Scenes from Xixiangji [Romance of the western chamber] Qing dynasty, early 19th century | 清十九世紀初 〈西廂記〉插畫 一冊十四幀 附詩文 設色紙本
Property from the Bertholet Collection
Scenes from Xixiangji [Romance of the western chamber]
Qing dynasty, early 19th century
清十九世紀初 〈西廂記〉插畫 一冊十四幀 附詩文 設色紙本
an album of 14 paintings, with text pages, ink and colour on paper
39.5 by 31 cm
Text of three scenes (Act 1, Scenes 2-3; Act 4, Scene 3) and illustrations of two scenes (Act 2, Scene 1; Act 3, Scene 2) are missing. The set is otherwise in overall good condition with foxing, old stains, minor creases, typical insect holes and insignificant repair, all expectable for its age. The text and paintings were inspected without removing from the frames.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.
NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."
Ferdinand M. Bertholet, Les Jardins du Plaisir: Érotisme et art dans la Chine ancienne / Gardens of Pleasure: Eroticism and Art in China, Paris, 2003 (rev. English ed., Munich, Berlin, London, New York, 2010), front jacket, and pp. 41, 102-116.
Ferry M. Bertholet, Concubines and Courtesans: Women in Chinese Erotic Art, Brussels, 2010, pl. 7.
貝索烈，《Les Jardins du Plaisir: Érotisme et art dans la Chine ancienne / Gardens of Pleasure: Eroticism and Art in China》，巴黎，2003年（英文再版，慕尼黑、柏林、倫敦、紐約，2010年），頁41、102-116
貝索烈，《Concubines and Courtesans: Women in Chinese Erotic Art》，布魯塞爾，2010年，圖版7
James Cahill et al., Le Palais du printemps. Peintures érotiques de Chine, Musée Cernuschi, Paris, 2006, pp. 70-95.
Gardens of Pleasure: Sex in Ancient China. An Exhibition of the Ferdinand M. Bertholet Collection, Hong Kong, 2014, figs 6 and 9.
高居翰等，《Le Palais du printemps. Peintures érotiques de Chine》，賽努奇博物館，巴黎，2006年，頁70-95
The scenes of the present album are taken from the famous story of a secret love affair between the young scholar Zhang Sheng and Cui Yingying, the daughter of a Tang dynasty minister. Originating in the Tang dynasty, the tale was adopted by Wang Shifu of the Yuan dynasty in the popular drama Xixiangji [Romance of the West Chamber], which became a major source of inspiration for scholars and artists for centuries to come.
Wang’s play was structured in five acts of four scenes each. However, the last act is considered inferior and is often omitted, as it is in the present album. The story opens with Zhang Sheng catching sight of Cui Yingying at Universal Salvation Monastery on his way to the capital for the civil examination (the first illustration). The couple then fell in love. With the help of Yingying’s witty maid Hongniang, Yingying consummated their love in violation of a previously arranged betrothment (the eighth and tenth illustration). Sun Feihu, a local bandit who desired Cui’s beauty, attacked the monastery hoping to abduct her but was defeated thanks to Zhang’s strategic defence. Following this, Madam Cui, Yingying’s mother, reluctantly allowed the couple to wed, partly because of Zhang Sheng’s heroic deeds and partly because she learnt from Hongniang about their shared intimacy (the twelfth illustration). However, her approval was contingent on Zhang attaining academic merits in the imperial examination. On his way to the capital, Zhang woke up from a nightmare that made him question his love affair (the last illustration). Zhang eventually succeeded in the examination. However, the good news remained undelivered, and the original fiancé deceived Madam Cui in hopes of marrying Yingying himself. The story ends with Zhang returning in time to abort the indecorous wedding and reunite with Yingying.
The idea of defying parental will in the name of love, in addition to the occasionally suggestive, licentious content, made this work a target of censorship at various times. Nevertheless, the story continued to enjoy popularity and scenes from it were retold in various formats, from paintings to decoration on lacquerwares and ceramics.
The painting style is probably after that of Chen Hongshou (1598-1652), as suggested by Cédric Laurent (Le Palais du printemps, op. cit., p. 73). The slender and elegant figures, with their slightly oversized heads, are finely pencilled and naturally rendered.