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  • Anne de Coursey Clapp (1928–2013)
  • Susan Bush

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A specialist in Chinese painting of the Ming dynasty, Anne de Coursey Clapp was a notable scholar, teacher, and writer, an inspiration to students of Chinese art history. Her studies of Wen Zhengming and Tang Yin were groundbreaking treatments of these artists’ works in their milieu. Her research and writing skills made these books models of their kind. Her ability to analyze artistic styles and describe them in prose that verged on the lyrical showed to advantage in such studies. Her knowledge of literati practices in Suzhou culture led her to define the genre of commemorative painting, the subject of her third book. Anne Clapp’s career helped pioneer new possibilities for later generations of women scholars in the developing field of Chinese art history.

Elizabeth Anne de Coursey’s parents lived in a Main Line Philadelphia town when she was born on December 3, 1928. By World War II, the family had moved to a working farm in nearby Paoli that was managed by her mother while her father served at a bomber base in England. Thus, Anne had to cope with farm chores and was able to ride and take care of a Shetland pony at a young age. In later years, her love of animals had an outlet in the attention she lavished on her Lhasa Apsos. For high school she started at the Shipley School, where deportment was graded and girls were taught how to curtsy properly. She finished up at St. Mary’s, a traditional Episcopal school in Peekskill, New York, and entered Mount Holyoke College. After one year her interest in drama led her to transfer to Smith College, where she majored in theater and was an assistant editor on the student newspaper. On graduation in 1950, she received the Alpha Pin, awarded for excellence in the creative arts, and then went on to the Yale University School of Drama. There she specialized in design, taking courses in painting, and working on sets, and doing a bit of acting. She graduated in 1953 and went to work teaching stage design at Emerson College in Boston. Her grounding in the technical aspects of art, her acting experience, and her writing skills were all put to good use in her scholarly career.

In 1960, married to Roger Clapp and having started a family in Cambridge, she entered the Harvard University PhD program in Fine Arts, specializing in Asian art history. Her dissertation was completed in 1971 under the direction of Professor Max Loehr. From 1966 on, she taught part-time at Wellesley College as instructor and lecturer giving courses on all areas of Asian art. With her degree in hand from Harvard, she became an assistant professor at Wellesley. In 1976, she was promoted to associate professor after the publication of her thesis, the in-depth study of style Wen Cheng-ming: The Ming Artist and Antiquity (Artibus Asiae, 1975). On a Hackney Fellowship grant in the summer of 1970, she was able to view important works on exhibition and in storage at the National Palace Museum in Taipei, and also travel to Japan. By 1976, she was asked to contribute the introductory essay “The Sources of Wen Cheng-ming’s Style” to Professor Richard Edwards’ exhibition catalogue, The Art of Wen Cheng-ming (1470–1559) (The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor). In 1977, she became a member of the Chinese Painting Delegation to the People’s Republic of China, and thus had another prime opportunity to see paintings hitherto only known from inadequate reproductions or in some cases thought lost. Her travel report, “Yüan and Ming Painting,” was published by the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China in Traditional and Contemporary Painting in China (National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC, 1980). One might say that she was present at the beginning of a golden age for Chinese painting history, when clearer [End Page 93] reproductions and travel opportunities made close viewing newly possible.

At Wellesley, her career moved in regular stages: she served as department chair in 1980–1981 and again from 1982 to...


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