“Truly a Marvelous Work”

Jie zi yuan hua zhuan 芥子園畫傳 [Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting].

Numerous five-color woodblock illus. Five juan in five vols. Large 8vo, new wrappers, new stitching. [China]: [1782].

The first series of this famous multicolor-printed painting manual. “There has been no other painting manual that has enjoyed wider circulation in China and Japan than the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting...in the past three centuries” (Gillian Yanzhuang Zhang, “Making a Canonical Work: A Cultural History of the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, 1679-1949,” East Asian Publishing and Society 10 [2020]: p. 74).

The book is “truly an encyclopedia of Chinese painting” (A. K’ai-ming Ch’iu, “The Chieh Tzu Yüan Hua Chuan (Mustard Seed Garden Painting Manual): Early Editions in American Collections,” Archives of the Chinese Art Society of America 5 [1951]: p. 55). According to one authority, it “is the pioneer of scientific treatises on Chinese painting, and…it is truly a marvelous work in all the thousands of years of Chinese history” (Ch’iu, p. 56, paraphrasing Yü Chien-hua).

“The Mustard Seed Garden was built in Nanking by Li Yü [李漁] (1611-80?), a playwright and prolific writer on many subjects, who printed a number of his own books and others under this name. Although he wrote a preface to the first series of this manual in 1679, he apparently was a sponsor but not the author.” The first installment of the book was “prepared by his son-in-law, Shen Yin-Yu [Shen Yinyou 沈因友], and illustrated by Wang Kai [Wang Gai, active 1677-1705] and his two brothers Wang Shih [Wang Shi 王蓍, active 1672-1681] and Wang Nieh [Wang Nie 王臬, active 17th-18th century]” (Tsien Tsuen-hsuin, Paper and Printing, Science and Civilisation in China, Vol. 5, Part 1, p. 286).

Our book is “a step-by-step instruction book on how to do paintings of landscapes” (Tsien, p. 286). The book begins with a theoretical treatise on painting, followed by “the various methods of applying paint.” Volumes (and juan) Two to Four contain the elements of painted landscapes. Volume Two treats things like trees and leaves. Some of the illustrations of pine needles and other vegetation are printed using green ink as well as black. Volume Three focuses on rocks, mountains, waterfalls, waves, and mist. Some rocks are printed in brown in addition to black. Volume Four focuses on people, animals, and man-made structures. Figures engaged in various activities and from different walks of life are depicted, as are horses, deer, and birds. Structures include rural cottages, mountain lodges, larger palace-like structures, pavilions, and bridges, as well as boats and ships.

The visually most stunning volume is the fifth, which contains imitations of various masters in different styles. These full-fledged landscapes are printed in gradations of black and gray, brown, blue, and dark and light green. This volume presents a canonical example of color printing, which had been developed in China in the early 17th century.

The Mustard Seed Manual was first published in 1679. Our copy belongs to the 1782 edition, which went through the hands of three publishers. Our copy might be from the original publisher, Shuye Tang. The Brooklyn Museum has digitized parts of its identical copy, which belongs to the same edition and is dated to 1782.

A very nice and fresh copy, preserved in a hantao. Some insignificant worming, some of it carefully mended.

❧ With thanks to Professor Thomas Ebrey of the University of Washington.

Price: $35,000.00

Item ID: 10196