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Reviews 193 Kathlyn Maurean Liscomb. Learningfrom MountHua: A Chinese Physician's Illustrated Travel Record and Painting Theory. Foreword by Francesco Pellizzi. Cambridge, New York, and Victoria: Cambridge University Press, 1992. xiv, 229 pp. In the big picture ofChinese art history one might find it difficult to imagine that the sole surviving painting of a relatively obscure artist could warrant the scrutiny ofa 229-page book, but then Journey to Mt. Hua ^[ilHIffB" is a remarkable painting , Wang Lu XM (1332-1391) was a remarkable artist, and Kathlyn Liscomb's Learningfrom Mount Hua: A Chinese Physician's Illustrated Travel Record and Painting Theory is a remarkable book.1 In this book Professor Liscomb, whose published research has focused on aspects of early Ming dynasty (1368-1644) painting history and theory, examines a sixty-five-leaf album that weaves travel painting, travel prose, and travel poetry together into a unique commemoration of a journey taken through Mt. Hua, the Sacred Mountain of the West, in 1381 by a professional physician from Kunshan, Jiangsu, who painted only as an avocation .2 Or, to put it more accurately, what Liscomb examines is the second version of an album chronicling Wang Lü's mountain trek, for Wang tells us that he painted the currently extant scenes only after having "rubbed out" the original leaves. Why he replaced the originals with new versions (and new visions) of fhe scenery of Mt. Hua forms fhe crux of Liscomb's thesis that Wang Lu accomplished nothing less Aian "forgfing] a new style ofpainting and challenging] fhe fundamental precepts ofa painting tradition tied ever more firmly to the legacy of the past" (p. 10).Wang Lu relates that his "revised" paintings reAect his rejection ofprefabricated, established painting conventions which had apparently informed the original scenes and his commitment rather to "learn from Mt. Hua" itself and thus devise new ways ofportraying sights and communicating experiences for which the inherited norms and forms were simply inadequate. In fhe process, Liscomb concludes, Wang Lu emerges as an individualist, out ofstep with the archaizing trends ofhis times, whose renderings ofMt. Hua foreshadow the tiieoretical approaches ofmajor artists of the later Ming and single-handedly "expand the parameters of travel painting" (pp. 118-119). In the course of this important book Liscomb relies on an interpretative visual analysis of fhe Mt. Hua paintings, studious translation ofthe (often quite challenging) Mt. Hua theoretical texts and© 1994 by University travel accounts, relevant reference to Wang Lü's biography, and an intimate acofHawaiiPressquaintance with Wang's artistic milieu to argue that the Mt. Hua album is a distinct (albeit unheeded)3 wakeup call for traveler-artists to open their eyes when 194 China Review International: Vol. 1, No. 2, Fall 1994 they travel and keep them open when they paint. She constructs an exemplary piece of scholarship and a compelling argument that misfires on only one count. The longest single section of Liscomb's book is devoted to her analysis of fhe paintings themselves and her meticulous reconstruction of the album's proper sequential arrangement. The paintings, individually mounted as album leaves, had gotten out of order over time, and though others have written about the album before Liscomb,4 hers is the most comprehensive and convincing attempt to coordinate the pictures ofWang Lü's journey with his textual chronicle of the progress ofthe trip. She does this in some cases simply by determining which paintings best seem to illustrate what the travel account describes in prose or poetry , a process that sometimes calls for more subjective judgment than one might initially suppose: Wang Lü's paintings are usually quite anecdotal in their commemoration of the travel experience, but it is not always immediately apparent just what anecdote they portray.5 Liscomb's readings offhe paintings reAect some painstaking looking, and it is difficult to imagine later scholars challenging fhe sequence that she has proposed for fhe forty stages ofWang Lü's journey. At fhe same time, unfortunately, her formal analysis waxes with noticeable frequency into that realm ofquestionable subjectivity to which the genre ofart historical writing is prey.6 But unmistakable in fhe paintings (all forty ofwhich are reproduced in black and white and eight...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-9367
Print ISSN
1069-5834
Pages
pp. 193-198
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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