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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
Fan Anren, Song dynasty
Fish and Aquatic Grasses
This work depicts a school of fish darting back and forth between aquatic grasses. The fish and grasses were not outlined, and instead created using pale colored washes. Their lithe gracefulness and limpid clarity reflects the style of portraying fish using the “boneless” (mogu) painting technique that was popular at the cusp of the Song and Yuan dynasties. Fish became a painting subject in part because the Chinese word for fish (yu) rhymes with the word for abundance, filling these paintings with intimations of plenitude and wealth. The literati, however, also used fish as a symbol for freedom and ease, drawing upon a story in Zhuangzi in which scholars wittily discuss whether it possible to know if fish are happy or not. While this painting is unsigned, the head of the scroll carries a running script inscription reading “Vivaciousness is the way of the universe”, and there are also several colophons which attribute the painting to Fan Anren (fl. ca. mid-13th century). Fan, who came from Qiantang in Zhejiang province, was a court painter during the Baoyou period (1253-1258) in the reign of Southern Song emperor Lizong. 
Huang Tingjian, Song dynasty
  • Important Historic Artifact
Huang Tingjian (1045-1105), of Fenning in Jiangxi province, had the style name Luzhi. Huang wrote this piece of calligraphy for Li Gongyun in the second year of the Shaosheng reign period (1095), whilst on the verge of embarking for his place of banishment in Sichuan province, just before he boarded his boat. The letter describes how, because he encountered heavy snowfall en route, it took Huang Tingjian sixty days to reach Jingzhou. It also inquires into Li’s recent circumstances. This letter was written in small running-regular script with heavy, sedate brushwork. There is relatively little in terms of syncopated cadence and undulations in the brushstrokes, dissimilar to Huang’s large running script calligraphy. Atop the letter are seal imprints from imperial collections. One, from the Southern Song dynasty, states “Treasure of the Hall of Brightness,” and another from Yuan dynasty emperor Wen Zong (1304-1332) reads “Treasure of the Tianli Reign Period.” There is also an inscription in ink by Ke Jiusi (1290-1343)—a calligrapher, painter, and art collector who lived during the Yuan dynasty—affirming that this is an authentic letter.
Liu Songnian, Song dynasty
Grinding Tea
This painting portrays the “sage of cursive calligraphy” Huaisu (fl. late 8th century) wielding his brush, with the scholars Qian Qi and Dai Shulun seated around his desk. An attendant can be seen straddling a bench grinding tea, while another pours it from a pot in preparation for tea service. Atop the table are a bamboo whisk for frothing tea, cups sitting on elevated saucers, and a box for tea ground into powder. Atop the brazier-style tea stove, water boils in a kettle with hooped handles. The design of these accoutrements can be traced back to the Five Dynasties and Song dynasty periods. Tea was very popular in the era spanning the Tang and Song dynasties, and time when scholars and calligraphers entertained friends over tea, as the ways of enjoying this beverage were cleverly blended into Confucian and Daoist culture. Liu Songnian (fl. 1174-1224), of Qiantang in Zhejiang province, held office as court painter between the reigns of Southern Song dynasty emperors Xiaozong and Lizong.
Su Shi, Song dynasty
Letter About a Poem Bequeathed to Guozi
  • Important Historic Artifact
Su Shi (1037-1101) had the style name Zizhan and the sobriquet Dongpo Jushi (Recluse of the Eastern Slope). In the eighth year of the Yuanfeng reign period (1085) under Song dynasty emperor Shenzong, his younger brother Su Che (1039-1112) had a dream in which the Daoist Li Shining bestowed him with a poetic quatrain. Su Che wrote down the poem and bequeathed it to his son, Su Guo (1072-1123). Li, the Daoist, came from Pengzhou in Sichuan province. Not only did he have highly advanced esoteric abilities, poetic verse practically fell from his lips. In the first year of the Yuanyou reign period (1086), when Emperor Zhezong took the throne, Empress Dowager Xuanren promoted Sima Guang (1019-1086) to the rank of prime minister and recommended Su Shi and Su Che for government posts. Li Shiming once crossed paths with Su Shi in Chengdu by chance, during which time he prophesized that Su would get the highest score on the imperial examinations—his prediction later proved accurate.
Shen Du, Ming dynasty
“Home Again” Ballad in Clerical Script
  • Important Historic Artifact
Shen Du (1357-1434), of Huating in Jiangsu province, had the style name Minze and the sobriquet Zile (“Naturally Joyful”). When Ming dynasty emperor Chengzu ascended to the throne, he selected capable calligraphers for the Hanlin Academy, calling Shen Du “the Wang Xizhi of my reign.” Shen’s seal, clerical, regular, and running script calligraphy were all excellent, but it was his clerical script (lishu) that stood out for its proximity to the ancients. Tao Yuanming (372-427), an erstwhile official of the Eastern Jin dynasty, wrote the ballad “Home Again” upon his return to life in seclusion on his farm in Pengze in present day Jiangxi province. The ballad expresses Tao’s disinterest in prestige and wealth and his resolution to retire into obscurity. Shen Du wrote the ballad in a simple, unaffected calligraphy that hearkens to ancient ways. He wielded his brush with solid, steady strength while writing the entire piece. With its balanced, orderly and complete dots and strokes, as well as its dense character structures, this work presents the unique traits of Ming dynasty clerical script.
Dong Qichang, Ming dynasty
Words for Buddha
The word “Buddha,” which is a transliteration of a Sanskrit term meaning “one who has awakened,” refers to one who has achieved liberation from suffering, bringing the cultivation of virtue and wisdom to completion. This scroll features ten of the Buddha’s appellations written in calligraphy. They are: 如來 (Rulai, meaning “Thus Come”), 應供 (Yinggong, “Worthy of Worship”), 正遍知 (Zhengbianzhi, “Arhat of Perfect Knoweldge”), 明行足 (Mingxingzu, “Perfect in Knowledge and Conduct”), 善逝 (Shanshi, “Well Departed”), 世間解 (Shijianjie, “Knower of the World”), 無上士調御丈夫 (Wushangshi Tiaoyu Zhangfu, “Unparalleled Master Who Tames the Passions of Men”), 天人師 (Tianrenshi, “Teacher of Gods and Humans”), 佛 (Fo, “Buddha”), and 世尊 (Shizun, “World-honored One”).
Dong Qichang (1555-1636), of Huating in Jiangsu province, had the style name Xuanzai and the sobriquet Sibai. In his official career he reached the rank of director in the Ministry of Rites. Dong was a calligraphic heir of the “Two Kings,” Yan Zhenqing (709-785) and Mi Fu (1052-1108), though he also blended in the styles of many other masters, ultimately creating his own approach to calligraphy with distinctive features. This piece is written in running script (xingshu) with an extroverted manner of wielding the brush, numerous transitions in brush technique, and characters whose structures vary in size and relative thickness. 
Ding Guanpeng, Qing dynasty
Celebrating Ruibin (Dragon Boat Festival)
Ding Guanpeng (fl. ca. 1726-1770) was an important court painter who lived during the reign of Qing dynasty emperor Qianlong. This painting depicts the palatial garden scenery and the “Ocean Platform” of Zhongnanhai, an imperial resort located to the west of the Forbidden City in Beijing. Water surrounds the environs, providing contrast to the array of palaces, pavilions, covered walkways, belvederes, miniature mountains made from stacked boulders, flowers, and trees. Among the trees in the distance can be seen Soaring Phoenix Hall (Xiangluange), partially obscured by the mist. By the waterside stands the Clear Emptiness Pavilion (Zhanxulou), nearby which is moored a painted pleasure boat decorated with a phoenix’s head. This scene’s flower gardens, building interiors, and multistoried construction were all depicted resplendently and meticulously. “Ruibin” is another name of the Dragon Boat Festival, which falls on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month each year. Ding completed this painting in the thirteenth year of Qianlong’s reign (1748).
Yun Shouping, Qing dynasty
Fish and Aquatic Grasses
Beneath a low-hanging branch of blossoming wisteria, fish weave between aquatic grasses, while fallen flower petals grace the water’s surface—these elements unite to create the environs of a pellucid pond. Ancient painters renowned for their portrayals of fish include Liu Cai (fl. ca. 11th century) and Fan Anren (fl. ca. mid-13th century) of the Song dynasty; the colophon on this painting states that it was a copy made on the basis of Liu Cai’s paintings, emulating Liu’s techniques with utmost care. Yun Shouping (1633-1690), of Wujin in Jiangsu province, had the sobriquet Nantian. He developed his own way of making paintings from life of flowers and foliage using the “boneless” (mogu) technique. Yun combined colored pigments and water to create gradated coloration, his clean, smooth brushwork and inkwork yielding a sense of transparency. This painting uses its depiction of free-spirited fish in their own habitat to arrive at the joyous sense of unfettered leisure that the classical literati often associated with the lives of fishermen and firewood gatherers.