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Tiffany BERES

The University of California San Diego (San Diego)
Department of Visual Arts

Thesis Topic

Modern Antiquity: Chinese Bogu Painting in the Late Qing and Early Republic

Why do artists look to the past to find contemporary inspiration? An unlikely episode in modern Chinese art history is the alliance between prominent painters and collectors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century to create hybrid works of strong antiquarian flavor. The dissertation focuses on the reinventions and transformations of antiquity in the work of artists and collectors who popularized the genre known as bogu or “ancient erudition” paintings (博古圖). Composite by nature, elements of archaeology, epigraphy and as well as Western realism come together in these works forming mixed-media collage that distinguishes them from the paintings of previous generations. Originating at a time of great social, political and economic flux, bogu paintings are living examples of the ways in which art can transform antiquity into a modern visual language. The research study seeks to shed light on the socio-historical context and motives for these paintings, which have been largely ignored in previous scholarship. Ultimately, research on bogu painting may help define how antiquarian practices seeped into popular culture and offer a new and more nuanced understanding of the complex role that the classical past has played in Chinese modernity.

Wu Changshuo (1844–1927), Peonies in a Bronze Vessel, 1903. Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, 133 x 60 cm (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, Bequeathed by Dr Oliver Impey, 2007).
© Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford