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The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive presents 'Looking Intently: The James Cahill Legacy'
Xu Wei: Melon and Vine, 16th century; ink on paper; 25 x 11-3/4 in.; gift of James Cahill.
BERKELEY, CA.- The late James Cahill, Professor Emeritus at UC Berkeley, was known as a brilliant scholar, exceptional teacher and writer, and extraordinary connoisseur and collector of Chinese and Japanese paintings. He began collecting in the mid-1950s as a Fulbright Scholar in Japan, where he encountered significantly undervalued Chinese paintings of the Ming and Qing periods. At the time few collectors were interested in these later paintings and fewer still understood their inherent value. But Cahill recognized their importance and so began a lifelong pursuit of fine paintings. His collection became known by his studio name, Ching Yuan Chai, given to him by his own teacher, Shimada Shujiro. As Cahill wrote, “It could be either Studio of Someone Looking into the Yuan (as I was for my dissertation) or, more prestigiously, Someone Gazing into the Abstruse.” Today paintings associated with that studio name are among the treasures that make up the core of the BAM/PFA Chinese painting collection. In fond memory of James Cahill (1926–2014), we present this selection from the collection in tribute to his tremendous generosity and commitment to Berkeley and to BAM/PFA.

Cahill, unlike some of his contemporaries as well as historic Chinese collectors, did not mark with a seal or inscription the paintings in his collection. Rather, he made his mark by donating—and encouraging others to donate—exceptionally fine paintings to BAM/PFA. This small exhibition presents just a handful of works, but they demonstrate the unparalleled range of Cahill’s collecting interests, from Summer Trees Casting Shade, a large decorative painting by Dai Jin (1388–1462), to the quietly cerebral The Zhiping Temple by Wen Zhengming (1470–1559).

Cahill frequently used the collection for teaching, engaging students in dialogue about brushwork, connoisseurship, authenticity, and condition, and looking intently at real works of art, a tradition that continues today.

Looking Intently: The James Cahill Legacy is organized by Julia M. White, senior curator for Asian art.





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