THREE CULTURES ON CANVAS
Show at the National Museum of China showcases works from the Beijing museum, the National Museum of Korea and the Tokyo National Museum. reports.
For many Beijing commuters, “Jintai” means a busy subway station in the capital’s eastern part at which they get off or transfer on their way to work. It is also the name of a crowded road flanked by high-rise commercial and residential buildings.
But six centuries ago, the area was different. It was filled with trees. The singing of birds echoed through mountains. And hilly terraces bathed in sunlight.
This landscape was called “Jintai Xizhao” which literally means a terrace bathed in the glow of the setting sun. And it was recorded by Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) painter Wang Fu as part of his 20-meter-long ink painting titled A Scroll of Beijing’s Eight Magnificent Scenes.
Wang served in the Ming imperial court and painted natural motifs, such as bamboo and stones. He is recognized as a key figure in literati shanshui (mountain-and-water) painting.
Seen as the high point of Wang’s artistic output, the landscape scroll was cataloged in Shiqu Baoji, a prestigious inventory of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)’s imperial collection. It is now in the National Museum of China in Beijing.
Visitors can view the scroll at an ongoing exhibition that celebrates the artistic diversity of China, the Korean kingdom and Japan from the 15th to the 19th centuries.
The Oriental Art of Painting at the National Museum of China showcases 52 literati paintings, genre paintings and Buddhism-themed paintings among others from the Beijing museum, the National Museum of Korea in Seoul and the Tokyo National Museum in Japan.
The juxtaposition of the art shows the cultural traditions shared by the three countries, according to Yi Younghoon, director-general of the National Museum of Korea.
“Also, the works reveal differences that need to be understood and respected, based on which people can further develop friendships,” he says.
While the practice of painting flourished in the three countries during the five centuries in question, it took on different features.
Zhu Wanzhang, an art historian and researcher at the National Museum of China, says China’s literati painting ( wenrenhua) reached new heights in the Ming and Qing dynasties, carrying GuardianDeitiesofBuddhism, PaintingAlbumofFarmingScenes, TheOrientalArtofPainting forward a rich legacy created in the Song Dynasty (960-1279).
The style, which got its name because it was widely practiced by highly educated people — intellectuals and scholar-bureaucrats — was devised by Wang Wei, a prominent poet and artist of the eighth century, and further developed by Su Dongpo, the famed scholar of Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).
The style exhibits a lofty, highly individual and expressive feel. And Zhu says its progression over centuries in China reflects the superior social standing of the literati.
Also on show at the exhibition are the works of Tang Yin and Wen Zhengming, two of the most celebrated Ming painters, whose pieces represent the highest levels of literati painting.
The style spread to Japan after artists from there were exposed to Jieziyuan Huapu, a 17 th-century manual of Chinese painting.
Ikeno Taiga (1723-1776) stood out for works that blended the philosophy of literati painting with Japanese artistic traditions and Western painting techniques. A 3.6-meter-long screen painting at the exhibition epitomizes his distinctive style, featuring smooth lines, a translucent palette and dynamic composition.
The painting was inspired by Northern Song poet Lin Bu’s prose in which the scholar living in seclusion describes plum trees as playing a wife’s role and cranes as his sons.
However, Zhu says literati painting did not blossom in Japan, because the country was then ruled by the samurai, or a military elite.
He says the period, however, witnessed the emergence of a more popular form of art, ukiyoe (pictures of the floating world), several of which are also on show. They largely focus on folk customs, the lives of common people and other worldly subjects in a refined, decorative manner. The works were especially well received by merchants and urban dwellers in the Edo period.
In Korea, literati paintings were not produced by scholars but by professional painters, who often painted motifs of imperial life and showcased the feelings of the ruling class.
A representative example is a painting by 16th-century painter Yi Am, who is famous for his skill of vividly detailing the fur of animals.
In the work on show, Yi portrays a dog taking care of its puppies. Chen Qingqing, a curator from the National Museum of China, says the work shows the appeal typical of Korean literati painting.
Contact the writer at linqi@ chinadaily.com.cn
If you go
at the National Museum of China. a Korean painting produced in 1855. 9 am-5 pm, closed on Monday, through Dec 18. East of Tian’anmen Square. 010-6511-6188.
Top: Above right:
Above left: Visitors at the ongoing exhibition a Chinese painting from the Qing Dynasty.