Friday, 16 October 2015

Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection

Han Gan (Chinese, active ca. 742–756).
Night-Shining White (detail), ca. 750. Tang dynasty (618–907). China. 
Handscroll; ink on paper; 12 1/8 x 13 3/8 in. (30.8 x 34 cm). 
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 
Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1977 (1977.78)

Masterpieces of Chinese Painting from the Metropolitan Collection

Exhibition in New York

October 31, 2015–October 11, 2016

Over the last forty years, the Metropolitan's collection of Chinese painting and calligraphy has grown to be one of the greatest in the world. Replete with masterpieces dating from the Tang dynasty (608–917) to the present, the collection encompasses the vast historical sweep of the brush arts of China, from serene Buddhist scriptures to bombastic court portraits to lyrical scholars' paintings.
This exhibition, presented in two rotations, will highlight the gems of the permanent collection in a chronological display, with an emphasis on works from the Song (960–1279) and Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties.

A glimpse of the upcoming Metropolitan Chinese painting exhibition

Following the example of The Precious Collection of the Stone Moat, a special gallery featuring traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting in the Palace Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art announced it will hold a world-class exhibition of masterpieces of Chinese pictorial art beginning Oct 31.
As one of the largest museums in the world, the Metropolitan has acquired a massive collection of Chinese paintings from ancient to modern times. Many of them are part of the museum’s permanent exhibition, but this time visitors have a very rare opportunity to see the full collection.
Masterpieces of Chinese painting will be presented in two rotations. One will showcase the full collection, including works that belong to different dynastic epochs, and in the other, pieces that depict a wider variety of different subjects and stories. The first will last until April 17, 2016. The second group in the collection will be on show from May 7, 2016 to Oct 11, 2016.
With masterpieces dating from the Tang Dynasty (608-917) to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the exhibition encompasses the vast historical sweep of Chinese brush arts, from meticulous court painting to lyrical paintings by scholars, with an emphasis on works from the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties.
The exhibition is one of the most important celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Asian Art section of the museum. In the 1870s, the museum started to collect Chinese cultural relics by accepting donations of porcelains and snuff boxes from noted collectors Samuel Avery, Heber Bishop and Benjamin Altman.
In 1915, the Met officially established a Far-East section to research Asian art, and invited Dutch scholar Reitz Bosch to serve as director. Under his leadership, the museum collected Chinese pottery, porcelains, bronze vessels, figures of the Buddha, silk and paintings from different periods and regions through donations and acquisitions.
The Met ushered in its golden age of Chinese cultural relics in the late 1970s with help from Douglas Dillon, the former American treasury secretary who set up a foundation for Chinese artworks’ acquisition and research, and Wen Fong, the Princeton University professor who guided the acquisition of Chinese paintings and calligraphy for the museum.

Now, let’s take a glimpse at some of the masterpieces in the upcoming exhibition.

This is a wonderful hand-scroll-portrait of Emperor Xuanzong’s (712-756) best-known horse, painted by Han Gan, who was known for portraying not only the physical likeness of a horse but also its spirit.
Although Han is said to have preferred visits to the stables over the study of earlier paintings of horses, the profile image and the abstraction of the animal’s anatomy clearly derive from ancient prototypes.

Recording a sacred Daoism text, the sutra is a means of propagating the faith, and an excellent Chinese calligraphy work.
It is said that the sutra was copied by Princess Yuzhen, a daughter of Emperor Xuanzong, or written by Zhong Shaojing, a noted calligrapher of the same period. According to scholars, the work was probably finished in 738. It exemplifies the sophisticated court style of the High Tang period. The small script is balanced and harmonious, with every hook, stroke, and dot perfectly defined and executed.

By an unidentified Chinese artist active late 10th–11th century in the Five Dynasties (907–960) or Northern Song (960–1127) Dynasty, this work is one of the earliest surviving examples of architectural renderings with ruled lines.
The painting shows women’s life in the imperial palace on the night of the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Traditionally, women used to decorate their homes, set out fruits, and competed in threading needles as part of the festivities celebrating the one night each year when the Herd Boy and the Weaving Maid, legendary lovers immortalized as constellations, are allowed to meet.
From an intimate view of women’s quarters of a palace, visitors can also enjoy the view of elegant rooms facing courtyards graced with trees and ponds with blossoming lotus in the painting.
Written by Huang Tingjian, a famous poet and calligrapher, the work is a master¬piece of cursive script writing. According to historic records, Huang believed that calligraphy should be spontaneous and self-expressive. Huang’s work transcribes a story of a rivalry between two officials, Lian Po, a distinguished general, and Lin Xiangru, a skilled strategist.
 Huang’s transcription ends abruptly with Lin’s words:"When two tigers fight, one must perish. I behave as I do because I put our country’s fate before private feuds."
By an unidentified painter probably active in the mid-12th century, the work shows Emperor Xuanzong’s flight from Chang’an (Xi’an), the capital of the Tang Dynasty, to the safety of the Shu area (Sichuan province).
In 745, after 33 years of able rule, Emperor Xuanzong fell in love with Yang Guifei and became indifferent to his duties. When Yang’s favorite general, An Lushan, rebelled in 755, she was forced to commit suicide by mutinous troops. Reluctantly assenting, Emperor Xuanzong looked on in horror and abdicated soon after during his flight to Shu.
This painting depicts the imperial entourage after the execution. While the accoutrements of the figures are Tang, the painting's landscape style of intricately described volumetric forms and a mist-suffused atmosphere suggests a mid-12th-century date.
Painted in the early 13th century, noted painter Ma Yuan’s work gives visitors a visual poem evoking sense.
The browns and blacks in the trees and rocks contrast with the light grayish hues of the cliff and mountain to suggest the mist-filled atmosphere of an early spring evening. The thatch roof of a pavilion identifies the place as a garden setting. A man in a white robe sits quietly under the moonlight, framed by the dark angular forms of the landscape.
Ma’s work recalls a yin-yang cosmic diagram with its implication of positive within negative, light within dark, solid within void.
Painted in the mid-13th century, South Song Dynasty (1127–1279), it is one of the masterpieces by Zhao Mengjian, a member of the Song imperial family, a calligrapher and painter. Zhao specialized in painting narcissi and raised the flower to the level of the orchid in the esteem of scholars in his period.
Offering the promise of spring, the narcissus is known in Chinese as the Shuixian, which means "water goddess" or "goddess who stands above the waves". The fragrant blossoms are associated with the two goddesses of the Xiang River and with Qu Yuan (343–277 BC), the author of Li Sao (On Encountering Sorrow). He was a loyal minister of the state of Chu (1042-223BC) who drowned himself in a tributary of the Xiang River after failing to alert his prince of the imminent danger threatening the state.
After the collapse of the South Song Dynasty, Qiu Yuan, a Song loyalist, appended his poem to the scroll. Qiu described Zhao’s narcissi as the only vision of life in an otherwise devastated land.

By three generations of Zhao’s family (the legendary artist Zhao Mengfu and his son, Zhao Yong, as well as his grandson, Zhao Lin) probably from 1296 to 1359, this work is one of the representative masterpieces of the whole Yuan Dynasty.
The groom’s face is rendered with an equally deft touch, while the horse’s rump appears to have been drawn with a compass. These factors create an image both eye-catching and subtle.

Probably finished in 1339, the originator of the work is Ni Zan, a well-known painter in the Yuan Dynasty. He led a wealthy life before the early 1340s, spending his time among precious books, antiques and flowers. His painting style at the time, as seen in Enjoying the Wilderness in an Autumn Grove, exhibits a studied archaism in which his interest in descriptive detail is at odds with his self-conscious use of calligraphic brushstrokes.
In 1366, Ni abandoned his home to escape marauding soldiers. Even after the establishment of the Ming dynasty in 1368, Ni continued the life of a wanderer, visiting old haunts that he had not seen for 20 or 30 years. His art style changed significantly, to become aloof and restrained.

The painter of the work was Bada Shanren (Zhu Da), one of the four monks of a painting circle in the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and a descendant of a Ming royal family. After the downfall of the Ming, Zhu became a monk at the age of 23, and found no other way to express his sorrow except to paint.
Zhu’s painting style was curious, with an indifferent atmosphere. In Birds in a Lotus Pond, he focused on a narrow band of the natural world and created a daring composition of saturated ink lines and dots starkly set against a blank background.
The scroll opens with the daringly abstract form of a torn lotus leaf that is precariously suspended from its bent stalk, which extends leftward above a half-hidden blossom. On the shore beyond crouch two mynahs, their glances directed upward toward a final lotus leaf that looms above them. Balanced on the back of the second mynah is another tiny chick, its beak open in song or hunger.

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