A Catalogue of an Exhibition of Chinese Applied Art
OF AN EXHIBITION OFCATALOGUE
BRONZES POTTERY PORCELAINS
CITY OF MANCHESTER ,
ART GALLERY/ 1913
1 9 1 3
1 9 1 3 ART GALLERY COMMITTEE
THE RIGHT HONOURABLE THE LORD MAYOR
SIR SAMUEL WALTER ROYSE, KNIGHT
COUNCILLOR FREDERICK TODD
ALDERMAN GOLDSCHMIDT ALDERMAN MOSS
COUNCILLOR SIR CHAS. BEHRENS COUNCILLOR COOK, J. W. COUNCILLOR LECOMBER COUNCILLOR LITTON COUNCILLOR MEGSON COUNCILLOR SIMPSON
COUNCILLOR SUSMAN COUNCILLOR WESTCOTT PROFESSOR W. BOYD DAWKINS MR. MARCUS S. BLES MR. WALTER BUTTERWORTH
- FRANK FALKNER
- JOHN H. HOPKINSON, M.A. MR. ERNEST A. KOLP
- PERCY S. WORTHINGTON, M.A.
Chinese Exhibition Sub-Committee
COUNCILLOR TODD PROFESSOR W. BOYD DAWKINS
ALDERMAN CARTER MR. WALTER BUTTERWORTH
COUNCILLOR SUSMAN MR. FRANK FALKNER
COUNCILLOR FREDERICK TODD
Chairman of the Art Sub•Committee
COUNCILLOR SIR CHARLES BEHRENS
Chairman of the House Sub•Committee
COUNCILLOR A. H. MEGSON
Chairman of the Branch Galleries Sub•Committee
WILLIAM C. ALEXANDER, ESQ. LIST OF CONTRIBUTORS
G. BEATSON BLAIR, ESQ.
J. T. BLAIR, ESQ.
R. H. BENSON, ESQ.
MRS. R. H. BENSON
WILLIAM BURTON, ESQ.
PROFESSOR W. BOYD DAWKINS
A. K. COOMARASWAMY, ESQ.
DR. F. CRAVEN-MOORE
DR. A. E. CUMBERBATCH
G. EUMORFOPOULOS, ESQ.
C. S. HOLBERTON, ESQ.
T. HASLAM, ESQ.
F. W. JACKSON, ESQ.
E. A. KOLP, ESQ.
DR. LLOYD ROBERTS
OSCAR RAPHAEL, ESQ.
E. F. M. SUSMAN, ESQ.
DR. E. J. SIDEBOTHAM
ELKIN SCHLOSS, ESQ.
G. T. VEITCH, ESQ.
INTRODUCTION Exhibition of Chinese Applied Art
HE eyes of all civilized peoples are turned on China at the present moment with the utmost sympathy and respect. An ancient civilization, the younger sister of old Egypt and Babylon, and one of the most extensive empires that the world has ever seen, has suddenly thrown off its patriarchal form of government, the heritage of ideals originated long before the Christian era, and is determined, apparently, to walk in a new path more closely parallel with those of the Western civilizations that are of comparatively modern growth. On this ground alone it might seem appropriate, at this time, to gather together an illustrative display of Chinese accomplishments, especially in those artistic crafts such as bronze founding, pottery making, silk weaving and embroidery, which enter so largely into the ceremonial as well as the private life of a people ; but it is the object of this Exhibition to demonstrate the distinguished position which the doings of the Chinese have won for them in the field of applied art. Within little more than an ordinary life-time the ideas of Western nations with regard to the Chinese peoples have undergone a profound change for the better. The very ignorance which allowed us to look down with something like pity and contempt on a race which had numbered amongst its sons some of the greatest philosophers, sages and painters of all time ; that allowed us to contemplate the marvellous craftsmanship of Chinese bronzes, porcelains, enamels, lacquers, carved stones and embroidered silks, and dismiss them as ” grotesque baubles,” has been replaced, in the mind of every educated person, by feelings of intense admiration, not merely for the patient ingenuity and boundless skill of the craftsmen, but for the pervading sense of beauty and artistic purpose that, broadly speaking, distinguishes their works from the similar doings of Europeans. One faculty seems to be inherent in the Chinese above any other people in the world and that is the extent of their appreciation of what an artist calls ” quality.” Whether it be in the chasing of a bronze ; the glazing of a piece of porcelain ; the carving of jade, rock crystal, carnelian, agate or other fine stone ; the treatment of an embroidered silk or of a carpet, so that the play of light among the fibres of the material shall reveal its utmost beauty, there is always the same distinguished feeling for the quality of the material which is the mark of artistic, as opposed to inartistic craftsmanship.
In making such a high claim, which is abundantly justified by fact, it must not be forgotten that we are dealing with the doings of a race rather than a nation ; a race inhabiting a district larger than Europe, yet content to live and work under ancient ideals that have changed so slowly as to seem incapable of change. Opposition to change is one constant element of human nature all the world over, and in China the influence of the philosophy, the mode of government and the religious beliefs of the people have, hitherto, tended to make the change so slow that, to a superficial Western observer (our direct knowledge only goes back a few centuries) they seem not changes, indeed, but the absence of any desire for change.
From the geographical situation of the Chinese lands and the fact that a great barrier of desert and steppe is interposed between them and the West, singularly little knowledge can be derived, from outside, of the early history of this far-off people. Their own historical records have, fortunately, been preserved for many, many centuries with devout and almost holy care ;
At the earliest period for which this kind of evidence is available, the Chinese appear as a great, peaceful, pastoral and agricultural race inhabiting the northern part of what we now know as China. They were already distinguished workers in stone and in bronze ; they had made the first silken tissues known to history and their pottery presents certain distinctive features of spirit and technique, though it naturally has a strong family likeness to the primitive pottery of other early races.and though it is still believed that much of myth and tradition is inevitably mixed with the oldest Chinese accounts of their incipient civilization, it is possible now to check, to some extent, their written histories by contemporary objects recently disinterred from ancient graves in various parts of the Empire and particularly in Western and Northern China and in Manchuria.
The earliest specimen of Chinese Art in this Exhibition is the bronze vase, No. 858, belonging to Mr. G. Eumorfopoulos, which may date from moo B.c., and some other very ancient bronzes belonging to Mr. G. Eumorfopoulos and Mr. G. T. Veitch which belong to the period when the Chou Dynasty held sway in China, with varying fortunes, from 115o to 25o B.C. It is interesting to note that the great Chinese sage Confucius lived during this age, 551-475 B.C.
The civilization of China, down almost to the Christian era, appears to have been mainly of indigenous growth. Such spread of the original Northern influence as took place having been quite as much by way of peaceful permeation as by military conquest. Before the Christian era there are signs of overland traffic with India through the South West of what we now call China, and from a still earlier period there had been contact with Babylonia,. Persia, Syria, and even the remote Greek lands, by way of Central Asia.
The official recognition of Buddhism took place in the year 67 A.D., while it is stated that a Chinese Embassy was despatched to Rome in 97A.D. but returned without reaching that city. Between the fifth and sixth centuries of our era the government of China was divided between Northern and Southern Dynasties, and under the great T’ ang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.) it reached its widest limits. The Han and T’ang Dynasties, which practically ruled over China from about the second century B.C. to the beginning of the tenth century A.D., mark the first period that is known to moderns, beyond dispute, as an era of Chinese Classic Art. The Chinese themselves consider this one of their greatest periods in art, literature and poetry, and recent discoveries would seem to compel the most sceptical Western scholars to agree with this estimate. Yet, even at this remote period, it is impossible to resist the feeling that the Chinese artists had been influenced by Western ideals. We know that Alexander marched an army of Greeks and Macedonians into the centre of Asia and that his lieutenants founded kingdoms there, and it seems impossible–in regarding the modelled pottery figures lent by Mr. R. H. Benson and Mr. G. Eumorfopoulos (Room IV)—to resist the conclusion that the artists who modelled the horses and other animals and the figures had not been influenced by the sculptural conventions of the Greeks.
Towards the close of the ninth century the irruption of an inferior, but more virile, race from the interior of Asia led to a period of war and devastation with the interruption of peaceful arts, but from about the middle of the tenth century the famous Sung Dynasty once more reunited the greater part of China under a peaceful sway, when learning of every kind was eagerly sought. Chinese Art and Literature developed and became, as it were, crystallised, so that evolution rather than revolution marked all subsequent progress down to our own times. The present Exhibition is particularly rich in bronzes, pottery and porcelain, sufficient in quantity, and varied enough in accomplishment to give one a distinct idea of the masculine and distinguished art of this period. Only a few years ago little was known in Europe of genuine Sung pottery, though enthusiastic accounts of it existed in contemporary and later Chinese books.
The downfall of the peace-loving Sung Dynasty was due to an incursion of Mongols under their famed leader Genghis Khan—a portion of the Mongolian exodus that even threatened the existence of Western Europe at the same time. Mongolian rule (Yuan Dynasty, 1220-1367) brought about an exchange of ideas and of craftsmen between the East and the West of Asia, for it is only after this time that pottery painted with blue makes its appearance in China, though such pieces had been common for a long time previously in Persia and Syria. The Mongols were finally driven out, and a native Chinese Dynasty was restored about the 14th century. This, the great Ming Dynasty, continued to rule until practically the middle of the 17th century (1367 A.D. to 1644 A.D.).The cases in Room IV contain a collection of specimens of hard-fired pottery that is scarcely porcelain, and of true porcelains, the forms of which are exceedingly dignified and severe, recalling either the shapes of still earlier bronzes or of vessels carved in stone. There is an entire absence of the gay colour and painted decoration.of later centuries, the artists relying for their effects on broad and massive outline relieved with modelled, carved or incised ornament and finished with the softest glazes. The creamy tone of the white pieces or the varied greyish green or bluish grey tints described by European collectors, under their French titles of celadon and Clair de lune, are at once distinguished and beautiful. These glazes are in all shades of soft shimmering grey and cool, pale to dark, olive green, while in some of the lighter pieces (as seen in Case Bb) there are splashes of blood-red and peach-purple colour, which probably mark the very beginnings of the later Flambe or transmutation glazes. An art so sober, so reticent and so dignified bespeaks a people possessing the utmost refinement and delicacy of taste, though perhaps inclined to melancholy.
It is often difficult for us to distinguish between the Art of the Chinese in the later years of the Sung, under the Yuan Dynasty of Mongols, and during the early years of Ming rule, so that it is customary to classify many artistic objects which are referable to the period from the 12th to the 14th century, as ” Sung-Ming”—though one may qualify this to some extent by the sub-division of “Sung-Yuan,” or “Yuan-Ming,” as they are obviously earlier or later in techincal or artistic development. For this particular period the various kinds of pottery and porcelain offer as reliable a guide as any, for porcelain, especially in its white and translucent varieties, was then a new thing even in China, the land of its birth. It is a far cry, for instance, from the vigorously modelled figures and animals of Han and T’ang times to the large Ming figure which stands in the central case of Room IV, and all the pottery and poreclain in that room practically comes in between, both in period and in style.
Perhaps the first sign of the influence of Persia is to be found in such pieces as those numbered 756 and 771, where boldly or delicately painted black ornament on a cream ground is found under a glaze of indescribable softness. But the full tide of the influence of the Persian potters in coloured glazes can only be understood by reference to the two Cases, W and X, in Room III, where are gathered together the large early Ming jars and figures lent by Mr. R. H. Benson, Mr. G. B. Blair and Mr. G. Eumorfopoulos, which are a feast of rich and entirely satisfactory, if somewhat barbaric colour.
The next development in the applied arts of China still shows the influence of the new learning from the West, for, with the increased perfection of a white porcelain, we get the intro-ducton of decoration painted in underglaze blue on a white ground, which the Chinese potters of later centuries developed to such an amazing extent. The earliest specimens of blue and white in this Exhibition are from the collection of Mr. G. Eumorfopoulos, and Nos. 454 and 457 are undoubtedly two of the earliest specimens of such Chinese work that are known in Europe.
The reign of Wan Li, who was practically the contemporary of our Queen Elizabeth and James I, marks the close artistically of the Ming epoch, though, with their usual conservatism, the Chinese artists and craftsmen of later reigns frequently based their work on the styles evolved during this period. At the time when our civil war was taking place the Chinese empire was also in the throes of a great rebellion, and, after many years of fighting, the Ming Dynasty came to an end, and was replaced by the Ch’ing Dynasty of Manchu Tartars which, after occupying the throne for over 250 years, has so recently been expelled from Peking by the present Republic.Shortly after the introduction of blue and white came another importation from the West, this time probably from Byzantium itself, in the shape of vessels of copper decorated with vitrifiable enamels—what we now call cloisonné enamel. Cases C and D, in Room I, contain some choice examples of this art, the specimens ranging in date from the beginning of the 15th to the beginning of the i8th centuries. There are also in the Exhibition a number of bronzes, carved jades and other stones, as well as a few panels of embroidery and carpets, from which one can gather a clear impression of the splendid colour sense of the Chinese artists and craftsmen of this epoch. Working in vitrifiable enamels on copper soon led the Chinese pottery painters to attempt the application of similar colours on their porcelains, and we get the later Ming coloured pieces, often combining bright red and green enamels with underglaze blue (such as are grouped together in Case R).
The Qing Dynasty, Exhibition of Chinese Applied Art
The greatest Emperor of this Dynasty was undoubtedly K’ang-Hsi, who reigned from 1662 to 1722, and was thus, roughly, contemporary with Louis XIV in Europe. Under his rule China once more became a great and settled empire and, as he was a most beneficient and tolerant patron of learning and of the arts, we again reach a period of splendour in Chinese craftmanship. The oldest great collection of Chinese porcelain in Europe, that made by Augustus the Strong, is still to be seen at Dresden and was practically formed during this period, while in this country until quite recently it was the aim of every collector to obtain specimens of the porcelains, bronzes, lacquers and enamels of this magnificent period of Chinese Renaissance. Being nearer to our own times it is natural that this Exhibition should be richer in fine works of this one reign than of some preceding Dynasties. Among the porcelains the cases of black-ground pieces, the blue and white (in Cases 0 and P) and the examples of powder-blue (Case Q) bear striking testimony to the taste and skill of the period, while there are also bronzes, enamels, a wonderful book of drawings (lent by Mr. G. B. Blair) and many embroideries and carpets which all go to deepen the impression.
Towards the close of this reign other foreign influences were again at work in China; and we must always bear in mind how strongly Chinese artistic work throughout the i8th century was drawn in two directions by influences which at this time came direct from Europe. K’ang-Hsi, who appears to have been a sovereign with a mind to rule liberally, encouraged the French Jesuit Missionaries who settled at his Court towards the close of the 17th century and obtained considerable influence there. They brought in, to some extent, European ideas both in art and manufacture. The various India Companies, as they were called, from Holland, France, England and Scandanavia, provided a body of eager traders, who were anxious to purchase the artistic productions of the Chinese but insisted upon having them more in the fashion that would appeal to the European taste of the 18th century.
High Qing Period, Exhibition of Chinese Applied Art
Under the reigns of Yung Cheng and Ch’ien Lung, which practically cover the whole of the 18th century after 1720, we have to recognise three distinct influences : first, the pure Chinese spirit, determined to continue in its own path and even to revive its more ancient glories when we find ” archaistic ” productions in the style of the works of the early Ming and Sung periods so subtly and wonderfully wrought that they often confound even the expert; second, examples made for the Chinese, but with strongly marked Western influence in the style of decoration and in the colours; and, third, Chinese work frankly made for export and to suit European rather than Chinese taste.
Objects of the last class have, on the whole, been excluded from this Exhibition, but it will be obvious to any careful observer that the examples of porcelain, embroideries, carpets, bronzes and other works (mostly shown in Room I and in the right hand portion of Room II) are significant of the European influence felt in Chinese art during the 18th century.in the style of decoration and in the colours; and, third, Chinese work frankly made for export and to suit European rather than Chinese taste.
During the igth century, owing largely to Dynastic troubles and to the consequent falling off of the Court patronage of artistic productions, the art of China fell into a period of decadence, and even the best of it generally exhibits a triviality and finniking style of execution which offers the strongest contrast, not merely to the work of the Sung and other early periods, but is markedly inferior to the 18th century productions as examplified in Mr. C. S. Holberton’s collection of snuff bottles, Mrs. R. H. Benson’s embroideries, and the porcelains of Dr. A. E. Cumberbatch and many other collectors.
This little sketch will at all events serve to show, especially when read in connection with the Exhibition itself, how short-sighted our old idea was of the unchangeable art of the Chinese. We find in this distinctive art of a great race through many centuries, many and diverse elements incorporated from foreign lands, but proving the mastery of the Chinese, and always brought into a general harmony with native tradition and a profound racial feeling. Throughout it all there is a profoundly reflective sense and an intricate symbolism which unites it with the Chinese faiths whether Confuscian, Taoist or Buddhist.
No race of men has shown more joy in nature, and none has ever exhibited a greater power of rendering the emotions and the joys that the contemplation of nature gives when wrought into harmony with profound philosophic ideals by conventions and symbols that speak only to the initiated.
Above all, perhaps, one is impressed with the Chinese sense of colour and that profound feeling for artistic quality that has already been referred to, while the gracious dignity of their finest works places them in the very highest rank as artists and craftsmen.