Ming”

Sotheby’s Museum Network to Launch in August

Posted in Art Market, museums, resources by Editor on August 8, 2016


The 13-part series The Treasures of Chatsworth is currently in production and will debut in Autumn 2016
(Photo: Sotheby’s)

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Press release (5 August 2016) from Sotheby’s:

Sotheby’s announces the upcoming launch [scheduled for August 29] of an online destination to discover video content created by and about the world’s leading museums. The digital hub will be called Sotheby’s Museum Network, and it will be featured prominently on Sothebys.com as well as Sotheby’s Apple TV channel. The museums in this network will include internationally-renowned public institutions, such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tate, and the National Palace Museum in Taiwan, as well as well as newer institutions founded by private collectors, including the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow.

In addition to syndicating museums’ own content, the Sotheby’s Museum Network will be the home of original programming conceived and produced by Sotheby’s. The Treasures of Chatsworth, a 13-part series on one of Europe’s greatest private houses and most significant art collections, is currently in production and will debut this autumn. Further information will be shared in the coming months.

Recent years have seen the opening of numerous private museums by passionate patrons, as well as record attendance at major exhibitions worldwide, reflecting a seemingly insatiable public interest in great art and collections. Sotheby’s Museum Network will reach a global audience for whom museums and foundations are a new entry point into the world of art, as well as seasoned collectors and connoisseurs who look upon these institutions as the ultimate source of authority on art and culture. It will ultimately encompass thousands of existing museum videos, which have never before been aggregated into one channel, making it easier for people to discover what they love as well as introducing new audiences to the great work that these institutions are creating worldwide.

“We are thrilled to host the extraordinary videos produced by our museum partners around the world,” commented David Goodman, Executive Vice President, Digital Development & Marketing. “The Museum Network is a response to a growing global audience that wants to experience the world of art and collecting. The network is a natural evolution of the existing ties we have with museums through programs like Sotheby’s Preferred, and we can now deepen those relationships with institutions and their benefactors as we expose their outstanding collections to millions of art lovers who engage via digital channels. The Treasures of Chatsworth is the perfect way to launch our drive into original video content creation centered on the arts and will be the first of many original films that will reveal the wonder of art and collecting.”

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