ChineseLong-term Exhibitions

        The convenience of viewing and storing works of painting and calligraphy often determined the format that was used for mounting them. Three formats are generally used; the hanging scroll, handscroll, and album leaf. Hanging scrolls can be hung on walls to decorate interiors, and handscrolls can be leisurely unrolled by hand or on table-top one section at a time. The album, as the name suggests, is composed of single leafs of painting and / or calligraphy collected into an album form with its compilation sometimes resembling that of a book. The album leaf format was already found in the T'ang dynasty (618-907) and its use for mounting works of painting and calligraphy perhaps derived from Buddhist sutras. Handscroll sutras from the Six Dynasties period (222-589) were mounted into albums during the early T'ang in order to facilitate research and reading.

        The album leaf format can be divided into three basic mounting types; the "butterfly, " "accordion, " and "thatched-window" mountings. The "butterfly" mounting refers to albums that open into double leaves divided into right and left sides. The height of the painting is usually less than the width, which accounts for the fold down the middle like a pair of wings. The second album leaf format is the "accordion" mounting, which is especially used for albums with many leaves. The height is often greater the width, and both round fans and squarish leaves are suitable for this type. With the leaves connected, the album opens like an accordion, hence the name. The third is the "thatched-window" mounting, which refers to albums that open into double leaves, one atop the other. The name derives from the thatched windows on river boats that were opened from below in a similar manner. This format is suitable for mounting folding fans or paintings that are wider than they are high. For both the "butterfly" and "thatched window" mountings, the simplest arrangement is that of a painting coupled with a blank leaf. Occasionally, a poem is mounted on the matching leaf (to the left in the "butterfly" and above in the "thatched window" mountings). An album is usually comprised of an even number of leaves, such as eight, twelve, sixteen, or more, and divided into sets of albums. Blank leaves are usually placed at the front and end of the album, and pieces of stiff paper or wood act as the front and back covers, similar to a book.

        Album leaf paintings are almost always small in scale, though they can be tall like hanging scrolls or long like handscrolls and of many different shapes; rectangular, square, round, oval, gourd-shaped…. Because of their scale, compositions often differ from those in hanging scrolls or handscrolls. Landscapes, for example, frequently focus on the most beautiful and concise scenes. The artist's challenge is to bring out beauty and variety in such small views. Flowers, birds, and other animals even more so follow the adage that " a single flower or leaf is a whole world itself." A skillful artist thus can take the viewer into an intimate and enchanting realm using only a few centimeters of space.

        In the Museum's collection of famous paintings, many are masterpieces in the album leaf format. Although this exhibition reflects only a fraction of the beautiful world of album leaf painting from the collection, it nonetheless adequately shows, like the album leaf itself, that "big things come in little packages."