This book is a rare feat: seldom is an art history--much less an ambitious, 400-page chronicle of one of the great cultural achievements of the last three millennia--as much a delight for the amateur lover of art as it is indispensable for the student of the field. Written by three eminent specialists in the United States and three in China, Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting combines the best of both countries' scholarly approaches with new discoveries and illustrations of numerous paintings located in China and previously little known abroad.
Insightful, often lively discussions tell the story in six chapters, mostly dynastic, after briefly giving two "approaches" to Chinese painting. History, politics, biography, and training get their proper due and are complemented by often-detailed analyses of individual artworks. Close attention to the text and the 300 color and 25 black-and-white illustrations enable the reader to "see" these paintings--which are often constructed on different perceptual and cultural premises than the post-Renaissance and photographic images by which most Westerners structure their visual vocabulary. The glossary and other tools are welcome aids; the list of artists is organized by period and offers their names in the two most common romanization systems as well as in Chinese characters. And to read James Cahill on the Ni Zan paintings that may at first appear uninviting, or Lang Shaojun on the proportionally numerous 20th-century painters, is a real adventure for both the eye and the mind.
Anyone with more than a passing interest in one of the world's most esteemed art traditions--be they a Sunday museumgoer or a confirmed lover of the gnarly pines set amidst the towering mountains of the Song-period masters--will want this book in their library. --Joseph N. Newland
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