Lofty Mount Lu by Shen Zhou

The Ming Dynasty ruled China from 1368 to 1644. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “The reestablishment of an indigenous Chinese ruling house led to the imposition of court-dictated styles in the arts. Painters recruited by the Ming court were instructed to return to didactic and realistic representation, in emulation of the styles of the earlier Southern Song (1127–1279) Imperial Painting Academy. Large-scale landscapes, flower-and-bird compositions, and figural narratives were particularly favored as images that would glorify the new dynasty and convey its benevolence, virtue, and majesty. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]

“In Ming painting, the traditions of both the Southern Song painting academy and the Yuan (1279–1368) scholar-artist were developed further. While the Zhe (Zhejiang Province) school of painters carried on the descriptive, ink-wash style of the Southern Song with great technical virtuosity, the Wu (Suzhou) school explored the expressive calligraphic styles of Yuan scholar-painters emphasizing restraint and self-cultivation. In Ming scholar-painting, as in calligraphy, each form is built up of a recognized set of brushstrokes, yet the execution of these forms is, each time, a unique personal performance. Valuing the presence of personality in a work over mere technical skill, the Ming scholar-painter aimed for mastery of performance rather than laborious craftsmanship. \^/

According to In the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the Zhe (Che) School consisted mostly of painters from the Zhejiang and Fujian areas, such as Dai Jin and Wu Wei, who modeled their works on those of the Southern Song to create coarse and liberated expressions of monochrome ink. The styles of Wu School artists living in the Suzhou area, including Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, and Tang Yin, were based on the Four Yuan Masters to form a new manner of literati painting with rich warmth and elegant beauty. Dong Qichang of the late Ming and Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui, and Wang Yuanqi in the early Qing dynasty (1644-1911) gathered and achieved a grand synthesis of ancient models, using brush and ink to recreate nature as they formed the vastly influential Orthodox School. Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: Qin Ying (c. 1525) painted in the Academic Style, indicating every detail, however small, and showing preference for a turquoise-green ground. , Tang Yin (1470-1523) was the painter of elegant women. [Sources: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw; “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

According to the Shanghai Museum:“ During the Ming dynasty, royal painters continued the magnificent and graceful style of the Song Art Academy. Outside the imperial court, the "Zhejiang School" represented by Dai Jin and its counterpart, the "Jiangxia School " headed by Wu Wei became dominant for their forceful brush strokes and free, bold ink washes. In Suzhou, the "Wu School" represented by Shen Zhou and Wen Zhengming dominated the field for over one hundred years. They focused on brush and ink washes to express scholars' emotion. In the late Ming, Dong Qichang reformed literati painting through synthesizing the Song and Yuan traditions. [Source: Shanghai Museum, shanghaimuseum.net]

Websites and Sources on Chinese Painting and Calligraphy: China Online Museum chinaonlinemuseum.com ; Painting, University of Washington depts.washington.edu ; Calligraphy, University of Washington depts.washington.edu ; Websites and Sources on Chinese Art: China -Art History Resources art-and-archaeology.com ; Art History Resources on the Web witcombe.sbc.edu ; ;Modern Chinese Literature and Culture (MCLC) Visual Arts/mclc.osu.edu ; Asian Art.com asianart.com ; China Online Museum chinaonlinemuseum.com ; Qing Art learn.columbia.edu Museums with First Rate Collections of Chinese Art National Palace Museum, Taipei npm.gov.tw ; Beijing Palace Museum dpm.org.cn ;Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org ; Sackler Museum in Washington asia.si.edu/collections ; Shanghai Museum shanghaimuseum.net

Literati Versus Academic Painting During the Ming Dynasty

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: ““By the time the Yuan emperors were driven from China in 1368 and a new dynasty under Chinese rulers established — the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) — literati painting was a firm tradition. Literati paintings were prized above academic paintings by most educated people, who understood their goal of revealing the inner character of the painter and communicating, through depictions of nature, man, or objects, virtues, strength of purpose, and sensitivity towards the conditions of human life. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University, /+/]

“So important had painting become, that some literati chose to focus their entire lives on mastery of the art, rather than pursuing government careers, even though their rulers were no longer alien to China. In the increasingly urban and educated society of Ming China, these men actually made considerable income from their work, either in the form of cash "gifts" or of other goods "traded" for their art. Literati circles at the highest levels often included among a group of close friends (who, acting as a mutual support group, were often a force to be reckoned with in local society and politics) painters who would inspire group activities the way that premier poets did. In fact, poetry and painting began increasingly to overlap. Often literati painters would present paintings to friends with the invitation to write on them poetry and short essays. In this way, paintings sometimes seem to become more group expressions than mere individual expressions of the painter, capturing an essential Confucian element of sociality. /+/

Wolfram Eberhard wrote in “A History of China”: During the Ming Dynasty scholarly painting continued to prevail and ink wash painting of the Imperial Painting Academy and Southern Song court was briefly popular. Paintings were often filled with human figures, whose size was an indication of their rank. During the late Ming and early Qing Dynasties two approaches to scholarly painting were developed: the first in which artists copied and studied ancient themes and subjects, and the second in which artists abandoned models and expressed their own creativity through inventive means. The individualist expressive form predominated in the mid Qing dynasty. Research on ancient inscriptions influenced painting in the late Qing period. Hanging scroll portraits of emperors and other nobleman contained Tibetan and Islamic influences. [Source: “A History of China” by Wolfram Eberhard, 1951, University of California, Berkeley]

Early Mid-Ming Dynasty Painting

A Beautiful Woman by Tang Yin

According to the Shanghai Museum: From the Hongwu Reign to the Longqing Reign (1368-1572), the Ming dynasty had no Imperial Art Academy, so large numbers of painters were recruited into the inner court. These painters continued the magnificent and graceful styles of the Song Art Academy. With the influence of the Art Academy style of the Southern Song, the ‘Zhejiang School’ represented by Dai Jin, evolved outside the Imperial court. Wu Wei headed the ‘Jiangxia School’ which became renowned for its forceful brush strokes and free, bold ink washes. From the Chenghua to the Jiajing Reign (1471-1565), the ‘Wu School’ of literati painting, a regional school from the north of Suzhou represented by Shen Zhou and Wen Zhengming, dominated the painting field for over one hundred years. It focused on the tradition of using brush techniques and ink washes to express the quiet life of scholars. Some noteworthy painters are described below. [Source: Shanghai Museum]

Lin Liang (ca. 1416-ca. 1480), also known by his zi (designated name) Yishan, was a native of Nanhai (present-day Guangdong province). He was appointed as an imperial painter working in the Ming imperial inner court during the period of emperor’s reign-title of Tianshun (1457-1464), and very famous for his flower and bird painting in both free and realistic styles. His works include the hanging scroll “Camellia with White-feathered Birds.”

Wang Lu (1332-after 1384) is also known by his zi (designated name) Andao and his hao (literary names) Jisou and Baodu Laoren. A native of Kunshan, Jiangsu province, Wang Lu was famous for landscape painting. These album leaves were completed by Wang Lu at the age of fifty-three, when he was deeply moved after visiting Huashan in Shanxi province in the seventeenth year of the Hongwu Reign (1384). This is his sole extant painting. His works include the album leaves “Landscapes of Huashan”.

Tang Yin (1470-1523), one of the “Four Ming-Dynasty Artists”, was also known by his zis (designated names) Bohu and Ziwei, and his hao (literary name) Liuru Jushi. A native of Suzhou of Jiangsu Province, the artist was especially good at painting themes such as landscapes, figures, and birds and flowers. He learned the art of painting from both Shen Zhou and Zhou Chen. His works include the hanging scroll “Lady with Fan in the Autumn Breeze.”

Qiu Ying (ca. 1498-1552), also known by his zi (designated name) Shifu and his hao (literary name) Shizhou, was a native of Taicang, Jiangsu province. As one of the “Four Painting Masters of the Ming Dynasty”, he was adept in painting landscapes, figures and architectures after the style of Zhou Chen. His works include the hanging scroll “Resting under Willow Trees with a Zither”.

Xu Wei (1521-1593) is also known by his zi (designated name) Wenchang and his hao (literary name) Tianchi, and Qingteng in his later years. A native of Shanyin (present-day Shaoxing, Zhejiang province), Xu Wei was adept in painting landscapes, figures, flowers, birds, insects and fish with simple strokes. Xu Wei introduced a new style of monochrome ink Xieyi (free style) painting. His works include the hanging scroll “Peony, Bamboo and Rocks”.

Ding Yunpeng (1547-1628), also known by his zi (designated name) Nanyu and his hao (literary name) Shenghua Jushi, was a native of Xiuning, Anhui province. He was adept at figure painting, especially of Buddhist figures, as well as landscape and flower paintings. His works include the hanging scroll “Filtering Wine.”

Late Ming-Early Qing Painting

According to the Shanghai museum: From he Wanli Reign of the Ming to the Kangxi Reign of the Qing (1573-1722), Chinese painting changed, due to the social changes of different reigns and the chaos of war. New schools, artistic trends and styles emerged in the field of painting as social stability was gradually re-established. In the late Ming, Dong Qichang revived literati painting, the dominant style of the Song and Yuan. Following his lead, Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui and Wang Yuanqi imitated the styles of the old masters and this became the prevailing trend in painting. [Source: Shanghai Museum]

In the early Qing dynasty, many new painters created fresh artistic styles by stressing personal characteristics and advocating learning from Nature. The Four Monks together with Mei Qing and Gong Xian represented this new style. Wu Bing, Chen Hongshou exhibited novel and unrestrained styles displaying their unique creativity. The skill of Yun Shouping, drawing from life, who injected new life into ‘boneless’ flower painting, ushered in a new era in flower painting.

Fan Qi (1616-after 1694), also known by his zi (designated name) Huigong, was a native of Jinling (present-day Nanjing). As one of the “Eight Painting Masters of Jinling”, he was skillful in painting landscapes, flowers and figures. His works include the hanging scroll “Wind Storm Ruffles the Water.” This piece was painted in 1676 when he was 61 years old.

Dong Qichang (1555-1636), also known by his zi (designated name) Xuanzai and his hao (literary name) Xiangguang, was a native of Huating (present-day Songjiang, Shanghai). He is famous for his landscape painting with exquisite ink washes and delicate strokes. This work was completed in 1604 when he was 50 years old. His works include the handscroll “Misty River and Mountains”.

Yuan Jiang (ca. 1693-ca. 1746), also known by his zi (designated name) Wentao and his later hao (literary name) Xiuquan, was a native of Jiangdu (present-day Yangzhou, Jiangsu province). As the best Qing master of Architecture Paintings, he was very skilled in painting landscapes and buildings. His works include the hanging scroll “Scholar’s Studio in Mountains”.

Shitao (1642-1707), a descendant from the Ming-Dynasty royal family, was originally named Zhu Ruoji. He was known by his Buddhist name Yuanji, his zi (designated name) Shitao and his hao (literary name) Dadizi. A native of Quanzhou in Guangxi Province, he moved to Xuancheng and Nanjing in succession, and finally settled in Yangzhou. Noted for landscape and floral paintings, he was recognized as one of the “Four Monk Artists in the early Qing period”. His works include the hanging scroll “Elegant Collection of West Garden.”

Four Masters of the Ming Dynasty

The Four Masters of the Ming dynasty are a traditional grouping in Chinese art history of four famous Chinese painters of the Ming dynasty. The painters are Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), Tang Yin (1470-1523), and Qiu Ying (c.1494-c.1552). Shen Zhou and Wen Zhengming were leaders in the Wu School. Their styles and subject matter were varied. Shen and Wen personified the Wu School ideal of the literati gentleman artist, while Tang and Qiu were accomplished examples of the Suzhou professional class of painters. Qiu was solely a painter; the other three developed distinct styles of painting, calligraphy, and poetry. [Source: Wikipedia]

The Four Masters of the Ming dynasty were approximate contemporaries, friends when their lives overlapped and were intimately familiar with each other's work. Shen Zhou was the teacher of Wen Zhengming. The other two studied with Zhou Chen. Their family backgrounds were different. Tang Yin was born into a rich merchant family, Wen Zhengming was born into a bureaucratic family and was himself a government official. Qiu Ying was a craftsman of dyes and lacquers. Shen Zhou was one of the main founders of the Wu School of painting. Shen's early mentor was Du Qiong, and Shen's paternal grandfather was a friend of Wang Meng, an artist of the late Yuan dynasty. Shen's father and uncle were both painters.

Both Shen Zhou and Qiu Ying were most accomplished in shan shui painting, and they were well-versed in the painting style of the imperial court. Tang Yin was accomplished in nearly all styles of traditional Chinese painting. Wen Zhengming was accomplished in blue-green shan shui painting and the gongbi style. Zhou Chen was an important coach in Tang's early career, while Qiu Ying was self-taught. Tang Yin later became a character in historical fiction and is very well known in popular culture.

Spring Dawn in the Han Palace by Qiu Ying

Shen Zhou and the Yuan Masters

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: ““One of the most famous of all literati painters was Shen Zhou (1427-1509), who lived on China's east coast, not far from the modern Shanghai region. Over the next few pages, we view some of Shen Zhou's paintings, looking at them as a kind of summation of many aspects of literati painting. We will then close by looking at one work by a student of Shen Zhou's, Wen Zhengming, whose reputation rose to the level of his master's. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University, /+/]

“Shen Zhou was noted for the extremely broad range of styles he commanded. He devoted himself to painting as the sole focus of his life — he was an accomplished poet, but undertook no government responsibilities or other arduous employment. Although Shen often painted in a simple style, his technical skills as a painter were on a par with academic masters - as will be confirmed, for example, by viewing his early work, "Lofty Mt. Lu," which he painted for his teacher Chen Kuan, a man who was himself both a literati poet and an artist. (Chen is pictured standing near the bottom of the painting, framed against a background of flowing water.) Shen Zhou's exceptional skills gained him many kinds of financial support from family, friends, and patrons, and he taught many students as well. /+/

“The styles Shen Zhou mastered first were those of the various Yuan masters, and their influence is clearly visible throughout his life. Shen Zhou painted many works that could easily have been mistaken for original Yuan paintings, but they were never regarded as plagiarized imitations or "mere" copies. The high valuation of tradition made it acceptable for painters to go so far as to produce precise replicas of "classical" models — it was as if, having absorbed through practice the techniques of these older masters, the later imitator had in fact "embodied" the model, and the replica was as much a form of his own self-expression as the original had been of the master's. /+/

Life of Shen Zhou

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Shen Zhou (style name Qi'nan; sobriquets Shitian and Baishiweng), a native of Xiangcheng in Changzhou County, Suzhou Prefecture, was born in the second year of the Xuande reign (1427) and died in the fourth year of the Zhengde reign (1509), reaching the age of 83 by Chinese reckoning. His family had lived in Changzhou for generations and, despite the scholarship of his grandfather Shen Mengyuan, father Shen Hengji, and uncle Shen Zhenji, none of the members had served as an official. The family, however, had a substantial collection of art, and was renowned for its accomplishments in poetry, calligraphy, and painting, being active in various cultural circles.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“Since childhood, Shen Zhou was able to recite text at a glance and stood out for his outstanding intelligence. In early years, he studied under Chen Kuan, possessing a firm foundation in traditional studies of the classics and also dabbling in medicine and divination as well as unofficial histories and tales. More importantly, he became an accomplished poet, calligrapher, and painter. Influenced by members of his family, Shen Zhou also was a skilled connoisseur of art. Known for his sincere and good-natured character, he never sat for the civil service examinations, turning down offers of appointment on several occasions to care for members of his family, preferring instead to lead a happy life of reclusion.

Though Shen may be considered a recluse, he maintained close relations with a number of scholars in the Suzhou area. Not only doing poetry, calligraphy, and painting for each other, they also often met for trips, taking in the scenery of famous sites in the Suzhou area. The teacher-friends with whom Shen Zhou maintained close contact include Wu Kuan and Wang Ao, who had a strong background in the arts. With their great collections and keen eye for art, they often engaged in exchanging, viewing, and composing poetry, an artistic activity that became an important cultural underpinning for the Wu School of painting that emerged at this time.

Shen Zhou’s Calligraphy, Poetry, and Commentary on Growing a Beard

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Shen Zhou was not only a master and leader in the Wu School of painting, he was also one of the forerunners in the Wu School of calligraphy, often keeping company with such eminent figures as Wu Yue. The style of Shen Zhou's calligraphy in his early years, having a slightly awkward touch within elegant beauty, followed in the family tradition and the Zhao Mengfu manner circulating in Suzhou at the time. In later years, Shen Zhou then began incorporating the brushwork of Song dynasty calligraphers, marking a conscious departure from traditional styles of fluid beauty by focusing on the study of Huang Tingjian's manner. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“Not only gifted at painting and calligraphy, Shen Zhou was also an outstanding poet, the verses he composed in later years being rich and free, writing to his heart's content without adorning the expressions to create a natural and uncommon manner. Throughout his life, Shen Zhou sought neither fame nor wealth, lodging his feelings in landscapes using brush and ink while also using calligraphy to inscribe his own poems on paintings. Through expressing emotions, his art represents how text and image complement each other. For Shen Zhou, poetry, painting, and calligraphy had formed a perfect union, hence the term for the "Three Perfections," which is why Li Rihua in the late Ming dynasty wrote, "Painting has exceeding wonders, calligraphy strength in beauty, and chanting poetry unrestraint."

“Commentary on Growing a Beard” involves a friend of Shen Zhou, Zhao Mingyu, who did not have a beard. When Yao Cundao heard of this, he asked Shen to do this work and recruited Zhou Zongdao (who had a full beard) to help out in the hope that he could "give" Zhao ten whiskers to make up for what he was lacking in terms of facial hair. Though called a "commentary," Shen Zhou's writing is full of comical humor, revealing a sense of close friendship among these literati. Though Shen Zhou makes a show of citing from classics to give the appearance of a serious composition, he transcribed it in large running script, giving it a more informal quality. The brushwork here features dark and heavy strokes with the forms and momentum upright and strokes extending at an angle, the spirit exuding and reflecting much of the spirit harmony of Huang Tingjian's calligraphy. Though it appears on the surface to be similar to Huang Tingjian's style, the brushwork in the dots and strokes is more astringent and powerfully upright in Shen Zhou's own manner, making this a representative surviving example of Shen's large running script.

Shen Zhou's "Poet on a Mountaintop" and "Listening to the Cicadas"

“Poet on a Mountaintop” is regarded as Shen Zhou’s masterpieces. .Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Shen Zhou exemplified literati painting in another way — his blending of poetry and painting, the arts of words and images. Many of Shen Zhou's paintings include poems of his own — many also include poems composed by friends. "Poet on a Mountaintop" is one of Shen Zhou's most famous. The scholar alone in nature seems to be looking out not over a chasm of rocks and clouds, but directly at the poem that Shen has placed before him. Here is what the poem says:
“White clouds sash-like
wrap mountain waists,
Rock terrace flying into space,
distant, a narrow path. /+/
Leaning on a bramble staff,
far and free I gaze;
To the warbling valley brook
I reply with the cry of my flute. /+/

“"The Poet on the Mountaintop" celebrates the lone man in the midst of nature, remote from society. But Shen Zhou's paintings, like many literati paintings, also celebrate friendship and the bonding between members of the literati class. "Listening to the Cicadas" shows a literatus asleep in his countryside retreat, surrounded by the vibrations of locust calls, being visited by a friend. The intermingling of natural patterns (such as the vibrating leaves) and human patters (such as the bamboo fencing) is a characteristic of much of Shen Zhou's work. Again, there is a poem by Shen Zhou — but this time, we see another tradition of literati painting, as it's a poem added by another literatus hundreds of years later.

“Paintings, as tangible objects inscribing a person's character, were viewed as vehicles for communication long after the death of the painter, and owners of paintings frequently shared their responses to the painting by joining their work to the painter's on the silk or paper itself, or by inviting an admired poet or calligrapher to do so (thus increasing the monetary value of the painting!). In this case, the latter day poet has employed the rhyme scheme of Shen Zhou's original poem to write his response, thus preserving in new form the Six Dynasties tradition of poetic interplay. /+/

Shen Zhou’s Painting

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Shen’s painting followed in the family tradition, and later he became a student of Du Qiong. With his family’s large collection, Shen also absorbed the virtues of old artworks, incorporating the manners of Song and Yuan dynasty masters to form a style of his own. The subjects of his painting were extremely varied as he took pleasure in them all, including landscapes and figures, fruits and vegetables, birds and flowers, and other animals. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“Shen Zhou’s landscape painting was based on the style of Yuan dynasty artists, but even more innovative. Take, for example, his “Lofty Mount Lu” done at the age of 41 (1467). Although it features the intricate texture strokes associated with the Yuan master Wang Meng, it reveals a completely new sense of life. Such works as “Walking with a Staff” and “Crossing a Bridge to Visit Friends” integrate the method of depicting mountains found in paintings by the two Yuan masters Huang Gongwang and Ni Zan, but Shen Zhou taking them further for a greater sense of beauty. “Contemplating Poetry in a Skiff” and “Seated at Night,” moreover, borrow from the simple and unadorned manner of the other Yuan literati master, Wu Zhen, transforming it into a pure and refined style. In some of Shen Zhou’s intimate works, mountain forms similar to those in Huang Gongwang’s “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains” also sometimes appear, serving as ideal testimony to Shen’s collection and copying of Huang’s painting. In addition, Shen was no stranger to the “cloudy mountains” tradition of the Mi Family or the academic style of the Southern Song artists Ma Yuan and Xia Gui.

“Shen Zhou was also a Ming dynasty pioneer of painting birds and flowers in the sketching ideas manner. Following in the Southern Song tradition of depicting fruits, flowers, and vegetables in monochrome ink, he emphasized the moist and fluid quality of ink and used brushwork both casual and unrestrained. He excelled at observing aspects of nature, even incorporating things in everyday life as subject matter in his painting, using a lively and novel approach to render them. The poetic inscriptions by Shen Zhou on his paintings are also full of meaning, revealing him to be a master of the “Three Perfections” and an embodiment of literati artistic achievement.

"Lofty Mount Lu": One Shen Xhou’s Paintings

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““This painting features a seal-script title in three characters for "Lofty Mount Lu" along with a long poem from 1467, in which Shen Zhou uses the majesty and vigor of Mount Lu as a birthday blessing for his teacher, Chen Kuan. The painting depicts a lofty mountain with crags and ravines. At the top, the peaks in the distance are connected, while the mountain in the middle is divided and compact, a waterfall cascading downward on the left. To the side are areas left blank with their sides in ink washes, expressing both the majesty and misty atmosphere of the scene. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“The painting as a whole employs the method of dense texture strokes used by the Yuan dynasty artist Wang Meng, rendering the characteristic of faceted mountains and imparting a sense of life to the landscape. Below the waterfall stands a figure appearing quite miniscule in comparison. He stands in the shade of lofty pine trees, making Mount Lu that he looks up to appear even more majestic, reflecting both its life and energy. The scenery here and the long poem take the form of image and text that echo each other to express Shen Zhou's respect and admiration for his teacher., Great Excellence Reaching to the Heavens, Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Ming dynasty, Great Excellence Reaching to the Heavens

“This painting depicts a lofty pine tree, but the composition is quite unusual in that it differs from the traditional arrangement of this subject matter in Chinese painting. Here, Shen Zhou chose not to depict the entire pine tree, only the upper portion and its limbs. Neither the root area nor the top are depicted, just a partial view of the trunk with a few branches. Shen Zhou also used bold brushwork to outline the trunk and branches with finer touches of the brush for the pine needles. He then employed wet ink washes to create a contrast of light and dark, fully conveying a mighty and expressive pine tree reaching for the heavens. The form of the pine precisely echoes the line "With unusual energy striving straight for the heavens" in the poem that Shen Zhou wrote on the painting. Shen also used this as a metaphor to praise the "great talent" of the recipient of the painting. According to Shen Zhou's inscription, he did this hanging scroll in 1479 for Liu Xianzhi, and seven years later Liu presented it as a gift to Chen Fengxiang. Other famous Shen Zhou works include “A Pure Conversation among Mountains and Rivers”.

Wen Zhengming: One of the Four Great Master of Ming Dynasty

Wen Zhengming (1470-1559) was a student of Shen Zhou. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: A native of modern Suzhou, near Shanghai, “he was originally named Bi but later went by his style name instead. Changing his style name to Zhengzhong, he also had the sobriquets Hengshan jushi and Tingyunsheng. Conscientious as a person and in his dealings with others, for many years he aspired to a career in office. After failing nine times at the civil service examinations in the capital, in 1523 he was finally recommended as a Hanlin Academician-in-Waiting at court. Later, however, differences between life as an official and his own personal ideals led him to resign in 1526 and return to his hometown, whereupon he devoted his life to poetry, painting, and calligraphy instead. Free from cares and creating for his own amusement, he became a greatly accomplished artist. The longest living of the Four Great Masters and attracting many students, Wen Zhengming had sons who followed in his footsteps and many disciples as well. Consequently, he had a great impact on painting and calligraphy of the middle and late Ming dynasty and became known along with Shen Zhou as leader of the Wu School. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

Wen Zhengming exxcelled at poetry, calligraphy, and painting, and followed the style of his teacher, Shen Zhou. In calligraphy, Wen Zhengming studied a wide range of artworks from the past. An exceptionally diligent student, he himself said that practicing calligraphy was one of his daily activities upon waking every morning, never tiring of it throughout his life. Wen came to excel at the major calligraphic types, with small regular and running scripts most reflecting his personal style. His small regular script is sharp and orderly, and even at the age of ninety he could still do tiny "gnat's-head" writing. Wen's running script is also elegant yet vigorous, with most of such surviving works tending towards semi-cursiveness.

“As for painting, Wen Zhengming first took Shen Zhou as his teacher, but later with his family's rich collection of art and his extensive social network, he had the opportunity to study and appreciate the works of ancient masters, establishing a unique style of his own. Gifted at using both ink and colors, the gradations of his light and dark ink tones are as varied as they are dynamic. In coloring, Wen mostly worked with washes of blue and green. Despite the use of bright colors, he was able to give them a refreshingly pure and elegantly light harmony. Wen Zhengming's brushwork appears mainly in two types, fine and coarse. His fine style features a sense of beautiful smoothness and pure force, while the coarse one reveals his hoary strength and mature skill. With considerable ability in both painting and calligraphy, he often applied calligraphic brushwork to his paintings. In terms of subject matter, Wen mostly painted landscapes, but he also occasionally did figural and bird-and-flower themes. Sometimes abbreviated and at other times sedate, they all reflect the refined ease and spirit of the literatus.

Wen Zhengming’s Painting

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Wen Zhengming began learning to paint from the age of nineteen. Delving into painting and calligraphy for approximately seven decades, he worked diligently and came to paint in a range of styles. His development in painting can generally be divided into three phases corresponding to early, middle, and late. In his early years, before the age of fifty, Wen formed a manner of his own based on studies after his teacher, copying the ancients many times and being particularly fond of Shen Zhou's (1427-1509) fine brushwork with its delicate and beautifully smooth manner. Although Wen also painted using hoary and coarse brushwork, he mostly worked at this time in a fine and dense style pursuing spirit harmony. The sixth and seventh decades of Wen Zhengming's life, reflecting his middle period, represents the mature phase of his creativity as an artist. His command of brush and ink became ever more refined and combined with calligraphic brushwork to form a pure and strong yet elegantly smooth style of his own. In the late phase of his painting, after the age of seventy, Wen took delight in painting on narrow hanging scrolls, the dense and piled scenery in his compositions reflecting a noticeable change in style. Compressing mountains into narrow scrolls led him to develop a kind of precipitous yet rhythmic overlapping of forms full of abstraction that became a dominant style in the formation of late Wu School painting. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“Although most of Wen Zhengming's surviving paintings are landscapes, a few of his extant works also deal with bird-and-flower and figural subjects. His elegantly refined and conscientious methods in such works also fully express the personal manner for which he was known. In landscape painting, Wen Zhengming was influenced by the style of Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322), often delicately rendering the refined life and travels of lofty literati. This technique of his was also suitable for presenting the spirit and demeanor of figures. Wen's paintings of ladies are most rare, the only example in this exhibit being his "Lady in the Shade of Plantain." According to Wen's inscription on the painting, he was imitating a work by Zhao Mengfu, using simple brushwork to capture the idea with light colors that create a lofty and archaic mood much in the manner of the Jin and Tang dynasties in the past.

“Wen sometimes took several years to complete a painting. “Spring in Jiangnan” is an example of such. Here, he wrote that in the capital he would often reminisce about scenes of old pines and flowing waters at home. After returning to his hometown in 1527, he talked about this with his close friend, Wang Chong (1494-1533), upon which he started doing this work. Painting on and off, he did not finish the scroll until five years later.

“Wen Zhengming was the leading master of the Wu School at the time, his reputation in painting and calligraphy growing stronger as he aged. As a result, requests for his painting came pouring in and many students flocked to learn from him. Wang Zhideng (1535-1612) in his Record of Painting in Wu Commandery wrote that Wen's paintings of all sizes were copied by the "hundreds if not thousands," flooding the market with both real and forged works. At the time, some aspiring scholars would even take up the brush and create their own "Wen Zhengming" as a status symbol to show off.

“This was an age when the art market flourished and such disciples of Wen as Zhu Lang (fl. first half of the 16th century), Lu Shidao (1517-1573), and Ju Jie (fl. 1531-ca. 1585) either did paintings on his behalf or imitations, making it difficult to tell which actually came from Wen's own hand. To complicate matters, Wen often traveled to scenic areas in Jiangnan with friends and reciprocated with fellow literati, engaging in the social exchange of art using ready-made themes. Thus, similar compositions were frequently adopted to depict scenery or serve as presents, resulting in several versions appearing on the same subject.

“Wen in his late years was the leader of painting circles in Suzhou and his works were copied by the "hundreds and thousands" as soon as they appeared. In fact, closer observation of the undulating ridges here reveals disjointed distant peaks and brushwork that is slightly hesitant, the painting method of the leaves particularly formulaic. The coloring, mostly in shades of ochre, is also not as aesthetic, being more turbid and thus altogether suggesting the hand of a later imitator instead.

“Deep Snow in Mountain Passes” by, “Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), is an ink and colors on paper handscroll, measuring 25.3 x 445.2 centimeters. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Amidst clustered peaks and fluttering snow in a scene devoid of greenery appear travelers astride donkeys as they cross a frozen river. This snowscape was rendered using colors, the contours described in blue, green, and ink washes. With its marvelous brushwork on beautiful paper, this work is truly a masterpiece of Wen Zhengming's.

Shen Zhou's Legacy — Wen Zhengming's "Old Trees By a Wintery Brook"

Dr. Robert Eno of Indiana University wrote: “Shen Zhou was only one of tens of thousands of literati painters, but the wide variety of works he produced in his long life and his universally acknowledged sensitivity and gentleness of spirit gave his work added influence. So also did the fact that he numbered among his pupils outstanding artists who established a regional "school" of painting to carry forward and develop in different ways the inspiration of Shen Zhou — both his absorption of prior tradition and his many innovations and original ideas. One of Shen Zhou's most prolific and celebrated pupils, Wen Zhengming (1470-1553), painted a work that exemplifies in a striking way principles of literati painting. [Source: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/]

“Wen's painting, "Old Trees By a Wintery Brook," appears at first to be a depiction of nature — but it is clearly not. Tree branches end abruptly, with no apparent reason (reminding us of Su Shi's Song era painting); the brook flows uphill; the landscape to the left trails into what seems to be mist, but on the right, there is nothing behind the rocks but empty paper. /+/

“Wen Zhengming's work is not a depiction of nature — it is an idea about nature and about ink and paper. The painting makes no effort to fool us into thinking we are looking into a world beyond the paper — it makes a strong statement that it is nothing but ink and paper, and the artist's hand and mind. By renouncing any attempt whatever at focusing on the objects of the painting, and instead foregrounding the medium and the technique, Wen Zhengming has produced a work that is remarkably "modern," even as in its brushwork and the motifs of nature it selects it seems to fit easily into established literati tradition. /+/

“Wen's work expresses perfectly the central theme of thousands of literati paintings — painting was a medium that, in Confucian manner, borrowed tradition in order to perfect self-expression and communication. And the vehicle for self-expression, in Daoist manner, was most often images of nature and the theme of the solitary man, or group of friends, alone in the vastness of the natural Way. /+/

Tang Yin: One of the Four Great Master of Ming Dynasty

Tang Yin (1470-1524) displayed bountiful talent right from the start. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ Born in the "gengyin " year under the Chinese zodiac of the tiger, Tang was given the name "Yin” and his early style name was Bohu (meaning "tiger"). His style name was later changed to Ziwei, and he also had the sobriquet Liuru jushi. A native of Wuxian near Suzhou, Tang Yin showed genius in childhood and by the age of sixteen had entered a state school. Placing first in the apprentice civil service exams, he was appointed as a Government Student in Suzhou Prefecture. He thereupon came under the guidance of such senior Hanlin Academy scholars from Wu (Suzhou) as Wen Lin, Wang Ao, and Yang Xunji. Promoting ancient-style prose with the likes of Zhu Yunming, Wen Zhengming, and Xu Zhenqing, Tang Yin became known as one of the "Four Talents of Wu." “Court Ladies in the Shu Palace” is regarded as Tang Yin’s masterpiece. Other famous works including “Walking in the Mountains, Listening to the Pines” and “Clearing after Snow on a Mountain Pass.”[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

In 1498, Tang Yin sat for and placed first in the provincial level civil service exam in Yingtian Prefecture (modern Nanjing). The following year he participated in the metropolitan examination held in the capital but was accused of being part of a cheating scandal. Dismissed and thrown into prison, he was later released and banished as a low official, which he refused to accept out of shame. Experiencing the vagaries of the examination system, Tang became disenchanted with the traditional route to fame and position through government office, beginning his travels in Fujian, Zhejiang, Jiangxi, and Hunan, and later making a living with his brush. In 1514, he was offered and accepted a substantial position to go to Nanchang and serve under Zhu Chenhao, the Prince of Ning, in Jiangxi. However, seeing that the prince had ambitions to usurp the throne, Tang feigned madness and was allowed to leave, thereby averting the disaster that later befell Zhu. Tang Yin thus led a life of many ups and downs, suffering from both poverty and sickness. Destitute in his later years, he died of illness on the second day of the twelfth lunar month in the second year of the Jiajing reign (7 January 1524) at the age of 54.

“Tang Yin was good at poetry and excelled at painting, befriending Zhu Yunming, Wen Zhengming, and Zhang Ling in his younger years and leaving behind many poems and paintings exchanged and harmonizing with them. In painting, Tang studied under Shen Zhou and Zhou Chen, acquiring profound insight into the Southern Song academic style while absorbing widely from the traditions of Yuan and early Ming literati painting. Zhu Yunming, in his "Engraved Tomb Inscription for Tang Yin," once wrote of Tang that, "When his extraordinary talent flared, he would lodge it in painting, his brushwork often pursuing the Tang and Song masters." Tang Yin's themes in painting are quite diverse, including landscape, lady, narrative, flower, bamboo, and rock subjects. His beautifully smooth and elegantly refined use of brush and ink was rendered with exquisite liveliness in compositions masterfully arranged. In calligraphy, Tang adopted the style of the Yuan master Zhao Mengfu but also looked back to Li Yong and Yan Zhenqing of the Tang dynasty. Though Tang Yin established a personal style of his own in running script, his gift in calligraphy was overshadowed by the fame of his painting, resulting in relatively few surviving examples of his writing.

Landscape Painting by Tang Yin

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Tang Yin's landscapes are based on the traditions of academic and literati painting, his thorough studies encompassing the styles of such Song dynasty masters as Li Tang, Ma Yuan, and Xia Gui, as well as the Yuan painter Wang Meng. In painting, Tang Yin followed his contemporaries Shen Zhou and Zhou Chen. Tang on many surviving paintings also composed his own poetry, integrating these two art forms to lodge his untrammeled and unbridled sentiments. Tang's signatures, with only his name and the prefecture or town, are mostly undated. He often depicted such subjects as fishing in reclusion, traveling, listening to a stream, viewing a waterfall, enjoying the autumn, and farming in the countryside, which sketch the general environment of life as idealized by Wu School literati painters. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“In terms of stylistic change, Tang Yin's landscape paintings can be generally divided into three phases. The first represents his period of imitating the ancients, the early landscapes at this time featuring fine brushwork much influenced by the styles of Shen Zhou and Wen Zhengming. To them Tang also added the brushwork of Yuan masters to resonate with literati painting, examples of which include "Facing Bamboo" and "Two Pines and a Flying Cascade." The second phase is Tang's transformational period, when he took Zhou Chen as his teacher and achieved Zhou's methods. Tang also studied the Southern Song academic styles of such masters as Li Tang, Liu Songnian, Ma Yuan, and Xia Gui, absorbing their virtues to develop brushwork beautifully smooth and with untrammeled freedom, his coloring also being classical and elegant. Tang Yin's works appear in two styles at this time, rough and refined, with representative examples being his "Landscape" handscroll, "Farming in Jiangnan," "Fishing in Reclusion on a Flowering River," "Watching Over Fields," "Clearing After Snow in the Han Pass," and "Parting at Jinchang." The third phase represents a period of maturity in which Tang developed grand and skillful compositions with dashing and spirited "axe-cut" and "hemp-fiber" strokes. Tang's ink ranges from wet to dry and light to dark for a volumetric effect, with "Whispering Pines on a Mountain Path" and "Fishing in Reclusion Among Mountains and Streams" being his most representative examples from this time. Tang Yin's late style after the age of fifty includes many paintings on the water-filled landscape of Jiangnan. With simple scenes and spacious purity, Tang Yin's "Picking Lotuses," "Autumn Mountains," and "Misty Trees at Zhenze" are masterpieces of such.

Ladies and Figures by Tang Yin

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “Tang Yin was endowed with extraordinary talent, his style of figure painting quite diverse as he chose from a range of subjects mostly dealing with historical narratives, lofty scholars, and ladies. The contents of his figure painting depict the elegant lifestyle of scholars in leisure and even anecdotes about brothel courtesans. Citing from literary allusions, the forlorn lady became a metaphor for the scholar abandoned by his ruler, Tang Yin using the sentiments of a tragic woman to express the feelings of his own situation. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“Based on surviving works, the changes that appear in Tang Yin's figure paintings can be divided into three stages: early, middle, and late. The figures by Tang Yin before the age of thirty are mostly subsidiary to the landscape and similar in style to those of Shen Zhou. Between the ages of thirty and forty-one, Tang made the acquaintance of Du Jin (fl. ca. 1465-1505) and studied under Zhou Chen (ca. 1450-1535). Much influenced by them, Tang's figures often became the main subject of painting, which excel equally at conveying both spirit and form. His "Tao Gu Presenting a Lyric," for example, is a masterpiece of effort at this time. After the age of forty-two, Tang adopted the virtues of the old masters and formed a style of his own. Tang Yin's figure painting in this mature period reached a pinnacle of achievement in both "sketching ideas" with monochrome ink and "fine lines" with strong colors. The brushstrokes in his figures, whether fine and flowing or angular and abrupt, all marvelously portray the spirit and harmony of the subjects. Famous classic works from this period include "Lady Ban's Round Fan," "Imitating a Tang Artist's Lady Painting," "Reminiscing with Xizhou," and "Lofty Scholars."

“Tao Gu Presenting a Lyric" is a hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, measuring 168.8 x 102.1 centimeters. It tells the historical story of Tao Gu (903-970) being sent on a mission from the Song court to the Southern Tang kingdom. Tao, being dispatched as an emissary to a weaker state, assumed an air of arrogance. To expose his insolence, the Southern Tang court ordered a famous courtesan, Qin Ruolan, to seduce Tao. After the two spent the night together, Tao composed a poem entitled "A Beautiful Scene" as a gift for Qin. Here, Tang Yin used plantain, garden rocks, and a screen to create an intimate scene for the two main characters. The lady playing the pipa with her foot over her knee represents Qin Ruolan. Between the two is a candle, echoing a line in the inscription that reads, "A single night brings lovers together in a lodge." This painting is exquisite and beautiful, the figures, rocks and trees, and plantain all in the style of Du Jin (fl. ca. 1465-1509), suggesting it was done later than 1499, when Tang and Du met for the first time in Beijing. Judging from the style, Tang probably did this work in his thirties.

“Lady Ban's Round Fan” is a hanging scroll, ink and colors on paper, measuring 150.4 x 63.6 centimeters. Beneath windmill palms stands a lady holding a silk fan with only hollyhock in the foreground to suggest the chill of autumn. But if it is already a cool autumn day, why does she still need a fan? The painter has used the fan as a metaphor. Taking the "Song of Regret" by Lady Ban (ca. 48-6 B.C.), her last lines personifying a fan read, "I often fear when the autumn season comes; The cool breeze drives out the heat of summer. I will be discarded in a box; The affection for me having long since been forgotten." Tang Yin uses the story of how Lady Ban lost the emperor's favor (becoming as useless as a fan in autumn) to express his own frustration in life. The drapery lines of the figure are rendered with lively brushwork, the technique already quite sophisticated, making this one of Tang Yin's classic surviving figure paintings. Wen Zhengming's inscription at the upper right is signed "Zhengming," a name he started using around the age of 42. Wen and Tang were born in the same year, so Tang probably did this painting sometime after the age of 42., Reminiscing with Xizhou, Reminiscing with Xizhou

Qiu Ying: Last of the Four Great Master of Ming Dynasty

Qiu Ying (ca. 1494-1552) spent much of his life in the Suzhou area as did the other three Great Master of Ming Dynasty and was friends with Wen Zhengming and Tang Yin, who were a little over 20 years older than him. According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “With the style name Shifu and sobriquet Shizhou, Qiu Ying originally came from Taicang in Jiangsu, but he later moved to and took up residence in Suzhou. Qiu Ying was a painter by profession. Despite his family's humble origins, he had natural talent and skill in painting. Consequently, he came to learn the art of painting at an early age from the famous Suzhou artist Zhou Chen (ca. 1450-1535). Qiu Ying, moreover, was influenced by two major scholar artists,Wen Zhengming and Tang Yin, his achievements in painting consequently receiving the accolades of Suzhou literati. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“Qiu Ying also associated with important art collectors at the time, such as Zhou Fenglai (1523-1555), Chen Guan (after 1557), and Xiang Yuanbian (1525-1590). With his special gift for copying paintings, Qiu Ying found favor among collectors, bringing him an opportunity to copy and learn from Song and Yuan dynasty paintings in collections of the Jiangnan area and greatly broadening his artistic scope. As Qiu's skills in painting matured, a style of his own gradually emerged and took form. His paintings on figure, landscape, and flower subjects all therefore have an originality of his own. Qiu's painting style is not only refined and consummate, it also has the delicately graceful air of literati art as well. Thus, after Zhou Chen passed away, Qiu Ying stood alone in this way for roughly two decades in Jiangnan.

“Members of Qiu Ying's family, such as his daughter, Qiu Zhu (fl. 16th century), and son-in-law, You Qiu (fl. 16th century), followed him in painting. Qiu Zhu's style is delicate and beautifully refined, while You Qiu also inherited his father-in-law's manner but especially excelled at "baimiao" fine-line figure painting in ink. Furthermore, accompanying the great economic expansion that took place in the middle of the Ming dynasty, Qiu Ying's paintings were imitated in large numbers during his own lifetime to meet the demand for his art, his name added to untold numbers of works done by professional artists.

“In his early years, Qiu Ying studied painting under Zhou Chen (ca. 1450-1535) and came under his influence in terms of landscape and figure subjects. As for landscapes, Zhou Chen followed painting methods from the Song dynasty, becoming particularly capable in the style of Li Tang (ca. 1070-1150). Such Qiu Ying works in this exhibition as "Trying Spring Water in a Pine Kiosk" and "Waiting for the Ferry on an Autumn River" derive from Zhou Chen's style in compositional arrangement and brush method for texturing the rocks and mountains, which, in turn, trace back to those of Li Tang. Furthermore, the motif of a fisherman playing a flute with his foot in the water, as seen in Qiu Ying's "Playing a Flute Under the Moon," is also found in Zhou Chen's paintings. Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), who introduced Qiu Ying to literati circles, also exerted an influence on Qiu's painting style. The thatched gate and winding path leading to a courtyard, creating a layered portrait of the literati joy in reclusion, are motifs seen in Qiu Ying's "Fine Delights in a Forest Kiosk," a narrow hanging scroll with pure and elegant coloring that closely echoes the style of Wen Zhengming.

“Qiu Ying, via his close association with collectors in the Jiangnan region, was likewise able to study a wide range of Song and Yuan dynasty paintings in their possession. Not only did Qiu learn ancient techniques by copying these paintings, he also transformed and gave them new meaning in his own works. All of his painting subjects in both colors and "baimiao" ink lines, such as literati tasting tea, appreciating the zither, engaging in pure conversation, living in reclusion, and traveling as well as fishermen with their feet in the water and playing the flute, are lively and refined. Qiu Ying in his lady paintings also attempted to fuse painting styles of the Tang and Song dynasties, his hooked strokes delicate and the figures' poses varied, which had a great impact on other artists. In ruled-line painting, Qiu Ying adopted a novel approach using pure yet strong brushwork and exquisitely layered colors that transcend the stylistic confines of his heritage., Eastern Forest, Eastern Forest

Spring Dawn in the Han Palace by Qiu Ying

“Spring Morning in the Han Palace” by Qiu Ying is one most famous Chinese paintings. Qiu was a master of the gongbi brush technique and was regarded as one of the Four Great Masters of the Ming Dynasty. Xu Lin wrote in China.org: Qiu's use of the brush was meticulous and refined, and his depictions of landscapes and figures were orderly and well-proportioned. In addition to his paintings being elegant and refined, they are also quite decorative. [Source: Xu Lin, China.org.cn, November 8, 2011]

“Spring Dawn in the Han Palace” is an ink and colors on silk handscroll, measuring 30.6 x 574.1 centimeters. “It is a representation of various daily activities in the palace in the early spring, such as enjoying the zither, watering and arranging flowers, and playing chess. There are 115 characters in the painting, most of them concubines. There are also imperial children, eunuchs and painters. The painting is rendered with crisp brushwork and vivid colors. Trees and rocks decorate and punctuate the garden scenery of the lavish palace architecture.

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: This work takes as its background a palace setting during the Han dynasty on a fine spring dawn; it depicts all sorts of activities in the ladies' quarters. Among the scenes is the famous story of the painter Mao Yanshou doing a portrait of Wang Zhaojun. The composition throughout the handscroll is complex and the brushwork pure yet strong with beautifully elegant colors. Trees and gardens are interspersed among the opulent palace buildings, presenting a magnificent scene as if in a realm of immortals. In addition to groups of beauties, they are also shown engaged in various leisurely activities associated with literati, such as the zither, Go, painting, and calligraphy. Along with scenes of appreciating antiquities and flower arranging, this work represents a spectacular effort by Qiu Ying in terms of historical narrative. At the beginning of the scroll is Xiang Yuanbian's (1525-1590) accession character "lu " from the "Thousand Character Essay," while at the end is a note by Xiang giving the value of the painting as "200 gold." As such, it would appear that Qiu Ying did this masterpiece for Xiang Yuanbian and that it was probably completed in Qiu's late years.

Zhe (Che) School of Ming Painting

According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: ““The "Zhe school" is a term that has been used since the seventeenth century to refer to a group of Ming dynasty (1368-1644) professional painters linked stylistically and centered in the Zhejiang area. With Tai Chin and Wu Wei as its leading artists in the fifteenth century, this group mostly followed the styles of the Li Ch'eng and Kuo Hsi school from the Northern Song (960-1127) and Ma Yuan and Hsia Kuei of the Southern Song (1127-1279) imperial painting academy. Zhe School landscapes are often filled with an expressive energy, while figural and bird-and-flower themes mainly deal with easily understood or auspicious subjects frequently permeated by a bustling and vigorous folk manner. In the later years of the Zhe School, some artists developed increasingly carefree and unbridled forms of brush and ink as they pursued extroverted and dramatic visual effects. This group encompassed the most active of both local and court painters in the early Ming dynasty, the style eventually influencing even Japanese artists of the Muromachi period (1393-1573) and Korean ones in the Choson dynasty (1392-1910). Thus, in many ways, the Zhe School was one of the most influential and international forces in Chinese painting history.

“Zhe School artists, however, were not confined to the Zhejiang area, because they also came from Fujian, Guangdong, and other provinces. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, painters were in great demand to decorate palaces, halls, temples, and shrines, so they were active both locally and in the central government. The easy-to-understand subjects of Zhe School works frequently are complemented by visually emphatic forms of expression, standing in marked contrast to the more introverted styles of brush and ink appreciated by literati. The rise of literati painting thus led these professional painters of similar stylistic and social background to be disparagingly labeled by scholar-critics starting from the late sixteenth century as "wild and heterodox. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]

“In the history of collecting art in China, the original signatures and seals on many Zhe School paintings often were modified by dealers and collectors to command higher prices in the art market. Provided with the names of more revered masters from antiquity, the original identities of these works were relegated to obscurity and the recesses of history. This special two-part exhibition is thus a critical review of the Zhe School and a re-examination of related works in the National Palace Museum collection. Not only masterpieces of this school are on display, but so-called Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279-1368) paintings are also re-evaluated to retrieve their hidden true identities, helping to reconstruct the story of this once powerful painting school in Chinese art history.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Robert Eno, Indiana University /+/ ; Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei ; \=/ Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2021

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