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Chinese Color Prints

DATES February 14, 1936 through June 30, 1936
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  • February 15, 1936 An unusual collection of Chinese color prints has been installed in the Print Gallery of the Brooklyn Museum in connection with the opening of the new galleries of Oriental Art this week. (Private view Friday Feb. 14; open to the public Saturday Feb. 15.) The collection has been assembled and installed by Mr. Carl O. Schniewind, Curator of Prints, and includes loans from the Pennsylvania Museum of Art and from private collectors. Forty-five prints of the Ch’ing period, late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (1645–1850), six rare Ming prints and several illustrated books are on view. The books illustrate scenes of silk, cotton and rice culture.

    Color printing was invented in China, not in Japan, and followed a different course in the country of its invention. Chinese prints are usually reproductions of paintings and drawings. Japanese prints, on contrary, were designed as prints, not as reproductions. Many of the Chinese prints were issued in books for the instruction of students of art and of artists. There are many plates illustrating details of human anatomy, cars, noses, mouths, for instance, and others illustrating details of landscape, rocks, trees, flowers, branches, boats in the foreground, boats in the distance, etc. Other prints reproduce complete paintings and were intended for the general illustration of principles of good composition and technique.

    Those in the present exhibition are chiefly of still life and landscape subjects, the exceptions being the six Ming prints of Bodhisattvas, and the books showing workers in action. Celebrated books such as the Ten Bamboo Hall, Mustard Seed Garden, and the Pavillion which Looks Out upon the Clouds are represented by a few prints each. The latter is rare. Prints from rare Book of Orchids are also shown. These alluring names designate the printing shops which published these books for use in art studios. There are fascinating studies of bamboo and of other trees, of apples, rocks, roses, hills, birds, insects, fruit, leaves, etc.

    In comparison with Japanese prints, Chinese prints have been seldom shown and most inadequately studied. There is no thoroughly satisfactory treatise on the subject in any occidental language. Yet the prints study from both the esthetic and the technical points of view. For instance, they are not uniformly printed from woodblocks. Stone and lead plates also are used. Often a single print shows the use of more than one material in the blocks or plates. Nor is the color handled so much in flat solid colors as it is in Japanese prints. Several blocks are sometimes used to achieve delicate shading. The general effect usually suggests the fluid quality of painting in thin washes rather than the abrupt sharpness of print. Very inking of the blocks and printing on very wet paper have helped to this quality so much resembling brush work. It is interesting to that some of the blocks have been cut in the “maniere criblée;" tiny elements of design have been repeated in the blocks by the use or dice resembling the tools of the goldsmith.

    The installation is especially pleasing. The prints have been divided into groups and those of delicate color are set off by a few in solid Chinese red and blue, placed in the corners and the far end of the gallery. The massive volumes of the picture books and the six Ming prints are displayed table cases. Several of the still life subjects seem distinctly modern in feeling, definitely related to the work of such modern French painters and printers as Georges Bracque, for instance. Others, especially the studies of bamboo, of birds, of flowers, and of rocks and hills, strike definitely in the manner which we associate with Chinese painting and remote from anything in modern European work

    Brooklyn Museum Archives. Records of the Department of Public Information. Press releases, 1931 - 1936. 01-03_1936, 021-2.
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