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Rare Chinese prints at the Huntington capture the art of the woodblock

Detail of "Pomegranate and Magnolia With Bird," by artist Ding Liangxian, Qing Dynasty, 1700-1750. Woodblock print with embossing, ink and colors on paper (multiblock technique with hand-coloring), 11 7/8 inches by 14 3/4 inches.
(Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

It’s considered one of most historically and artistically important illustrated books of 17th century Chinese woodblock art: “Ten Bamboo Studio Collection  of Calligraphy and Pictures,” a rare edition of which the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino acquired in 2014.

Published in 1633 by noted artist and printmaker Hu Zhengyan, the prints featured in the book reflect elements typically associated with Chinese gardens: orchids and other flowers, bamboo, fruit, birds and calligraphy.

The Huntington recently announced that the artwork will go on public view for the first time Sept. 17 as part of the exhibition “Gardens, Art and Commerce in Chinese Woodblock Prints.” Forty-eight examples of woodblock prints made from the 16th century to 19th centuries are on loan from the National Library of China in Beijing, the Nanjing Library, the Shanghai Museum and 14 other institutions and private collections.

“This beautifully printed early edition allows us to see how color printing in 1633 was accomplished,” said co-curator emerita June Li, explaining how multiple colored blocks were used in succession to achieve the appearance of watercolor paintings. 

An increase in wealth during the late Ming and early Qing dynasties led to higher levels of literacy and increasing consumer demand for the printed word and images, which ushered in a golden era of Chinese pictorial printing.

An unusual Buddhist hand scroll depicting landscapes — 9 ½ feet long and commissioned by Song Emperor Taizong — showcases the talents of woodblock printers.

“Illustrations of the Garden Scenery of the Hall of Encircling Jade,” a set of 45 prints showing the garden estate of scholar Wang Tingna, also will be on view along with four large copper plate etchings from the Getty Research Institute that explore European-style etchings by the Chinese.

Illustration from
Illustration from "Rare Edition of the Northern Story of the Western Chamber," corrected by Zhang Shenzhi, 1639. Zhang Daojun compiler and editor, Chen Hongshou artist, Xiang Nanzhou carver. Woodblock-printed book, ink on paper, each page 11 by 6 3/4 inches. (National Library of China)
“Morning Mist by the Western Ridge.” Thirty-Six Imperial Views of the Mountain Estate for Escaping the Heat, 1714. Matteo Ripa, also known as Ma Guoxian, artist and engraver, copied from design by Shen Yu. Copperplate engravings, ink on paper, each page 12 1/2 by 7 3/8 inches.
“Morning Mist by the Western Ridge.” Thirty-Six Imperial Views of the Mountain Estate for Escaping the Heat, 1714. Matteo Ripa, also known as Ma Guoxian, artist and engraver, copied from design by Shen Yu. Copperplate engravings, ink on paper, each page 12 1/2 by 7 3/8 inches. (Walter Silver / Peabody Essex Museum)
Lotus leaf, lotus root and two jitou capsules, with calligraphy by Sun Yuwang, Fruit 10,
Lotus leaf, lotus root and two jitou capsules, with calligraphy by Sun Yuwang, Fruit 10, "Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting." Compiled and edited by Hu Zhengyan. Woodblock-printed book, ink and colors on paper, each page 9 7/8 by 11 1/4 in., each inches. (Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens)

Follow The Times’ arts team @culturemonster.


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