More on West Lake Panorama

Anita Wang, Wang Xiaoming, has pointed out some mistakes in my previous entry and has also contributed some very pertinent information which warrants an article of its own.


I made a mistake in transcribing the signature on the print of the Afang Palace, writing gu su shi jia juan guan rui yü cang ban 姑蘇史家管瑞玉藏板 whereas it should be gu su shi jia xiang guan rui yü cang ban 姑蘇史家管瑞玉藏板. Now corrected.

Umi Art Museum should read Umi Mori Art Museum, now corrected.

Anita’s Comments

These are Anita’s words, with slight editing on my part:

“According to the Suzhou Gazetteer, Suzhou Fuzhi苏州府志, Shijia xiang 史家巷 was the name of a street located in central Suzhou nearby Daxin xiang 大新巷 Church, and this indicates the influence of Catholic activity in the area.

Map of Suzhou

Map of central Suzhou

Furthermore, in the collection of the Umi Mori Art Museum another print, which forms the pair with the print Afang Palace, has the following written on the top: Yufeng Guanlian Xieyu Yanyun Ju 玉峰管联写于研云居

Machida 參9

Left part of Afang Palace

Machida 參9 - Version 2

Text on top of Afang Palace print

The print Hangong Palace 汉宫春晓图 in your collection has a similar inscription Yufeng Guanlian Xieyu Yunshui Ge 玉峰管联写于云水阁 which indicates Yanyun Ju 研云居 and Yunshui Ge 云水阁 are possibly both the workshops of the artist Guanlian 管联, and Guanlian might be the courtesy name of Guan Ruiyu 管瑞玉.”

I think these observations give us a broader perspective on the activities of the print studios, and geographically anchors Guan Ruiyü’s studio around the corner from the main Taohuawu Street.

Anita continues to write:

“I think these black and white prints were not the complete version selling in Chinese market, they were meant to be painted with colours like the print Pingyuan Weilie (平原圍獵).


Pingyuan Weilie

In Chinese tradition, the uncoloured prints were definitely not popular to be used as the house wall decorations, they were possibly only bought by European merchants.”

Also a very interesting observation. Presumably an uncoloured print would be cheaper to purchase than a coloured one.

Dating of the Chaloner prints

We do not have the benefit of a date on the Chaloner or Douce prints, but if one is allowed to make a comparison with another print in a private Japanese collection we arrive to about the 1730s. This print, entitled tai xi wu ma tu 泰西五马图 or Western Picture of Five Horses, shows all the same traits as the Chaloner and Douce prints – view of West Lake, similar size, western style copper engraving imitation, etc.

Taibei83-Taixi wuma tu

Western Picture of Five Horses

This print is dated 壬子, which is equivalent to the 10th year of the yongzheng reign, or 1732. It should be mentioned that a Japanese exhibition catalogue dates this print to 17921 but I believe, as do two recent Chinese publications2, that it belongs to the first half of the eighteenth century.

Thank you, Anita, and I hope to receive more comments and contributions from other readers.

  1. Aoki, S., Kobayashi, H., & Machida Shiritsu Kokusai Hanga Bijutsukan. (1995). “Chūgoku no yōfūga” ten: Minmatsu kara Shin jidai no kaiga, hanga, sashiebon. Tōkyō-to Machida-shi: Machida Shiritsu Kokusai Hanga Bijutsukan. 中国の洋風画」展:明末から清時代の絵画、版画、挿絵本, 東京:町田市立国際版 画美術館, item 122. ↩︎
  2. 中国木版年画集成·日本藏品卷, p.112 and 康乾盛世-蘇州版, p.26 ↩︎
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A West Lake Panorama Discovered in UK Collection

Thanks to Helen Clifford and Emile de Bruijn I recently became aware of some Chinese woodblock prints ‘found’ in the North Yorkshire County Record Office. This find, combined with the Douce prints in the Bodleian Library discussed in Three Rediscovered Gusu Prints, reinforces my belief that more such material is still awaiting discovery and identification in archives and collections around Europe.

These ‘new’ prints (hereafter referred to as the Chaloner prints), have affinity with the Douce prints on several counts. The most obvious is that they emanate from two British collections of the mid-nineteenth century (Douce not later than 1834, Chaloner before 1884) although the prints themselves are of mid-eighteenth century origin.

The Chaloner Prints

The prints are part of a collection with the reference ZFM, which relates to the Chaloner family of Guisborough.  A folio containing the prints has been labelled (hand-written in ink) ‘Chinese wallpaper brought back by Admiral Chaloner’. There is no documentation relating to this material nor is it known exactly how it came to be in North Yorkshire.

Admiral Thomas Chaloner (1815-1884) entered the Royal Navy in 1827. However, the catalogue of the Chaloner collection does not include any item indicating that he travel to China or East Asia. We might conclude that Admiral Chaloner acquired the prints from a secondary source in Europe. The Douce Collection entered the Bodleian Library upon the death of Frances Douce in 1834. The three prints in his collection are very much in the same vein and format as the Chaloner prints and one wonders if there is not a link between the two gentlemen and that they shared the spoils from a common source?

On this topic, Emile de Bruijn has commented that “It is interesting to note that Admiral Chaloner’s mother was the Hon. Frances Laura Dundas (d.1844), who was the granddaughter of Sir Lawrence Dundas (1710–1781), who is known to have had Asian collections. Perhaps these prints therefore came from the Dundases, perhaps even originally acquired by Sir Lawrence?” Certainly Sir Lawrence’s dates are contemporary with those of the prints. More research might yield interesting conclusions.

It is most unlikely that, what in China were occasional and very temporary prints from the mid-eighteenth century, would still be available there for westerners to purchase in the nineteenth century. I think that the Douce and the Chaloner prints arrived in Europe in the mid-eighteenth century, perhaps intended as wall decorations but never used, and later came on the antique market. To my knowledge there are no extant examples of these type of prints having been used as wallpaper or wall decoration.

Description of the prints

There are four relevant images in the folio. The prints are woodblock printed in shades of black from two or more woodblocks, in the city of Suzhou, or Gusu as the old name reads, and dateable to the 1740-60s. All four depict scenery at the famous West Lake in Hangzhou. Each sheet measures c.38x58cm and none are coloured. Each print has a black borderline around the image. The size, the style, the black border, all are common with the Douce prints.

Three of the Chaloner prints are to-date unique, and have never been published before. Only one of the prints, the Leifengta, has a twin in a private Japanese collecion.

Print 1 Melting Snow at Broken Bridge

Broken Bridger. Chaloner collection

This first print illustrates the fourth scene of the Ten Views of West Lake, i.e. Melting Snow at Broken Bridge or Duanqiao 斷橋殘雪. Two riders on horseback are preparing to cross the famous bridge, on which a gentleman sits resting. Other buildings can seen in the background. On the outer bottom right margin is a cartouche with printer’s signature.

No other example of this print is known. However, it bears a close resemblance to print no. 2 in the Douce collection.


Broken Bridge. Douce collection

Print 2 Listening to Orioles on the Willow Bank


Listening to Orioles. Chaloner collection

Also known as Orioles Singing in the Willows, 柳浪闻莺. Predominately a lake view, with a complex of buildings. In the background can be seen a pagoda, a three-arched pailou gate, and in the distance a three-character inscription on the mountain side. On the outer bottom left margin is a cartouche with printer’s signature.

No other example of this print is known.

Print 3 Three Stupas Mirroring the Moon


Three Stupas. Chaloner collection

In the foreground a pavilion by the lake, on the top floor of which is a gaming couple and people at leisure. In the middle of the lake can be seen the three stone stupas or lanterns, the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, 三潭印月. In the background, the Su Causeway, Sudi 蘇堤, with two of its six bridges.

No other example of this print is known.

Print 4 Sunset Glow at Leifeng Pagoda


Leifeng Pagoda. Chaloner collection

Known as the seventh View, 雷峯夕照. Shows the ruins of the Leifengta or Thunder Peak Pagoda, which finally collapsed in 1924. There are also other temple buildings, pavilions, and a bell tower. Some of the buildings carry text with their names. In the background the Su Causeway with coolies and a horse rider. Three boats are on the lake, in the foreground a father flies a kite with his son.

Hitherto, only one example of this print was known, in a private Japanese collection, illustrated below.

Taipei83-Xihu Fengjing zhi Leifeng

Leifeng Pagoda. Japanese collection

Ten Views of West Lake

The four prints illustrate some of the famous scenes collectively known since the thirteenth century as Ten Views of West Lake, Xihu Shi Jing 西湖十景. The order of the views as well as the names have changed over the centuries, but even today tourists at West Lake are visiting and enjoying these views, some of them now literal since the building connected with the view is no longer extant, for example the ruins of Leifeng Pagoda, today replaced by a monstrous pastiche. A fair number of eighteenth century Suzhou prints survive, giving us a good idea of the enormous popularity of Ten Views. There are single prints encompassing all ten views, there are others where two prints jointly show the ten views, and now, thanks to the Chaloner prints, we have an example of how four prints combined to form one consecutive panorama of West Lake, and more than likely displaying more than the four scenes used here as headings for the individual prints.

West lake panorama

Four prints forming panorama of West Lake. Chaloner collection

I have earlier discussed the combination of four prints to form one consecutive scene, but that example, unique in itself, consisted of large, c. 100×50 cm, vertical sheets intended for a screen or a large wall space. The Chaloner prints introduce a new, more intimate format and the possibility to mount the prints as a hand-scroll, imitating a painting scroll. They could also have been used as decoration in the smaller wall panels ubiquitous in houses in southern China, a usage suggested by the writing on the wrapping containing the prints today. The Douce prints could have been parts of a similar series, in which case those held in the Bodleian Library are the first and last prints in the panorama, although the Leifeng scene is viewed from a different angle to the Chaloner print.

Signatures on the prints

The first two prints, moving from right to left in the Chinese manner, bear signature colophons or cartouches in the margins, the first print in the lower right margin and the second in the lower left margin.

4 detail

Signature on print 4 Broken Bridge. Chaloner collection

These two signature are identical in text: across the top xin de hao 信德號, and underneath, written vertically in two columns, from right to left : gu su guan rui yü ding xi xi yang hua fa ke 姑蘇管瑞玉頂細西洋畫發客 roughly meaning: Xinde Studio, Guan Ruiyü, artist’s name, from Gusu, old name for Suzhou, produced this finely-executed western style picture, stating it was influenced by western perspective and technique of copper engravings. The text of the cartouche as well as its design are also features that we have not seen before. The design with a studio name printed horizontally within a rectangle and then vertical text contained in another rectangle below is unique to these two prints.

As for dingxi this term has not occurred on any other print and its meaning is most finely (engraved or painted). This expression is still used in the Hangzhou and Suzhou area. Xiyanghua 西洋畫 is also the first occurrence of this term in a signature, meaning western, or western-style, printing or painting. It is a direct acknowledgement of the influence western prints were having on Chinese printing at that time. The combined meaning of dingxi xiyanghua is boasting that these prints are finely cut in the foreign style compared to other prints in the usual Chinese style.

Guan Ruiyü is known as a signatory to other prints. One such print (in the Umi Art Museum in Japan) is the left part of a pair showing the Afang Palace,  阿房宫图, where it is signed gu su shi jia xiang guan rui yü cang ban 姑蘇史家巷管瑞玉藏板:

Machida 參8

Afang Palace. Umi Mori Art Museum, Japan

Machida 參8-1

Detail of signature Afang Palace

Another print, in my collection, shows the Hangong Palace and is signed gu su guan rui yü cang ban 姑蘇管瑞玉藏板 in the outer right margin:


Hangong Palace. Muban collection

A third print entitled Pingyuan Weilie 平原圍獵, signed in the outer right margin gu su guan rui yü cang ban(?) 姑蘇官瑞玉藏板, (last character unclear), is in a private Japanese collection and in the Museum für Ostasiatische Kunst, Berlin:


Pingyuan Weilie. Private collection

A fourth, represented in Chateau Filiéres, in Schloss Esterhazy and in my collection. More details on this print to be found at Suzhou Print 8:


Lady with child. Muban collection

The first two prints, with their grisaille palate, linear design, perspective and strong influence-imitation of western engravings are similar in style. The last two fall outside this style.

The fourth print, the one with the lady holding a child in her arms, forms a pair with this print, also in Chateau Filiéres, Schloss Esterhazy and my collection:



This print is signed, on the panel hanging behind the lady’s head, gusu xindehao  姑蘇信德號, Xinde studio in Suzhou. Until now, this was the only occurrence of this signature but the two signed prints in the Chaloner collection has increased this three-fold and also firmly connected the studio name Xindehao with the printer/artist Guan Ruiyü. For more information on this print, please refer to Suzhou Print 1.

Usage of the prints

Far too little is known regarding the usage of such prints in China at the time they were issued. The most plausible theory is that they were used to decorate the walls of the houses. Prints like Ten Views of West Lake could also have been such decorations but also as mementos of a visit to West Lake, and, as we have seen in the Chaloner prints, could be mounted as a picture scroll to treasure as a memory and to show to family and friends.

It is becoming more and more apparent that the majority of Chinese prints in Europe were mainly imported for two reasons: to satisfy the curiosity of natural scientists and, later and in larger quantities, for decorating the walls of inner chambers in palaces and mansions, and thereby helping meet the great demands of the fashion for chinoiserie that permeated Europe in the mid-18th century.


In the Chaloner prints we see for the first time a type of print that was published as a series, in this case in a series of four, which, when combined together, form a continuous horizontal scene, well suited for mounting as a landscape scroll. We know that Suzhou prints were intentionally coloured to give the impression of silk and thus imitate a painting, but these have mainly been of the vertical, hanging scroll type.

Guan Ruiyü’s signature, combined with the mention of Xinde Studio, reinforce his connection with this particular studio or workshop, about which not else much is known other than it issued some of the most exquisite prints. We now have two more examples of its output. The signatures on the Chaloner prints also evidence the fad in Suzhou to imitate western techniques and western perspective in prints and paintings, a kind of reversed chinoiserie, europerie, Undoubtedly popular in China at the time.

We can but regret the lack of information on their export from China, by whom and for whom, and their story until they were acquired by Admiral Chaloner almost a century later. As research in Chinese printmaking expands and develops we will hopefully be able to chart the passage of such prints from the place origin in China to palaces and collections in Europe, a still obscure journey.

Posted in china, chinese prints, printing, prints, Suzhou prints, Wallpaper, woodblock | 1 Comment

A Gusu Beauty Hiding in a Swedish Chest

As lamented in the previous entry of this blog, my claim to fame, as far as Gusu Beauties was concerned, was shaken. However, it has recently been given an enormous boost from a most unexpected object.

A few months ago I was contacted by Staffan Haegermark, a major Swedish collector of Dalecarlian traditional wooden horses, who told me he had in his possession a marine chest which might interest me. Not so much the chest, but what was pasted inside the lid: a print of Gusu Beauty No. 8. Not only was this a unique placement for a Gusu Beauty print, or any eighteenth-century Chinese print for that matter (to my knowledge, I should add), but it was also the missing print of a group of nine.

The chest has a modern auction history and an older story, unfortunately vague and undocumented. It was acquired by Staffan from a man who bought it at auction in Åmål some four years previously. The vendor at this auction had in his turn bought the chest in the middle of the 1990s at an estate auction of the Reuter sisters in Långserud in the province of Värmland. According to a not so old typewritten note in the chest it had been in the possession of the Hall family in Gothenburg, among whom John Hall the Elder was a very prominent figure.

John Hall the Elder, merchant and entrepreneur, was the richest man in Gothenburg when, in 1778, he bought the old Gunnebo Castle at Mölndal near Gothenburg. What is more interesting for us in this context is that his father-in-law was Anders Gothén (1719-1794), A Supercargo in the Swedish East India Company. Gothén made numerous travels to China and East India as Supercargo on the ships of the Swedish company, no less than 10 journeys between 1743 and 1780, more than any other known individual. [Comment 2016-06-05: It has not been possible to find any evidence that this chest ever was in the possession of John Hall the Elder. There is no record of it in any inventory list or other documentation.]

On ships of the Swedish East India Company (1731–1813), the Supercargo represented the company and was in charge of all matters related to trade, while the captain was in charge of navigation, loading and unloading of cargo as well as the maintenance of the ship. Having the highest rank aboard the ship, the Supercargo also received the highest salary. In addition to this he received six percent of the value of the cargo the ship brought home. Every person onboard had the right to buy, bring home goods and sell them back in Sweden. The amount of goods permitted was regulated by the person’s rank aboard the ship and his financial means. At the top of this list was the Supercargo. According to a decree of 1753 the clerks could fill the chests in their cabins with their own goods and the remaining space in the cabin up to 3 feet. There is no mention on how many chests an individual was allowed, but presumably one each. The Supercargo, having high and privileged rank, was certainly allowed more than one chest.

Front view

Front view

Rear view

Rear view

Side view, with handle, tapering shape, and bevelled lid, protruding at the back and side

Side view, with handle, tapering shape, and bevelled lid, protruding at the back and side

The chest itself is of a type called Hallandskista, manufactured in the southwestern province of Halland, and typical of its kind – a bevelled lid with gable pieces protruding beyond the body of chest and iron hinges mounted inside the lid. The chest tapers slightly towards the bottom, with a protruding base. The wood is pine, painted and marbled. The joints are interlocking and the lid has wooden pegs instead of iron nails. The support underneath the base are two wooden skids across the length. Perhaps this facilitated the moving and transport of a heavy chest. Between the skids can be seen a punched-in a cross, perhaps a protection against thieves or bad spirits?

Skids and cross (upper middle). Note back edge of lid where print has worn away and the punched-in cross

Underside with skids. Note back edge of lid where print has worn away and below, on the top board, the punched-in cross

The dimensions, in cm, are: length 120, width 59, height 66, 53 without the skids. The lid measures 127×63 cm on the outside, and 118×61 on the inside. The original key and lock is now lost, and was replaced or enforced by an iron sleeve for a padlock at some later time.

The chest was manufactured around 1750 or slightly later, to judge by the rococo decorative pattern on the front of the chest. We see a crest with two Fs as a mirrored monogram in red and surrounded by a laurel wreath with red berries and tulips, and a bow knot as a finial to the wreath. The crest is framed by a rocaille-pattern.

Decoration in form of a crest

Decoration in form of a crest

Mirrored Fs and detail of decoration

Mirrored Fs and detail of decoration

This crest can not be attributed to a particular family, but was a common decorative motif for chests in general. This information kindly contributed by Ulla-Karin Warberg, curator at the Nordiska Museet in Stockholm.

My initial reaction, when seeing the monogram, was the similarity to the logo of the Dutch East India Company,  VOC, but I am now certain that there is no relation.

Disregarding the purported origin and previous history of the chest, the fact remains that someone at some point pasted a Chinese woodblock print inside the lid of a Swedish chest, either for decorative purposes or for practical reasons: to keep dust out.

The print is known from other examples in Château de Filières and the Small China Salon at Esterhàzy Palace so we know that other copies of this particular print were shipped to Europe. Previously in this blog I have described this print and named it as Gusu Beauty No. 8.

There are two main highlights of this print: the freshness of the colours (obviously it has never been exposed to light for any length of time), and its format.

View of open lid

View of open lid

This is the only print, again to my knowledge, that has some margins of the paper sheet left intact, all other extant prints have been cut down to or within the picture border. The upper margin here measures between 60-63 mm and the right margin 20 mm, but this latter might have been cut down to fit inside the lid.

Detail of upper and side margins

Detail of upper and side margins

The left margin protruded beyond the body of the chest and most of it has been worn away. The bottom part of the print has been torn away and we do not know the measurements of the bottom margin, but in accordance to Chinese proportions, this margin was probably smaller than the upper margin. The print was never lined or backed, so we can see that the original paper is of a rather thick and sturdy quality. Further detailed study of the paper is required.

Bottom part of print showing iron hinge and missing part

Bottom part of print showing iron hinge and missing part

Although the print is much damaged due to use of the chest (for example the protruding hinges which were once covered by the print are now visible), it is an important testimony to the usage and attraction it once received. I will continue to research the chest and its possible ancestry.

I am very pleased to now have in my collection all nine known prints in the series of Gusu Beauties. My claim to fame is restored! At least until a future discovery shatters it.

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Gusu prints in Esterházy Palace, Eisenstadt, Austria

My believed supremacy as hoarder of the largest collection of the type of Suzhou prints referred to as Gusu Beauties earlier in this blog, has been shattered.

It was Diana Długosz-Jasińska, a Master of Arts in the field of Conservation at Warsaw, who did so by calling my attention to the Esterházy Palace,  wherein one of the rooms is wallpapered with no less than thirty-six prints of Gusu Beauties.

The room in question, called the Small Chinese Salon, is perhaps 6×4 metres, entered by two double doors at each end, the doors set close to the longer outer wall which in its turn contains two large windows, a classic design for a palace room. Presently it is furnished with only six blue satin-covered chairs ranged along the walls and the ubiquitous cord to keep the public at bay.

All the prints are mounted as pairs on panels, separated by blue painted ornamental decoration.

First short wall

First short wall

The first short wall has a double door and five panels, the long wall includes a chimney? and a mirror in the corner, and six panels. A hidden door camouflaged behind the prints is also part of this wall. The third wall is a mirror image of the first. The fourth wall has two windows with only two panels between them.

Right hand side of long wall and part of second short wall

Right hand side of long wall and part of second short wall

Left hand side of long wall

Left hand side of long wall

A total of six different prints have been paired, thus giving a limited composition of three panels, which is repeated over and over again.

Panel consisting of prints 2 & 5

Panel consisting of prints 2 & 5

Please see earlier in this blog for identification of following print numbers given. The most popular, with eight occurrences, is the combination of prints No. 2 and No. 5,

Panel consisting of prints 8 & 1

Panel consisting of prints 8 & 1

followed by seven pairings of No. 8 and No. 1,

Panel consisting of prints 7 & 6

Panel consisting of prints 7 & 6

with finally three panels with prints No. 7 and No. 6. Excluding the panels over the doors, the two short walls have panels mirroring each other. The arrangement of the prints has been well done, and one is not disturbed by the repetition of the same motif in the panels.

It is interesting to note that four of the prints together form the tetraptych mentioned earlier in this blog, but was not implemented, perhaps because restriction of space in the panels.

Tetraptych consisting of prints Nos. 2, 5, 8 & 1

Tetraptych consisting of prints Nos. 2, 5, 8 & 1

The web site of Esterházy Palace gives us this information regarding the room:

Small Chinese Salon

Increasing trade relations with the Far East in the eighteenth century stimulated the vogue for things Chinese also in the Esterházy family, as in nearly all aristocratic houses in Europe. Paul II Anton accordingly commissioned the construction of a small Chinese salon. The coloured wallpapers were based on genuine Chinese woodcuts and further adorned with floral garlands and bird and butterfly motifs. Three repeating motifs represent scenes from the life of Chinese burgher families at the New Year festivities (fireworks, cricket fighting, and arrangement of lotus flowers). The small Chinese Salon has remained practically unaltered since its final appearance was completed in the mid-eighteenth century.

Interesting for us is that Paul II Anton served as imperial ambassador to Naples 1750-1752, again the Italian link that occurs frequently in connection with Chinese prints as wallpapers, and that he died 1762. Maybe he purchased the prints during his stay in Italy, or perhaps commissioned Italian decorators to do the rooms who then brought the prints with them. The dating to the 1750s seems to be consistent with the hanging of Chinese prints as wallpapers in Austria, Germany, France and England, all attributable to this period.

It is known that Italian decorators at the time travelled around Europe to decorate the interiors of mansions and castles. Stucco and plaster work were their speciality, but also wall and ceiling paintings and wallpaper hangings. It is most likely that they carried with them multiple copies of  Chinese prints emanating from an Italian merchant. 

My only claim to fame now, in relation to Gusu Beauties, is that I still possess the widest selection, owning eight of the nine known prints in this group. But for how long?

Posted in chinese prints, printing, prints, Suzhou prints, Wallpaper, woodblock | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Three rediscovered Gusu prints in the Bodleian Library

向達 Xiang Da, or Hsiang Da in Wade-Giles, wrote in his 1932 article concerning Chinese books in Oxford [向達: 瀛涯瑣志 : 記⽜津所藏的中⽂書. In 北平圖書館館刊 10:5 (1936), 9-44], that he had seen many prints and among them three eighteenth century prints from Taohuawu in Suzhou preserved in the Douce Collection at the Bodleian Library. Obviously, no one has paid attention to these prints until recently, when my friend, Sören Edgren, re-read Xiang Da’s article and asked me if I had seen these prints or knew about them. Sören contacted David Helliwell at the Bodleian library who supplied more information and fresh photographs.

The Douce Collection is one of the largest donations (some 19,000 volumes) ever received by the Bodleian and was bequeathed by the antiquarian Frances Douce (1757-1834). Among the mainly western books were some Chinese volumes, which are now shelf-marked Douce Chin. “The collection is small, but contains some items of outstanding interest and great rarity”, including the three prints under discussion.

These three Chinese black-and-white woodblock prints on paper are kept in the larger of two guard-books of single-sheet items, shelf-marked Douce Chin.c.1 and measure approx. 40×60 cm. When mounted in the guard-book two of the prints were framed with a yellow bit of paper, carefully saving the margin signature in one the prints.

  1. Wannianqiao – The Bridge of Ten Thousand Years

The first print shows a bridge over a river and various buildings and shops.

Lower register of Gusu Wannianqiao

Lower register of Gusu Wannianqiao

The street is busy with coolies, pedestrians, and a lady walking on a tight-rope surrounded by spectators and a small orchestra. A rider comes through a large gate to the left, the 脣⾨Chunmen 胥⾨ Xumen, located in west Suzhou south of  Wannian Bridge and one of the twelve city gates. [correction compliment of Anita Wang].

Three tones of black are achieved by overprinting, using perhaps as many as three different woodblocks. A black printed border surrounds the print.

Another example of this same print is in the Kobe Municipal Museum (see below) but this is hand-coloured and larger, depicting in an additional upper register the 姑蘇萬年橋 Gusu Wannianqiao or Bridge of Ten Thousand Years in Suzhou, which is also the title of the print, a common motif among Suzhou prints of this period.

Kobe Municipal Museum, dated in MS 1740

Kobe Municipal Museum, dated in MS 1740

This upper register contains the handwritten title and a colophon, including a date equivalent to 1740. Since this is handwritten the date might be added later, but in comparison with similar prints, see below, the date appears correct.

Both prints are definitely printed from the same woodblock judging by the small defects and striations in the block, which are visible in both prints. 

Similar prints illustrating the Gusu Wannianqiao exist, one with printed calligraphy imitating a rubbing in the upper register. I include two examples here, one dated 1741 and the other 1744.

Gusu Wannianqiao 1741

Gusu Wannianqiao 1741

Wannianqiao 1744

Gusu Wannianqiao 1744

The iconography is quite similar in all three prints and it is obvious that at the time there existed a genre and a style common among many artists and studios.

2.  Duanqiao – Melting Snow at Broken Bridge

The second print takes us to Hangzhou and a wintry West Lake. We see part of the lake, with a boat passing under 斷橋 Duanqiao, the famous Broken Bridge, here crowned by a pavilion, on one of the dykes.

Melting Snow at Broken Bridge

Melting Snow at Broken Bridge

A man in the foreground offers his hand to a kneeling lady who has put down her umbrella. In the background are more buildings, some identified by printed characters 曲院⾵風和, 放夜亭 etc. An inscription on top centre reads: 斷橋雪, 和靖梅, 天然點盡西湖; 綴勝景名標, 無復著畫圖, 補羡占花魁 [need translation]. Perhaps we should title this print Melting Snow at Broken Bridge, which was one of the famous Ten Views of West Lake.

Just like the previous print, this one is overprinted two or three times to achieve three tones of grey/black. A printed black border surrounds the image.

3. Leifeng Qiji – The Legend of Leifeng

The third print is also of West Lake, 雷峯奇蹟 Leifeng qiji , The Legend of Leifeng (Thunder Peak) [Pagoda].


Leifeng Pagoda

This Buddhist monument was built in 976 AD, five stories of brick and wood. Japanese pirates burnt the wooden structure during the Ming dynasty (1360-1644) leaving only the brick ruin. As with Melting Snow at Broken Bridge the print has a text at upper centre, reading: 雷峰奇蹟, 白狀元西湖認母,姑蘇桃花塢張星聚戲寫. It touches on a legendary story and explains what we see. Local legend says that the original Leifeng Pagoda was constructed to imprison a snake-turned-human, 白素貞 Bai Suzhen or 白蛇傳 White Snake, who lost her mortal love at West Lake. Her son, 白狀元 Bai Zhuangyuan, (the last two characters showing that he came first in the Imperial Examinations), returns to West Lake to hold a memorial ceremony for his mother, the White Snake. We see Bai Zhuangyuan arriving by boat and preparing to walk up, under the protection of a canopy, to a table prepared with offerings in front of the pagoda. The small person in the ‘dream-stream’ is most likely Bai Suzhen, White Snake, as the starting point of the ‘stream’ is from the crypt of the pagoda. It is her soul, coming out of the pagoda to meet her son.

The pagoda collapsed in 1924, perhaps finally freeing White Snake, and certainly extinguishing its fame as one of the famous Ten Views of West Lake. The Leifeng pagoda was a recurring motif in Chinese prints of West Lake and easily recognisable by its broad and stubby build. Two more of the Ten Views can be seen in the image: 南屏晚钟 Evening Bells on Nanping Hill in the background with the bell tower, and 三潭印⽉月 Three Pools Mirroring the Moon in the foreground, the three lanterns immersed in the water.

The final ten characters, 姑蘇桃花塢張星聚戲寫, tells us that the print was playfully composed by Zhang Xingju of Taohuawu in Suzhou. Taohuawu is the district of Suzhou where most studios and workshops were located. Zhang Xingju’s name reoccurs in the signature on the outer left lower margin where the text reads: 姑蘇桃花塢張星聚發客 or published by Zhang Xingju of Taohuawu in Suzhou. It is interesting to see that Zhang here acted as both artist and publisher/printer.

There is a second print by Zhang Xingju in my collection, the 1741 Wannianqiao print mentioned and illustrated above. This specific example of the print is mounted as a scroll, with all margins cut away. However, we see from a further example of the same print, published in Kuroda Genji’s book [Kuroda Genji 黒田源次, Shina kohanga zuroku 支那古版画図録 (Ancient Chinese Woodblock Prints), Tokyo: Bijutsukenkyūjo 美術研究所,1932. Plate 16 ], the signature 桃花塢張星聚發客, published by Zhang Xingju of Taohuawu, in the left lower margin.

Gusu Wannianqiao 1741 Deatail of Zhang Xingju signaturefrom Kuroda pl. 16

Gusu Wannianqiao 1741 Detail of Zhang Xingju signature from Kuroda pl. 16

The present whereabouts of this print is not known.

There is a third print by Zhang Xingju, this one preserved in the British Museum. It is the 百子圖 One Hundred Boys, dated 1743 and with 筠谷 Yungu as artist and Zhang Xingju as printer.

One Hundred Boys dated 1743. BM no.1991,1031,0.1

One Hundred Boys dated 1743. BM no.1991,1031,0.1

We have again to rely on a different example of this print for the reading of the signature. The BM print has been cut within the margins but the example in the Umi-Mori Art Museum has in the lower right margin 姑蘇桃花塢張星聚發客, published by Zhang Xingju of Taohuawu in Suzhou.

One Hundred Boys 1743. Detail of Zhang Xingju signature

One Hundred Boys 1743. Detail of Zhang Xingju signature

From these two dated prints (1741 and 1743) it is obvious that Zhang was active in the early 1740s and accordingly The Legend of Leifeng print may be dated to this period. It should be mentioned that, at one point, the signature has been misread as 張星號 Zhang Xinghao, and this misinformation appears in some literature, but it is an error.

Both Melting Snow at Broken Bridge and The Legend of Leifeng show vistas of West Lake, and are very similar in style and composition. Artistically and technically they are very accomplished and pleasing. It is tempting to consider them as part of a series of prints illustrating the famous Ten Views of West Lake. They are clearly complete views in their own right, foreground, mid-ground and background all included in each image. They are therefore not a part of a larger print, like the first Wannianqiao print, as we have seen above, which forms the lower register of a larger print.

Both these prints are unique, no other examples are known, nor any other prints that could be part of a presumed series.

The only three prints I know that resemble the Douce prints, both in form and style, are illustrated below.

The first is dated 1732, and therefore definitely too early to be part of a set.

Machida 122

Western Picture of Five Horses, dated 1732

The second is in a private Japanese collection, illustrating the Leifeng pagoda.

Leifeng Pagoda

Leifeng Pagoda

This latter print does not have any of the writing that the Douce prints have but it is close to them in style and atmosphere. Also the technical bravura of the Douce prints is visible in this print. The fact that it shows the Leifeng pagoda (admittedly from another angle), in a way excludes it from being part of the series since we already have seen this view. The total lack of any writing also breaks the assumed uniformity. A common detail: both pagodas sport twigs and branches growing at the top!

The third print is a view of a bridge and pavilions at West Lake. Again, no text or other similarities to group it with the Douce prints.

View of West Lake

View of West Lake

All prints reproduced here show influences from Western art: the vanishing point perspective and shading being the most obvious. The copperplate printing influence is also strong and I wonder if the artists were not aware of Matteo Ripa’s thirty-six copperplate illustrations of the 避暑山莊 Bishu shanzhuang, Summer Palace at Jehol, from 1714. The 1732 print incorporates some very odd and forced elements, especially the piling of rocks in the middle and the decorative carnation-type of trees. The striated sky and the bulbous clouds definitely belong to the western copperplate tradition. One of Ripa’s copper prints is shown here for comparison.

Matteo Ripa copper print no 31

Matteo Ripa copper print no 31

We do not know when the prints entered Frances Douce’s collection but one would assume later in his life, perhaps around the end of the 18th – beginning 19th century. We know that Chinese prints, especially Suzhou prints, were imported into Europe from the 1740s and 1750s onwards. The taste for chinoiserie and for a ‘salon chinoise’ created a huge importation of Chinese ceramics, textiles and wallpapers. The earliest wallpapers were woodblock printed, to be replaced towards the 1760s more and more by painted ones. Not many details are known of how this trade was conducted, and how the prints, once in Europe, were traded and distributed. Quite a few Chinese prints found their way into botanical collections, such as that of Hans Sloane (1660-1753) in England, and those of Antoine de Jussieu (1686-1758) and his brother Bernard de Jussieu (1699-1777) in France. Other prints ended up as wallpapers or wall decorations in castles and mansions all over Europe. And some apparently in the hands of individual connoisseurs such as Douce.

It is a fluke of fate that all three known prints by Zhang Xingju are now in UK collections, with a duplicate of one in a Japanese collection. Douce is responsible for one, and I for the other two: the One Hundred Boys which came from the Jean-Pierre Dubosc collection (he acquired it in Japan) and which was purchased by the BM in 1991; and the Wannianqiao which I bought in Japan some years ago. So the Douce print of Zhang Xingju is the earliest in a European collection, probably sourced directly from China. Sadly, there are no such Suzhou prints preserved in China today.

It must be mentioned that there are other Chinese woodblock prints in the Douce guard-books worthy of attention, but that will have to be the subject of another article.

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Chinese Wallpaper in National Trust Houses

This new publication by the National Trust, ISBN 978-0-7078-0428-6, is authored by Emile de Bruijn, Andrew Bush and Helen Clifford. It discusses and illustrates the wallhangings in 45 manors and castles in the UK belonging to the National Trust. Although only 48 pages long, with many colour illustrations, the publication succeeds in giving ample information on type of wallhanging, either painted or printed, history of the house, and most importantly the possible dates when the hanging was done.

Since my visit at Château Filiéres and the sighting of the printed wallpapers there, I have become aware of the extensive distribution in Europe during the eighteenth century of Chinese prints for interior decoration purpose. The acquisition of large flower-and-bird prints emanating from the Schloss Hainfeld, discussed earlier in this blog, also triggered my interest in this hitherto, at least by me, ignored part of Chinese print history. Census of prints and publications such as the present one help to better explain the print production in China and to date the prints. There are still numerous questions – origin (although much indicates Suzhou), transport, source and distribution in Europe, etc. But as more and more information on wallhangings in Europe become available, our understanding of the prints increases.

Emile de Bruijn has pointed out to me that the cranes in one of the Schloss Hainfeld prints is also present in a wallpaper at Felbrigg Hall (the left crane) and the right hand crane in the Chinese Dressing Room at Saltram. Felbrigg is hung 1752, and if the crane was pasted up at this time we have a good measure for dating the print. However, it should be noticed that the crane is cut out from the print and pasted above another print, perhaps in order to cover over some scuffing, so might be a later addition. The crane at Saltram is also cut out from the original print and collaged onto another print. Saltram was hung possibly 1760. I believe it is safe to date the Hainfeld prints to before 1760.

Saltram (Chinese Dressing Room, hung 1760s?) ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel.

Saltram (Chinese Dressing Room, hung 1760s?)
©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel.

 Felbrigg Hall (hung 1752) ©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel.

Felbrigg Hall (hung 1752)
©National Trust Images/Andreas von Einsiedel.

ex Schloss Hainfeld

ex Schloss Hainfeld
























Just to prove the point about the geographical spread of Chinese prints I conclude by showing a print in Schloss Lichtenwalde next to a print recently acquired in Japan.

Schloss Lichtenwalde

Schloss Lichtenwalde


Acquired in Japan

Acquired in Japan

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Hehe er xian – 和合二仙 – The Two Immortals

Our collection contains two prints that initially look identical, as if printed from the same woodblock. The image shows two males, one holding a lotus flower and leaf (he 菏), the other a round box with lid (he 盒). This motif is from the Daoist pantheon and quite a well-known one in Chinese art: the hehe er xian  和合二仙, the two immortals or spirits, where 和 is the immortal of harmony and 合 is the immortal of union. The general symbolism is that of association with a happy marriage or union. Iconographically there is also a relation with the representations in Chinese and Japanese art of the Tang period eccentric monk/poet Hanshan and his playmate Shide.

. Image


Above the figures is printed a black field, in imitation of a rubbing, with the character for long life, shou 壽, written in various styles and a cash coin in the centre with the text taiping tongbao 太平通寶, a standard phrase on old cash coins. The print is not particularly rare, there are examples in Japanese museums and it can be occasionally seen in auction and dealers’ catalogues. The size is approx. 70×35 cm. The colours are applied by hand, only the black lines are printed from woodblocks.  Both our prints are mounted as scrolls, of Japanese origin as evidenced by the material and style, and in need of restoration — flaking paper, folds and creases, worm holes, etc.  

Now, to the interesting part: on the back of the right hand one is pasted a woodblock printed note in Japanese hiragana and kanji. 




A previous owner has transcribed the text into more readable characters:



We even possess an edited version of the text:  



Unfortunately, the note is not signed or dated. But it is evident that the author (artist) of the note has acquired a Chinese print of Hehe erxian, which he copied accurately, without adding any single detail, had it printed and added some light colouring (?) and printed several tens of these, which he now hesitatingly and respectfully (?) offers to the recipient.

I am grateful to Guita Winkel, Leiden, and Norman Waddell, Kyoto, for helping me with the reading and the interpretation of the text. 

There remains a few problems with the text, for example what is a kanaban かなばん? The reference to 水無 in the month is a period in the lunar calendar, but we do not know the era or year. From the style of characters and the spirit of the note, it seems to emanate from the kind of antiquarian circles of the late eighteenth-early nineteenth centuries. The use of “Morokoshi” for China and the interest in Chinese culture as well as the interest in making a true to life depiction not meddling in any way with the original image suggests it is related to those men who saw themselves as kōshōgakusha (Chinese 考證學 kaozhengxue or ‘evidential research’).

 Whatever problems are inherent with this text, the fact remains that we have here documentary and material evidence that Chinese prints were not only appreciated by the Japanese public, but that they were also re-cut and printed in Japan, and disseminated among the Japanese. Assumedly other copies of the Japanese print were accompanied by this woodblock printed text, which in itself indicate a certain quantity, pasted on the back of the mount or loose, but I have not seen any records of this on any extant prints.

Looking at the two prints, they are, as mentioned, virtually identical. A casual glance does not readily differentiate the two. The Japanese copy follows meticulously the Chinese original, but small details differ and make it obvious that the prints are from different blocks. Those details can not be attributed to the wear of the blocks, the inking of the block, the pressure applied against the paper nor to the colouring by hand. 



The primary and easiest detail for separating the prints are the eyebrows of the lotus-holding boy. In the Chinese original the eyebrow lines are regularly spaced whereas in the Japanese print they are running into each other.


Other tell-tales are the two small lines crossing the sole of the box-boy’s shoe in the Chinese print, lines which are missing in the Japanese version. Studying the details of shoes and bottom part of the dress in these two images, one notes more minute differences in the cutting of the black details. 

We show one more image with details, this one of the lotus flower:



It also appears that where the Chinese print has green colour, it has turned brown in the Japanese version. Maybe this is due to oxidation of the Japanese pigments? A red seal on the Japanese print could also be an identifying item, but I do not know if the seal occurs on all Japanese versions, nor have I been able to read it. 

This print has been dated to the Ming (1368-1644) period and to the Qianlong (1736-1796) period, but personally I lean towards a 19th century date, maybe early Jiaqing date (1796-1820) for the Chinese original and a bit later for the Japanese facsimile. 

I hope to be able in the future to show other Chinese prints that might have been copied/re-cut by Japanese woodblock cutters.


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Gusu Beauties, formats


This is my long-overdue final posting to the Gusu Beauties series.

Among 18th century Suzhou prints there are several examples of two prints constituting a whole image, where the scene and design in one print continues into the other, forming a diptych. This is different from a pair of prints where figures or motif compose a duilian 對聯 – a couplet or a complementing pair, for example the traditional arms-brandishing door-gods facing each other.

Most of the Chinese diptych prints consist of large (c.100 x 50 cm.) landscapes from the 1730s and 40s. The most published example is the 1734 Encyclopaedic View of Jobs in the City (Sanbai liushi hangtu) 三百六十行圖,  the earliest dated diptych among Suzhou prints, now belonging to the Umi-Mori Art Museum in Hiroshima, formerly the Osha’joh Museum of Art.

view of jobs2

Another example is the 1747 New Year’s Morning (Suichaotu) and Four Imperial Concubines (Sifeitu). Professor Hiromitsu Kobayashi recently identified these as belonging together and they are illustrated in figure 16 in The Printed Image in China From the 8th to the 21st Centuries, (London, British Museum, 2010), the catalogue to the exhibition at the British Museum curated by Clarissa von Spee. The missing Suichaotu is in my collection, actually both in a black-and-white and in a hand-coloured version. On pages 33-35 in the 2011 published 中国年画集成 – 本藏品卷 Zhongguo nianhua jicheng – Riben cang pin juan, I see that Umi-Mori Art Museum owns examples of both the Sifeitu and the Suichaotu, the latter in two versions – black-and-white and hand-coloured, similar to my holding.


Suichaotu is to the left, and the BM Sifeitu to the right.

Here is the link to the BM print:

To my knowledge no diptychs of large figure prints have been published. One pair of prints with very similar beauties and scenery as the Gusu Beauties, although of different format, are the two images in the Umi-Mori Art Museum frequently illustrated in books on the subject.


But it should be emphasised that these are not prints, but drawings, probably copying a Chinese print. This opinion Mr. Aoki, the curator at the Museum, agrees with, and accordingly they are not included in the Zhongguo nianhua jicheng volume mentioned above. It is not impossible that they were drawn by a Japanese hand.

These images were later paraphrased by Okumura Masanobu (1686 – 1764)  in a print of which an example is in Umi-Mori Art Museum, dated to the 1740s. Another example of this print is in Boston Art Museum, .


And again, in a different version, by Sadanobu Tamura(?), as can be seen from a bad reproduction below

IMG_0733 - Version 2

Returning to China and to our prints of the Gusu Beauties, Prints 3 and 4 form a diptych, as can be seen by the floor pattern, the staircase, the red railing, the covered walkway and the flowering tree: all details continuing from one print to the other.


Prints 8 and 1 also form a diptych: the floor pattern, the high threshold, the folding doors and the carved railing are common to both prints. They also have the boards with inscription in common. Is it possible that the two text panels in themselves form a duilian!?

Screenshot of ScreenFloat

In view of the tetraptych described below, it is not impossible that a third or fourth print is wanting here, as well as in the Prints 3 & 4 above.

The most amazing discovery, however, is that Print 2 together with Print 5, 6 and 7 form a tetraptych, as can be clearly seen: the missing left leg of the pedestal in Print 5 is visible in Print 2, as is the left part of the vase and some of the flowers. The railings, the floor pattern, the roof design and the landscape also tally. Print 5 and 7 share the couch, the railing, the stools, as well as the opened book and the cushion on the couch. This is, to me, the only known extant example of a Suzhou four-part print. The prints together furthermore represent the four seasons.


Diptychs and triptychs are a well-known feature in Japanese woodblock printing. Chris Uhlenbeck of Hotei Japanese Prints in Leiden has kindly shared with me his knowledge, as follows:

“It seems that in the year 1748, a number of hosoban triptychs by the primitives appeared (Masanobu, see for example, Clarence Buckingham coll. Vol. 1, p. 168; others in the same sources). They have often survived uncut.

Then in the Katsukawa school this is continued: so with artists like Buncho and Shunsho we see hosoban triptychs and diptychs (See Clark & Ueda, The Actor’s Image, pl. 4, pl. 80 or pl. 433 for a pentaptych).

In the chuban size, Harunobu has designed diptychs, and possibly one triptych (pl. 93-94 en 95-97).

But the big break-through for the triptychs came with the oban size, and these are associated with Kiyonaga, Shuncho and Utamaro. I would put a date of  around 1784 to that. Diptychs were always less popular than triptychs.”

It is in my opinion most likely that the multi-sheet print in Japan also had a Chinese origin, same as Japanese colour printing which appeared at this time. The earliest Japanese colour-printed book is the Mincho Shiken of 1746 edited by Ōka Shunboku, purportedly based on a now vanished Chinese prototype.

Zhang Ye in his doctoral thesis 洋风姑苏版 Yangfeng Gusu ban (Western Style Suzhou Prints) and again in the recently (2012) augmented version 洋风姑苏版研究 The Study of Western Influenced Gusu Prints touches on the subject of screens and hints that some of the landscapes might have formed tetraptychs but he had not located any occurrence where all four prints were extant until he saw my prints, only reconstructed them. In a way, a screen would be the best method of displaying these prints to their full content and next to each other. If they were to be displayed on a wall, the space needed would be over 2 metres, a wall space easily available in a Jiangnan merchant’s mansion.

So far we have not found any examples of either a Chinese screen or a Japanese screen with Suzhou prints pasted on it. Of the 18 known extant examples of the Gusu Beauties series, 11 were or are mounted on Western screens, although admittedly on screens of later date than the prints. Whether this has any significance is difficult to say. We need to know the history behind the prints’ arrival in Europe and the ways in which they were disseminated and displayed.

I would like to speculate that more prints in this series of Gusu Beauties were executed and that a complete series might have consisted of 10 or, more likely, 12 prints, two or four further prints than we presently know about. It is also possible that more prints formed tetraptychs. It is very easy to imagine, in the above two examples of diptychs, the addition of two prints to each in order to extend the scenes.

There might be some significance to the fact that this series of prints is only found in Europe, and that no prints have emanated from Japan.  Except for the variant version of Print 5. Were these prints not in the Japanese taste? Or were they so “chinoiserie” in style that the only market, besides the Chinese local market of course, was in the West?

I also dare to state that these prints are of the highest class in quality of artistry, cutting, printing and colouring. For example the printing of the black is done four times: first in three different tones, and a fourth time to get the criss-cross pattern imitating copper-plate printing. The prints must have been among the most exclusive and expensive in the shop or studio, especially if they were sold in sets of 2 or 4.

Much remains to be said about the European influence on these prints, especially the element of perspective and the copper-plate imitation, but I think I will leave that to a scholarly researcher.

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New books on Suzhou prints


In case not all our readers are up-to-date on the available literature, I would like to point out two books which further the study of Suzhou prints.

The first publication is part of the series Zhongguo muban nianhua jicheng 中国木版年画集成, edited by Feng Jicai 冯骥才 and published by Zhonghua shuju 中華书局 in Beijing. This series is planned to encompass 22 volumes on Chinese nianhua, most volumes a monograph on one specific geographical area where printing were done. It forms the documentary evidence of the research and collecting activity of Feng Jicai and his institution at Tianjin, an extensive activity operating under the name 中国民间文化遗产抢救工程, The Project to Rescue Chinese Folk Cultural Heritages. Feng and his students have travelled to each of the workshop areas and collected material evidence of prints, woodblocks, tools, etc but also done interviews, visual and audi recordings of artists, blockcutters, printers and other workers with knowledge or memory of the craft. In some cases the whole studio, including artist, has been rescued from the bulldozers, and transported to and reconstructed or re-housed in Tianjin.

Two volumes fall outside this pattern by presenting nianhua and popular prints in two foreign collections: Russian collections and Japanese collections. The Russian volume, edited by the recently deceased Boris Riftin, an eminent researcher on Chinese prints and literature, contains mainly Yangliuqing prints, the majority collected in the beginning of the 20th century by Vasili Mikhailovich Alexeev.

The volume on Japanese collections is the one that concerns us here. Having the subtitle Riben cangpin juan 日本藏品卷 it is edited by 三山陵 Miyama Ryō et al. and is divided into four main sections: Suzhou, Tianjin, Shanghai, and Others Areas (including Anhui, Beijing, Shandong etc.). The largest section is Suzhou (168 prints) followed by Tianjin (120 prints), and the remaining ca. 83 prints. Two introductory essays and eight brief postfaces on the various collections complete the text. An alphabetical listing of the print titles, with thumb-sized images, is a handy guide to the prints.

The Suzhou section is subdivided in groups: Auspicious prints, Female and Children, Beauties, Landscapes, Theatrical, Guandi, Games. Each print is illustrated in colour with brief description of the print, including size, period, signature, printer or cutter, studio, present owner, etc. The majority of the reproductions appear to be from photos taken especially for this project, an admirable undertaking. My main complaint regarding the images would be that most images are trimmed within the printing frame, eliminating borders and joints with mountings. I think it would be interesting to see the mounting or backing, and to be informed if the print is a hanging scroll.

Further to the Suzhou prints, the majority are from the Umi-Mori Art Museum [or Ohsha’joh Museum as it used to be named before] which is no surprise considering that this museum is specialized in Chinese woodblock prints. These prints have been well-publicized in other Japanese publications, but there are some prints included which have not been published before. Other collections include Akita City Museum, Kobe City Art Museum, Yamato Bunkakan, Machida City International Graphic Museum, and a large part of private owners.

Although Suzhou prints of at least one major institutional collection and two major private collections have not been included, this volume presents in good colour and size some of the Suzhou prints preserved in Japan. A bonus is the detailed information of the technical specifications of the print (but lacking information on mounting) and the brief description of the motif. An indexed list of printers, artists or cutters would have been very useful, as would a chronological list of dated prints, more than the general biography of the contributing scholars.

The volume can be purchased from the excellent London bookshop Han-Shan Tang.

From the same specialized bookshop can also be bought our second title:

This book, 洋风姑苏版研究 Yangfeng Gusu ban yanjiu, with the English title The Study of Western-influenced Gusu Prints, and this is the only English text you will find in the volume besides a brief abstract, is of more recent date, actually published in October 2012, and is the augmented, commercial edition of the author’s doctoral thesis of 2009: 洋风姑苏版 Yangfeng Gusu ban. Zhang Ye is a professor at the Central Art Academy in Beijing and has studied Suzhou prints for many years, especially the Western influenced ones.

In the book we find the prints with western perspective and the copying of copper-plate etching and shading which became so popular in the beginning of the 18th century in Suzhou. Contrary to the volume above, the black-and-white illustrations in this book (some 200) are copied, lifted or scanned from other publications (with reference to the publication title) and accordingly not very clear or detailed. There are also some colour illustrations. But it is the text and the depth of information that is important in this volume, as well as the research on similar images or the origin of the motif.

A bibliography; a chronological list covering events in China and abroad; a list, in a presumed chronological order, of prints with relevant information; and something as rare, in a Chinese book, as an alphabetical index are included in the back.

The sharp-eyed reader will notice that the cover image of this book is a detail from our Gusu Beauty print No. 2.

Used in tandem, the above two books constitute an important base for the study of Suzhou prints, and together contains the largest corpus of Suzhou print images.

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Gusu Beauties, tentative dating of the prints

The earliest Suzhou prints of the largest size, roughly around 100×50 cm, are landscapes and can be dated to the 1730s. The earliest dated print is from 1734, the Encyclopaedic View of Jobs in the City (Sanbai liushi hangtu), illustrated on plate 1-2 in Soshū hanga, 蘇州版畫 (Suzhou Woodblock Prints), Hiroshima, Osha’joh Museum of Art, 1986. Although human figures appeared in the landscape prints, they were mostly of small size and subordinated the landscape. There are prints preserved of beauties but they are usually of smaller dimensions and less detailed than our present Gusu Beauties.

Not yet having properly studied Professor James Cahill’s recently published book, Pictures for Use and Pleasure: Vernacular Painting in High Qing China, University of California Press, which, I am sure, would have answers to the problem of dating and origins, I dare to make comparisons between the Gusu Beauties prints and two of the wall paintings commissioned by the Qianlong emperor for his retirement palace Ningshougong within the confine of the Forbidden City. These were recently the subject of an article by Wang Zilin in the September 2010 issue of Orientations entitled Four Trompe-l’Oeil Paintings in the Qianlong Garden.

Figure 4 shows us a 1775 painting in the Yucuixuan of a palace room where a princess is seated on a central couch surrounded by princes of various age. The princess’ posture, in a graceful S-shape, the activity of the boys, the dresses and the decor is much mirrored in the Gusu Beauties prints. The similar kind of sable hats and phoenix hair ornaments can be seen in Print 9.

Figure 5 is the mural in the central room of Yanghe Jingshe, painted in 1776, and here we see ten young boys and two ladies, said to be princesses, engaged in various games in a pillared hall which is separated from a pond and garden by a carved balustrade, beyond which is a pavilion and a covered walkway, all ingredients that can be found in the Gusu Beauties prints as well.

Although the style and technique of the paintings are more refined than those in the prints, it is not difficult to see a relation.

The big question is if the popular Suzhou prints influenced the court paintings, or if the court paintings influenced the Suzhou print makers? We know that many Suzhou artists worked at the court and they would have brought ideas and concepts to and fro.

The easiest would be to claim that the court paintings came first and acted as the model for the prints in demand by the wealthy mercantile class in the Jiangnan area, a class of nouveau riche who wanted to copy the accoutrements of the court.

Considering that these two paintings were executed 1775 and 1776, and Château de Filières was constructed 1785 to 1790, during which period twenty-two other Chinese woodblock-printed wallpapers were installed, it is tempting to date our prints to somewhere between 1780-1784, ie late Qianlong period. I admit that this is very a bald statement, and it assumes that the Gusu Beauties arrived at the château at the same period as the wallpapers, but I hope it will be the base for discussions by those scholars with more insights than I have.

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