Figure Paintings of the Ming and Qing Dynasties
The Man Written by Paintbrush and Ink— Figure Paintings of the Ming and Qing Dynasties exhibition at the Beijing Fine Art Academy displays 62 figure paintings, and runs until November 19.
As one of the exhibitions of the “Ancient Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Research” series held at the Beijing Fine Art Academy, the Man Written by Paintbrush and Ink— Figure Paintings of the Ming and Qing Dynasties exhibition is another ancient calligraphy and painting exhibition jointly held by several cultural and educational institutions. The Palace Museum, Shanghai Museum, Nanjing Museum and Tianjin Museum display 62 figure paintings of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, allowing visitors to understand and appreciate paintings created during that period. The exhibition runs until November 19.
Mortal Beings of the Ming and Qing Dynasties
Chinese figure paintings during the Ming and Qing dynasties didn’t aim to show the true appearances of the characters, but to reflect their identity, status and temperament by setting them in a unique circumstance, such as a garden and study. The exhibition is divided into four sections—“love in Water and Stone— Elegant Pleasure,” “Mundane World under the Paintbrush—portrait,” “Red Sleeves in Painting—beauty” and “Distinct Appearances—meditation.” Among the sections, “Elegant Pleasure” expresses the leisure of literati at that time. For example, the “Painting of a Sweet Dream under a Chinese Parasol” by Tang Yin (1470–1524) adopts ink line-drawing techniques. In the painting, a man sits in a chair under a Chinese parasol with his eyes closed, as if lost in a dream. His facial expression is vivid
and natural. The painting was created by Tang when he returned to Suzhou (a city in present-day Jiangsu Province) after failing an imperial examination case. It has been considered a portrait of the painter himself as he saw through the world, gave up his pursuit of fame, and decided to lead a reclusive life.
The “Painting of Three Hobbies of Qiao Yuanzhi” by Yu Zhiding (1647–1716) housed at Nanjing Museum portrays Qiao Yuanzhi lying on the couch, with piles of books on the desk behind him. Three female musicians on the left side play musical instruments while two maidservants on the right side bring out a jar of liquor. Reading books, listening to music and drinking liquor were Qiao’s three hobbies, indicating bold characteristics. All the characters in the painting are drawn with delicate strokes and lucid colours, illustrating a quaint charm.
Aside from these works, visitors can also find many other outstanding figure paintings created during the Ming and Qing dynasties, such as the “Painting of Spring in Wuling” by Wu Wei (1459–1508) and the “Painting of Listening to Qin (a seven-stringed plucked instrument in some ways similar to the zither)” by Chen Hongshou (1598–1652).
Women Painters and Paintings of Beauties
Although there have been many prominent women painters in the history of Chinese painting, they didn’t emerge as a group until the Ming and Qing dynasties. Women painters have become a unique phenomenon in the circle of traditional Chinese painting since then, having motivated and inspired many modern women painters.
The “Beauty” section focuses on the paintings by women painters of the Ming and Qing dynasties and those with women as the main theme. The “Painting of a Lady Tooting the Xiao ( a vertical bamboo flute)” by Xue Susu (c.1564–1650) is one of the masterpieces.
Xue Susu was endowed with both beauty and talent and excelled at drawing. Her works are now housed by the Palace Museum, Nanjing Museum, Jilin Provincial Museum, Tianjin Museum and Shanghai Museum. Many of her paintings, such as “Painting of Orchid, Bamboo, Pine and Plum Blossom” and “Painting of Orchid and Stone,” are masterpieces, while “Painting of a Lady Tooting the Xiao” is the only figure painting of Xue. The painting portrays a slim lady standing in a garden, playing the xiao, accompanied by narcissus in front with stones and bamboo in back. They form an elegant and leisurely atmosphere, and serve as listeners in the meantime.
During the last years of the Ming Dynasty, Liu Rushi, Gu Hengbo, Ma Xianglan, Chen Yuanyuan, Kou Mei, Bian Yujing, Li Xiangjun and Dong Xiaowan were known as “Eight Beauties of Jinling (present-day Nanjing in Jiangsu Province). At that time, literati swarmed to them out of admiration, and created many paintings for them. The figure paintings on display at the exhibition include “Painting of Kou Mei” by Fan Qi (1616–1694), “Painting of Liu Rushi” by Gu Dachang, “Painting of Dong Xiaowan” by Zhou Xu and “Painting of Gu Hengbo” by Zhang Fudong, all from Nanjing Museum. Among them, the largest one is the “Painting of Kou Mei.”
The “Painting of Kou Mei” was cocreated by Fan Qi and Wu Hong (1615– 1680) in 1651, in a regional style. In the painting, Kou Mei, with make-up, sits up, looking peaceful. The background environment consists of ancient trees and still water. Thriving vitality can be sensed in quietness, well echoing the character’s situation, identity and appearance. A short biography of Kou Mei with some brief comments and poems can be found on the edges of the painting, documenting the views of literati on Kou Mei during the Qing Dynasty.
Charms of the Literati
With the rise of literati paintings and commerce during the Ming and Qing dynasties, traditional Chinese figure painting entered a crucial period, showing diversified development trends, and ushering in many prominent painters, including Wen Zhengming (1470–1559), Tang Yin and Chen Hongshou. In addition, Zeng Jing (1568–1650) established the Bochen School featuring realism painting. Yu Zhiding (1647–1716) and Leng Mei (c. 1669–1745) created their own styles of figure painting. Eight Eccentric Artists in Yangzhou were good at ink freehand figure painting. Representatives of Haishang School—ren Xiong, Ren Xun and Ren Yi—promoted the secularisation and marketing of painting.
Hua Yan (1682–1756) was also a prominent painter during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Although he lived an impoverished life, he embraced nature with his paintbrush, travelling a lot to broaden his horizons. He once pursued an official career, but finally gave up after witnessing injustices of the officialdom. He then made a living by selling paintings in Hangzhou and Yangzhou. By that time, he made acquaintances with Eight Eccentric Artists in Yangzhou and other painters. The “Self Portrait” housed at the Palace Museum was an impromptu work created by Hua Yan when he was 46, depicting a cheerful Hua appreciating natural scenery in summer. The figure in his painting is both realistic and freehand, with a slightly exaggerated posture, just like Hua’s other figure paintings. The painting features concise, casual and thinning lines, to create a charm exclusive to literati while appealing to the masses.
These outstanding painters escalated the fame of figure painting during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The exhibition brings together figure paintings of various schools from the Ming and Qing dynasties, sorting out the figures in paintings. Visitors can learn more about the charms of the literati during that period while engaging in artistic feats.