Cultivating Nature: Printmaking for Painting in 17th Century China

August 14, 2010—February 6, 2011

Location: Nelson-Atkins Building, Gallery 222

Admission is free

During the 17th century, Chinese printmakers pioneered a technical breakthrough in color printing using an advanced multi-block technique known as douban. The prints produced using this method represent the world’s first true multicolor prints.

This exhibition explores the two earliest examples of the douban technique, The Ten Bamboo Studio Manual of Calligraphy and Painting (ca. 1633) and The Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual (1679–1701). A collaborative effort among leading painters, carvers and printers, the two albums were conceived as painting manuals, in which pictures and calligraphy provided a how-to guide for aspiring artists. They were not, however, simply manuals; their elegant designs and fresh colors were widely appreciated in their own right.

The albums feature scenes of fruits, rocks, birds and flowers, all common themes in Chinese painting. The simple compositions allowed the printers to emphasize color, pattern and texture, imbuing the prints with a graphic charm not found in brush painting.

Image: Wang Gai, Chinese, 1645-1707. The Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual, Part 3, Vol. 4: Birds, Flowers, and Fruits, (detail), 1679-1701. Woodblock prints on paper. Purchase: William Rockhill Nelson Trust, 35-263/4.

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