A Gusu Beauty Appears

It has been rewarding to research the prints to which I have given the name Gusu Beauties, Gusu being today’s Suzhou, and such prints depicting a beautiful and elegant lady involved in various pursuits — reading, painting, writing, etc. or just contemplating boys playing at her feet. See Suzhou print 1 onwards through Suzhou print 9. These eighteenth-century prints have appeared in auction sales, at dealers and are hanging on walls in mansions and castles around Europe. The richest source is of course Esterházy Palace in Eisenstadt, Austria. No examples of such prints with any provenance are extant in China or Japan.

Perhaps the most exciting finding was that four of these prints together formed one continuous scene, a tetraptych, the first occurrence of this format in Chinese printmaking.

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

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

The reader will remember that there were two further prints in the series which formed a pair — Beauty 3 and Beauty 4.

Beauty 3

Beauty 3

Beauty 4

Beauty 4

and perhaps the thought that these two prints were also part of a tetraptych might have occured. As fate had it, a print appeared recently in a provincial auction sale in Belgium, catalogued as belonging to the nineteenth century. It undoubtedly represents print number 4 in such a tetraptych.

Gusu Beauty no. 11

Beauty 11

The common details linking the images together are the balustrade and the lion finials, the garden setting, the tree with its overhead crown of foliage, and a lady accompanied by four young boys. It is also obvious that these prints form a group showing the pursuits of the literati scholar: qin, qi, shu, hua 琴,棋,書,畫 or music, chess, calligraphy/reading, and painting. The calligraphy scene is represented by a lady with a book, the character shu 書 is interchangeable for calligraphy and book. Thanks to this we also now know what the missing second from right print should look like: a lady with four boys, a balustrade with lion filials, a tree trunk on the right, and a wei qi chess board, possibly being played by two of the boys.

So far I have no knowledge that such a chess-playing print is extant anywhere, but I am optimistic about it appearing somewhere, either on some castle or manor wall, or in a drawer in a library/museum, or even better, at least for me, in some auction sale.

About chiwoopri

Collector and researcher of old Chinese woodblock prints
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4 Responses to A Gusu Beauty Appears

  1. shaolin1985 says:

    Just finished reading your excellent earlier posts on Gusu prints, and then this summary (with new conclusions) pops up. Many thanks! By the way – though not involving this set of prints – did you see the recent sale of these Gusu prints: https://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/van-ham/catalogue-id-van-ham10055/lot-c5ad01a2-9445-4364-80c6-a99d00902748

    • chiwoopri says:

      Thank you very much for the nice comments. Regarding the van Ham sale, I actually bought those prints and will be commenting on them in future blogs. Kind regards.

      • shaolin1985 says:

        Aha, it was you! Really liked the “Happiness of Fishermen” in particular, but was outbid on my preferred lot – New Year Joy, Happiness of Fishermen, The Heroes Gather and Four Blessings – by a factor of four…

  2. An exciting find, Christer. Keep them coming! David.

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