Dr. Shane McCausland: Telling Images of China - Narrative and Figure Paintings, 15th - 20th Centuries

Lecture Synopsis:
This talk will introduce themes from an exhibition of paintings, on loan from the Shanghai Museum, to be mounted at the Chester Beatty Library in Dublin in early 2010. Each of these 38 paintings retells some kind of story from Chinese legend, folklore, literature or history. While many of the tales will be familiar in China, the ways they were illustrated in painted scrolls and albums are less well known. Individually, these images and the tales they describe have the power to delight viewers; taken together, they can also give a taste of China’s rich lyric tradition.

The show includes narrative paintings that describe the plotlines of emotive tales through sequences of pictorial images, as well as portraits of individuals or groups. Historically, such images were often the starting point for viewers’ individual reminiscences on a figure’s humanity or place in culture. Included are tales like that of the Chinese lady Wenji, who in ancient times was married to a “barbarian” chieftain, bore his children, and was later faced with the harrowing decision of whether to return to China without them. This tale lay at the heart of an ongoing definition of Chinese culture through history, but also has resonance for Chinese people at home and abroad today. Other tales of “scholars and beauties”, demon-slayers and Taoist immortals similarly continue to have relevance in daily life and the popular imagination.

This exhibition sets out to explore the dynamic interplay of words and pictorial images in the art of China’s last two imperial dynasties, the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911), and into the Republican period. It explores how narratives took form in pictures, and how portraits and genre scenes could transmit cultural memories. In highlighting themes, from exile and longing, to supernatural and religious lore, to the morality of history and the delights of romance, the exhibition shows how successive generations of artists gave new life to learning, devotion and leisure in pictorial images fit for their own times.

The Speaker:
Dr. Shane McCausland is Head of Collections and also Curator of the East Asian Collections at the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin. In 2003-04 he was Sainsbury Fellow in the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, based at the SOAS, University of London, where he was previously a lecturer in Chinese art history. He has a doctorate from Princeton University (2000). In 2003, he published The Admonitions Scroll: First Masterpiece of Chinese Painting and Gu Kaizhi and the Admonitions Scroll (contributing editor) (both British Museum Press). His Zhao Mengfu: Calligraphy and Painting for Khubilai’s China is forthcoming from Hong Kong University Press in 2010.

A double treat for our members – we are privileged to be dining at the exclusive Min Chiu Society Club. It was founded in 1960 by a group of Hong Kong collectors and connoisseurs. Today, with 50 members, they continue to work towards their goal of propagating and preserving traditional Chinese art and culture. This prestigious Society has extensive contacts with curators, collectors and scholars from China and overseas. The members’ collections have been individually or collectively exhibited or loan to various museums.