Famous Chinese paintings

Title : 中國名畫集 (Zhongguo minghua ji)

Publisher : 有正書局 (Youzheng Book Company)

Editor (張謇) : 題籤 (Zhang Jian)

Famous Chinese paintings was a bi-monthly periodical published in Shanghai in the 1910s and 1920s, and distributed in a dozen Chinese cities; each issue had several printings, a few years apart (see the context). The date of publication is given in the colophon (last page) of each issue. For the copies presented here, it is mostly 1921 or 1922.

Sixteen issues (from the first series of 22) are presented, totalling 270 prints. The issues are 26x37cm in size, which is about the size of the Japanese oban, although here the prints often have a generous margin, and there are sometimes two or even three prints per page. Each issue has a title page, a page of captions, between 14 and 23 pages of prints, and a colophon. All the prints are protected by a thin sheet of silk paper. The prints are of uneven quality : some are collotypes on xuan paper, others are collotypes (or lithographs?) on ordinary paper (often yellowed with age), and some are halftone prints. A few prints (generally one at the beginning and one at the end of issues 13 to 22) are multicolored. The caption page of issue 14 lists print 11 as multicolored, but it is in black and white. The pages are not numbered; the captions are not in the order of the prints in some issues, and in others the numbers of captions and of prints are different, which makes identification often difficult, because only the halftone prints have a caption on the same page.

The colophon of issue 15 gives the table of contents of issues 1 to 22. That table was useful for identifying typos and alternate spellings of painters' names, and has therefore been transliterated for the issues concerned here. The caption page of each issue (except 2, 7, 13 and 14) gives a short biography of some of the painters, whose list is available here.

The prints are reproductions of vertical or horizontal scrolls, of album leaves or fans. Most subjects are shanshui (山水 landscape), flowers or birds, some show scenes with people and there are a few works of calligraphy. The artists are from all epochs : they lived in the Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. The most recent artist is Dai Xi (1801-1860). Issue 15 is dedicated to women painters of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The painters are often referred to in the captions by one of their courtesy names, by their sobriquet or by their pen or style name, which makes identification still more difficult. Some attributions of authorship might thus be erroneous. Some of the reproduced paintings might be forgeries. In China, this practice dates back to the Song dynasty, mostly by students imitating their master.

Digitizing the prints was difficult, as they are of low contrast. They are too large for my scanner, so I used a reflex camera (Pentax Kr with a Tamron lens) and a Manfrotto tripod and took the pictures in bright sunlight. Many of the prints are not exactly rectangular; I assume that this was caused by the photographic reproduction process used by the Chinese, rather than in the original art work.

These prints are a good introduction to ancient Chinese paintings, with an emphasis on the early Qing period, as shown by the histogram. They also provide an overview of the extent of private art collections in Shanghai at the turn of the 20th century, and of the flourishing art publication industry of that period.

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