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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
Zhang Jizhi (1186-1263), Song dynasty
Letter Enquiring After Your Eminent Mother
Zhang Jizhi (style names Wenfu and Shuliao) was a native of He County, Anhui. A celebrated Southern Song calligrapher, Zhang was reputed for his large-character calligraphy. This piece, however, represents his everyday correspondence.
The letter is written on decorated paper, and the calligraphy is done with particular attention, with fluid and vigorous use of brush and ink. As it was a gesture of greetings to an elder for sending a gift, the paper features a lush lychee motif, symbolizing not only longevity through its evergreen nature across the four seasons but also the meaning of having many descendants and good fortune. The intricate design on the decorated paper captures fine details with a naturalistic tendency. In both artistic quality and materiality, this piece stands out as a truly exceptional work.
Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), Ming dynasty
Seven-Character Poetry in Cursive Script
Wen Zhengming, originally named Bi but later known by his style name instead, also had sobriquets Tingyunsheng and Hengshan jushi. He hailed from Changzhou, Jiangsu. Wen was proficient in poetry, literature, calligraphy, and painting. He emerged as a leader in the artistic community of Suzhou during the middle Ming period, standing as one of the “Four Great Masters of the Ming Dynasty.” This poem, titled “Contemplating Sights at the Dragon Gate,” was likely composed around 1530, which captures the author’s feelings during a visit to the Taiping Monastery on the outskirts of Suzhou after a late spring rain.
This hanging scroll features Wen’s large characters in running cursive script, fully revealing his own style. The brushwork is robust, tensile, and fluid, while a kind of energy permeates the entire work. Executed on damask silk, the artwork possesses a subtle sheen that enhances its overall visual appeal.
Dong Qichang (1555-1636), Ming dynasty
After Yan Zhenqing’s Calligraphy
Dong Qichang, style name Xuanzai and sobriquet Sibai, was a native of Huating, Jiangsu. He was awarded the Presented Scholar (jinshi) degree in the seventeenth year of the Wanli reign (1589), rising to the position of Minister of Rites and posthumously receiving the title Wenmin. Exceptionally talented in calligraphy and painting, he was a fine collector and connoisseur, too. His semi-regular script was unrivaled in his era.
This work transcribes the poem by Tang poet Xiao Song, praising Zhang Yue (667-730) and the literary rise of the Jixian Academy in the Tang dynasty. The characters in regular script here are powerful and natural, but even more attention is paid to brushwork variations and relaxed spacing between the columns, so it can be seen as Dong Qichang’s own style in the pursuit of Yan Zhenqing’s spirit.
Yang Yisun (1812-1881), Qing dynasty
Eight-Character Couplet in Seal Script
Yang Yisun, style named Ziyu and also known as Yongchun, later adopting the sobriquet Haosou, hailed from Changshu, Jiangsu. Yang gained recognition for his calligraphy in seal script. The couplet reads: “The highest kindness is like water; the highest virtue is like a valley. Holding wine with respect; holding talent with humility.” The verses are compiled from Laozi and the “Biography of Guan Lu.”
This work was donated by Ms. Huang Li-jung and Ms. Huang Wen-ju. Executed in gold ink on indigo blue silk, it boasts a substantial size, making it a rarity among large seal script works. The characters are evenly arranged and balanced, with smooth and rounded brushstrokes contributing to a profound and restrained quality throughout the piece. Yang Yisun created this work in the 11th year of the Tongzhi reign (1872) at the age of 61.
Attributed to Ju Ran (active late 10th century), Southern Tang dynasty
Autumn Mountains
The mountains and rocks are rendered in the “hemp-fiber” texture strokes with rounded brushwork and the center of the brush tip, creating rich layers of ink wash. Even the depiction of trees shows a similar approach. A sense of fluidity permeates the work, including the details. This unsigned artwork is attributed to Ju Ran by Dong Qichang (1555-1636), as indicated in his inscription above the painting. However, compared to Yuan artist Wu Zhen’s “River Scene on a Spring Dawn” in the National Palace Museum collection, both pieces show comparable brushwork, composition, and forms of mountains, rocks, and trees, implying they may come from the same hand.
Ju Ran, a native of Nanjing, was a monk at the Kaiyuan Monastery. He excelled at painting landscapes and followed the style of Dong Yuan.
Attributed to Zhou Wenju (c. 917-975), Southern Tang dynasty
Literary Gathering of Immortal Ladies
This painting depicts splendid palaces and pavilions amidst a landscape of trees and strange rocks with refined colors, creating a splendid scene reminiscent of an immortal realm. Female immortals gather, engaging in cultural activities such as playing the zither, “weiqi” (go), calligraphy, painting, “touhu” (a game of tossing arrows into a distant pot), and planting flowers. The painting bears the inscription “Painted by Zhou Wenju in the third year of the Zhiping reign, Bingwu year (1066).” Nonetheless, the reign title’s timeframe does not match the artist’s active period, indicating it is likely a late Ming archaic-style product from a Suzhou workshop.

Zhou Wenju was a native of Nanjing. He served as Painter-in-Attendance in the Hanlin Academy during the reign of the Southern Tang ruler Li Yu (961-976). Zhou was skilled in portraying figures, particularly adept at depicting ladies.
Ma Wan (active 1342-1366), Yuan dynasty
Secluded Dwelling amid Lofty Peaks
Ma Wan, style name Wenbi, hailed from Haiyan in Zhejiang and resided in Songjiang in his later years. A skilled calligrapher, poet, and landscape painter, he studied under Yang Weizhen (1296-1370) and was active within the Jiangnan cultural circles during the late Yuan period.
In this painting, myriad mountains are covered with accumulated snow, showcasing rugged cliffs and flat ridges. The rocks and peaks exhibit angular facets, creating a sensation of layered precipices that are both steep and crystalline. The brushwork is vigorous, yielding rounded strokes; the light ink rendering contributes to distinct layers. The artist’s inscription indicates that Ma executed this piece at the request of Yang Qian (1283-?, also known as Zhuxi) in the ninth year of the Zhizheng era of the Yuan period (1349).
Yu Zhiding (around 1647-1716), Qing dynasty
After Zhao Boju’s Landscape
Yu Zhiding (style name Shangji and sobriquet Shenzhai), a native of Yangzhou in Jiangsu, served as a court painter during the Kangxi era (1661-1722). He excelled at depicting historical figures, with most portraits executed in the “baimiao” (plain outlines) manner, which was considered the best of his time. His landscapes are also of fine quality.
In this artwork, heavy colors are used to depict mountains covered in shades of bluish-green, and gold-tinged lines outline the contours, creating an otherworldly scenery that evokes the realm of immortals, exemplifying the blue-and-green landscape style. White clouds envelop the scene, while pavilions and terraces dot the painting, where scholars engage in lofty discussion. Deer amble along the flowering path, together with motifs such as pine, bamboo, flowers, and trees, contributing to the vitality in this landscape. Zhao Boju was a renowned Song period artist celebrated for his blue-and-green landscapes that garnered significant influence.
Ding Guanpeng (active 18th century), Qing dynasty
Copy of Qiu Ying’s Elegant Gathering in the Western Garden
Ding Guanpeng entered the Qing court in the fourth year of Emperor Yongzheng’s reign (1726). He excelled at figure painting, especially Daoist and Buddhist figures, earning the title “First-Rank Painter” under Qianlong’s rule (1735-1796). Among the numerous paintings patterned after antiquity produced during the Qianlong period, many of which were done by Ding Guanpeng, this work is such an example.
The source painting Qiu Ying’s “Elegant Gathering in the Western Garden,” executed using the “baimiao” manner of fine monochrome ink lines, can be found in the National Palace Museum collection. While Ding Guanpeng retained the composition and arrangement of the original artwork, he applied light colors to both figures and scenery, and he also reduced the contrast between light and shading, resulting in an impression of simplicity and elegance reminiscent of antiquity.