British Museum grants permission for high definition print of ancient Chinese painting
Published: Nov 03, 2020 10:13 AM

The image of the book Photo: Courtesy of the Zhejiang People's Fine Arts Publishing House

A Chinese publisher has got permission from the British Museum to produce a high-definition publication including a copy of a picture painted by a Chinese emperor of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The publication is seen as potentially making up for some of the regret at not being able to see the original art work in China.

The Zhejiang People's Fine Arts Publishing House spent more than four months getting permission from the British Museum and creating the high-definition image of the painting, an employee told the Global Times on Monday.

The painting is named "Handscroll; painting by Emperor Huizong," on the official website of the British Museum and it was donated by a trustee of the museum, Beatrice Bateson, in 1926.

The painting was painted in ink on silk and depicts birds, lychees and flowers on branches. The signature and seal of the emperor is on the far left. Just one part of the painting is displayed on the website of the museum.

"We found the painting in the British Museum collection 10 years ago, but there is only a small partial picture on the official website," deputy director of the professional art department of the publisher surnamed Fu told the Global Times.

One part of the painting by the Emperor Huizong Photo: Courtesy of the Zhejiang People's Fine Arts Publishing House

In 2020, the museum revealed the full painting, sparking discussion about whether it was an authentic work by Emperor Huizong. "We are publishing the high-definition book also so that researchers of Song Dynasty paintings in China can see and discuss the painting," Fu said.

Editors at the publishing house realized how precious the painting is as soon as the museum presented the full one and they then got in touch with the image copyright department of the British Museum.

The publishers first asked the museum if their technology for capturing images can meet the need to publish a high-definition book in the original size and then applied for publication permission from the authorities in the Chinese mainland. After paying the fee for the copyright, the image of the painting was allowed to be published in China.

"It is fortunate that the painting is still protected and not lost, but it is unfortunate for Chinese art fans that it is in a museum so far away. The book gives a chance for people who love traditional ink paintings to see the masterpiece in detail," one netizen commented.

The book will be launched online on Thursday.

The painter, Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty, was a cultured leader who spent much of his time admiring the arts. He was a collector of paintings, calligraphy and antiques of previous dynasties. The emperor was perhaps better at art than governing the country, and he left exquisite artworks for later generations to appreciate. 

The emperor preferred flowers and birds and did not like landscapes. Among the more than 20 paintings considered his masterpieces, most are paintings of flowers and birds.