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 collection, Japan.
Print 1 Melting Snow at Broken Bridge
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.
Print 2 Autumn Moon Over Calm Lake
The title of the print, Ping Hu Qiu Yue 平湖秋月, is written on a stele in front of the donkey-pulling boy at the far right. 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 each of the mountain side. On the outer bottom left margin is a cartouche with printer’s signature.
Print 3 Three Stupas Mirroring the Moon
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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 my collection and in the Museum für Asiatische Kunst, Berlin:
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.