The Four Seasons in Chinese Paintings from the Birmingham Museum of Art
Edited by Katherine Anne Paul
Through the lens of the four seasons—spring, summer, autumn, and winter—this publication explores intimate visual storytelling embedded within small-scale Chinese landscape paintings. Whether formatted in a popular fan shape, as an album leaf, a handscroll, hanging scroll, or a glossy ceramic, the paintings featured in this publication were intended to be studied up close and to be handled. Many of the paintings combine the elevated art form of calligraphy with inscriptions that describe famous Chinese painting styles, reference poetry, provide dedications to friends and family, and offer dates for when the works were made.
Katherine Anne Paul provides an overview of visual keys that unlock the seasonality in the paintings. Intended to enhance and intensify the viewing experience, calligraphy, an elevated artform unto itself, compliments the paintings’ imagery. The intended audience of these works could fully read the inscriptions, thereby understanding their personal, poetic, and cultural significance. Ruoxin Wang’s English translations of the inscriptions provide this understanding for all readers. Richard A. Pegg delves into some of the deeper coded visual and cultural language of the potentially “endless combinations of painting, poetry, and calligraphy.” Kayi Ho discusses how late Qing cultural elites of Guangdong “adapted the artistic tastes and cultural practices popular in the Jiangnan area” to bring forward a fluorescence of painting for this region while harnessing earlier precedents. Doris Sung poses the question, “Why are there so few women in Chinese art history?” and answers it in part by elevating named women painters in the late Qing period.
An interview with Curator Emeritus Donald A. Wood provides insights into institutional transparency for acquisitions and provenance for how two extraordinary but underknown collections of Guangdong regional painting of the late Qing period and early Republic period came to Birmingham, Alabama.
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