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Past exhibition

Permanent Exhibition
A Space for Brush and Ink: Appreciating Painting and Calligraphy in the National Palace Museum Collection
This exhibition presents a systematic introduction to the developments in Chinese painting and calligraphy using artworks from the ages in the National Palace Museum collection. However, due to the fragile nature of paper and silk used for most classic works of painting and calligraphy, they can only be displayed for a maximum of about three months and must then be rotated with others.

The paintings down through the ages in the National Palace Museum are generally mounted in hanging scroll, handscroll, album leaf, and fan format. As for their contents, the three major categories are figures, birds and flowers, and landscapes.
Up to the mid-Tang period (8th century), figure painting dominated with representative artists including Gu Kaizhi of the Eastern Jin and Wu Daozi of the Tang. In the Five Dynasties period (10th c.), landscape and bird-and-flower subjects gradually replaced figure painting in central importance. In bird-and-flower painting, Huang Quan’s “outline” manner in the Western Shu and Xu Xi’s “boneless (wash)” style of the Southern Tang became standards for later generations, while in landscape painting such masters as Jing Hao and Guan Tong represented northern China with Dong Yuan and Juran for the south.
In the Song dynasty (960-1279), the monumental compositions by Fan Kuan, Guo Xi, and Li Tang brought landscape painting to a pinnacle. And the Southern Song Painting Academy in particular, with unprecedented patronage of the court, created classic bird-and-flower works of refinement along with elegant and magnificent figure paintings. Landscape painting at this time emphasized both the observation of nature and the incorporation of poetic ideas, the use of blank space and one-corner compositions further highlighting their lyricism and symbolism.
In the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), Zhao Mengfu’s “calligraphy suited to painting” followed such Song dynasty scholars as Su Shi and Mi Fu, who lodged their feelings in “painting from the heart,”and expanded literati painting in a new direction beyond the pursuit of “formal likeness” in art. This continued with the rich and diversified styles of the “Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty” (Huang Gongwang, Wu Zhen, Ni Zan, Wang Meng) to become paradigms for literati painting.
Ming dynasty (1368-1644) painting schools were often characterized by regional differences, such as the fine and elegant “Wu School” style in the Suzhou area and the bold and coarse ink manner of the “Zhe School” in the Zhejiang and Fujian region, each having its own characteristics. Dong Qichang of the “Songjiang School” in the late Ming, with his great knowledge about art, established a historical view of styles divided into an oppositional binary system and had a major influence on later generations. Afterwards, the “Four Wangs of the Early Qing Dynasty” (Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui, Wang Yuanqi) followed Dong’s “Southern” lineage and formed the “Orthodox School” of painting.
The Qing dynasty (1644-1911) court, where the “Orthodox School” flourished, also encouraged European methods of painting brought by missionaries from the West, resulting in chiaroscuro and perspective becoming new tools for reinventing the Chinese painting tradition. Outside the court, some painters who flourished in the city of Yangzhou were labeled as “eccentric and odd.” Neither brushwork nor forms in their works were orthodox, making these painters as forerunners for later generations seeking change and transformation in Chinese art.

The distinctive forms, styles, and lines of Chinese characters, along with rendering them in movements of the brush laden with ink, together represent a unique aspect of Chinese art. Over time, various scripts naturally evolved, including large and small seal, clerical, cursive, running, and standard.
The period of the Qin and Han dynasties (221 BCE-220) was crucial to the history of Chinese calligraphy. From the oracle bone script engraved on the bones and shells of animals and turtles to the inscriptions cast on bronze bells and vessels, the wide range of large seal and stone drum scripts in ancient times became unified into a standardized form known as small seal script at this period. For the expediency of writing, the straight and even lines of clerical script then gradually replaced small seal script to become the universal method of writing in the Han dynasty.
Clerical script continued to evolve, leading to the formation of cursive, running, and standard scripts. After the Six Dynasties period (220-589), mixed and transitional styles appeared. A prototype of cursive script, the quickest form of writing, is found on bamboo slips of the early Han dynasty. Standard script, representing an evolution of the regular forms and strokes in clerical script, features characters that are upright and easy to read. Running script, which falls in between the two, is more fluid than standard but easier to discern than cursive script. Running script is also the most practical of them and flourished especially in the Jin dynasty, Wang Xizhi’s mature works being the most representative form of this writing.
Calligraphy in the Sui and Tang dynasties period (581-907) followed the rigorous manner of Wei dynasty steles. It was also a time of political unification, bringing calligraphy styles of the north and south together as brushwork methods became increasingly complete. Standard script was the universal form and Yan Zhenqing its great synthesizer. Yan Zhenqing in his running script also incorporated the spirit and brushwork of such cursive-script masters as Zhang Xu and Huaisu. It likewise includes the manner and essence of Wei-Jin and Sui-Tang calligraphy, putting Yan Zhenqing on equal terms with Wang Xizhi.
Starting from the Song dynasty (960-1279), calligraphers not only continued with tradition, they also actively sought personal forms of expression. The “Four Masters of the Song Dynasty” (Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, Mi Fu, Cai Xiang) were mostly known for their individual styles of running script.
Calligraphers of the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), in turning to the past and advocating revivalism, further developed the classical norms of Jin and Tang calligraphy. Zhao Mengfu’s standard script was particularly refined, ranking him among the masters of this type of writing along with Ouyang Xun, Yan Zhenqing, and Liu Gongquan of the Tang dynasty.
Among the diverse manners in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the elegant freedom of semi-cursive script allowed calligraphers to express themselves even further. Examples include the “Three Masters of Wu (Suzhou)” (Zhu Yunming, Wen Zhengming, Wang Chong) and “Dong (Qichang) of the South and Wang (Duo) of the North.” All were calligraphers with their individual ways that contrasted with those more rigorously following the methods of tradition.
Starting in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911), calligraphy increasingly was influenced by evidential learning and researching the past. Such studies and new discoveries offered inspiration for both clerical and seal script, which in turn affected how lines were used in standard and running scripts. Thus was the gate to so-called “Stele Studies” opened, ushering in a new era for Chinese calligraphy.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date Permanent Exhibition
  • Location 2F S203
Xu Wei, Ming dynasty
Sketches from Life
        Xu Wei (1521-1593) had the sobriquet “Taoist of the Green Vines” (Qingteng Daoren). This piece, which he painted using freehand ink wash techniques, features eleven types of plants, including peony, lotus blossom, chrysanthemum, orchid, hydrangea, camellia, August lily, pomegranate, narcissus, bamboo, and plum blossom. Each section is accompanied by a poetic encomium with five or seven characters per line written in Xu’s own hand. This work is replete with both calligraphy and painting—museum visitors are invited to see how it lines up with Xu Wei’s appraisal of his own talents, namely that they were most outstanding in the realm of calligraphy, followed in order by poetry, prose, and painting. 

        Although Xu used liberal amounts of ink and water to paint this work, he prevented the outlines of the plants from bleeding and becoming fuzzy, and maintained a sense of unconstrained, easygoing vigor in his use of brush and ink. Overall, the work is characterized by rich variability in the thickness and thinness of its linework and in the tones of its ink. Xu needed only a small number of simple brushstrokes to convey botanic specimens that brim with life.
Jiang Tingxi, Qing dynasty
Crested Myna with Peach and Willow Branches
        Jiang Tingxi (1669-1732) was a painter and erudite who served in official capacity under the Qing dynasty emperors Kangxi and Yongzheng. This painting depicts a crested myna, its claws clutching tightly onto the willow branch upon which it has alighted, with peach blossoms nearby. Its tail is raised skywards, while its body hangs precipitously, its head cocked ever so slightly up and to the right. Wild crested mynas can commonly be witnessed adoptin this posture, which Jiang painted vividly and realistically.
        Jiang primarily used the “boneless” (meaning un-outlined) technique to paint this work. He used direct applications of ink washes and pigments to paint the subjects’ forms. The only places he used ink or pigments to add cursory outlines were the bird’s beak, its feet and claws, and the edges of the flower petals. In the album “Collaborative Copy of Jiang Tingxi’s ‘Avian Compendium,’” which was painted during Emperor Qianlong’s reign using painting techniques that came to China from Europe, there is a painting entitled “Crested Myna” that also depicts this type of bird alighted on a branch. Jiang’s original “Avian Compendium” is lost, but the painting on display here may give us some insight into the techniques he initially used to paint his collection of avian portraits.
Yu Xing and Zhang Weibang, Qing dynasty
Crested Myna from “Collaborative Copy of Jiang Tingxi’s ‘Avian Compendium’”
        This works comes from the “Avian Compendium,” the full title of which is Yu Xing (1692-after 1767) and Zhang Weibang’s (dates unknown) “Collaborative Copy of Jiang Tingxi’s ‘Avian Compendium.’” This large-format illustrated album was created by order of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799). The right half of each of its leaves features a bird painted using occidental painting techniques atop a background painted using the “boneless” (un-outlined) painting method developed in China. The left side of each leaf features an inscription written in both Chinese and Manchu, recording the illustrated bird’s name, characteristics, the climates to which it is well-adapted, and so on. The album is much like a modern illustrated encyclopedia.
        The artists used contrasts between light and dark to elicit a sense of three-dimensionality in the bird’s body. Moreover, they employed a modicum of white pigment to enhance the light being reflected from its feathers, as well as to emphasize the difference between the light-facing and unilluminated aspects of the painted objects. The traditional boneless method was used to create the wisteria blossoms in the painting’s background. This type of cooperation between Chinese and western painting techniques is one of the trademarks of the artistic styles created at court during the Qing dynasty. 
Wang Meng, Yuan dynasty
Flowers, Rivers, and a Recluse Fisherman
        Wang Meng (1308-1385) was one of the four masters of Yuan dynasty painting. He had his own unique method for painting boulders and massifs using “ox hair” texturing strokes. This technique, which involves using a multitude of dense ink dots and small, curved lines to paint the bodies of mountains, is excellent for portraying the densely forested landscapes of Jiangnan, the region south of China’s Yangtze river.
        According to scholarship, the theme of “Flowers, Rivers, and a Recluse Fisherman” derives from a calligraphic rendition of Jin dynasty literatus Tao Qian’s (365-427) classic essay “Record of the Peach Blossom Spring,” which was transcribed by Wang Meng’s maternal grandfather, Zhao Mengfu (1254-1322). This work uses layered mountain ridges to delineate the two separate realms in the painting’s foreground and background. A recluse’s dwelling is painted in the near distance with resplendent peach blossoms in full bloom on either side. This scenery comes from Tao Qian’s essay, which begins with a fisherman lost in the wilds accidentally finding his way into a secluded paradise known as the “Peach Blossom Spring.” In the painting, the fisherman sits atop a boat on the river, angling for fish. The woman in the boat corresponds with the colophon inscribed on this painting, which quotes poetry describing Fan Li (536-448 BCE) and the legendary beauty Xi Shi (dates unknown), who famously traveled by boat over the “five lakes” on their way to living in quiet isolation. The scenery painted here is the Zhaxi River in Wuxing, Zhejiang province. By placing the Peach Blossom Spring in a real-life landscape, Wang Meng created a new approach to landscapes depicting life in seclusion.
Attributed to an anonymous Song dynasty artist
A Gathering of Scholars
        This painting depicts the scene of three literati gathered in a building to sip tea, with servant boys off to one side preparing tea. The tea implements and other objects in this work were painted with careful attention to detail. For instance, the bamboo chairs and footrests, celadon bowls on the two tables, the white porcelain serving plates, and black porcelain tea saucers all received the artist’s meticulous attention. 
        This painting is unsigned, but tradition has it that it was painted during the Song dynasty. However, it contains several rather inexplicable elements. For instance, the mouth of the horse on the left seems to suspiciously overlap with the doorframe. Additionally, the borders between the walls and the roofing tiles as well as the walls and the doorframes are nowhere to be seen. While these factors reflect the likelihood that this painting was actually a copy of an original work made by a later artist, the exquisite detail with which its subject matter was depicted still qualify it as an outstanding accomplishment.
Attributed to an anonymous Tang dynasty artist
A Gathering of Scholars
This painting portrays refined scholars gathered in a courtyard garden for a feast. The scholars sit around a grand table sumptuously arrayed with numerous platters laden with fruit and cooked dishes. Servant boys off to one side are boiling water and preparing tea, near a pair of scholars conduct a conversation in the shade of one of the trees. A rich variety of color was applied throughout the entire piece, while slender and vigorous “double outline” brushwork was used to create the objects in the painting. There is a visible mark of a join in the center of the painting that causes the edge of the stove boiling water for tea to disappear. It can be surmised that, for whatever reason, a portion of this painting was cut away. This work is compositionally almost identical to Song dynasty emperor Huizong’s (1082-1135) “A Gathering of Scholars,” which is held by the NPM, but some elements (such as the table, chests, and ladles) were not painted in their entirety in this piece. It is possible that both paintings were both based upon the same original source.
Warring States period (Qin dynasty)
Text Cursing the State of Chu
        In the latter years the fourth century BCE, the first emperor of the Qin dynasty had a stele engraved with the “Text Cursing the State of Chu” in order to pray for the divine pantheon to deliver misfortune unto the Kingdom of Chu. The original stone engraving is lost; the piece on display here is a rubbing taken from a re-engraving of the stele, which was included in the “Jiangzhou Calligraphy Models” compiled during the Northern Song dynasty. The characters’ shapes are more rectilinear than those found in Qin dynasty lesser seal script (xiaozhuan) writing. The brushstrokes are slender and sharp, and the calligrapher frequently used short, adjoining strokes to render corners and turns, creating an effect reminiscent of the ancient oracular inscriptions engraved by blade into bones and tortoise shells. A number of the characters (including 巫, 神, 壹, 復, 若, and 率) either reveal an inheritance from Zhou dynasty bronze inscriptions, or else can be found only in such pre-Qin writings as the “Stone Bell Script” and the “Inscribed Wooden Tablets of Qingchuan.” This piece thus reveals how the script used in bronze inscriptions gradually evolved into lesser seal script. 
Self-written Appointment Certificate
Self-written Appointment Certificate
    Gaoshen were official documents used in ancient China when appointing people to government posts or recognizing meritorious contributions to society. In typical circumstances, central government organs first had gaoshen hand copied and stamped by specialists before sending them out to their recipients. One of the regular script (kaishu) documents held by the Taitō City Calligraphy Museum in Tokyo is an appointment certificate that was prepared in 780 when Yan Zhenqing (709-785) took on the official role of tutor to the crown prince. According to longstanding lore, Yan wrote the certificate in his own hand. The document was primarily written with a calligraphic technique that keeps the brush’s tip concealed in the centers of the brushstrokes, with lines that are ample and sumptuous. Although most of the character structures tend to follow the momentum of their vertical axes, their centers are uncrowded, giving viewers a sense of ancient unaffectedness combined with imposing majesty. The rubbing on exhibit here, which was donated to the NPM by the sisters Huang Li-jung and Huang Wen-ju, comes from a re-engraving included in the Qing dynasty “Three Rarities Hall Calligraphic Models.” The calligraphy was deftly traced and engraved, lending insight into the original certificate’s appearance.
Dong Qichang, Ming dynasty
Copied from Yan Zhenqing’s “Self-written Appointment Certificate”
        Dong Qichang (1555-1636), who reached the rank of minister in the Ministry of Rites, was extremely influential in the realms of calligraphy and painting, connoisseurship, and art history.
        While Dong wrote this piece by copying Yan Zhenqing’s (709-785) “Self-written Appointment Certificate,” he diverged from the original by allowed the brush’s tip to reveal itself as he wrote, and by incorporating such movements as angular turns and an intentionally trembling hand. In so doing, he produced a richer variety in the forms taken by his brushstrokes. The arrangement of negative space between the characters and the proportions of their structures are all more even than in the original, while the characters are also more straight and upright in their appearances. The overall composition has a spaciousness that sets off the intricacy and restraint seen in the brushwork, thus conferring an air of confident earnestness. The imprint of a seal reading “Grand Guardian of the Prince’s Palace” indicates that this piece was completed after 1634, making it one of Dong Qichang’s late life masterpieces.
Weng Tonghe, Qing dynasty
Copied from Yan Zhenqing’s “Self-written Appointment Certificate”
        Weng Tonghe (1830-1904) served as a high-ranking official in the Office of Political and Military Affairs in the late Qing dynasty, and was also in charge of various other offices in the national government. He served emperors Tongzhi (1856-1875) and Guangxu (1871-1908) and achieved fame for his calligraphy.
        Weng made this piece by copying Yan Zhenqing’s (709-785) “Self-written Appointment Certificate.” Although he wrote in regular script (kaishu), the characters are quite variable in size, and while some incline to the left, others lean rightwards. Additionally, the formations of the columns of text and the overall composition are both more freewheeling than the original. Weng incorporated running script (xingshu) brushwork while writing quickly, permitting frequent appearances of “flying white” when the brush’s bristles separated. He also opted for alternation between heavy and sparse applications of ink and substantial variability the in lines’ thicknesses. His brushstrokes turn corners and come to completion without any adornment, and there’s even a mistake where the character “存” appears instead of “表.” These features create a bold, unconstrained energy that pulses throughout the piece.