Past Exhibitions

The Era of Brilliant Stars: Masters from Early Qing Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy Special Exhibition


Project Planner Liu Yiqian
Curator Xie Xiaodong

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Long Museum. As one of a series exhibition projects to celebrate the anniversary, The Era of Brilliant Stars – Masters from Early Qing Dynasty Painting and Calligraphy Special Exhibition produced by Liu Yiqian and curated by Xie Xiaodong will be on view from November 17, 2022 to March 12, 2023 at Gallery No.5 of the Long Museum (West Bund). The exhibition features over thirty (groups) of works by ten painters from early Qing Dynasty, namely Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui, Wang Yuanqi, Wu Li, Yun Shouping, Bada Shanren (Zhu Da), Shitao, Hongren and Kuncan; and over half of the works are exhibited publicly for the first time. It’s a homage to these ten master artists as well as to the great and glamorous tradition of Chinese art.

The Chinese title of the exhibition is inscribed by chief producer Liu Yiqian. Speaking of the reason for presenting this exhibition, he wrote in the foreword: “The ‘Four Wangs’ (Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui and Wang Yuanqi), Wu Li, Yun Shouping and ‘Four Monks’ (Hongren, Kuncan, Bada Shanren and Shitao) featured in this exhibition were prominent painters coming to the fore during a transitional period in the history of Chinese painting. On the one hand, they inherited the spirit and skills of Chinese painting passed down from Sui, Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties; and on the other, they carved out a prototype for Chinese painting to go modern. It’s been almost thirty years since I started to collect ancient Chinese painting and calligraphy; and I have a particular fondness for works by the ‘Four Wangs’, Wu Li, Yun Shouping and ‘Four Monks’. As a matter of fact, it’s not exaggerated to call such fondness fanatic. […] The late Ming and early Qing dynasties indeed mark a highlight in the long and glorious history of Chinese painting; and the ‘Four Wangs’, Wu Li, Yun Shouping and ‘Four Monks’ will always remain a monument in the course of the development of Chinese painting for future generations to learn and draw inspirations from.”

Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui and Wang Yuanqi – the “Four Wangs” - together with Wu Li and Yun Shouping are collectively known as the “Six Masters in Qing Dynasty” or the “orthodox” landscape painters. Strictly speaking, they could not be categorized as a painting school. But their paintings all placed an emphasis on inheriting the essence of exemplary works from the past and spoke particularly highly of the skills and brushworks of painters of the Yuan Dynasty. And in the meantime, they managed to imbue new verve into the traditional and as a result, presented something with a different and personal touch. The styles they represented dominated paintings produced both inside and outside the royal court and exerted a profound and continuous influence upon painters of following generations, laying a significant foundation for the future development of Chinese landscape painting.

In contrast to the orthodox “Four Wangs”, around the same period a group of somewhat unconventional painters emerging in south of the Yangtze River, among whom the “Four Monks” (Hongren, Kuncan, Bada Shanren and Shitao) were the best known. With a deep concern for the destiny of the nation, they projected their perceptions and feelings toward the country and its people onto their landscape paintings. Instead of simply imitating exemplary works from previous dynasties, the “Four Monks” chose an alternative path, bringing their creativity into full play and laying a uniquely brilliant example for the possible development of Chinese painting. Their expressive and individualist styles had a lingering and profound influence upon future generations of painters. From the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou (a group of eight Chinese painters active in mid-Qing Dynasty) to modern Chinese painters including Wu Changshuo, Qi Baishi, Zhang Daqian and Fu Baoshi all drew inspiration from them. These masters of Chinese painting in the 20th century resorted to the visions and methods of the “Four Monks” and laid a significant foundation for Chinese painting to go modern.

The masterpieces on view collectively constitute an extraordinary journey, leading audience to cherish the charisma of an era witnessing the emergence of a succession of masters and a variety of distinctive styles, and the artistic visions and characters of the ten distinguished painters. It offers audience a precious opportunity to revisit the glamorous period that plays an important transitional role in the history of painting.

During the past four decades of reform and opening-up, Chinese contemporary art has witnessed prosperous developments. While embracing the influence from the west, people of insight and vision have also pointed out the significance of the “contemporary transformation” of China’s own artistic tradition. The 20th century was the “century of abstraction”; however, Chinese visual art possesses the gene of “abstraction” since its birth and has led to a variety of diverse practices and explorations during the course of its development. The ten artists featured in this exhibition, all active in the 17th century, mark a milestone in an importantly transitional period of Chinese painting history.

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