During the reigns of Emperor Jiaqing and Emperor Daoguang in the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD), a man of letters named Bao Jun born in Yangzhou of China’s Jiangnan area created a distinctive form of art later known as “cut-paper painting by Bao Jun”, which features diverse themes including landscapes, figures, birds, flowers, insects, fish, etc. based on his integration of paper-cutting and painting. The techniques of Bao’s “cut-paper painting” have unfortunately been lost, as neither artists like him nor artworks similar to those of his have appeared ever since.
The “cut-paper painting” by Bao Jun, as a distinctive category that marked an important stage in the development of the Yangzhou paper-cut art of the Qing dynasty (1644-1912 AD), count as the masterpiece of the literati paper-cuts for that it has not only inherited the literati characters of the preceding paper cut-outs by Bao Zhuangxing, but also integrated multiple art forms including poetry, calligraphy, painting, printing, cutting and pasting.
There are altogether 12 pieces of “cut-paper painting” in Bao Jun’s Album of Plants and Insects in Color now housed in Zhenjiang Museum, namely, Crabapples, Butterflies, Okra Flowers and Chrysanthemums, Hydrangea Flowers and Kingfisher, Returned Swallow in Spring, Daylilies, Black Butterflies, Daylilies and Orchids, Peach Blossoms, Swallows and Willows, Hydrangea Flowers, Bean Pods. In similar styles, these pieces feature ingenious compositions, rich layers and life-like illustration thanks to Bao Jun’s experienced skills of cutting and collaging.
The viewers would find out after careful observation that these pieces must have been done by the creator first cutting shapes of flowers, birds, plants, insects, characters and seals from sheets of paper, then pasting them onto rice paper and finally rendering and adding supplemental brushwork similar to the texture strokes in Chinese painting.
With a solid foundation in the fields of painting and calligraphy as well as adept skills of paper-cutting, Bao Jun was able to combine painting and paper-cuts innovatively, creating a series of fascinating “cut-paper paintings” of landscapes, birds and flowers, plants and insects, figures, among which those with the theme of birds and flowers as well as plants and insects are the most brilliant.
The “cut-paper painting” demands experienced skills of collaging and pasting. These skills of Bao Jun were so ingenious that some staff of the museum who didn’t believe that the pieces in the Album of Plants and Insects were made of cut-paper even broke the museum rules to touch these cultural relics and were fully convinced and amazed when they saw the slightly curled corners of the cut-paper.
On his artworks Bao Jun usually left the signature of “Bao Jun from Baisha (White Sand)” or the seal of “Baisha Ren (person from White Sand)”. According to Encyclopaedic Dictionary of Ancient and Modern Chinese Geographical Names, Baisha was a prefecture known for white sand located in Yizheng county of China’s eastern Jiangsu province. And since Baisha prefecture was under jurisdiction of Yangzhou during the Qing dynasty, Bao Jun was referred to as a native of Yangzhou by Chen Wenshu in his New Recordings of the Painters Circle, actually a native of Yizheng county of Yangzhou to be specific.