Imagining Landscapes

ITEMS 2.1 and 2.2 portray precisely the same landscape, the well-known 'Jaws of Borrowdale' at Derwentwater in the English Lake District. The brush and ink drawing (ITEM 2.1) was painted by a Chinese writer and artist and published in a volume in which he describes his extensive travels through the English countryside. ITEM 2.2 is a lithograph produced a little over one hundred years earlier by an anonymous Englishman. The two pictures were first compared by art historian and theorist E.H. Gombrich, in Art and illusion, where he raised a number of interesting issues centering on the question: how much of what we call 'seeing' is conditioned by cultural habits and expectations?

As you compare the two pictures ask yourself which you believe is likely to be the more realistic portrayal of the Jaws of Borrowdale. Which representation, on the other hand, is more heavily laden with cultural convention?

Chiang Yee, Cows in Derwentwater


Chiang Vee, Cows in Derwentwater, 1936
Brush and ink
From Chiang Vee, The silent traveller, London, 1937

Anonymous, Derwentwater, looking towards Borrowdale


Anonymous, Derwentwater, looking toward Borrowdale, 1826
Crown Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum,

Chiang Yee helped us to see the English countryside through Chinese eyes. His painting of the Jaws of Borrowdale follows Chinese stylistic traditions which have endured a thousand years. 'White clouds of mist which like a belt encircle the mountain's waist' may be seen in paintings of the Sung dynasty and earlier. And so also may be found, throughout the intervening centuries, trees with heavily gnarled trunks and exposed roots and leaves of the same tightly controlled brushwork.

Wen Cheng-Ming, Seven juniper trees


Wen Cheng-Ming, Seven juniper trees (detail), 1532
Handscroll, ink on paper: painting only, 28 x 361.9 cm
Honolulu Academy of Arts
Gift of Mrs Carter Galt, 1952

The lute song by Ting Yün-p'eng (opposite page one) further illustrates the Chinese landscape tradition.

Mi Ju-Jen, Cloudy mountains


Mi Yu-Jen, Cloudy mountains (detail), 1130 A.D.
Sung Dynasty
Handscroll; ink, white lead & traces of colour on silk, 43.4 x 194.3 cm
Cleveland Museum of Art
Purchase from the J.H. Wade Fund

Shen Chou, Twelve views of Tiger Hill


Shen Chou, Twelve views of Tiger Hill: Oak and hummocks with three figures at a well, 15th c.
Ink & slight colour on paper, 31.1 x 40.2 cm
Cleveland Museum of Art
Leonard C. Hanna, Jr, Bequest

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