Page from the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting

Illustrated by Wang Gai Chinese

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 213

In 1679, the author Li Yu published a primer for aspiring landscape painters called the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, and he commissioned the versatile painter Wang Gai to provide designs for the illustrations. The first edition features volumes on the components of landscape painting—trees, rocks, and human figures—with instructions on how to draw different types of each. It also includes two volumes of landscapes in the styles of old masters, which show readers how to transform what they have learned into their own historically minded compositions.

The manual transmitted the fashion for studying old masters' styles beyond the rarified elite circles that had given rise to the practice, and it went on to become the most widely used introduction to painting not only in China, but in Korea and Japan as well. Subsequent editions added flowers as a subject and expanded sections on human figures. It remains in use today across the world.

Page from the Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting, Illustrated by Wang Gai (Chinese, 1645–1710), Woodblock print; ink and color on paper, China

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