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Why Were There No Great Chinese Paintings in American Museums before the Twentieth Century?


  • Jane C. Ju


To understand the major shift in Americans' attitudes about Chinese art between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it is essential to know not only what the American collectors thought, but also the social history of these collectors and their agents. Since the advent of the field of material culture studies, scholars have begun to look at museum objects, whether as art or not, from the perspective of different lives—that of their makers and users. It seems that the lack of “great” Chinese paintings in American museums before the twentieth century may be due to the fact that the nineteenth century American collectors and their Chinese agents differed from their twentieth century counterparts in what they regarded as “great,” what they thought was “Chinese,” and what they defined as “paintings.”