If did not meet with the gentleman personally, I will not believe a natural born American US citizen had such intensive research in Chinese traditional culture. The Chinese painting and calligraphy and Chinese ancient ceramic are two of the most abstract subjects in Chinese art research and had been the popular study topics among officialdom and literati in the history which requires the researchers to have broad knowledge in humanity, history, technology and arts. Thus, without the broad knowledge of Chinese national culture, people will only have a superficial understanding of Chinese painting and ancient ceramics. Dr. Stephen Little who is expertise in Chinese ink wash painting and Chinese ancient ceramics is far beyond the famous Chinese peers.
Several days ago, he attended the art exhibition of Qiu Shizhou at the Suzhou Museum. All of us were impressed by his rich knowledge and expertise in Chinese paintings. He accurately introduced the details of each painting works to us such as when Qiu inscribed on the drawing, who had put preface and postscript it and what are the Chinese characters in the seals when he was standing in distance from the showcase. His comments were confirmed by us and museum staff after looking closely.
In the later days we also looked at many ancient Chinese ceramics with his assistant Mr. Kong. I was surprised at his Ceramics evaluation experience as an art connoisseur. He can preciously tell when the porcelains were made without touching them or looking at the marks on bottom. For example, there is only slight difference between the Guan wares from Yongzheng’s Reign and early Qianlong’s Reign, even experienced connoisseurs may make wrong judgments. However Dr. Little’s comments and evaluations are always accurate. He admitted that he had not seen some porcelain styles before which means he made his judgments based on his fully understanding the Chinese ancient ceramics. Unlike other “experts” who only make positive comments on the ceramics works they saw before, Dr. Little evaluates each art works clearly and confidently. I had showed him a Red glazed plate with Lucky Fruit Patterns without mark which should be made close to Xuande Reign and told him that some people think it was made in Yongle Reign. He took his ring off and looked at the plate very carefully and used his fingers touching the plate bottom for a while. “Interesting, feels like baby’s skin” finally he spoke in Chinese and looked at me “It should belongs to Xuande reign”. I was really amazed at his knowledge and experience.
Blue and White Dragon Plate, Qianlong period
Dr. Little is a famous American Asian art scholar having deep understanding of Chinese, Korean and Japanese culture. Especially, he is not only expertise in the Chinese painting and calligraphy, Chinese ancient ceramics but also having intensive knowledge in Chinese ancient jade, other ancient items as well as Ancient royal seal.
Some people is saying “Dr. Little only believes his own judgments on the antiques and will never listen to other’s suggestions”. However this is based on his decade’s research in Asian art and his willing to take the responsibility of his judgments. Los Angeles County Museum of Art should be proud of him as he is their department head and curator of Chinese and Korean art. Chinese museums do need this kind of experts.
I am a little curiosity about his experience and how he became an American Asian art scholar. Google gave me the answer.
He received a B.A. from Cornell University in 1975, an M.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1977, and a Ph.D. from Yale University in 1987 under the supervision of Professor Richard Barnhart. In 1977, he was doing internship at Asian Art Museum of San Francisco. A curatorial position was open due to the loss of the director of Chinese art department. After several rounds sharp competition with many other candidates including some Ph. D students of Dr. James Cahill, he successfully got the job offer when he was only 23 years old. Mr. Little was very modest. He attributed his interview success to his ability to speak French and the Museum’s French curator.
His first book “Chinese Ceramics of the Transitional Period: 1620-1683” was published in 1989. Through the detail study of the special Chinese porcelains characteristics in the transitional period, he exhibited us the precious ceramics for that time.
Dr. Little spent all his life as an American Asian art scholar especially familiar with Chinese, Japanese and Korean art. Meanwhile, he is a famous professor who had teached at Harvard University, University of Chicago, University of Virginia, University of London and UCLA. He is also a famous painter whose paintings are inspired by Chinese landscape paintings, especially works by the 13th century Chan (Zen) painters Muqi and Yujian. In his recent work, he has aimed at achieving images that are spatially ambiguous, reflecting his study of nuclear physics and Daoism, the ancient Chinese system of belief that perceives reality as fluid, and teaches a way of living in balance with the natural world. Stephen is a great Artist and American Asian scholar. His achievements are established on his persistent pursuit of Chinese arts. He is a brilliant man who loves Chinese art from the depths of his heart and devotes himself in Asian arts.