Thursday, August 17, 2017

Paint Into Words and Words Into Paint:

Henry James Portrayed

John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925), Henry James (1843 - 1916), 1913,
oil on canvas, 33 1/2 x 2 1/2 in. (85.1 x 67.3 cm)
Inscribed, upper left:  John S. Sargent; upper right:  1913
National Portrait Gallery, London, UK   
Photo:  Courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum 

Portraits may tell us much about the person portrayed.  They are a collaboration of the artist/depicter and the sitter as well as  the viewer. Each bring their own sensitivities to the undertaking.  Success brings an understanding of the subject.  It is not an easy task.  The writer, Henry James (1843 - 1916) went so far as to claim, "There is no greater work of art than a great portrait," when writing about his friend, the painter John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925).

These musings and more came to me on a visit to the Morgan Library & Museum's exhibition, Henry James and American Painting.  The exhibit focuses on James's intense attraction and response to the visual arts as well as his close friendships with artists.  While still at Harvard, he had tried his hand at painting under the encouragement of the American multi-talented artist, John La Farge (1835 - 1910).    James's talents rested in other areas but the experience gave him a particular insight into the painterly art form.  He saw the close ties between the art of the novelist and the art of the painter.  James wrote in his 1884 The Art of Fiction, "The analogy between the art of the painter and the art of the novelist is, so far as I am able to see, complete."

A highlight of the Morgan exhibit is James's relationship with Sargent. Although the writer was the painter's senior by thirteen years, the two had a great deal in common. Both were Americans who spent much time in Europe during their childhood (Sargent was born in Florence, Italy);  both were equally comfortable in England and on the continent; both were bachelors who enjoyed the company of fashionable women; and, both set down in their individual mediums the goings and comings of  contemporary society.  They met in Paris in 1884, became friends and remained so for over forty years.  They produced art which was intensely descriptive yet insightful.

In 1913, James's friends commissioned Sargent to paint the novelist's portrait on the occasion of his seventieth birthday.  Sargent who at the time had not painted portraits for some three or four years, was a bit concerned about the outcome.  His worry was unwarranted.  After about 10 sittings, James commented to his brother "...It is, I infer, a very great seems likely to be one of S's very fine things."  He would go on to write about the finished work, "Sargent at his very short a living breathing likeness and a masterpiece of painting."

The oil is an astute portrayal of the writer.  James's large, bald head beams intelligence.  His expression conveys the sensation of someone deep in thought.  Perhaps he is considering the social scene and his next novel.  His posture has an informal quality.  He is seated at an angle.  His right arm is bent about the chair's back.  His left thumb looped in his vest's left armhole.  
His posture conveys an ease of sociability.

The portrait does what portraits should do.  It imparts to the viewer information about the sitter which results in the perception of  knowing the person portrayed.  The sensation of familiarity can be enhanced in double portraits, particularly representations of husbands and wives. In such cases, viewers not only learn about the individuals but also gain a glimpse into the relationships of those represented.  Thus, another aspect of a sitter's personality is disclosed. 

John Singer Sargent (1856 - 1925), Robert Louis Stevenson and His Wife, 1885, 
oil on canvas, 20.2 x 24.3 in. (51.4 x 61.6 cm)
Inscribed, upper left:  to R.L. Stevenson, his friend John S. Sargent, 1885 
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, Arkansas, 2005.3 
Photography by Dwight Primiano.
Photo:  Courtesy of The Morgan Library & Museum 

Sargent's portrait of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 - 1894) and his wife, Fanny Vandergrift Osbourne Stevenson (1840 - 1914), also in the Morgan exhibit,  is an excellent example of the double portrait phenomenon.  The work was painted in 1885 and shows the couple in their home, Skerryvore, in Bournemouth, England. Bournemouth is a seaside town on the south coast off the English Channel.   Henry James was there too.  Why Bournemouth?

To learn the answer and more, read next month's ArtWithHillary. Meanwhile, please go see the show at the Morgan.

Henry James and American Painting
June 9 through September 10, 2017
225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street
Tuesday through Thursday: 10:30 am to 5 pm
Friday: 10:30 am to 9 pm
Saturday: 10 am to 6 pm
Sunday: 11 am to 6 pm
Closes at 4 pm on Christmas Eve and at 5 pm on New Year's Eve.
Closed Monday, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.


Saturday, July 22, 2017

Seeing The World Through Two Different Lenses:

Works of Henri Cartier-Bresson And Irving Penn 

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908 - 2004), An astrologer's shop in the mill workers' quarter of Parel Bombay
Maharashtra, India 1947, gelatin silver print,
13.78  x 20.67 in. (35 x 52.5 cm)
©Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos 
Think of the spectrum of photographic images from the candid to the posed.  The unposed shots are untouched by artifice - a slice of reality frozen in time.  The photographer looks and waits until he/she senses a picture is there.  The moment is seized.  The button pressed.  The shutter released.   The photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908 - 2004) called this the "decisive moment." No arranged positioning of models and clothing but life caught in all its actuality. Traveling throughout the world, he took pictures.  No matter where, in Mexico, India, China, Japan, Indonesia or Russia, Cartier-Bresson's eye was focused on capturing anything around him that he intuitively saw as an instant of pictorial worth.  

Irving Penn (American, 1917–2009), Three Dahomey Girls, One Reclining,
1967, printed 1980, platinum-palladium print,
Image: 19 11/16 x 19 11/16 in. (50 x 50 cm.) Sheet: 22 x 24 15/16 in. (55.9 x 63.4 cm.) 
Mount: 22 x 26 in. (55.9 x 66 cm.) Overall: 22 x 26 in. (55.9 x 66 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation 
IP .155

The working methodology of the photographer Irving Penn (American, 1917 - 2009) was quite different.  He chose to set up his subjects. Backdrops, studio and assistants were employed to make the photos he sought. Placement, garments and gestures were adjusted to indicate his specific point of view.  Penn seemed to leave very little to chance. Whether on location in Cuzco, Peru, New Guinea in the South West Pacific or Guelmim, Morocco on the edge of the Sahara, he set up a tent/studio complete with lighting enhancement equipment and attendants.  

These two dissimilar but equally effective photo taking strategies are illustrated in two New York City exhibitions:  Henri Cartier-Bresson: India In Full Frame at the Rubin Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Irving Penn: Centennial.  The shows not only give pleasure in viewing superb, informative pictures but also stimulate the consideration of  underlying beliefs that permeate the making of  these images.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908 - 2004), 
Gandhi dictates a message, just after breaking his fast Birla House
Delhi, India 1948, gelatin silver print,
13.78 x 20.67 in. (35 x 52.5 cm)
©Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

The Rubin Museum's exhibit displays Cartier-Bresson prints concerning India.  Many focus on Mahatma Gandhi and his funeral. In 1947 Henri Cartier-Bresson co-founded with Robert Capa and three other photographers the photo agency Magnum Photos.  Later that year, he made the first of six extended trips to India to document the major changes taking place in the aftermath of the country's independence from Britain.  

On January 30, 1948 Cartier-Bresson met with Gandhi and took some of the last pictures of him just before his assassination.  The photographs he made of Gandhi's funeral and the nation's outpouring of grief appeared in Life magazine.  They became one of the most acclaimed photojournalistic reports ever published.  

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908 - 2004), Gandhi's funeral. Crowds gathered between 
Birla House and the cremation ground, throwing flowers Delhi
India, 1948, gelatin silver print,
13.78 x 20.67 in. (35 x 52.5 cm) 
©Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

Rubin show also includes everyday scenes of life in various Indian states, politicians, refugees as well as magazines illustrated with Cartier-Bresson's work.  Cartier-Bresson was not interested in photographic equipment or the print making process.  He did not use aides such as tripods, reflectors or flash.  He relied on available light. He did not work in the darkroom.  He wanted his shots produced in full frame without cropping.  Black borders about prints indicate the whole negative was printed.  He sent his negatives directly to the editors.  He composed with his camera and what he shot was what was produced.

Henri Cartier-Bresson (French, 1908 - 2004), Kathakali dance drama. 
A guru teaches the stories of the Ramayana and the MahabharataCheruthuruthi
Kerala, India, 1950, gelatin silver print,
9.25 x 13.78 in. (23.5 x 35 cm) 
©Henri Cartier-Bresson/Magnum Photos

He rarely worked with color film.  The colors in nature, he held, were difficult to reproduce on a printed surface.  Furthermore, he thought color was hard to control and the film's speed limitations produced effects that displeased him. For Cartier-Bresson, life and movement were better caught using black-and-white film. 

One of Cartier-Bresson's Leica 35mm rangefinder cameras is on display.  The Leica with a 50mm lens was the photographer's inseparable companion.  He purchased his first one in 1932.  He wanted the smallest camera possible that was capable of photographic precision.  The Leica, hand-held, small and light, was easy to carry and conceal.  He would use black tape to cover the camera's shiny parts. Unnoticed, he could shoot pictures of people and they would not change their behavior knowing they were being photographed.  He was, above all, a photojournalist.  

Irving Penn (American, 1917–2009), Rochas Mermaid Dress (Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn), 
Paris, 1950, printed 1980, platinum-palladium print,
Image: 19 7/8 x 19 11/16 in. (50.5 x 50 cm.) Sheet: 25 x 22 in. (63.5 x 55.9 cm.)
Mount: 26 1/8 x 22 in. (66.3 x 55.9 cm.) Overall: 26 1/8 x 22 in. (66.3 x 55.9 cm.)
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation 
IP .131           

Penn, on the other hand, needed to be noticed.  He was a photographer/director who set up all his scenes.  The show at the Metropolitan Museum is the most comprehensive Penn retrospective to date.  Organized by themes, in some 19 sections, the display makes manifest the depth and breadth of this photographer's artistry.

Like Cartier-Bresson, he studied art and obtained his first camera in the 1930s, a twin-lens Rolleiflex in 1938.  The exhibition opens with one of Penn's Rolleiflex cameras that he acquired in 1964. It is topped with a modified Hasselblad viewfinder and mounted on a tiltall attached to a table tripod of Penn's design. The Rolleiflex was Penn's camera of choice.  This sturdy instrument was difficult to hide. This was fine for Penn's technique of picture taking.  

Irving Penn On Location in Morocco, 1971, 8mm film footage, 
shot by Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in 1971, 
shows Irving Penn at work in his portable studio on location in Morocco.
On view at the exhibition, Irving Penn: Centennial*, 
April 24 - July 30, 2017, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A Rolleiflex is held or placed at waist-level.  The photographer looks down into its viewfinder.  What is seen is exactly what you record the instant the shutter release button is pressed.  Although left to right is reversed, the image seen is upright.  Penn's and Cartier-Bresson's choice of cameras reflect two approaches to photo making.  

Irving Penn, (American, 1917–2009), Ingmar Bergman, Stockholm,
1964, printed 1992 Gelatin silver print,
Image: 15 1/16 x 14 15/16 in. (38.3 x 37.9 cm.) 
Sheet: 15 1/16 x 14 15/16 in. (38.3 x 37.9 cm.) 
Mount: 16 15/16 x 16 15/16 in. (43.1 x 43.1 cm.) 
Overall: 16 15/16 x 16 15/16 in. (43.1 x 43.1 cm.) 
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation 
IP .080

Penn's interest in equipment and printmaking was quite different from Cartier-Bresson's.  Penn worked with his negatives, manipulating exposures, experimenting with chemicals and making pictorial adjustments.  He was an outstanding craftsman and could produce a variety of quality prints from a single negative.  

Irving Penn (American, 1917–2009),  After-Dinner Games, New York,
1947, printed 1985, dye transfer print,
Image: 22 3/16 x 18 1/16 in. (56.4 x 45.8 cm) 
Sheet: 23 7/8 x 20 1/16 in. (60.6 x 50.9 cm) 
Overall: 23 7/8 x 20 1/16 in. (60.6 x 50.9 cm) 
Promised Gift of The Irving Penn Foundation 

Unlike Cartier-Bresson, Penn worked well and comfortably with color film.  Although his work encompassed portraits, still lifes, exotic subjects, nudes and more, he is primarily known as a fashion photographer.  

These two photographers are giants in their fields yet each had a very different vision of how to make pictures.  You will leave the exhibitions thinking about their work and thinking about how you go about viewing.

*The following is the wall text for the At Work in Morocco, 1971 film footage, on exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of ArtIrving Penn: Centennial, April 24 - July 30, 2017: 
"This rare film footage of Penn at work inside his custom-made, portable tent studio was recorded by Lisa Fonssagrives-Penn in the Moroccan town of Guelmin; the sitters are members of the nomadic Tuareg peoples (Berbers). Most of the figures in indigo blue garments are guedras, or female dancers. Penn’s wife appears in a pink bandana."

**Due to popular demand, the Rubin Museum of Art's Henri Cartier-Bresson:  India In full Frame scheduled to close on September 4, 2017 was extended on August 1, 2017 until January 29, 2018.

Henri Cartier-Bresson:  India In Full Frame
April 21 - January 29, 2018**
150 West 17th Street, Manhattan
Monday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Tuesday Closed
Wednesday 11:00 am – 9:00 pm
Thursday 11:00 am – 5:00 pm
Friday 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
Saturday/Sunday 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Closed on Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.

Irving Penn: Centennial
April 24 - July 30, 2017
1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
Sunday - Thursday 9 am - 5:30 pm
Friday and Saturday 10 am - 9 pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, 
January 1, and the first Monday in May.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Three Views Of China's Past Give Life To History
Part II

Jade burial suit with gold thread,  Western Han (206 B.C. 9 A.D.),
4,248 pieces of jade discs, 1,576 g (about 55.6 ounces) gold thread, 
L. 69 5/16 in. (176 cm), W. (shoulder) 26 3/4 in. (68 cm),
excavated from the tomb of the King of Chu at Shizishan, 1994 - 1995
Photo:  Courtesy of China Institute Gallery
On view in the exhibition Dreams of the Kings:  A Jade Suit for Eternity 
Treasures of the Han Dynasty from Xuzhou,

The exhibit Secrets of the Sea:  A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia at the Asia Society Museum dealt with objects the Chinese made for the living (see May 2017). 

Objects the ancient Chinese made for the dead are displayed in two major exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of ArtAge of Empires: Chinese Art of the Chin & Han Dynasties (221 B.C. - A.D. 220) and the China Institute Gallery, Dreams of the Kings:  A Jade Suit For Eternity, Treasures of the Han Dynasty from Xuzhou. The Met and the China Institute Gallery present a view of a sophisticated civilization of the distant past.    The works displayed were buried with the deceased.  The intention was that they would never again see the light of day.

Kneeling Archer, Qin dynasty (221 – 206 B.C.),
earthenware, H. 491⁄16 in. (122 cm),
excavated in 1977, pit no. 2, mausoleum complex of Qin Shihuangdi (d. 210 B.C.), 
Lintong, Shaanxi Province
On view in the exhibition Age of Empires:  Chinese Art of the Chin & Han Dynasties
( 221 B.C. - A.D. 220)

The ancient Chinese believed in a world beyond life.  To ensure that the deceased would have a good afterlife, tombs were equipped with every imaginable object.  These tomb items are called by the Chinese term ming-ch'i, spirit articles.  Made of a variety of materials including wood, clay, bronze and jade, they  included models of humans, animals, weapons, transportation vehicles, buildings and more.  No other people left such a complete picture of ancient life. Mass production of ming-ch'i became extremely popular during the Han period (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.).  The Book of Han, Han-shu, a history of the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.), prescribes the number of ming-ch'i  required for imperial and nobility burials. Regional workshops were set up to provide for the stipulated spirit articles.  The greatest amount and variety of ming-ch'i were made during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907). Tomb pieces became extravagant and a special government office was created to supervise all production.  By this time not only the higher ranking, wealthy class spent widely on burials but also the common people.  Ming-ch'i were discovered in the late nineteenth century. Modern excavations continue to unearth the articles of the spirit in ever increasing numbers.  

The Metropolitan Museum of Art's show explores the era of China's consolidation, the Qin (221 - 206 B.C.) and the Han (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.) Dynasties.  It was a time when the sense of a Chinese identity came into being.  The first Qin Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, unified the country and established a centralized Chinese government.  Among its many achievements were the standardization of currency, weights, measurements and written language.  The Qin supported a large military which is reflected in the over 7,000 life-size clay figures that were buried in the Qin Shihuangdi's tomb.  The practice of burying the emperor with an army began with the Qin and continued with the Han.  

Although missing their vivid colors and flesh tones, the now grayish terracotta warriors continue to amaze viewers.  Each face is individualized.  No detail is left out as exemplified by the exhibit's kneeling archer from the Qin's first emperor's burial grounds.  He is now missing his weapon but was unearthed in a pit containing about 40,000 bronze weapons and arrowheads.  His armor is rendered in exactitude.  No feature is left out.  

Six Niuzhong Bells, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.– 9 A.D.), 1st century B.C.,
parcel-gilt bronze, H. in descending order: 
95⁄8 in. (24.4 cm); 9 in.(23 cm); 81⁄4 in. (21 cm); 77⁄8 in. (20 cm); 
73⁄8 in. (18.6 cm); 61⁄2 in. (16.5 cm), excavated in 2015, 
tomb of the Marquis of Haihun (Liu He, d. 59 B.C.), 
Nanchang, Jiangxi Province
Jiangxi Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, Nanchang
Photo: Courtesy Jiangxi Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology
On view in the exhibition Age of Empires:  Chinese Art of the Chin & Han Dynasties
( 221 B.C. - A.D. 220)

Every part of life was considered by those who equipped tombs. Luxury goods, entertainers, dancers, musicians and all types of trade was represented.  An elegant set of six Niuzhong bells is a case in point. These are chime, clapperless bells used in rituals since the Zhou period (ca. 1044 - 256 B.C.).  Two distinct tones were produced by striking either the center or side of the bell with a mallet. They would have hung from a decorative stand.  The sound is said to create an atmosphere for humans to interact with their ancestral spirits. These came from the treasure-filled tomb of the Marquis of Haihun (ca. 92 B.C. - 59 B.C.) excavated in 2015.  The Marquis was Liu He, grandson of the Emperor Wu  (156 B.C. – 87 B.C.).  Liu had been emperor for 27 days (74 B.C.) but was dethroned for inappropriate conduct and lack of morals. Afterward, he was given the title of marquis and the estate of Haihun, a small kingdom in the Jiangxi Province.   The excavation report on his tomb has not yet been published.*       

Rhinoceros, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.– 9 A.D.), 2nd century B.C.,
gilt bronze, rhinoceros 7¾ x 3¼ x 3⅞ in. (19.8 x 8.4 x 9.8 cm),
excavated in 2010, tomb no. 1 (Liu Fei, prince of Jiangdu, d. 129 B.C.), 
Dayunshan, Xuyi, Jiangsu Province
Photo: Courtesy Nanjing Museum
On view in the exhibition Age of Empires:  Chinese Art of the Chin & Han Dynasties
( 221 B.C. - A.D. 220)
The Han's depictions of animals are delightful.  Realistically rendered horses, dogs, goats, roosters, chickens, bears, boars and sows in bronze, jade and painted earthenware accompanied the deceased to the next life.  Rare and exotic animals, some imported from Southeast Asia like the rhinoceros or elephant, demonstrate the owner's wealth and power.  

Ornament with Two Dancers, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C. – 9 A.D.),
gilt bronze, 4¾ x 7¼ in. (12 x 18.5 cm),
excavated in 1956, tomb no. 13, Shizhaishan, Jinning, Yunnan Province
Photo: Courtesy Yunnan Provincial Museum, Kunming
On view in the exhibition Age of Empires:  Chinese Art of the Chin & Han Dynasties
( 221 B.C. - A.D. 220)

The sense of life and animation is characteristic of Han artifacts.  The ornament with two dancers atop a long, curving snake is a particularly energetic work.  The figures wear belted, tightly fitted garments embellished with rich patterns.  Hair is neatly knotted at the back of their heads.  Their exuberant expression with open mouths suggests they are also singing.  Each holds a dish in one outstretched arm.  Each is fitted with a long sword.  One turns toward the left; the other to the right.  The snake bites into the ankle of one dancer and wraps around the foot of the other.  This lively performance scene is all about movement.  The figures prance outward in opposing directions but the composition is held together and anchored by the undulating snake. The work was unearthed from a tomb in the Yunnan province, southwestern China, inhabited by Dain, an ethnic group.  The Han empire allowed for those they ruled over to maintain their different cultures.  All were united under one political organization. The snake was a common motif of this region denoting power and earth.  

Burial Suit of Dou Wan, Western Han dynasty (206 B.C.– 9 A.D.),
jade (nephrite) with gold wire, L. 67¾ in. (172 cm),
excavated in 1968, tomb no. 2 (Dou Wan), Mancheng, Hebei Province
Photo: Courtesy Hebei Provincial Museum, Shijiazhuang
On view in the exhibition Age of Empires:  Chinese Art of the Chin & Han Dynasties
( 221 B.C. - A.D. 220)

Jade, an extremely hard mineral, is highly valued by the Chinese.  The ancient Chinese thought it could protect the body from decay and ward off evil spirits.  They believed that the soul had two aspects, the spiritual that leaves the body after death and the earthly that dwells in the dead body.  

The practice of burying members of the imperial family in jade suits dates from the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 220 A.D.).   Suits were made of thousands of small jade plaques of various shapes and sizes which covered the corpse from head to foot.   Each piece had to be cut, polished and drilled with holes.  They were sewn together with gold, silver or copper thread.  The thread's material depended on the deceased rank.  Gold thread was used for the highest rank.  In addition to the suit, jade plugs were used to fill the body's orifices:  eyes, nostrils, ears, mouth, anus and genitalia.  It is estimated that these labor-intensives suits would take up to ten years to make and involve possibly hundreds of artisans.  

The use of royal jade suits came to an end after the Han Dynasty.  The first emperor  of the Wei Kingdom, which replaced the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 AD-220 AD), ordered their stoppage in 223 A.D.  Tombs had been plundered and suits were destroyed to retrieve gold thread.  

Only fifteen jade suits have been unearthed from royal and other Han tombs. Two of these suits are currently in New York.  The burial suit belonging to Dou Wan, a Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 9 A. D.) princess, is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the suit of Liu Yingke, the second King of Chu (178 B.C. - 174 B.C.) at the China Institute Gallery.**  The more spectacular of the two is at the China Institute.  

Dou Wan's burial suit is made up of 2,160 jade plaques attached together with gold wire.  Jade pieces lined her coffin and were inlaid in her bronze pillow.  Although the suit is fitted close to the body with no gaps, there is a hole in a circular-shaped element on top of her head. Such openings appear on some of the other surviving suits.  Scholars are of different opinions as to the relevance of the aperture.  It may served as an opening for the soul.

The jade burial suit of Liu Yingke on display at China Institute's exhibition is the earliest and finest gold threaded jade suit to have been found in China.  Its craftsmanship is superb utilizing 4,248 pieces of an extremely precious jade from Khotan in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.  This is double the amount of jade used to produce other suits that have been discovered.  When excavated in 1994 - 1995, it was found in disarray.  No gold thread was left. Restoration took place in 2001 replacing the lost strands, probably looted, with a modern equivalent. 

Jade embedded pillow with bronze panlong (coiled dragon) frame,
Western Han (206 B.C. - 9 A.D.), 
L. 14 5/8 ins. (37.1 cm), W. 6 5/16 in. (16 cm), H. 4 1/2 ins. (11.4 cm),
excavated from No. 1 Han tomb at Houlouschan, Xuzhou, in 1991
Photo:  Courtesy of China Institute Gallery
On view in the exhibition Dreams of the Kings:  A Jade Suit for Eternity 
Treasures of the Han Dynasty from Xuzhou,

Two bronze pillows on view at the China Institute Gallery are splendid examples of those typically found in royal tombs.  One was excavated from an ancillary tomb of King Chu.  Its gilt bronze rectangular fame has four coiled-dragon (panlong) pedestals.  Each end has a ring-bearing head of a beast. The frame is filled with thirty pieces of jade. Its joints are covered in gold leaf.  A door design on the front, also equipped with ring-bearing beast heads, may represent a means for the soul to come and go.  

The China Institute Gallery's show presents over 76 objects from the royal tombs of the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 9 A.D.) which have never been shown in the United States.  Comparisons between similar objects, like the jade burial suits, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and China Institute makes for a stimulating exercise in connoisseurship.  Please take a close look at the earthenware dancing figurines that are almost identical.  

Earthenware dancing figurine,
Western Han (206 B.C. - 9 A.D.), 
H. 16 9/16 in. (45 cm),
excavated from tomb of King of Chu at Tuolanshan, Xuzhou (2000)
Photo:  Courtesy of China Institute Gallery
On view in the exhibition Dreams of the Kings:  A Jade Suit for Eternity 
Treasures of the Han Dynasty from Xuzhou,

The figures depict a Chu dance popular during this period. The performers wore flowing garments with long sleeves that covered their hands.  Dancers would sway, creating smooth curves with their covered bodies.  Both figures in each show have their arms raised forming graceful arcs.  The craftsmen who made them seemed to have partaken in a bit of punning. The Chinese character for five appears on the garments' sleeves.  The spoken sound for five is wu. This is the same sounded word for dance which has a more complex written character.  

There are more correspondences between the two exhibits making the concurrent dual presentations especially enlightening.  

One additional note: knowledge of China's historical and cultural past informs the understanding of the country's present actions.  Keep this in mind when viewing these splendid art exhibitions.  

*To learn more about the excavation of the Marquis of Haihun's tomb see NewHistorian post October 12, 2016.

**The jade burial suit of Dou Wan was in the exhibition The Chinese Exhibition - The Exhibition of Archaeological Finds of the People's Republic of China that toured Europe and the United States from 1973 - 1975.  There were three venues in the USA: the  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, December 13, 1974 – March 30, 1975, the Nelson Gallery-Atkins Museum, Kansas City, Missouri, April 20–June 8, 1975 and Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California, June 28–August 28, 1975.  The close to 400 objects in the exhibit, spanning prehistory to the late fourteenth century, were excavated in China from 1949 to 1972.  The jade burial suit of Dou Wan's husband, Liu Sheng, was in the exhibition The Golden Age of Chinese Archaeology - Celebrated Discoveries From The People's Republic of China, which took place at  National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, September 19, 1999 – January 2, 2000, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, February 13 – May 7, 2000 and the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, California,  June 17 – September 11, 2000.  The catalogue is available online at the National Gallery of Art's Web site under research/publications. See

Secrets of the Sea:  
A Tang Shipwreck and Early Trade in Asia
March 7 - June 4, 2017
725 Park Avenue, Manhattan
Tuesday - Sunday 11 am - 6 pm
Friday 11 am - 9 pm (September - June)
Closed Mondays and major holidays.

Age of Empires:
Chinese Art of the Chin & Han Dynasties
(221 B.C. - A.D. 220)
April 3 - July 16, 2017
1000 Fifth Avenue, Manhattan
Sunday - Thursday 9 am - 5:30 pm
Friday and Saturday 10 am - 9 pm
Closed Thanksgiving Day, December 25, 
January 1, and the first Monday in May.

Dreams of the Kings:  
A Jade Suit For Eternity
Treasures of the Han Dynasty from Xuzhou
May 25 - November 12, 2017
100 Washington Street, Manhattan
(Temporary entrance: 40 Rector Street)
Gallery Hours:
Monday - Friday: 10 am – 5 pm
Thursday: 10 am - 8 pm
Saturday: 11 pm - 5 pm
Closed: Sunday and major holidays