Connoisseurship versus Criticism : A discussion of a problematic painting by Bada Shanren - article ; n°1 ; vol.78, pg 229-258


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Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient - Année 1991 - Volume 78 - Numéro 1 - Pages 229-258
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Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



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Peter B. Way
Connoisseurship versus Criticism : A discussion of a problematic
painting by Bada Shanren
In: Bulletin de l'Ecole française d'Extrême-Orient. Tome 78, 1991. pp. 229-258.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Way Peter B. Connoisseurship versus Criticism : A discussion of a problematic painting by Bada Shanren. In: Bulletin de l'Ecole
française d'Extrême-Orient. Tome 78, 1991. pp. 229-258.
doi : 10.3406/befeo.1991.1776 VERSUS CRITICISM
(A discussion of a problematic painting by Bada Shanren) *
Peter B. WAY
1691" This 2 by is in Bada part Shanren an examination (Zhu Da of 1626-1705) the painting and "Two in part Ducks a discussion & Rock, of Winter theory Day and
method. The focus is on both the nature and the significance of the identity of a
painting within a body of works ascribed to a painter, or the authenticity of that
painting. The notion of identity in both its particular and its general terms raises
some complex and important questions. In the most general terms identity involves
a necessary relationship of things and facts in time and a sensible relationship of
forms and meaning within the mind. The identity of a painting — versus that of a
poem or musical composition — necessarily represents both a historical and an
aesthetic assertion, for a painting can not be, as a poem or musical composition can
be. abstracted from its material nature. By definition, therefore, a painting repre
sents simultaneously a fact in time and a form within the mind. Though the orders
of time and the mind are related or ro-incidental — some sort of historical order
being the sine-qua-non of every aesthetic tradition — the two orders are essentially
different: time being spatial and sequential, and the mind analytical and paradi
It is such a complexity of historical and aesthetic elements which often makes
the identification of a painting particularly problematic. When the two sets of
evidence appear to contradict each oilier — such as in the case where the composit
ion appears to be genuine but its inscription, signature, seals, and colophons do
not; or the rarer case where the seals, and appear
(1) The following article was written before the publication of Master of the Lotus Garden — The Life
and Art of Bada Shanren written by Wang Fangyu & Richard M. Barnhart and edited by Judith G.
Smith, Yale University Press, 1990 (Abbrev. M.L.G.). Besides correcting some obvious errors, adding
some details, and facilitating the references I have left the arguments intact. In part they corroborate
the opinions of Mr. Wang and Mr. Barnhart and in part they present different interpretations of some of
the same facts.
(2) The hangingsiroll was bought by me, while serving as a foreign-expert at the local University
from the state antique shop in Suzhou in 1986. The inventory number on the scroll indicated that the
composition had been confiscated by the state during the early fifties. It was sold as an imitation of Bada
Shanron dating from the Jia-qing era (1796-1821). 230 PETER B. WAY
to be genuine but the composition does not — the final judgement represents an act
of critical interpretation which involves an evaluation of two fundamentally differ
ent types of evidence each with its own authority and contradictions. However,
because the identity of a painting is essentially an aesthetic assertion whose meani
ng or value lies in the significance it gives to the painting and the painter as such,
acute aesthetic judgment carries and should carry the greatest weight. But, it is
also the most problematic evidence.
Though one is often told that evaluating art is simply a matter of refined taste
and that a skilled connoisseur can not only distinguish the genuine from the fake
but also judge the qualities of each painting, history has consistently exposed the
limitations and errors of the best connoisseurs. At its most significant level, art
actually represents the most problematic of human affairs, and the connoisseur as
the arbitrator of "good taste", in a certain sense, always errs i.e. his judgment
represents a particular definition of beauty. Whether painting, music, or poetry, art
refuses to be restricted to such a consensus, or when it is it is no longer art. Every
culture tries to deny art its radical nature or to reduce it to something both known
and understood, and it is the responsibility of every significant artist and critic to
challenge this understanding and to reveal the limits of our sense of beauty. Other
wise, art has no real function and it serves simply to reiterate common prejudices
and static values. The very nature of art in both Europe and China, where it
realized a critical tradition, involves a fundamental contradiction. As T.S. Eliot has
pointed out, every real work of art is by definition "new" and, therefore, it refuses,
to some degree, to conform to the standards and the values of the past. Ironically,
such iconoclasm represents art's most traditional element.
The identity of a painting can confirm or contradict our understanding of a
painter and that understanding — for the most important artists — should always
remain in question and be open to close scrutiny. The assumption that we know and
can, without doubt, judge the compositions of the most significant painters in either
Europe or China is arrogant and false. The critic or painter can always learn some
thing new from either Goya or Ni Zan. One of the primary functions of art criticism
is to articulate the questions posed by a major painter. When historical details of a
painting appear to contradict aesthetic expectations instead of rejecting such ev
idence as insignificant the responsible critic should re-examine both.3
Throughout both European and Chinese history examples of major works of art
being rejected or ignored by the best critics are a common place. Nevertheless, each
new generation of critics somehow imagines that it is not subject to such limitations
of taste and errors of judgement. This is simply not true. We no more understand
art today than Boileau did when he ridiculed Dante and preferred Ariosto. The
view that Chinese art is different and not subject to such problematic questions and
that authentication requires only a refined acquaintance with the tradition is naive
and the result of a loss of critical standards within the culture during the last
(3) James Cahill addresses the same question within his discussion of the painter Qian Xuan
(ca. 1300). Discussing the difficulties of distinguishing "aesthetically effective awkwardness" from real
clumsiness he remarks: "It is easy enough to reply that true quality will always reveal itself to the
discerning eye, whatever the style; in practice, however, it is not nearly so simple, and works of art that
are excellent on their own aesthetic terms have often been dismissed as insignificant or bad by otherwise
criteria." Hills Beyond a River — Chinese painting of sensitive critics who were judging them by wrong
Ihe Yuan Dynasty 1279-1368, Weather Hill, 1976, p. 35. CONNOISSEURSHIP VERSUS CRITICISM 231
This is particularly apparent when examining a painter as peculiar as Bada
whose art — the more one studies it — remains an anomaly. His compositions in
contrast to those of Shitao (1641-ca. 1720) have persistently defied imitation and
are only partially explained by traditional standards and values or, at least, by a
conventional understanding of those norms. Though Bada is peculiar, the questions
he raises are fundamental to art criticism. When assessing the works ascribed with
some authority to a painter as problematic as Bada, who more than any other
Chinese painter refused to conform to polite standards, the normal criteria which
allow the connoisseur to be confident that a composition is not genuine, if it does
not meet his or her aesthetic expectations need to be carefully examined — parti
cularly when the historical elements strongly indicates the contrary.
Despite the abundance of historical information peculiar to the scholar-painter
tradition in China found within inscriptions, seals, colophons, and the ancient cata
logs on the basis of which a modern critic can often examine the evolution of the
major painters since the Yuan period (ca. 1300) not only from year to year but at
times from month to month, the traditional connoisseur remains with, few except
ions, indifferent to such details and ignorant of the questions they raise. He is by
definition confident of his own taste and seldom questions his criteria. The individ
ual histories and aesthetics of the most important Chinese painters when compared
to those of European painters are known only in the most general of terms. There is
still within the treatment of Chinese painting a striking lack of critical attention to
the individuality of the painter. In part this can be explained by the values of
traditional connoisseurship which focuses on a consensus of both taste and practice.
Also the limitations and the privacy of traditional collections often made it imposs
ible for even the most experienced critic to know any part of the tradition in
greater depth.
Only during the last ten years has there been any concerted effort to collect,
collate, and interpret the letters, seals, signatures, inscriptions, and colophons
found on or relating to the paintings of Bada. Ironically, this has been, in part, the
result of the breaking up and confiscation of private collections in the P.R.C. and
the subsequent publications just beginning to come out of the large state collections
— the state eventually has an interest in publicizing what it holds; that was not and
still often is not the case for the private collector.
The traditional critic in every culture tends to invert the natural relationship of
painting, painter, and tradition. The habit is to see the painting as a general expres
sion of the and the painter as an even more general expression of an already
overly generalized fiction called the tradition. This is particularly the case within
traditional Chinese criticism which seldom looks at the individual writer or painter
on his own terms. In contrast to the pervasive treatment, even today, of China's
most important painters within the terms of their period and conventionality who
today would describe daVinci, Goya, or Cezanne as typical fifteenth century Ital
ian, eighteenth century Spanish, or nineteenth century French painters. Though
there are distortions within the Western tendency to individualize the artist, art at
its most significant level — whether in China or in Europe — represents primarily
an individual accomplishment.
The connoisseur assumes that both the tradition and the painter are known and
understood and therefore they offer no real contradictions or exceptions and raise
few questions. Bada is characterized as an eccentric and we are told that he was
crazy. The idea that the anomalies of his compositions raise both important histor- 232 PETER B. WAY
ical questions and fundamental aesthetic questions has seldom if ever been seriously
examined. His paintings are accepted simply as part of a predefined convention
called "eccentricity" without considering the possibility that the compositions
themself might significantly redefine that tradition.
Though the judgement of the skilled connoisseur may be 90% correct regarding
the authenticity of individual Chinese paintings such over-simplification misses the
real values of a tradition which articulated painting at its most sophisticated or
abstract levels, and the idea of the painter in the most selfconscious terms for more
than a thousand years and belies its most important facts — experimentation and
innovation. The limit of the connoisseur's understanding represents the critical edge
of the tradition where the significant painter competes with the past and constantly
redefines the tradition. Without such a "re-vision" there would not have been a
painter such as Bada and Chinese painting would have the same interest as all
traditional art i.e. the painter would have remained anonymous and his own aes
thetics inarticulate.
The above remarks might seem excessive or overly simplistic which to some degree
they are, but I think it is important to emphasize the fallibilities of connoisseurship
particularly in Chinese art where there is still a curious lack of any critical di
scussion of authenticity and the hermetic values of the connoisseur are seldom if ever
questioned. Whether in Europe or in China connoisseurship tends to reduce art to a
matter of "good taste". But, the questions which an important painter poses are
not limited to those posed by a fine wine or even an excellent piece of porcelain.4
If we knew everything that Bada had painted but had no idea of the actual
order of his paintings — the same would be true of the whole tradition of Chinese
painting — our understanding of his aesthetics would still, of necessity, be vague
and general. In fact, given no particular order, one could invent an indefinite numb
er of possible aesthetics. If we put Picasso's cubism in the last or first ten years of
his career we have altered more than an accidental within his art. My point is that
the real aesthetics of Bada only reveals itself or emerges from the vague generalities
of the tradition when one can see within the historical order of his compositions a
particular aesthetic order. Although the relation between the historical and the
aesthetic orders is in some sense accidental, it is as particular and as unrepeatable
as are all facts in time.
The greater the accomplishment or the more articulate the questioning of a
painter the more particular will be that relationship. An insignificant painter raises
(4) I read Wen C. Fong's article "Chinese Painting — A Statement of Method", Oriental Art, vol. ix,
no. 2, summer 1963, pp. 73-78, which addresses some of the same fundamental questions of methodology
while analyzing three compositions of Ni Zan, only after writing this article. Mr. Fong's critique of
traditional connoisseurship seems excessive and his exclusive attention to aesthetic criteria hyper and
ultimately simplistic — to say nothing of his obvious prejudice against both formalism and expressio
nism. A painter as sophisticated as Ni Zan, as is also true of Bada, clearly worked with a complex of
aesthetic motives which resist or contradict any simple analysis. Mr. Fong is most wrong when he
asserts: "There is no question that the other two pictures (fig. 1 & 3) are of much lower quality".
However, he at least avoids the fallacies of "periodization" which have often hamstrung the evaluation
of important Chinese paintings. The most sensible remarks regarding standards are found in Max Loehr's
article "Chinese Paintings with Song Dated Inscriptions", Ars Orientalis, 1961, vol. iv, pp. 219-284. But,
even Loehr's skepticism re seals, inscriptions, colophons, and materials is at times hyper. The authenti
city of a composition ascribed to an important painter clearly represents a complex equation involving
both historical and stylistic facts. In contrast I advocate a careful empiricism which leaves the questions
of individual aesthetics open to scrutiny. CONNOISSEURSHIP VERSUS CRITICISM 233
few questions and his changes often lack articulation or any critical significance. On
the other hand, a forgery of a major painter represents essentially a non sequitur
which introduces into the actual order and its relations a degree of arbitrariness.
Even Picasso could not have imitated in 1950 all the facts or elements of his paint
ings in 1920 without introducing anachronisms. If we had sufficient knowledge and
understanding of the actual historical order the discrepancies would be apparent.
Time and change are ineluctable and the best of art measures this fact most pre
cisely, for the artist by nature abhors redundancy. A tradition of art which has lost
the critical capacity to examine the details of its own transformations ultimately
looses the to produce significant art and represents a mere facsimile of
The critical assumption of this article is that the order in time by revealing the
particular order of the compositions of a painter reveals the elements of his own
questioning and thereby outlines the individual elements of his aesthetics. As in
philology where the hapaxlegomenon (a unique reading) or the lex-difficilior (the
more difficult reading) often provides a critical insight otherwise missed, so in paint
ing, the loss is more critical when an actual painting of an important artist is
excluded or ignored because of apparent aesthetic anomalies — despite strong his
torical and structural evidence — than is the confusion when an imitation which
raises no real questions is included. The imitation ultimately represents an indiffer
ent fact but the real and anomalous composition can possibly provide a critical
insight into the individual questioning and the aesthetics of the painter. Nothing
destroys the meaning and the value of art more than complete conformity to a
given aesthetic expectation. The outright awkward or supposedly "poorly exe
cuted" works of Goya and van Gogh as in the case of the anatomical drawings of
da Vinci tell us things which their more acceptable works hide. The arbitrary au
thority of the connoisseur would eliminate them.
To analyze the various elements of Bada's painting I will borrow from linguistic
structuralism certain terms to clarify the two orders of identity found within a
painting i.e. the historical and the aesthetic orders. The compositions of a painter
form a diachronic order which places each painting in a particular relation with the
others. If one examines such relationships among the paintings of Bada one immed
iately recognizes certain patterns or usages which characterize different periods —
such as the often noted change within his signature after the fall of 1694 when the
"ears" of the Ba (-7V) are turned in instead of out. Among other senses I believe
the sobriquet Bada (/ v. ýz.) represents a pun on the personal name Da (Щ:) meaning
ears" i.e. the Ba character a pictogram for ears. When seen as a part "big
of historical pattern which characterizes a certain period I call such usages syn
chronie elements. These are the patterns defined by the diachronic order. Though
they are not technically synchronie (at the same time) they are common to and
define certain periods. These elements can also be viewed as part of an aesthetic
order where their significance is no longer purely historical but also aesthetical.
Common synchronie elements in Chinese paintings are signatures, seals, and inscrip
tions including content, style, and arrangement. All can form a part of a more or
less complex set of synchronie patterns.
The analysis of the aesthetic order is more complex. A painting, as all works of
art, can be divided into its elements and the wholes which those elements
make. These elements I call syntagmatic structures or syntagma: such as types of
brushwork, forms common to different images, and the formal relationships com- 234 PETER B. WAY
mon to different compositions viz. opposition, central division etc.. The wholes
delineated by these elements I call paradigmatic structures or paradigms: such as
the common categories of flowers, birds, rock, bamboo, and landscape paintings etc.
The paradigms of a given painter from period to period are often more particular:
such as opposing birds vertically dividing the composition etc. One of the most
striking facts of Bada's paintings is the formality of the patterns found among the
synchronie elements, syntagmatic structures, and paradigmatic structures. The fo
rmality or the systematic nature of these elements and structures contradict the
popular image of Bada as the crazy eccentric and reveal a highly selfconscious sense
of form and structure.
There is a general tendency among critics when appraising Bada's works to take
exception with or to try to conventionalize an obvious fierceness of feeling and
harshness of form or technique (cf. M.L.G., p. 59). In striking contrast to Shitao
whose style and subject matter have been endlessly imitated — the best of which
are extremely difficult to distinguish from his own works — the copies or imitations
of Bada even by the most important of later painters such as Qi Baishi and Zhang
Daqian strike the viewer as pale characterizations which lack both the intensity of
feeling and the radicalness of form of his own compositions. Even when his paint
ings reveal, as they often do, a clear order or harmony that order appears almost
violent or anything but a polite exercise in conventional taste. To consider such
obvious fierceness of feeling and violence of form within his art as a fault is to deny
Bada the same right one gives to Cezanne or van Gogh and to reduce Chinese
painting to a polite social exercise. It often was that. But, as is the case in Europe,
from time to time major painters challenged the convention. Both Bada's temper
ament and art stand apart within the tradition much as van Gogh's and Goya's do
in Europe.
Giacalone in a brief but insightful article on Bada's art in which he examines the
actual tradition of his compositions in view of his supposed madness concludes by
saying: "The final picture that emerges of Zhu Da is not dominated by the eccen
tricity of popular lore. Rather it is a picture of an artistic genius possessed of a
strong aesthetic rationality and capable of a controlled and calculated uses of
"madness"."5 Wen Fong in a more recent and detailed article on the stages in the
life and art of Bada draws the same conclusion.6 Yet, his analysis of the period
1689-1693 characterized by particularly strange bird, fish, and rock compositions
reverts to the common psychological fallacy and over-simplification. He notes: "His
(Bada's) works from the period of emotional crisis (1680-1690 — I think a more
accurate frame would be 1684-1694. Bada first uses the seal Bada Shanren in 1684
and he himself identifies that year as the turning point in his career; in late 1694 he
turns the "ears" of the Ba inward) are filled with bitter loathing and sarcasm
toward collaborationist Chinese officials...".7 There is a real question whether the
emotion is bitter sarcasm or self-irony but the fierceness of feeling within the comp
ositions of the period is obvious. Later when discussing "Two Mynas & Rock,
Autumn 1690" Wen Fong argues: "...the brush work is relentlessly taut and abrupt,
(5) V. Giacalone, "Chu Ta (1626-1705) Toward and Understanding of His Art", Oriental AH summer
1975, vol. XXI, pp. 136-152.
(6) Wen С Fong, "Stages in the Life and Art of Chu Ta A.D. 1626-1705", Archives of Asian Art XL,
1987, pp. 6-23.
clearly showing the strain of an emotionally disturbed man";8 and finally he says:
"...a loss of objectivity seems to have reduced Bada's works of this time, both
calligraphy and painting, dangerously close to mere cartoons and caricatures. ..his
angular brushstrokes like those of the strange rock in Birds and Rock of 1690. ..di
splay too much angst and bombast."9 Though the judgement may be correct the
unstated assumption is that the painter should not reveal "too much angst" or
there is a limit to the emotions he should treat. Is not such aesthetic taboos pre
cisely what Bada's paintings seem most to challenge (cf. M.L.G., pp. 94-95 leaf i, et
passim)? I want to examine this apparent "loss of objectivity" by examining the
bird and rock compositions within the period beginning Fall 1690 and ending Fall
1692, and in the process discuss the question of the authenticity of "Two Ducks &
1691" (pi. I). Rock, Winter Day
The period 1689-1692 marks a major transition within Bada's art (cf. M.L.G.,
pp. 102-131). Though it goes beyond the scope of the article it can be argued that
only after 1689 do the individual elements of Bada's aesthetics mature and emerge
from the general aesthetics of the tradition. During the period Bada perfects a
powerful individual style which represents one of the most radical interpretations of
the tradition. In certain respects he shifts and transforms its fundamental nature.
Shao Chang-heng a contemporary and acquaintance wrote of him: "Many people
know of Shanren, but actually no one really knows him. ..If some consider him a
crazy intellectual and others a sublime personality, they are both entirely superf
icial in their knowledge. What a tragedy!"10 Bada had touched in his art with its
fierce introspection and radical sense of space the limits of the tradition and its
vision of reality. By the end of the nineteenth century the absurd contrast between
the polite and frivolous tastes of the scholar painter and the gruesome facts of the
society had become intolerable.11
"Two Mynas & Rock, Autumn 1690". (pi. II) is the first dated composition using
all the essential syntagmatic and paradigmatic structures found in "Two Ducks &
Rock". This painting should be compared with a quartet of opposing birds — geese,
mynas, and blackbirds — on silk all undated and unsigned but with the same two
seals common to other paintings dated 1690-1691. 12 The five compositions are
clearly related and by seals and style can be dated to the same period. The peculiar
ity of the structural elements of these five paintings are even more apparent if one
compares them with the similar but essentially different paradigms, syntagmata,
and synchronie elements found within the bird and rock compositions beginning
1689" 13 and developed in the with "Ducks, Fish & Rocks, Ninth Month Ninth Day
many bird compositions datable by seals and the form of the signature and charac-
(8) Wen Fong, idem, p. 12.
(9)pp. 11 & 13. See Yiyuan Duoying vol. 17, 1982, p. 16; & F. Cheng, Chu Ta le
Génie du Trait, Paris: Phebus, 1986, p. 207. Also see M.L.G., p. 259. It is questionable whether the birds
represent myna birds or some other type of jay.
(10) Giacalone, idem, p. 138. See M.L.G., p. 15
(11) The brutal realities of nineteenth century Chinese society are powerfully portrayed in Auguste
Françoise photograhic studies of China. See L'Œil du Consul — Auguste Francoise en Chine (1896-1904),
Paris, Musée Guimet, 1989.
(12) See Eight Dynasties of Chinese Painting, Cleveland Museum of Art, Indiana University Press,
1980, p. 320, prints 237 A,B; & V. Contag, Chinese Masters of the 17th Century, trans. M. Bullock, 1969,
London: p. 22. Also see M.L.G. p. 120-123. The quartet is actually a part of a group of six scrolls all with
the seal of Song Lao the governor of Jiangxi who quelled the anti-Qing rebellion of 1688.
(13) See Yiyun Duoying, vol. 17, 1982, p. 26. Also see M.L.G. , p. 68-69. 236 PETER B. WAY
ter hua (j§[) to early 1690 ы and terminating with "Duck, Rock & Lotus, Tenth
Month 1690". 15 It is apparent that Bada first developed and isolated the essential
paradigms and syntagmata of "Two Ducks & Rock" during and after the fall of
1690. The paradigms are: opposing birds vertically dividing the composition in the
middle juxtaposed to rocks and trees; the syntagmata are: stylized spot markings
on the birds, three hooked strokes articulating the wings, circle & spot set against a
lozenge shaped white background delineating the eyes, the intersection of the feet
between the outlines of the rock, and the bold outlining of the rock with minimal
rough surfacing. Both the paradigms and the syntagmata become more clearly
defined by late 1691 and early 1692. One could argue that such symmetry is simply
the accident of survival, but when one compares all the bird and rock compositions
through the fall of 1692 — there are more than twelve — when the stylized spot
markings are supplanted by a simple wash 16 one finds in each the same structures
and elements in even greater symmetry. Contrasting all the above with the later
bird and rock compositions such as "Birds, Rocks & Plants, Ninth Month Ninth
1693" 17 it is apparent that the period from Fall 1690 through Fall 1692 marks Day
a particularly symmetrical period of bird and rock compositions. Barnhart argues
that the painting "Myna Birds Chickadees & Rock", 1690, seventh month "marks
an entirely new stage in Bada's life and art"(see M.L.G., pp. 112-113 & 157).
Bada used the three traditional formats — hanging-scrolls, album leaves, and
hand-scrolls — and the subjects, structures, and elements within each format tend
to be distinct. The above paradigms and syntagmata are found in all the bird and
rock hanging-scrolls of the period — a total of at least twelve; the same syntagmata
are found in all the album leaves with some variations on the paradigms i.e. oppos
ing birds without rock.18 There are only two bird and rock hand-scrolls within the
period; they have the same syntagmata and a variation on the i.e. sets of
opposing birds divide the hand-scrolls in the middle.19
Two hanging-scrolls of early 1692: "Two Blackbirds & Rock, Second Month
Fifteenth Day 1692" (pis. Ill & 1692" IV)20 articulate & "Two Chickadees the paradigms & Rock, and syntagmata Second Month most perfectly Twelve Day and
present and excellent example of the kind and degree of symmetry found in Bada's
compositions. It is important to note the real differences between the images or the
(14) See Bada Shanren Shuhua Ji, Renmin Meishu Chubanshe, 1985, vol. I, pp. 3, 6, 8, etc.
(15) See T.C. Lai, Bada Shanren Chinese Monk Painter, Hong Kong: Swinden Book Co., 1974,
pp. 98-99. Also see M.L.G., pp. 116-117. The painting "Mynas Chickadees & Rock", 1690, seventh
month which Barnhart discusses in M.L.G., pp. 113-114 though a more complex image reveals along
with many of the same structural elements the same aesthetic concern with the center of the composition
— the birds press against the imaginary center line and the myna and the chickadee at the top mark the
vertical and the horizontal centers.
(16) See Sotheby's Chinese Painting Catalogue, 1983, item 19. Also see M.L.G., p. 136. The birds are
clearly not myna birds as Barnhart identifies them but rather blackbirds as are the two birds in the
Metropolitan Museum hand-scroll (cf. M.L.G., pp. 118-119 & Francois Cheng, Chu Ta idem, p. 106).
(17) See Yiyuan Buoying vol. 17, 1982, p. 20.
(18) See Kokka vol. 724, p. 230. This composition is not illustrated in M.L.G.
(19) See Yiyuan Duoying vol. 19, 1983, pp. 14-15; F. Cheng, idem, p. 108; & T.C. Lai, ibid. Also see
M.L.G. , pp. 115-119. The last line of the poem inscribed on the hand-scroll "Lotus Duck & Chickadees"
reads, I believe: "In the midst of the painting (are) the husband and the son" the image ofcthe three
Chickadees locates the middle of the scroll and apparently represents an image Bada's family. Is it a
memory or actuality? — cf. Barnhart's translation.
(20) See Bada Shanren Shuhua Ji, idem, vol. I, p. 127; & Yiyuan Duoying, vol. 37, 1987, p. 3. See
also M.L.G., p. 261. Again the birds are not myna birds as identified in M.L.G. but rather blackbirds. CONNOISSEURSHIP VERSUS CRITICISM 237
abstract nature of their symmetries. The two compositions were painted within
1691" — winter day implies the three months of "Two Ducks & Rock, Winter Day
eleventh month.
If one compares the structural elements of all three paintings they reveal the
same essential plan — in each composition each bird stands in an inverse relation to
the rock and the lower bird is located at the crux (the ya Y) of the intersecting
rocks. In "Two Blackbirds & Rock" and "Two Ducks & Rock" the head and the
breast respectively of the lower birds are "oppressed" by both the upper bird and
the rock, and both pairs of birds express fierce opposition.
The stylized spot markings of the birds are the most peculiar syntagma of the
period. The arbitrariness of the markings (they are found on more than five differ
ent species of birds — only the quail with its uniform surfacing is without them)
gives them a distinctly abstract appearance. Though elements of this structure can
be seen in "Ducks Fish & Rocks, Ninth Month Ninth Day 1689", "Two Peacocks &
Rock, Spring 1690", 21 and the many bird compositions of early 1690 the structure
has lost even this degree of naturalism and become through radical simplification a
pure compositional abstraction. This is also the case with the three stylized hooked
strokes representing the wings and the circle, spot, and lozenge shaped white back
ground delineating the eyes. These elements reduce each bird image to a common
abstract vocabulary leaving only the shape and gesture to define the species. Such
simplification of the image is accompanied by a parallel simplification of brush-
work. The brushstrokes of both Bada's outlines and surfacing starting in the late
sixteen-eighties through 1692 are progressively simplified to radical "calligraphic"
elements. This is particularly true of his outlines which by 1690 have been reduced
to a simple uniform line often sharply tapered at both the beginning and end. He
delineates shapes within a series of uniform broad lines moving subtly and dynami
cally between rectilinear and curved surfaces precisely as is found within the calli
graphy of the period where he explores and intensifies the subtle linear qualities and
centered brushwork of the Eastern Jin calligraphers. The same radical simplifica
tion of used to create surface or mass — particularly with the exagger
ated dian (spot) element which traditionally breaks up the outline of rocks and
mountains — is evident throughout 'the period. The bold outlines of the rock in
"Two Ducks & Rock" were executed precisely as Barnhart describes the brushwork
in "Pheasant & 1690: "The rightmost contour of the upper rock was done by
twisting the loaded brush and drawing it down on its side so that wide fluctuation
results" and in "White Jasmine" с 1694: "Drawing the loaded brush through wet
paper also creates an impression of a pale ghost line within the line itself, an impres
sion formed by the two edges of the brush." (see M.L.G. pp. 115 & 154). From 1691
through 1692 Bada progressively fragments the texture of his surfacing elements.22
Such radical simplifications of structure and brushwork seem to represent the
primary aesthetic focus of the period i.e. to reduce all details of the image — birds
& rocks — to a rigorously simplified set of compositional abstractions and to com
bine such abstraction with an equally precise attention to the individuality or
peculiarity of both form and gesture within each species. The distortions or dis
tinctions of form and gesture emphasize natural differences i.e. the ducks are seden-
(21) See Bada Shanren Shuhua Ji, idem, vol. II, pp. 219-220.
(22) Compare two lotus compositions as found in F. Cheng, Chu Ta, idem, pp. 70 & 73.