During their August 2006 cat show, the Hong Kong Cat Lovers' Society presented a hand-painted scroll to CFA, through judges David Mare and Darrell Newkirk, to honor the 100 Year Anniversary of CFA. This magnificent work of art, watercolor on silk and measuring 27 feet long and 30 inches high, was commissioned by the Hong Kong Cat lovers' Society.
Click photo to enlarge
To understand fully the importance of this work a small primer in Chinese "periods" must be understood. Having been a collector of important Chinese antiquities and later a dealer I realized, as I looked at these photos, that this gift to CFA was something of great significance.
The concept of court artisans began in the Shang Dynasty (1700 - 1027 B.C.). The early Shang emperors gathered tens of thousands of artists and charged them with the responsibility of making bronze vessels and decorative works which, despite the primitive nature of their tools and kilns, are unrivaled today in their execution. Though some were functional, the vast majority were intended to be burial pieces to be used by high ranking officials and only the very finest examples of the works would be buried with the Emperor himself to be used in the next life.
Each succeeding Dynasty continued this process but interestingly halted any design similarity to any preceding dynasties so that each Emperor could point with pride to his own artistic genius. Failure for an artist to observe these rules was cause for execution. This penalty continued up to the early 18th Century when the Ching Emperors (1644 - 1911 A.D.) relaxed some of these rules and permitted revival pieces to be made to honor past emperors. In truth, however, while the porcelains from this period remain some of the most important (particularly the K'Ang Hsi and Chi'n Lung Dynasties) most of the paintings, including revival pieces, failed to capture the movement and beauty of the earlier pieces making them easy to differentiate from that of actual period pieces.
Later examples of this concept were demonstrated in Europe, particularly England and France, whereby ruling monarchs mandated the shape, proportion and design of furniture to be identified with their rule - hence the term Queen Anne chairs or Louis XV "bureau". While highly egotistical on the parts of either the Chinese emperors or the European monarchs, it did measurably assist antiquarians such as myself to correctly identify an item and to correctly date it.
One of the earliest Ming emperors (Hongwu - 1368 A.D), who had lead and won the war overturning the Yuan Dynasty, showed an incredible gift and knowledge of art. Perhaps it was his peasant background but his taste for art was gentle, almost whimsical, and it was reflected in the early Ming period until the middle of the Dynasty which lasted about 275 years. Today, museums and collectors seek the gentle paintings of the early Ming period and it's always exciting to secure one when it becomes available.
As part of the opening ceremonies Darrell and David assisted in opening the scroll. Darrell gave a wonderful extemporaneous speech thanking the Chinese people in general and the Hong Kong Cat Lovers' Society in particular for this gift which would be housed and maintained by the CFA Foundation and museum. As President of the Foundation, David expressed additional thanks and told those present that we were humbled by their generous gift which we would treasure.
The scroll on display in Hong Kong.
With the assistance of several of their club members the scroll was unrolled, from right to left. As it unrolled, those present watched the 100 animated cats almost dancing and playing amid the forsythia, lotus and plum blossoms -- in classical Ming fashion. We noted that the use of form was correct. The placement of the subjects was correct so as to move the eye gently but steadily back and forth and not to linger too long in any one place. The colors were broken by the floral blossoms which continued to move the eye. It was a masterpiece. It had been painted by a skilled artist who understood not only the techniques necessary to paint with one of the most difficult mediums (watercolor) - unforgiving in the extreme (a single missed stroke can render the painting unsuitable) but to also paint it on to silk, not canvas, which can take a drop of water color and literally place it where it wants to place it and not necessarily where the artist intends it to be placed.
And despite these obstacles, the artist maintained the integrity of the Ming style to a fault. The artist had done what might have caused his own demise just a few hundred years earlier - and with skill rarely seen in revival pieces.
Detail of artwork on the scroll.
The CFA Foundation will cherish the CFA centennial commemorative gift from the Hong Kong Cat Lovers' Society, both for what it is and for the motivation that prompted them to donate it.
As of February 9, 2013, a full-size photograph of the scroll is on display in the Feline Historical Museum in Alliance, Ohio. The full color photograph, made possible through the expertise of Art Graafmans, is printed on canvas and stretched over a wood frame. It is hanging on the mezzanine level of the museum and makes an impressive sight upon entry to the building. The original scroll is in storage to protect it's delicate fabric and rich colors.
A full-size photograph of the scroll on display in the Feline Historical Museum.
Text: ©David Mare
Published: Cat Fanciers' Association Yearbook, 2007