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Some random notes for my daughters - on enjoying paintings

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In the case of Xiao's paintings, they were last remounted in the nineteenth century. The scheme of the mounting makes each opening of the pages into a gentle composition. The warm, rose-tinted paper of the paintings on one side is contrasted with a blank blue paper on the opposing leaf. Buff and iridescent silk frames both coloured portions. End papers in blue contribute a small luxury of substance. More sumptuous is the outer cover. Wood panels back and front are covered in plain paper and trimmed with delicate, mitred hardwood. On the outer sides, each panel holds a piece cut from what was already antique damask, redolent of gold. A discrete, deadpan text describing the contents and dated with the reign of the re-mounting is pasted on the cover.

What is the present owner to do to undertake some responsibility? Keep it from bugs and damp and oily hands. But then? The blank blue sheets that faced each painting provided a provocation. In countless other circumstances they would have each been calligraphed with some light reference to the facing image. Why were these unlettered? One can only speculate that at the time of the last remounting the collector either could not find anyone equal to the task, or that he wished to emphasise the beauty of Xiao's sole page of inscription by excluding all others. In my attentions, I have seen new words printed, rather than handwritten, both because of my limited accomplishments in this regard and because considered typography carries an unforced and easy mood these days.

Writing English, I have placed my own text facing each image. This is not so much to claim the images for some ‘foreign' culture, but rather it is to be honest to my circumstances. Others no doubt will respond in their own languages, with their own forms and preoccupations at some later date. Also, as I live among Chinese speakers and some of them are gifted writers, I have also had the good fortune of finding a friend to translate my text and this I have discretely tucked into the inside of the pages.

Like others who have handled these pages, you might imagine that most of what I have done has been to wrap the paintings in a new covering, embellished with such richness and imagination as I can manage and seems fitting.