Cover: The Compelling Image in HARDCOVER

The Compelling Image

Nature and Style in Seventeenth-Century Chinese Painting

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$205.00 • £161.95 • €184.50

ISBN 9780674152809

Publication: January 1982


276 pages

240 b/w, 14 color halftones, 1 line illustration, 2 maps

Belknap Press

The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures


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The Compelling Image will delight the art-lover who does not yet realize that Chinese painting can be as original and moving as El Greco or Cezanne. With a graceful authority, James Cahill explores the radiant painting of that tumultuous era when the collapse of the Ming Dynasty and the Manchu conquest of China dramatically changed the lives and thinking of artists and intellectuals.

The brilliant masters of the seventeenth century were reconsidering their artistic relationship to nature and to the painting of earlier times, while European pictorial arts introduced by Jesuit missionaries were profoundly influencing Chinese techniques. The reader/viewer is presented with a series of crucial distinctions of style and approach in a richly illustrated book that illuminates the whole character of Chinese painting. Cahill begins with a relatively neglected artist, Chang Hung, who moved traditional forms ever closer to literal descriptions of nature, in contrast with the theorist painter Tung Ch’i-ch’ang, who turned the same traditional forms into powerful abstractions. A chapter focused on Wu Pin offers new and controversial ideas about the impact of European art, as well as a related phenomenon: revival of the highly descriptive early Sung styles. Looking especially at Ch’en Hung-shou, the greatest of the late Ming figure painters, Cahill examines a curious mixing of real people and conventionally rendered surroundings in portrait art of the period. He analyzes the expressionist experiments of the masters known as Individualists, and distinguishes these artists from the Orthodox school, concluding with a bold reassessment of the most eloquent of later Chinese painters, Tao-chi. Over 250 illustrations, including twelve color plates, are drawn from collections in the United States, Europe, Japan, and China. This is a book for anyone interested in China, its past, and its art, and for the enthusiast who wishes to broaden the horizons of enjoyment by exposure to a most engaging writer on an exquisite era.