Skip to main content

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
Han dynasty
Ink Rubbing of the Damaged Cao Zhen Stele and its Reverse Side
  This stele was dedicated to Cao Zhen (?-230), a figure recorded in the History of the Three Kingdoms. Erected during the fifth year of the Taihe reign period (231) during the Wei dynasty, it was unearthed in the twenty-third year of the Daoguang reign period (1843) under Qing dynasty emperor Xuanzong. Only twenty columns of text from the central portion of the stele’s anterior were preserved. The character gui (邽) in the eighth column from the right is undamaged, as is the case with this stele’s very first rubbing, indicating that both rubbings were taken during the same time period. A rubbing of the reverse side of this stele is displayed below its face. Divided into two sections written over thirty columns, its text records the names of the officials and their staff who contributed to the creation of this stele.
  The calligraphy on this stele takes its stylistic inheritance from Han dynasty clerical script (lishu). However, its character structures tend to be more rectilinear than its forebear’s, with discernible sharpness at the beginnings and ends of horizontal brushstrokes. Not only is this stele an important record for research into the history of Three Kingdoms period personages, it also a representative work for understanding the development and evolution of clerical script.
Zhang Yu, Yuan dynasty
Seven-Character Regulated Poetry by Summoned Gentleman Xianzhi
  Zhang Yu (1283-1350), of Qiantang in Zhejiang province, had the style name Boyu and the sobriquet Juqu Waishi. A Daoist priest in the Maoshan tradition, he was widely renowned in his time. He was a student of Zhao Mengfu’s calligraphy (1254-1322).
  This letter was addressed to “Xianzhi,” which was in fact a cognomen of Zhang Ziying (dates unknown), taken from the name of his personal library. The letter was written in the ninth year of the Zhizheng reign period (1349) under the Yuan dynasty emperor Toghon Temür. Zhang’s brushwork in this letter is vigorous and brisk, with angular corners. The structures of the individual characters tend towards tight-knittedness, with forms that favor obliqueness over steadiness, lending their appearance an overall quality of proud eccentricity. Although Zhang’s calligraphy descends from Zhao Mengfu’s, it nevertheless very much bears his own personal traits, while also showing how well he learned from Zhao.
He Shaoji, Qing dynasty
Four Panels of Running Script
  He Shaoji (1799-1873) was a native of Daozhou (present day Dao county) in Hunan province; his style name was Zizhen, and in late life he took the sobriquet Yuansou. His foundation was rooted in studying the calligraphy of Yan Zhenqing (1799-1873). Atop this basis he blended studies of pre-classical, seal, and clerical scripts, as well as stele rubbings, establishing a unique style and paving the way for trends in late Qing dynasty calligraphy.
        These four panels are transcriptions of lines from Huang Tingjian’s (1045-1105) poetry. On account of He’s distinctive way of holding his brush, the writing appears very slightly shaky. All of the calligraphy was written in such a way that the brush’s tip remained in the center of the strokes, so that no line is without sumptuous thickness. The characters were structured freely and at will, some appearing upright and proportionate, and others quite off-kilter. Intriguing charms fill the scrolls, delivering a sense of ease and leisure. These scrolls were donated to the NPM by brothers Tann Boyu and Tann Jifu.
Attributed to Li Gonglin, Song dynasty
Mountain Villa
        Li Gonglin (1049-1106), of Shuzhou in Anhui province, had the sobriquet Longmian Jushi (Recluse of Sleeping Dragon Mountain). He was a Northern Song dynasty literati painter.
        This unsigned painting has long been attributed to Li Gonglin. However, his original works were almost certainly all lost long ago, such that the received paintings in his name—including this one—are likely to be copies. This scroll was painted using the baimiao (or “simple outline”) technique to portray the artist and his friends sipping tea and chatting freely as they gallivant in a villa in the Longmian Mountains in Shuzhou. This painting’s originality lies in the way in which Li meticulously depicted its environs as geometricized landscapes, replete with triangular, rhomboid, and rounded shapes. Su Che (1039-1112) once wrote a series of twenty poems entitled “On Li Gonglin’s ‘Mountain Villa’ Painting.” Although there are some discrepancies between this piece’s vistas and those described in Su’s poems, the poetry and the painting can still be viewed in tandem.

Significant Historic Artifact
Verified and declared by the Ministry of Culture in February 2019
Gao Kegong, Yuan dynasty
Rain in the Mountains
        Water abounds in this painting. After the mountains in the distance and the boulders in the foreground were created with ink washes, horizontal dots of ink were used to accentuate their ridges. The trees’ leaves were not outlined, and were instead detailed directly with ink washes in a manner descending from the style of painting misty mountainous landscapes developed by Mi Fu (1051-1107) and his son Mi Youren (1074-1153) during the Song dynasty.
        Gao Kegong (1284-1310), who had the style name Yanjing and the sobriquet Fangshan Laoren (Old Man of Mount Fang), was originally from China’s western regions, but later relocated to Yanjing (present day Beijing). Gao’s own inscription on this painting states that it was a gift for his friend, and that rainclouds blew in just as he completed the piece, serendipitously resonating with the painting’s own subject matter.   
Wen Zhengming, Ming dynasty
Orchid and Bamboo
Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), of Changzhou (modern day Suzhou in Jiangsu province), had the given name Mingbi, but later went by his style name, Zhengming. Equally talented as a poet, prosaist, calligrapher, and painter, he is known as one of the four masters of the Ming dynasty. His influence upon the art world of the middle to late Ming dynasty was especially pronounced.
        This piece was painted atop special paper created for the transcribing of the Jinsu Mountain Buddhist Canon. Wen used the “boneless” (un-outlined) ink painting technique to portray blossoming orchids with leaves that ripple like silk sashes caught in the wind, and gently tilted bamboo stalks that seem to bend and sway in the wind. This painting’s subjects are densely packed and yet arranged with clarity and tidiness; the contrast between the dark bamboo and pale orchids gives a sense of layering and depth. Wen painted the entire piece with vigorous, forceful brushwork that deeply imbues it with the enthralling sense of a calligrapher in the act of writing. The painting abounds with the ambience of elegance and leisurely remove so enjoyed by scholars of old.
Significant Historic Artifact
Verified and declared by the Ministry of Culture in September 2014