Archive of Posts by Joseph Chang

Honoring James Francis Cahill

Landscape with fisherman, 1629, by Guan Si (1590-1630). Illinois. Ink and colors on paper.

Landscape with fisherman, 1629, by Guan Si (1590-1630). Illinois. Ink and colors on paper.

The Asian Art Museum displays a landscape painting in Gallery 17, dated 1629, by Guan Si in remembrance of scholar and friend, James Francis Cahill (1926–2014), who passed away on February 14, 2014 at his home in Berkeley at age eighty-seven. The painting was purchased by the Peabody Family Trust upon the advice of Cahill, and then donated to the museum in his honor. The painting will stay on view through July 13, 2014

The painter Guan Si was skillful at reinterpreting fourteenth-century masters, and his personal style evolved from complicated to simple. The subject of fisherman in landscape is a familiar theme in traditional Chinese painting, and the sparse brushwork and simple composition of this landscape exemplify Guan’s mature style. The painting was purchased by the Peabody Family Trust upon the advice of the influential art historian James Cahill, and then donated to the museum in his honor.

Cahill began collecting paintings as a Fulbright scholar in Japan during the 1950s. He served as a curator of Chinese art at the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, DC, from 1958 to 1965, and then taught at the University of California at Berkeley from 1965 to 1994, during which time he mentored many scholars of Asian art, some who worked and still work at the Asian Art Museum. Among his numerous publications, major works include his first book, Chinese Painting (1960), and a multi-volume series on later Chinese paintings, including Hills Beyond a River: Chinese Painting of the Yuan Dynasty (1976), Parting At the Shore: Chinese Painting of the Early and Middle Ming Dynasty (1978), and The Distant Mountains: Chinese Painting of the Late Ming Dynasty (1982). The College Art Association awarded him its Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing on Art in 2007. In 2010 the Smithsonian awarded him the Charles Lang Freer Medal for his lifetime contributions to the history of Asian and Near Eastern art.

Cahill gathered his lectures and essays as well as other writings on a variety of topics at www.jamescahill.info. The Asian Art Museum also has a two of Cahill’s talks on iTunes that can be downloaded.

Cahill’s ashes will be scattered at his favorite beaches at Pt. Reyes, north of San Francisco.

Newly on View: Chinese ink paintings

This is the first in an ongoing series in which our curators introduce artworks that have recently gone on display.

The strength of the Chinese painting collection in the Asian Art Museum lies in modern and contemporary ink painting. To complement the special contemporary exhibition Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past (May 18–October 14), I have selected from the collection representative ink paintings ranging in date from 1965 to 2011.

Lui Shoukun, Chinese, Chan painting, 1974, ink and color on paper.

Lui Shou-kwan, Chan painting, 1974, ink and color on paper.

The group of ink paintings on view in the Chinese painting gallery represents several major trends and artists, including:

  • Modern Chinese ink painting movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong from the mid-1950s to the 1970s;
  • 1980s new ink painting;
  • 1990s experimental ink painting in China; and
  • Works by overseas Chinese ink painters in the last several decades.

Two monumental paintings are on view for the first time: Chan (1974) by Lui Shou-kwan of Hong Kong, and Ended Season by local painter Zheng Chongbin, which is the first contemporary Chinese art work commissioned by the Asian Art Museum (on display beginning mid-March).

The paintings are on view in the Chinese painting gallery on the second floor.

Why do we always have new art on display?

There’s a scientific reason: organic materials such as silks and natural dyes are extremely vulnerable to fading and damage. To protect these light-sensitive artworks, we display them under low lighting only, for a 6-month period every 5 years.

There’s also another reason: we have so many treasures in storage that sometimes it’s just fun to put them on display for our visitors. So please enjoy!

Curator Joseph ChangCurator Joseph Chang is the Senior Research Fellow, Chinese Painting and Calligraphy in the museum’s Research Institute.