Palace Ladies

By: H. H. F. J.

Originally Published in 1936

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AMONG the Museum’s Chinese paintings sent to the Exhibition of Chinese Art in Burlington House the outstanding one was probably the fragmentary scroll attributed to Chou Wên Chü and entitled “Ladies of the Palace.” It was stated in the October issue of the Bulletin that another part of this same scroll, belonging to Mr. Bernnard Berenson, would be exhibited at the same time. Unfortunately this hope was not realized for Mr. Berenson’s fragment was absent. Yet the Exhibition disclosed that there was still a third part of this famous scroll, and this, hitherto unknown, was shown side by side with the Museum’s and provided a most interesting if unexpected complement. This third part of the scroll has recently been added to the collection of Sir Percival David, Bart. to whose kindness we are in debt for permitting us to reproduce a portion of it here.

Portion of a scroll painting depicting a woman seated cross legged on the ground, playing with four children and two puppies
Plate VII — Sections of Chinese Scroll Painting “Palace Ladies” attributed to Chou Wên Chü
From the Museum’s collections.
Image Number: 1763

In the Museum Journal Volume XIX, No. 4, December 1928, Miss Fernald most competently published the Museum’s section and there discussed the relation of Mr. Berenson’s section thereto. The latter seems unquestionably to be the original beginning of the scroll, while the Museum’s portion is possibly the end, for it is followed by a laudatory inscription dated 1140, the authenticity of which there seems no reason to question and such inscriptions usually follow immediately after the end of such hand scrolls. As Miss Fernald points out, however, if this be the original end it is somewhat abrupt: the two children pointing as it were, off stage are unlikely final figures in any painting of this character. It would seem that there is still some part of the original missing. Nevertheless Sir Percival David’s section (which is a few centimeters longer than the Museum’s) represents obviously on addition of considerable importance to our knowledge of the original. In the laudatory inscription the writer, one Chang Nieh mentions that the original pointing contained eighty or eighty-one figures: in the three fragments extant the total number of figures falls short of this. If Chang Nieh was correct in his count we may suppose there was originally a section, now missing, some forty centimeters in length. Whether it will ever come to light no one can say but certainly the turning up of Sir Percival’s fragment is encouraging.

Portion of a scroll painting depicting several seated and standing women
Plate VII — Sections of Chinese Scroll Painting “Palace Ladies” attributed to Chou Wên Chü
From the collection of Sir Percival David, Bart.

Miss Fernald hos adequately covered the reasons why it is difficult to believe that this pointing was actually by the hand of Chou Wên Chü who flourished in the lost half of the tenth century. Many are the convincing reasons to believe that it is rather a copy or an adoption of the original, made not far from the time when Chong Nieh wrote his remarks about it. Neither Sir Percival nor the Museum need be greatly concerned about a possible two centuries difference in date: the “Ladies of the Palace” will for many more centuries than these remain charming, beautiful and graceful.

H. H. F. J.

Cite This Article

J., H. H. F.. "Palace Ladies." Museum Bulletin VI, no. 3 (March, 1936): 91-93. Accessed July 15, 2024.

This digitized article is presented here as a historical reference and may not reflect the current views of the Penn Museum.

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