The Palace Museum in Beijing will display authentic Riverside Scene at Qingming Festival (Qingming Shanghe Tu) from September 8 to November 8 in an exhibition titled "The Precious Collection of the Stone Moat".
From: ECNS.CN 2 September 2015
Paintings often seen in textbooks jump from the page onto the wall.
When museum staff members in the Hall of Martial Valor slowly unveil the national treasures sitting in front of us, you can sense everyone in the room collectively holding their breath.
For far from being just another exhibition taking shape, what lies before our eyes are the most outstanding specimens of Chinese fine arts history imaginable.
What we reporters were lucky enough to see close up that day, the public will be able to lay their eyes on when the Precious Collection of the Stone Moat, whose catalogue includes 283 masterpieces, is unveiled in the Palace Museum, Beijing, on Sept 8. The exhibition, marking the 90th anniversary of the museum's opening, will be on display for two months thereafter.
The highlight is almost certainly the painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival by Zhang Zeduan (1085-1145) of the imperial painting academy of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).
It depicts the flourishing landscape of the national capital at the time, Bianjing, now called Kaifeng, in Henan province. In the picture there are fine details of about 600 figures, 100 houses and 25 boats, and it includes the seals of nearly 100 collectors affixed to the painting down the centuries.
What makes the work's display in the coming exhibition all the more compelling is that its complete face has been veiled from public view for about 10 years.
Museum rules dictate that after Along the River During the Qingming Festival is displayed it must go into hibernation for at least three years. The last time it had a public viewing was in Japan in 2012, when the public got the chance to glimpse just part of it.
"Each exhibit is exceptional," says Zeng Jun, curator of the exhibition. "On show is the very best of emperors' possessions, and the scale is probably larger than anything the museum has put on in its long history."
The Palace Museum, also known as the Forbidden City, was China's royal palace from 1420 to 1911. It now houses 53,000 paintings and 75,000 works of calligraphy. However, space for showing them is highly limited, and with additional concerns about the safety aspects of an exhibition in the ancient surroundings, most have been locked up in warehouses for years.
The Stone Moat, known in Chinese as Shiqu Baoji, is a royal inventory complied during the reign of Qianlong (1736-96) that records about 11,000 paintings and works of calligraphy the emperor collected. He named it after the royal library of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 24).
Anyone familiar with Chinese art who takes a brief stroll through the hall will spot many works they have encountered in the pages of textbooks. One such is Spring Excursion, by Zhan Ziqian (AD 545-618), one of the oldest surviving Chinese landscape paintings.
One of the works of calligraphy on display is Letter to Boyuan, a greeting by Wang Xun (AD 350-401) to an ill friend. It is the only surviving calligraphy from the Jin Dynasty (AD 266-420) with the writer's signature and is regarded as representing the apogee of Chinese calligraphic history. It is one of Emperor Qianlong's three favorite calligraphy works and once hung in his renowned Sanxitang study in the Forbidden City.
Those are just a few of the wonders on display, and the list goes on and on.
"The Stone Moat is like a jewelry box overflowing with gems," says Zhang Zhen, a researcher in the museum's painting and calligraphy department. "Seals on these works guarantee their royal identity.
"So we can be sure about how many imperial collections later dispersed in other directions, and that gives us a lot of help in retrieving them."
Social upheaval and war from the late 19th century to the early 20th century led to many works in The Stone Moat being looted and going overseas. When the Kuomintang retreated to Taiwan in 1949, a part was also taken there and is now housed in the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
The Palace Museum has taken three years to investigate their collections and makes a catalogue. About 1,000 pieces recorded in the book are now housed in the museum. Some works were donated or bought back, and for the exhibition a hall has been reserved for displaying these treasures.
One of these treasures is Five Oxen, another highly important work in the history of Chinese painting. It vanished after the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded Beijing in 1900 and surfaced again in the 1950s in Hong Kong. Premier Zhou Enlai put the Ministry of Culture in charge of negotiating to bring the painting home, and it finally returned to Beijing in the 1950s.
To give visitors a full appreciation of the works they are seeing, comprehensive accounts of how each work was collected and where it circulated are given. There are also explanations of inscriptions and biographies of artists as well as collectors.
Proving the truth of the motto that to err is human, even though 31 top scholars and artists had a hand in compiling The Stone Moat, some collections later proved to be counterfeits or were suspecting of being so. A section is devoted to discussing recent academic research on the matter.
In addition to what is recorded in the book, the exhibition includes imperial seals, royal book collections and kesi, a fine woven tapestry. The calligraphy and paintings of five Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors will also be on display.
"We want this exhibition to be classic, but we also want it to be diverse," curator Zeng says.
If you go
8:30 am-4:30 pm, until Nov 8. The Palace Museum (closed on Mondays), 4 Jingshan Qianjie, Dongcheng district (entry only via the south gate).
Museum tickets cost 60 yuan ($9.4). The exhibition is in the Hall of Martial Valor (or Wuyingdian, in the southwest of the museum) and the Palace of Lasting Happiness (or Yanxi Gong, in the eastern part of museum).
The exhibition will be operated in two phrases. Some exhibits, including Along the River During the Qingming Festival, will be replaced after Oct 12.
More information at www.dpm.org.cn.