Collectibles in Chinese Prints and Paintings of the 17th–20th Century



A work made of fan, ink and color on silk; bamboo handle.
Pure Objects, 1801–1900
Xie Tang

This exhibition showcases the wide range of collectible objects depicted in Chinese prints and paintings from the 17th through 20th century. The possessions portrayed in these works of art reveal the taste and identity of their original owners—who were also the initial recipients of the illustrative representations.

In the painting Flowers of the Four Seasons, for example, an extravagant flower basket highlights the luxurious atmosphere of the Qing imperial court (1644–1911). Similarly, the fan painting Pure Objects features a grouping that deliberately recalls historic styles: greenish bronzes like those of the Shang dynasty (second millennium BC), bluish Southern Song (1127–1279) celadon, and brownish Qing-era pottery. The selection reflects the antiquarian taste of the fan’s owner, an affluent 20th-century banker who commissioned the fan in order to advertise his antique collections, elite cultural status, and fascination with the remote past. The objects depicted in these prints and paintings thus serve as surrogates for art buyers, who projected their own identities onto the illustrated valuables. The images themselves required a high level of skill to produce, reiterating the owners’ sophistication. By showing the different media that have been used to illustrate collectible objects as well as the variety of objects collected, this exhibition explores the many intersections between art collectors, illustration, and the culture of consumption in late imperial China and the Republic of China.


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