VIII. THE CH'ING PERIOD--SEVENTEENTH TO TWENTIETH CENTURIES
The Ch'ing or Manchu dynasty, whose downfall we have recently witnessed, brought no new vigor to China. Barbarians once again invaded the aged and enfeebled empire usurping the methods, history and organization of the preceding periods. The change in China at the end of the seventeenth century was only dynastic. The evolution of Ming tendencies continued, and despite the reorganization undertaken by Kang Hsi and maintained by his two successors, the excessive requirements of the old system, which had been formulated during the Sung epoch and definitely established in the Yuan and Ming periods, were so exacting that irremediable decadence was inevitable. Thenceforward no great changes in the realm of painting need be expected. It only continued its logical evolution.
It is necessary, nevertheless, to lay stress on the value of Chinese painting from the seventeenth to the twentieth century, for an opinion is current that, while there might still be something of value under the Ming dynasty, nothing good was produced under the Ch'ing. It is undeniable that marked signs of decadence are seen in the latter period, but by the side of some inferior works, others exist which maintain the vitality of the past and the hope of a renaissance.
In refutation of such hasty and ill informed opinion, it is sufficient to recall a number of paintings, signed and dated, of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which dealers or collectors calmly attribute to the eleventh and twelfth.
Chinese painting at the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century was still full of vitality. The taste for brilliant color gradually diminished, and the composition became broader and more noble at the hands of certain painters, in whom is seen the revival of the vigorous race of yore. This was the time when Yun Shou-p'ing, more commonly known under the name of Nan-t'ien, painted landscape and flowers with the restraint and power of the old style, and when Shen Nan-p'ing set out for Japan to found a modern Chinese school which was to rival the Ukioyoyé in importance and activity. About them was grouped a large following, foretelling fresh developments.
No support was given to this movement by the new government, which was infatuated with the academic style of the earlier reigns and becoming more and more ignorant as the last years of the nineteenth century approached. In the eighteenth century a comparatively large number of Chinese painters settled in Japan, where they continued the traditions of Ming art. The observation of a Nan-t'ien or of a Shen Nan-p'ing was keen and painstaking, but the objectivity and realism now coming to the fore, were conspicuous in their works. No longer was it the world of pure substance and abstract principle that was sought, but the real, everyday world, the world of objective forms studied for themselves, living their own life, on the threshold of which the spirit halted, no longer guided by the old philosophies.
This character was maintained up to the nineteenth century. It is seen in the painting of flowers and landscape as well as in figure painting. These traits are equally apparent in an iris by Nan t'ien and a personage by Huang Yin-piao. The latter, working in the middle of the eighteenth century, evoked the personages of Buddhist and Taoist legend with a skillful brush, but his daring simplifications were more akin to virtuosity than to that deep reflection and freedom from non-essentials which were the glory of the early masters. Herein are discerned the elements of decadence, which are wont to assume precisely this aspect of a mastery over difficulties. For such ends genuine research and the true grasp of form were gradually abandoned.
Calligraphy and the literary style were not overlooked, but they were carried to a point of abstraction that is beyond the province of art. A personage was represented by lines which formed characters in handwriting and which, in drawing the figure, at the same time wrote a sentence. Doubtless that is a proof of marvelous skill. I agree in assigning such masterpieces to the realm of calligraphy but refuse to admit them to the domain of painting.
This applies as well to the so-called thumb nail painting held in high repute under the last dynasty. In this the brush is abandoned and the line is drawn by the finger dipped in ink or color. The painting is done on modern paper of a special kind which partially absorbs the paint, in the manner of blotting paper; this results in weak lines, and ink and color schemes devoid of firmness, in short, in a lack of virility which places such works, notwithstanding their virtuosity, in the category of artisan achievements. These works are numerous in the modern period and constitute what so many regard as Chinese painting. One cannot be too careful in discarding them.
During every period decorative paintings, religious paintings and ancestral paintings made after death, were executed in China by artisans, ordinary workmen at the service of whosoever might engage them. Such work should not be consulted in studying the styles of great periods or the higher manifestations of an art. These paintings were the first to leave China and find their way to Europe. There is no reason for analyzing them here.
To sum up, Chinese painting of the last two centuries still numbers masters of the first rank. This alone indicates that the sacred fire is by no means extinct. Who shall say what future awaits it amidst the profound changes of today? After a period of indecision which lasted for twenty-five years, Japan has found herself anew and is seeking to revive her artistic traditions. It is to be hoped that China will, at all costs, avoid the same mistakes and that she will not be unmindful, as was her neighbor, of the history of the old masters.
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This brief survey has shown how the distinctive features of China's artistic activity were distributed. Though subjected to varying influences, this evolution possesses a unity which is quite as complete as is that of our Western art. In the beginning there were studies, of which we know only through written records. But the relationship existing between writing and painting from the dawn of historic time, permits us to carry our studies of primitive periods very far back, even earlier than the times of the sculptured works. We thus witness the gradual development of that philosophical ideal which has dominated the entire history of Chinese painting, forcing it to search for abstract form, and which averted for so long the advent of triviality and decadence.
The goal sought by Chinese thought had already been reached in painting when, in the third and fourth centuries, we are vouchsafed a glimpse of it. It is a vision of a high order, in which the subtle intellectuality corresponds to a society of refinement whose desires have already assumed extreme proportions. Like Byzantium, heir to Hellenistic art, the China of the Han dynasty and of Ku K'ai-chih was already progressing toward bold conventions and soft harmonies, in which could be felt both the pride of an intelligence which imposed its will upon Nature, and the weariness following its sustained effort.
This refinement, arising from the exhaustion of a world which even thus retained a certain primitive ruggedness, was succeeded by a stupendous movement which followed in the wake of the preaching of Buddhism. With the new gods we see the first appearance of definite and long-continued foreign influences. Civilization was transformed and took on new life. Then, as in the days of the great forerunners of the Florentine Renaissance, there appeared a whole group of artists, prepared by the art, at once crude and refined, of an earlier people. This group set resolutely to work at the close study of forms, ascertaining the laws of their structure and the conditions of the environment which produced them. The period in which the work of Li Ss-hsun, Li Chao-tao and Wang Wei was produced may be likened to the fifteenth century in Florence with Pisanello, Verocchio, Ghirlandajo and Masaccio. Similar conditions gave birth to a movement that is directly comparable with the Italian movement for, no matter how varied the outward appearances due to differences of race and civilization, the fundamentals of art are the same everywhere and pertain to the same mental attitudes.
The great leaders in periods preceding the T'ang dynasty paved the way to the culmination which took place in the Sung period, and thus the fruit of that prolonged activity is seen ripening between the tenth and the thirteenth centuries. Through the gropings of the primitive period, the heterodox philosophies and the mystic stirrings of Buddhism, Eastern thought had arrived at an unquestionably noble comprehension of existence. The impersonal mystery of the universe, its mighty principle, its manifold manifestations and the secret which unveils itself in the innermost soul of things are the conceptions which form the inspiration of Chinese painting. These lofty thoughts are the source of that spirituality which declares itself therein with such nobility. The religion to which they are due will seem perhaps, to certain people, to be broader and less trammeled than our own. There is no doubt that the entire Far East was under the spell of its grandeur.
Up to this point art had sounded every depth and attained the highest summits of human achievement. Thenceforward it concerned itself with varying manifestations which were only the different modes of a formula that was still flexible, until the time when--the great inspirations of the past forgotten--there appear signs of a spirit on the quest for realism, emerging from the ancient tradition. This is the distinctive note in the evolution of Chinese painting under the last two dynasties. It would seem as if, even in this guise, a universal need of the mind is being satisfied, a need which we, too, have known after experiencing a chilling academicism, and when modern culture had overthrown the ancient idols. Chinese painters have thus completed a round analogous to that traveled by our own artists.
For the Far East as for Europe, the problem now presented is that of a revival. Bent beneath the weight of the prestige of the past, too learned in the last word of culture, modern art is seeking to find itself, groping blindly, full of promising but unfinished works. The time has come when there are signs throughout the world of a desire for a universal civilization, by the reconciling of ancient divergencies. Europe and the Far East bring into contrast the most vigorous traditions in history. Henceforward there is interest for both civilizations in studying and in coming to understand a foreign ideal. Though incomplete, these pages will perhaps help to show that such a mutual comprehension is not impossible and that, if egotistic prejudices are overcome, apparent dissimilarities will be resolved into a profound identity. Thus will arise the elements of a new culture. In coming to understand a mood which so fully reflects an unknown world, the European mind will discover principles which will make it rise superior to itself. May this broad comprehension of human thought lead Europe to estimate with greater justice a civilization numbering its years by thousands, and to refrain from thwarting the fulfillment of its destiny.
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An Introduction to the Study of Chinese Pictorial Art. Herbert A. Giles, M.A., LL.D., Professor of Chinese in the University of Cambridge. Second Edition, revised and enlarged. London, Bernard Quaritch. 1918.
Painting in the Far East. Laurence Binyon. Second Edition, revised. London, Edward Arnold. 1913.
The Flight of the Dragon. Laurence Binyon. Wisdom of the East Series. London, John Murray. 1911.
Epochs of Chinese and Japanese Art. Ernest F. Fenollosa. 2 volumes. F. A. Stokes and Co., New York. 1912.
Scraps from a Collector's Note Book. F. Hirth. Leiden, New York. 1905.
Chinese Art. Stephen W. Bushell, C.M.G., B.Sc., M.D. Victoria and Albert Museum Handbook. 2 volumes. London. 1910.
Chinese Painting. Mrs. Francis Ayscough. The Mentor of Dec. 2, 1918, Serial No. 168. New York.
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INDEX OF PAINTERS AND PERIODS
The following summary furnishes additional information regarding the painters to whom reference has been made. Those to whom the subject is not familiar will find this of assistance in placing in their proper historical order the different trends which have been indicated elsewhere. They will also find dates useful in comparing, if so desired, the artistic evolution of China with that of Europe. This, however, is only an outline. The names of some great masters are omitted, for I have no wish to overload the margin of a statement which should be kept clear and convenient of access. I trust nevertheless that these few notes in concise form will be of use in connection with the preceding text.
I. BEFORE THE INTERVENTION OF BUDDHISM
The Bas-reliefs of the second Han dynasty belong to the second and third centuries of the Christian era.
Ku K'ai-chih, also called Chang-k'ang and Hu-tou, was born in Wu-hsi in the province of Kiang-su. He lived at the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century. His style, resembling that of the Han period, informs us as to the character of painting from the second to the fifth century. It is such as to indicate a long antecedent period of cultivation and development.
Hsieh Ho , painter of the figure. He wrote a small book setting forth the Six Canons or Requirements of painting. This work informs us regarding the philosophy of art in China of the fifth century.
II. THE INTERVENTION OF BUDDHISM
It is difficult to set an exact date for the first contact of Buddhist with Chinese art. It may be assumed that the influence of Buddhist art began to be felt noticeably in China in the fifth century. In the seventh and eighth centuries it was so widespread as to be definitely established.
III. THE T'ANG DYNASTY
Wu Tao-tz, also called Wu Tao-yuan. Born in Honan toward the end of the eighth century. His influence was felt in Japanese art as well as in that of China. He painted landscape, figures and Buddhist subjects.
Li Ss-hsun is considered as the founder of the Northern School. He appears to have felt the influence which Buddhist art brought in its train.
Li Chao-tao, son of Li Ss-hsun, lived at the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth centuries. He is said to have varied from his father's style and even surpassed it.
Wang Wei, also called Wang Mo-k'i , poet, painter and critic. The great reformer of Chinese landscape painting. Considered as the founder of the Southern School and the originator of monochrome painting in Chinese ink.
Han Kan, renowned in the period t'ien-pao . According to tradition he was a pupil of Wang Wei. His school possessed in the highest degree knowledge of the form, characteristics and movements of the horse.
IV. THE SUNG DYNASTY
Tung Yuan. Tenth century. Landscape painter. He worked in both the Northern and Southern styles.
Chu Jan, Buddhist monk. Tenth century. He was at first influenced by the work of Tung Yuan, but later created an individual style.
Ma Yuan. End of the twelfth and beginning of the thirteenth century. Member of the Academy of Painting. He was the author of a strong and vigorous style which characterized the school founded by him.
Hsia Kuei served in the college at Han-Lin in the reign of the Emperor Ning Tsung . He was considered a master of chiaroscuro and atmospheric perspective.
Ma Lin, son of Ma Yuan. Thirteenth century. His work shows that he painted even more in the tradition of the Southern School than his father and uncle.
Li Lung-mien or Li Kung-lin. Born at Chou in Ngan-huei. He held public offices, which he resigned in 1100 to retire to the mountain of Lung-mien, where he died in 1106. Noted for his calligraphy as well as for his painting. At one time in his life, under religious influences, he painted a great number of Buddhist figures.
Mi Fei or Mi Yuan-chang or Mi Nan-kung . Calligraphist, painter and critic. He used strong inking in a style in which the simplification of monochrome is carried to the extreme. He had a son, Mi Yu-Jen, who painted in his father's style and lived to an advanced age.
Hui Tsung, emperor, poet, painter and calligraphist. Born in 1082, ascended the throne in 1100, lost his throne in 1125 and died in captivity in 1135. In the first year of his reign he founded the Academy of Calligraphy and Painting. He made a large collection of valuable paintings and rare objects of art which was scattered at the plundering of his capital by the Tartars in 1225.
V. YuAN DYNASTY
Chao Mêng-fu, also called Ts-ang. Born in 1254. Man of letters, painter and calligraphist. He was a great landscape painter and in the first rank as a painter of horses.
Ch'ien Hsuan, also called Ch'ien Shun-chu, lived at the end of the thirteenth and beginning of the fourteenth century. He painted figures, landscape, flowers and birds. He employed the style and methods of the Sung dynasty.
Yen Hui lived in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. His paintings were numerous and indicate a master of the first order. He painted many Buddhist and Taoist subjects.
Huang Kung-wang. Fourteenth century. At first influenced by the style of Tung Yuan and Chu Jan, he later acquired an individual style and was one of the great founders of schools in the Yuan period.
Ni Tsan, also called Yun-lin . Man of letters, calligraphist, collector of books and paintings. He is considered to be one of the greatest painters of his time.
VI. THE MING DYNASTY
Chou Chih-mien lived in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. His subjects were principally birds and flowers.
Shên Chou, also called Shên Ki-nan or Shên K'i . Landscape painter. His composition is at times overladen, as is often seen in Ming art.
Lu Fu lived in the fifteenth century. He made a special study of the plum tree in monochrome. He is comparable to the great Sung masters.
Wang Yuan-chang. Died in 1407 at the age of 73. He painted the bamboo and plum tree in monochrome. He carried on the Sung tradition, with which he was directly connected, and was the founder of a school.
Wên Chêng-ming , painter, poet and calligraphist. He is often compared with Chao Mêng-fu.
Ju-sue. Known only under this appellation. He lived in the fifteenth century and went to Japan, where his influence was marked.
VII. THE CH'ING DYNASTY
Yun Chou-p'ing, appellation Nan-t'ien, true name Yun Ko . He studied at first under the influence of Wang Shu-ming and Siu Hi. He painted figures, flowers and landscape.
Shen Nan-p'ing lived in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. He was called to Japan in 1720 and founded there the school of Ming-Ch'ing or the modern Chinese school.
Huang Yin-piau or Huang-shên. At the height of his career between 1727 and 1746. He painted landscape and, toward the end of his life, legendary figures of Buddhism and Taoism with a technique that was skillful but often precise and somewhat weak.