CHINESE LANDSCAPE PAINTING
Unlike traditional Western painters, who used landscapes as background filler for battle scenes, portraits and central images of suffering religious figures, Chinese artists painted landscapes as the main subject matter. Religious, historical and mythological themes that were dealt with explicitly in the West were captured in the symbolism of trees, rocks, rivers, mountains and birds in the natural landscapes in Chinese paintings.
Landscape painting developed in the 4th and 5th century and became the most popular theme for painters beginning in the 11th century. While early figure painting was influenced by Confucianism, landscape painting found inspiration in Taoist thought. As it developed artists often sought inspiration more from artistic tradition than directly from nature. The painter-connoisseur Dong Qichang (1555-1636) wrote, "If one considers the wonders of nature, then painting does not equal landscape. But if one considers the wonders of brushwork, then landscape does not equal painting. "
Buddhism, Confucianism and early Taoism all emphasized the concepts of reclusiveness and communing with nature and this was reflected in landscape painting. Popular subjects such as mountains, streams, trees and mist were all prized for the transcendent freedom they inspired. Mountains usually come in two types: the rugged, steep, precipitous of northern China, or the misty, elegant, rolling mountains of the Jiangnan region in southern China. "All landscapes," wrote the 11th century critic Shen Kua, "have to be viewed from the angle of totality...to see more than one layer of the mountain at one time...see the totality of its unending ranges." In the early fourteenth century the philosopher Tang Hou wrote: "Landscape painting is the essence of the shaping powers of Nature. This through the vicissitudes of yin and yang — weather, time, and climate — the charm of inexhaustible transformation is unfailingly visible. If you yourself do not possess that grand wavelike vastness of mountain and valley within your heart and mind, you will be unable to capture it with ease in your painting.
In Chinese landscape painting is called “shan shui”, literally 'mountain-water' and specifically refers to a style of traditional Chinese painting that involves depiction of scenery or natural landscapes using a brush and ink rather than Western-style paints. Mountains, rivers, trees and waterfalls are common subjects. If people or figures are represented they are usually very small. Some landscape paintings are descriptive: an accumulation of painstaking details. Other are more emotional. Figures are mere specks that are primarily there to establish scale. There is an entire movement poetry, influenced by the landscape painting known as Shanshui poetry. On some cases, particularly poems were written to be viewed with specific works of art. Others aimed to be "textual art" that invoked an painting-like images inside the reader's mind. [Source: Wikipedia]
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; Books: “The Arts of China” by Michael Sullivan (University of California Press, 2000); “Chinese Painting” by James Cahill (Rizzoli 1985); “Possessing the Past: Treasures from the National Palace Museum, Taipei” by Wen C. Fong, and James C. Y. Watt (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1996); “Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting” by Richard M. Barnhart, et al. (Yale University Press and Foreign Languages Press, 1997); “Art in China” by Craig Clunas (Oxford University Press, 1997); “Chinese Art” by Mary Tregear (Thames & Hudson: 1997); “How to Read Chinese Paintings” by Maxwell K. Hearn (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2008)
History of Chinese Landscape Painting
Chinese landscape painting emerged in the A.D. 5th century in the Liu Song dynasty and was linked to a group of painters that included Zhang Zeduan. These landscape paintings usually centered on mountains, which have traditionally been regarded as sacred in China and had a particular association with Taoism. Landscape is believed to have originated with Taoists who fled from social upheaval and prosecution and sought refuge in the wilderness. However, the development of Taoism was hindered by Han dynasty. During Han dynasty (206 B.C.-A.D. 220) Taoism's anti-social beliefs and art forms associated with it were frowned upon as Han rulers favored portrait painting which furthered their aims of glorifying their great leaders or generals. Landscape at that time mainly focused on trees for literary or talismanic purposes or ornamentive. During the Three Kingdoms (A.D. 220-280) and Six Dynasty (220-589), landscape painting began to have connection with literature and the scholar-gentleman class and appreciation of nature expressed in art became more accepted and pursued. Landscape painting of this time becomes a more coherent form with variations of trees, rocks and branches and also becomes more elaborate and organized. Buddhism may have played a part in the artists’ desire to harmonize sprit with the nature and the expression of the emptiness and nothingness of space. Through landscape painting people began to appreciate the infinity variation of the nature world and how a single tree could have many layers of meaning. [Source: Wikipedia]
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: By the late Tang dynasty (618-906), "landscape painting had evolved into an independent genre that embodied the universal longing of cultivated men to escape their quotidian world to commune with nature. Such images might also convey specific social, philosophical, or political convictions. As the Tang dynasty disintegrated, the concept of withdrawal into the natural world became a major thematic focus of poets and painters. Faced with the failure of the human order, learned men sought permanence within the natural world, retreating into the mountains to find a sanctuary from the chaos of dynastic collapse. [Source: Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]
“During the early Song dynasty, visions of the natural hierarchy became metaphors for the well-regulated state. At the same time, images of the private retreat proliferated among a new class of scholar-officials. These men extolled the virtues of self-cultivation—often in response to political setbacks or career disappointments—and asserted their identity as literati through poetry, calligraphy, and a new style of painting that employed calligraphic brushwork for self-expressive ends. The monochrome images of old trees, bamboo, rocks, and retirement retreats created by these scholar-artists became emblems of their character and spirit.\^/
“Under the Mongol Yuan dynasty, when many educated Chinese were barred from government service, the model of the Song literati retreat evolved into a full-blown alternative culture as this disenfranchised elite transformed their estates into sites for literary gatherings and other cultural pursuits. These gatherings were frequently commemorated in paintings that, rather than presenting a realistic depiction of an actual place, conveyed the shared cultural ideals of a reclusive world through a symbolic shorthand in which a villa might be represented by a humble thatched hut. Because a man's studio or garden could be viewed as an extension of himself, paintings of such places often served to express the values of their owner.\^/
“The Yuan dynasty also witnessed the burgeoning of a second kind of cultivated landscape, the "mind landscape," which embodied both learned references to the styles of earlier masters and, through calligraphic brushwork, the inner spirit of the artist. Going beyond representation, scholar-artists imbued their paintings with personal feelings. By evoking select antique styles, they could also identify themselves with the values associated with the old masters. Painting was no longer about the description of the visible world; it became a means of conveying the inner landscape of the artist's heart and mind.\^/
“During the Ming dynasty, when native Chinese rule was restored, court artists produced conservative images that revived the Song metaphor for the state as a well-ordered imperial garden, while literati painters pursued self-expressive goals through the stylistic language of Yuan scholar-artists. Shen Zhou (1427–1509), the patriarch of the Wu school of painting centered in the cosmopolitan city of Suzhou, and his preeminent follower Wen Zhengming (1470–1559) exemplified Ming literati ideals. Both men chose to reside at home rather than follow official careers, devoting themselves to self-cultivation through a lifetime spent reinterpreting the styles of Yuan scholar-painters.\^/
“Morally charged images of reclusion remained a potent political symbol during the early years of the Manchu Qing dynasty, a period in which many Ming loyalists lived in self-enforced retirement. Often lacking access to important collections of old masters, loyalist artists drew inspiration from the natural beauty of the local scenery. Images of nature have remained a potent source of inspiration for artists down to the present day... Viewing Chinese landscape paintings, it is clear that Chinese depictions of nature are seldom mere representations of the external world. Rather, they are expressions of the mind and heart of the individual artists—cultivated landscapes that embody the culture and cultivation of their masters.” \^/
Nature in Chinese Art
Serenity and tranquil beauty have traditionally been valued in Chinese culture and aesthetics. Fei Bo, a Chinese choreographer, told The Times: “Our culture is more about spiritual things, and nature is much more important to us. In our traditional painting the strokes are very simple but they leave a big space for your imagination.”
According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “In no other cultural tradition has nature played a more important role in the arts than in that of China. Since China's earliest dynastic period, real and imagined creatures of the earth—serpents, bovines, cicadas, and dragons—were endowed with special attributes, as revealed by their depiction on ritual bronze vessels. In the Chinese imagination, mountains were also imbued since ancient times with sacred power as manifestations of nature's vital energy (qi). They not only attracted the rain clouds that watered the farmer's crops, they also concealed medicinal herbs, magical fruits, and alchemical minerals that held the promise of longevity. Mountains pierced by caves and grottoes were viewed as gateways to other realms—"cave heavens" (dongtian) leading to Daoist paradises where aging is arrested and inhabitants live in harmony. [Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, metmuseum.org \^/]
“From the early centuries of the Common Era, men wandered in the mountains not only in quest of immortality but to purify the spirit and find renewal. Daoist and Buddhist holy men gravitated to sacred mountains to build meditation huts and establish temples. They were followed by pilgrims, travelers, and sightseers: poets who celebrated nature's beauty, city dwellers who built country estates to escape the dust and pestilence of crowded urban centers, and, during periods of political turmoil, officials and courtiers who retreated to the mountains as places of refuge.\^/
“Early Chinese philosophical and historical texts contain sophisticated conceptions of the nature of the cosmos. These ideas predate the formal development of the native belief systems of Daoism and Confucianism, and, as part of the foundation of Chinese culture, they were incorporated into the fundamental tenets of these two philosophies. Similarly, these ideas strongly influenced Buddhism when it arrived in China around the first century A.D. Therefore, the ideas about nature described below, as well as their manifestation in Chinese gardens, are consistent with all three belief systems.\^/
“The natural world has long been conceived in Chinese thought as a self-generating, complex arrangement of elements that are continuously changing and interacting. Uniting these disparate elements is the Dao, or the Way. Dao is the dominant principle by which all things exist, but it is not understood as a causal or governing force. Chinese philosophy tends to focus on the relationships between the various elements in nature rather than on what makes or controls them. According to Daoist beliefs, man is a crucial component of the natural world and is advised to follow the flow of nature's rhythms. Daoism also teaches that people should maintain a close relationship with nature for optimal moral and physical health.\^/
“Within this structure, each part of the universe is made up of complementary aspects known as yin and yang. Yin, which can be described as passive, dark, secretive, negative, weak, feminine, and cool, and yang, which is active, bright, revealed, positive, masculine, and hot, constantly interact and shift from one extreme to the other, giving rise to the rhythm of nature and unending change.\^/
“As early as the Han dynasty, mountains figured prominently in the arts. Han incense burners typically resemble mountain peaks, with perforations concealed amid the clefts to emit incense, like grottoes disgorging magical vapors. Han mirrors are often decorated with either a diagram of the cosmos featuring a large central boss that recalls Mount Kunlun, the mythical abode of the Queen Mother of the West and the axis of the cosmos, or an image of the Queen Mother of the West enthroned on a mountain. While they never lost their cosmic symbolism or association with paradises inhabited by numinous beings, mountains gradually became a more familiar part of the scenery in depictions of hunting parks, ritual processions, temples, palaces, and gardens. By the late Tang dynasty, landscape painting had evolved into an independent genre that embodied the universal longing of cultivated men to escape their quotidian world to commune with nature. The prominence of landscape imagery in Chinese art has continued for more than a millennium and still inspires contemporary artists.” \^/
Later when the learning process begins, the student is expected observe and copy his master. Students are supposed to hang on every word the master says and are supposed to do things exactly as the master does.
Components of Chinese Landscape Painting
Important principals of Chinese landscape painting: 1) Paths should never be straight. They should meander like a stream. This helps deepen the landscape by adding layers. The path can be the river, or a path along it, or something similar. 2) The path should lead to a threshold. The threshold is there to embrace you and provide a special welcome. The threshold can be the mountain, or its shadow upon the ground, or its cut into the sky. The concept is always that a mountain or its boundary must be defined clearly. 3) The Heart is the focal point of the painting and all elements should lead to it. The heart defines the meaning of the painting. The concept should imply that each painting has a single focal point, and that all the natural lines of the painting direct inwards to this point. [Source: Wikipedia +]
Many landscape paintings feature famous mountains in China According to the National Palace Museum, Taipei: “ In China, the remote beauty of mountains and valleys has also evoked a desire for retreat to nature, attracting many to enter and explore areas of particular scenic wonder. Mountains shrouded in mist and piercing the clouds often conceal unfathomed sites, instilling further mystery to spur the imagination. Deep and secluded peaks penetrated by rivers have therefore given rise to many stories and legends in Chinese history. Mount K'un-lun, for example, is considered the abode of Taoist immortals, while Mount Wu-t'ai is said to be where Manjusri, the Buddhist bodhisattva of wisdom, preached. Even the Confucian scholar "takes pleasure in 'mountains and water' (landscape)". This spectrum of veneration for mountains in Chinese culture helped catapult the development of landscape painting. Thus, as early as the third to sixth centuries AD, with the rise of landscape painting, the "ready-made" subject of famous mountains began to appeal to artists. [Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
Components of Chinese landscape painting is created and organized to correspond with the Chinese theory of the five elements and the natural world. These are:
Direction — Element — Colour
East — Wood — Green
South — Fire — Red
Northeast–Southwest — Earth — Tan or Yellow
West– Northwest — Metal — White or gold
North — Water — Blue or Black +
Positive interactions between the Elements are: 1) Wood produces Fire; 2) Fire produces Earth; 3) Earth produces Metal; 4) Metal produces Water; and 5) Water produces Wood. Negative interactions between the Elements are: 1) Wood uproots Earth; 2) Earth blocks Water; 3) Water douses Fire; 4) Fire melts Metal; and 5) Metal chops Wood. Elements that react positively should be used together. For example, Water complements both Metal and Wood; therefore, a painter would combine blue and green or blue and white. There is a positive interaction between Earth and Fire, so a painter would mix Yellow and Red. Elements that interact negatively should never be used together. For example, Fire will not interact positively with Water or Metal so a painter would not choose to mix red and blue, or red and white. +
Tang Dynasty Landscape Painting
Modes of landscape painting then took shape in the Five Dynasties period (907-960) with variations based on geographic distinctions. For example Jing Hao (c. 855-915) and Guan Tong (c. 906-960) depicted the drier and monumental peaks to the north while Dong Yuan (?–962) and Juran (10th century) represented the lush and rolling hills to the south in Jiangnan.[Source: National Palace Museum, Taipei, npm.gov.tw]
According to China Online Museum: At the beginning of the Tang dynasty (618–907), the tradition of landscape painting had advanced little, partly because of the ever-increasing demand for Buddhist icons and partly because artists were still struggling with the most elementary problems of space and depth. But during the Tang dynasty these difficulties were mastered. According to later Chinese art critics and historians, two schools of landscape painting emerged during the Tang dynasty. One, practiced by the court painter Li Sixun (653–718) and his son Li Zhaodao (fl. early 8th c.), painted in a highly decorative and meticulous fashion, employing the precise line technique derived from earlier artists such as Gu Kaizhi (348–409) and Zhan Ziqian (ca. 550–604). They often used mineral colors blue and green for decoration, so their genre of painting is known as blue-green landscape. The other, founded by the poet-painter Wang Wei (701–761), painted in ink monochrome and developed a more spontaneous technique called pomo (“broken ink”), using varying shades of ink washes. These two schools were later (in the Ming dynasty) called the Northern School and Southern School respectively. It must be noted that the naming is not based on geographical regions, but an analogy to the different schools of Chan Buddhism. [Source: based on articles from “The Arts of China” by Michael Sullivan, China Online Museum]
By the late Tang dynasty, landscape painting often embodied the universal longing of cultivated men to escape their quotidian world to commune with nature. As the Tang dynasty disintegrated, the concept of withdrawal into the natural world became a major thematic focus of poets and painters. Faced with the failure of the human order, learned men sought permanence within the natural world, retreating into the mountains to find a sanctuary from the chaos of dynastic collapse.
“The time from the Five Dynasties period (907–960) to the Northern Song period (960–1127) is known as the “Great age of Chinese landscape”. In the north, artists such as Jing Hao (ca. 880–940), Guan Tong (fl. mid 10th c.), Li Cheng (919–967), Fan Kuan and Guo Xi painted pictures of towering mountains, using strong black lines, ink wash, and sharp, dotted brushstrokes to suggest rough stone. In the south, Dong Yuan and Juran painted the rolling hills and rivers of their native countryside in peaceful scenes done with softer, rubbed brushwork.”
A Landscape at the National Palace Museum, Taipei, attributed to Yang Sheng (fl. mid-8th century )is an ink and colors on silk handscroll, measuring 30.3 x 184.2 centimeters. The silk used here is very coarse, and the rock formations similar those in "Snowy Mountains and Red Trees" attributed to Zhang Sengyu (fl. 1st half of 6th century) in the Museum collection: both use archaic symmetrically rounded conical shapes. Outlining is used with heavy "blue-and-green" coloring, while trees and rocks with the buildings appear formulaic yet create a decorative effect. The colophon places this in the "boneless method" of the Tang painter Yang Sheng. In painting histories before the middle Ming (1368-1644), Yang Sheng and Zhang Sengyu are both said to have specialized in figure and portrait painting. It was not until the late Ming that records of their "boneless landscape" painting appeared, suggesting that this is a late Ming re-creation of an early landscape.
“Snowscape” is attributed to Chu-jan (fl. ca. late 10th century), who worked during Five Dynasties (Southern Tang) period “A blanket of snow covers the scene with a temple behind a slope at the middle right. Majestic mountains rise in the background. Three figures braving the cold and snow appear on a path towards the temple, with the two behind having just crossed a small bridge over a stream. The sky and water were washed in ink to leave the blank areas as snow, creating a dark and wintry scene punctuated by the craggy trees and sparse mountains. This work bears no seal or signature of the artist, but Tung Ch'i-ch'ang (the famed connoisseur-artist of the Ming) inscribed it as by the 10th-century artist Chu-jan. Modern scholarship, however, suggests it was either painted by Feng Kuan, a follower of Li Cheng under Emperor Hui-tsung, or by a Yuan (1279-1368) artist.
Dong Yuan's Riverbank
Dong Yuan (died 962) is a legendary 10th-century Chinese painter and a scholar in the court of the Southern Tang Dynasty. A native of Zhongling (Nanjing) in Jiangnan, he created one of the "foundational styles of Chinese landscape painting." “The Riverbank”, a 10th-century silk scroll he painted, is perhaps the rarest and most important early Chinese landscape painting. Over seven feet long, “The Riverbank” is an arrangement of soft contoured mountains, and water rendered in light colors with ink and brushrstokes resembling rope fibers. In addition to establishing a major form of landscape painting, the work also influenced calligraphy in the 13th and 14th century.
Maxwell Hearn, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art told the New York Times: "Art-historically, Dong Yuang is like Giotto or Leonardo: there at the start of painting, except the equivalent moment in China was 300 years before.” In 1997, “The Riverbank” and 11 other major Chinese painting were given to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York by C.C. Wang, a 90-year-old painter who escaped from Communist China in the 1950s with painting which he hoped he could trade for his son.
“Along the Riverbank at Dusk”, attributed to Dong Yuan, is an ink and colors on silk hanging scroll, measuring 179 x 116.5 centimeters, at the National Palace Museum, Taipei . Bluish-green peaks tower over green waters for a scene with the essence of spring. On foreground slopes are lofty pines with a group of travelers, the figures rendered in great detail. The painting has no seal or signature, but the colophon below by Chang Dai-chien cites an inscription by Zhao Mengfu of the Yuan ascribing it to Dong Yuan. Records mention Dong's ink painting as like Wang Wei's and his color works similar to Li Sixun's. This work was first done with hemp-fiber texturing for the mountains and rocks, with ochre added to the background. Then layers of malachite and azurite washes were added, thus revealing traces of Dong's manner.
Song Dynasty Landscape Painting
Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “The Five Dynasties and Song periods witnessed a gradual shift in painting subject matter in favor of landscapes. In earlier dynasties landscapes were more often the settings for human dramas than primary subject matter. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, several landscape painters of great skill and renown produced large-scale landscape paintings, which are today considered some of the greatest artistic monuments in the history of Chinese visual culture. [Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]
“These landscape paintings usually centered on mountains. Mountains had long been seen as sacred places in China--the homes of immortals, close to the heavens. Philosophical interest in nature could also have contributed to the rise of landscape painting, including both Daoist stress on how minor the human presence is in the vastness of the cosmos and Neo-Confucian interest in the patterns or principles that underlie all phenomena, natural and social./=\
“The essays that have been left by a handful of prominent landscape painters of this period indicate that pictures of mountains and water (shan shui, the literal translation of the Chinese term for landscape) were heavily invested with the numinous qualities of the natural world. Landscape paintings allowed viewers to travel in their imaginations, perhaps the natural antidote to urban or official life. /=\
“Landscape painting was not entirely new to the Five Dynasties and Song. Most of the landscapes painted during the Tang were executed in blue and green mineral-based pigments, which gave the painting surface a jewel-like quality.At first glance, Song and Yuan landscapes seem to conform to a narrow set of compositional types, with requisite central mountains, hidden temples, and scholars strolling along a path. In fact, the landscape tradition developed slowly as painters gained technical facility and consciously chose to allude to earlier styles or bring out philosophical or political ideas in their work.” /=\
Yuan Landscape Painting
Patricia Buckley Ebrey of the University of Washington wrote: “During the Yuan period, after the Mongol conquest of the Song dynasty, many of the leading landscape painters were literati who did not serve in office, either because offices were not as widely available as they had been under the Song, or because they did not want to serve the conquerors. Scholars' landscapes, like the paintings they did of other subjects, were designed for a restricted audience of like-minded individuals. It was not uncommon for scholars to use the allusive side of paintings to make political statements, especially statements of political protest.[Source: Patricia Buckley Ebrey, University of Washington, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=]
“It became quite common among literati artists of the Yuan to allude to earlier painting styles in their paintings. They were creating, in a sense, art historical art, as their paintings did not refer only to landscapes, but also to the large body of earlier paintings that their contemporaries collected and critiqued. Another trait of Yuan literati landscapists is that they did not hide the process of their painting, but rather allowed the traces of their brushes to be visible, going considerably further in this direction than painters of the Song. Wang Meng (ca. 1308-1385), the painter of Orchid Chamber, is one of the best-known Yuan landscape painters.
The Yuan court did not commission as many narrative paintings as the Southern Song court had, but the tradition continued. Yuan narrative painting may have appealed to the Mongol rulers not just for its story, but also for its depiction of animal combat. Horses were a popular subject for painters supported by the Khans. Gong Kai (1222-1307?), the painter of “Emaciated Horse”, was an extreme loyalist, who had held a minor post under the Song but lived in extreme poverty after the Mongol conquest, supporting his family by occasionally selling paintings or exchanging them for food. A slightly later painter, Ren Renfa, agreed to serve the Yuan court and even painted on official command, making him not that different from a court painter. /=\
Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains” by Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) is one of the most famous Chinese paintings. Regarded as a masterpiece, it is one of the few surviving works by the painter Huang Gongwang, one the "Four Great Yuan Masters”. He spent his last years in the Fuchun Mountains near Hangzhou and completed this long handscroll in 1350. Rendered in black ink on paper, it vividly depicts the beautiful landscape on the banks of Fuchun River, with its mountains, trees, clouds and villages. Unfortunately, the painting was damaged by fire and split into two pieces in 1650. The first piece, 51.4 centimeters long and 31.8 centimeters wide, is kept in the Zhejiang Provincial Museum in Hangzhou. The second piece, 636.9 centimeters long and 33 centimeters wide, is kept in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. [Source: Xu Lin, China.org.cn, November 8, 2011]
Wang Hui: China’s Great 17th Century Landscape Painter
Wang Hui (1632-1717) is the most celebrated painter of late seventeenth-century China. Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: He “played a key role in reinvigorating past traditions of landscape painting and establishing the stylistic foundations for the imperially sponsored art of the Qing court. Drawing upon his protean talent and immense ambition, Wang developed an all-embracing synthesis of historical landscape styles that constituted one of the greatest artistic innovations of late imperial China. Wang's stature was confirmed in 1698, when the emperor bestowed upon him the encomium "Landscapes Clear and Radiant." [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]
“Wang's landscape art was not based on direct encounters with nature; rather, he sought to achieve a spiritual resonance with an orthodox lineage of great masters while creatively transforming their styles. Engaging in an inventive dialogue with the past, Wang evoked the stylistic personas of earlier masters while making works that were distinctly his own. Wang's paintings not only pay homage to his gifted predecessors but demand to be judged in comparison to them.\^/
“Traditional accounts of Wang present him as a virtual reincarnation of the ancient masters, but in modern times this tribute has not been viewed as a compliment. As revolutionary China increasingly rejected its past and idealized the new, Wang's art was criticized as backward-looking and circumscribed by convention. Some Western scholars adopted the same view, labeling Wang's paintings as "art-historical art" and disparaging him as a mere copyist whose works only restate earlier pictorial ideas. But like a master calligrapher whose writing is a personal synthesis of earlier models, Wang's paintings combine disparate stylistic influences in totally new and inspired ways to make each "performance" spontaneous and fresh. So while his sources are recognizable, his evocations are never dry or stale; they always depart from their model by ingeniously modifying the composition, reworking the structure, and revitalizing the brushwork in ways that are sophisticated and bold. Wang did not merely imitate the past, he reinvented it.” \^/
Wang Hui's Panoramic Landscapes: "Mountains and Rivers without End"
Maxwell Hearn of the Metropolitan Museum of Art wrote: “ After the suppression of the Revolt of the Three Feudatories in 1681 and the annexation of Taiwan in 1683, the Kangxi reign (1662–1722) entered a time of peace and prosperity. The Kangxi emperor embarked in 1684 on his first Southern Inspection Tour to consolidate Manchu rule over the south as well as to celebrate the beginning of a new era. Wang Hui responded rapidly to this changed political and cultural environment. [Source: Maxwell Hearn, Department of Asian Art, Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org \^/]
“During the 1680s, Wang Hui undertook to paint ever longer handscrolls in which he successfully integrated varied regional terrain features and landscape styles. Wang also expanded his pictorial repertoire beyond calligraphic brushwork to include more intricately rendered architectural elements and figures and a more naturalistic application of colors and ink washes to suggest the veiling effects of moisture-laden atmosphere.\^/
“In 1684, just months before the Kangxi emperor's first tour to southern China, Wang Hui painted a sixty-foot-long handscroll for the high official Wu Zhengzhi (1618–1691). The painting revives the grand panoramic landscape style of Yan Wengui (active ca. 970–1030), the patriarch of "mountains and rivers without end." More than twice as long as any of Wang's earlier handscrolls, it is very likely that this scroll was intended to demonstrate his ability to assume responsibility for creating a pictorial document of the emperor's sojourn. An invitation to the capital in 1685 from the high-ranking Manchu Singde (1654–1685), who had accompanied the emperor on his first Southern Tour, may well have been intended as a preliminary step toward such a commission. But Singde died shortly before Wang's arrival, so he did not linger in the capital. Nonetheless, the trip led to his forging connections with several powerful court officials, who became major patrons and who were influential in his being selected several years later to create a grand pictorial record of the emperor's 1689 Southern Inspection Tour.\^/
Image Sources: Wikipedia, University of Washington; 3) Nolls China website http://www.paulnoll.com/China/index.html, China Beautiful website, Palace Museum, Taipie;, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Shanghai Museum. Luo Ping ghost painting from the Met in New York, Nelson-Atking Museum, Ressel Fok collection, Shanghai Museum.
Text Sources: Palace Museum, Taipei, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Last updated November 2021