Hills beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty, 1279-1368

Hills beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty, 1279-1368

Hills beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty, 1279-1368

Hills beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty, 1279-1368

Excerpt

This book is the first in a projected series of five that will make up a history of later Chinese painting. Several of these are already in preparation, and I hope to complete the writing of the whole series over the next five years. The remaining four volumes will be devoted to painting of the Ming and Ch'ing dynasties and the first half of the twentieth century. Each volume is planned to be complete in itself, covering an important segment of this later development, and will thus be comparable in scope -- and perhaps in overambitiousness as well -- to a book on painting of the Renaissance or Baroque or some other period in European painting.

Similarly, the whole series is intended to stand by itself, although it is not impossible that it will be followed eventually by another on painting of the early periods, through the Sung dynasty. The present volume, beginning as it does in the late thirteenth century, when Chinese painting already had a millennium and a half of history behind it, might seem to be introducing the reader into the middle of the story. But in fact, as will be shown in the chapters that follow, the history of later Chinese painting, which began in the Yüan dynasty, is a new story, not merely a continuation of the old one (although of course some themes from the old do persist); it well deserves the separate presentation that it will receive in this series.

As recently as thirty years ago, the serious study of later Chinese painting had only begun in countries outside the Far East and was still somewhat controversial. It was common to regard all painting after the late thirteenth century as a degenerate aftermath of the great tradition that ended, or at least declined sharply, with the fall of the Sung dynasty. Osvald Sirén, in his History of Later Chinese Painting (1938), presented basic information on major artists and schools and a selection of plates of representative works, but he scarcely addressed himself to the fundamental question of how painting after the thirteenth century differed, in its styles and aesthetic grounds, from what had preceded it. A few other writers such as Werner Speiser and Max Loehr (1931 and 1939, see Bibliography) recognized that a far-reaching shift in artistic values lay behind the striking achievements of the Yüan masters. But the studies that would reveal what those values were and would lead to a fuller understanding of this vast and fascinating, new area of art were hampered by the impossibility of seeing, outside China and Japan, any substantial number of good paintings from the later periods, except in poor reproductions. Only in the 1950s did the balance begin to shift as museums and private collectors in the United States and Europe built up the collections that now rival those of the Far East, and as specialists in Chinese art more and more turned their attention from the early periods to painting of the later centuries.

The two decades since then have seen a phenomenal burgeoning of Chinese painting studies. Today there are few major post-Sung masters who are not the subjects of articles or books, or . . .

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