"Paintings in Print" at the Huntington

In the Manner of Wang Wen Hui's Orchids in Dew in Ten Bamboo Studio Collection of Calligraphy and Painting, 1633-1703. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens

You too can paint happy little orchids. That was roughly the pitch of the two great artist's manuals of Ming and Qing China: the Ten Bamboo Studio Collection of Calligraphy and Painting and the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting. Each promised to reveal the secrets of literati painting to a rising merchant class, democratizing access to art much as museums, TV, and social media would in centuries to come. Both manuals are now on view in the Huntington's Studio for Lodging the Mind in "Paintings in Print: Studying Art in China" (through May 27, 2024). 

Bitter Melon in Ten Bamboo Studio Collection, about 1633-1703. The Huntington

The Ten Bamboo Studio Collection is the older book, published in 1633. The text is all in verse, in an assortment of calligraphic styles. The Huntington copy, a gift of June and Simon K.C. Li and other museum supporters, is from the original woodcuts. That however dates it only approximately, to the 70-year span between 1633 and 1703. The copy found its way to Japan, where a former owner disassembled the volumes and reconstituted them as a deluxe accordion fold book in which pages of painting and poetry lie flat next to each other. 

A Subtle Fragrance Envelops the Moon in The Mustard Seed Garden Manual. The Huntington

The Mustard Seed Garden Manual (1679) drew on Ten Bamboo but offered more down-to-earth advice  (in prose) on succeeding as an artist. The first edition, focused on landscape painting, was so popular as to launch a franchise. Later editions added sections on painting flowers and animals (1701) and the human figure (1818). The Huntington copy, a gift of Thomas G. Ebrey and Patricia B. Ebrey, is dated 1782. It has a notable provenance, having been owned by Berkeley art historian James F. Cahill, who played a pivotal role in introducing classic Chinese painting to 20th-century America. 

Comprehensive Diagram of Facial Features in Mustard Seed Garden Manual

A meticulously annotated diagram of facial features seems, ironically, to demonstrate the impossibility of describing faces in words.

"Paintings in Print" displays many of the two books' most admired images, and all can be called up on gallery touchscreens or online. The show also includes two paintings now in the collection, one Japanese (Hirai Renzan's Bamboo in Mist, 19th century) and one Chinese (a landscape attributed to He Liangpu and dated 1920), each demonstrating the enduring influence of the manuals. Elsewhere, an important Qiu Ying scroll, Zhou Dunyi Admiring Lotuses, recently went on view in the Huntington gallery, adjacent to British landscapes. 

 Frontispiece, Ten Bamboo Collection. The Huntington