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Collection Guide
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Chinese Paintings 12th century - 20th century
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Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Administrative Information
  • Scope and Content
  • Indexing Terms

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: Chinese Paintings
    Date (inclusive): 12th century - 20th century
    Repository: Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive
    Berkeley, CA 94720
    Language: English.

    Administrative Information


    This collection is open for research.

    Publication Rights

    Copyright resides with the Regents of the University of California. For permission to reproduce images from the collection of the University of California, Berkeley Art Museum, please address inquiries to Rights and Reproductions, fax number: 510-642-4889.

    Preferred Citation

    [Identification of item], Chinese Paintings Collection, Berkeley Art Museum, University of California, Berkeley.

    Scope and Content

    Of the approximately 150 Chinese paintings in this collection guide, the majority were originally collected by UC Berkeley Professor Emeritus James Cahill and the Cahill family. The Cahill family collections, known historically as the Ching Yüan Chai Collection, are arguably among the finest in the western United States, representing virtually every period of Chinese painting over the last 900 years. The collections consist of works from the Sung, Yüan, Ming, and Ch'ing dynasties, including major figure paintings and bird-and-flower paintings. The greatest strength, however, is landscape paintings. Considered the highest category of painting in China, the landscape embodies the ideals of the Confucian scholar. This is the area of Chinese art in which we find the most daring experiments, the greatest developments, and the most intense art historical scrutiny.
    Professor Cahill began collecting Chinese paintings in 1955 while on a Fulbright fellowship in Japan, where he was completing his dissertation on fourteenth-century (Yüan) painting. It was there that a noted Japanese scholar bestowed the name Ching Yüan Chai, which roughly translates as "Studio of One Who Is Looking Intently at the Yüan Dynasty." Throughout his long teaching career James Cahill used these collections as a means of gaining a better personal understanding of art, as an opportunity to explore areas of connoisseurship, and as a tool for teaching others these same disciplines. For Cahill, collecting meaningfully enriched the scope and depth of his comprehension of the intricacies of Chinese painting and culture. Cahill has remarked, "collecting has deepened my understanding of Chinese painting…forcing me to make judgments of quality and authenticity." Professor Cahill has likened his pursuit of Chinese paintings to the eleventh-century poet Sun Tung-p'o's allusion:
    "It is like clouds and mists passing before my eyes, or the songs of birds striking my ears. How could I help but derive joy from my contact with these things? But when they are gone, I think no more about them. In this way, these two things [painting and calligraphy] are a constant pleasure to me, but not an affliction."
    -- Su Tung-p'o, eleventh-century statesman, poet, and connoisseur, on collecting. Translation by James Cahill
    Professor Cahill and family members, through gift and purchase, have passed on key works from their collections to the university at which he taught for over thirty years. These paintings will remain at Berkeley for generations of students to examine and study, and experience the joy of working with actual masterworks of art.
    The descriptive notes accompanying the artworks included in the Collection Guide largely carry the familiar "voice" of James Cahill, Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, who has generously commented on the artwork from the perspective of connoisseurship, collecting, and teaching. Additional biographical and art historical comments are presented in order to place the paintings in historical context. These comments are provided by Julia M. White, Curator of Asian Art at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, and Guest Curator of the UC Berkeley Art Museum Exhibition Masterworks of Chinese Painting: In Pursuit of Mists and Clouds.
    Wade-Giles, the first name cited in each item's record in the Collection Guide, is a system of transliteration that was developed in the early part of the 20th century. Pinyin, the second name, in parentheses, is the same character utilizing a system of transliteration of Chinese characters developed in the People's Republic of China in the later part of the 20th
    The "t" and "h" preceding the descriptive notes stand for tz'u (zi) the artist's style name and hao (hao) the artist's pen name. Chinese artists frequently sign their works with these alternate names.
    Lucinda Barnes
    Senior Curator for Collections

    Indexing Terms

    The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    scroll paintings

    Subjects and Indexing Terms