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  • Transforming Traditions in Modern Chinese Painting: Huang Pin-hung's Late Work
  • An-yi Pan (bio)
Jason C. Kuo . Transforming Traditions in Modern Chinese Painting: Huang Pin-hung's Late Work. Asian Thought and Culture, Volume 35. New York: Peter Lang, 2004. xv, 231 pp. 65.95, ISBN 0-8204-4460-x.

This is a study of Huang Pin-hung, an important Chinese artist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, in which author Jason C. Kuo focuses on the artist's biography, theories and methods of painting, his actual paintings, and legacy. The Introduction lays out the methodologies and scope of the book. The second chapter, "The Persistence of Antiquity: From Calligraphy to Painting," explains Huang's view of the importance of the literati painting tradition. In addition to discussing brush-and-ink, this chapter explains how Huang's partiality to chin-shih-hsüeh (the study of bronze and stone inscriptions during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) resulted in his rejection of the t'ieh school of calligraphy (calligraphy modeled after examples written directly on paper and silk, or woodblock-printed examples that emulate the effect of brush on paper and silk); how his nationalism prompted him to take an anti-Westernization stance; how his emphasis on "national learning" and "national essence" encouraged him to become, in addition to an artist, an art historian; and how his education influenced him to embark on a lifelong pursuit of the synergy between painting and calligraphy—because to Huang, calligraphy represented the essence and spirit of Chinese painting.

The third chapter, "Huang Pin-hung on the Art of Painting," distills Huang's artistic theories as compiled in the Records of Huang Pin-hung's Discussion on Art (Huang Pin-hung t'an-yi-lu). Kuo reiterates Huang's passion for chin-shih-hsüeh and proposes a four-stage development scenario for the artist's lifelong career: (1) following the model of the ancient masters, (2) learning directly from nature, (3) engaging in creative work, and (4) realizing a transformation or metamorphosis of the tradition. Further discussions focus on Huang's interest in "national learning," which led him to see a contrast between the Chinese and Western traditions and to propose that beginners learn only from the Chinese tradition. A major portion of this chapter is devoted to the technical aspects of Huang's painting—and rightfully so, because Huang was among the few early twentieth-century artists who could articulate his technical innovations and relate them to a practical application that would revolutionize Chinese painting. Concluding this chapter, Kuo outlines how Huang rejected realism and abstraction.

Chapter 4, "Huang Pin-hung's Late Work," focuses on Huang's own painting. The first section repeats the notion that an artist must first learn from the ancient masters and that this is to be followed by traveling in natural surroundings, engaging in creative work, and transforming the existing tradition into [End Page 29] something new. Kuo reiterates the importance of chin-shih-hsüeh and summarizes the various technical aspects of the artist's work, while noting that the Northern Sung landscape tradition had left a major impression on Huang. The second portion of this chapter is devoted to a discussion of the artist's oeuvre. A frustration for the reader is that those works receiving lengthy descriptions by the author are not reproduced in this book, while it does contain reproductions of entire albums that are seldom used as examples to analyze artistic points. In other words, the book lacks visual aids for readers unfamiliar with either Huang Pin-hung's work or Chinese painting as a whole. The images reproduced here come mainly from the Museum for Far Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm; the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.; the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Massachusetts; the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City; and the M. K. Lau Collection. The majority of the images described at length by the author but not reproduced here, however, are in the Chechiang Provincial Museum of Art.

The fifth and final chapter, "The Significance of Huang Pin-hung's Late Work...


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