Exhibition: The Art of the Chinese Album


The Art of the Chinese Album, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s upcoming Chinese art exhibition, highlights the Chinese album, one of the more intimate presentation formats for paintings.

Developed during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 CE) and influenced by the way printed pages were cut and bound, the format assembles smaller-sized paintings mounted or painted on leaves of paper into a collection.  Allowing for easier presentation (no more fussing with unrolling or hanging scrolls!), the leaves could be collected loose in a box, bound “butterfly style” with each page facing each other, as in a book, or folded as an accordion for easier presentation.  This physical format also allowed for better preservation and maintenance of the paintings by  “eliminating the continual wear imposed upon the silk or paper, ink and pigments, by the rolling and unrolling of a scroll.” (Silbergeld)

More importantly, the album changed the nature of how works were presented and viewed and became a popular, more personal and casual alternative to grand and weighty formats.  Artists became curators of sorts, collating their works thematically.

“For Dai Benxiao (1621–1693), the album was a chance to plumb the depths of a single style, like a jazz improviser testing the limits of a single musical mode. For Shitao [(石涛 /石濤)] (1642–1707), the album provided the opportunity to shock and surprise the viewer with radical shifts in perspective and subject from page to page. For Dong Qichang [(董其昌)] (1555–1636) and his followers, the album was a stage on which to display their art historical knowledge by devoting each leaf to the style of a different old master. ” (links added)

Here are selections of images from three albums from the museum’s collection. Click on the album title for the link to the complete albums and higher resolution images.

One Hundred Portraits of Peking Opera Characters by an unidentified Qing Dynasty artist.

Sketches of Twelves Strange Mountain Peaks by Huang Bihong (黄宾虹 / 黃賓虹) (1865 – 1955)

Landscapes in the Style of the Old Artists by Gao Cen (高岑) (active 1643–after 1682)

The exhibition opens Saturday, September 6, 2014.

An exhibition tour will be given on Monday, September 8 from 10:30 – 11:30 AM.

Guided tours of the Chinese galleries and the current exhibition will be given on September 9 and 10 from 12 – 1 PM.

The Art of the Chinese Album
September 6, 2014 – March 29, 2015
Metropolitan Museum of Art

All images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art online collection