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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.

Bringing in the Year of the Rabbit
The coming lunar new year, designated “guimao year, ” will also be the Year of the Rabbit. Guimao is the fortieth year in a 60-year cycle, a traditional chronological order formed by combining Heavenly Stems and Earthly Branches. The Twelve Earthly Branches (zi, zhou, yin, mao, chen, si, wu, wei, shen, you, xu, hai) correspond to twelve animals (rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, chicken, dog, pig). Those, of course, are the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac. Thus, the “mao” of guimao matches with the rabbit.
In ancient China, rabbits were regarded as auspicious symbols. In a Tang dynasty text, Tang Liudian–Shangshu Libu, a rabbit’s degree of auspiciousness is judged by its fur color: “red rabbits are the most propitious; white rabbits are moderately propitious.” Ming Shi, the official history of the Ming dynasty, records that in the spring of the 41st year of Jiajing, reign title of the Shizong Emperor (1562), a white rabbit gave birth. Seen as an auspicious astrological sign, the event was reported to the Imperial Ancestral Temple by the Ministry of Rites, whereupon court officials celebrated and the entire country rejoiced.
Painters throughout the ages have always loved rabbits for their liveliness and lovable appearance, and the creatures often appear in paintings, accompanied by flowers, birds, and human figures. Rabbit imagery is also common in legends related to the moon, such as the “full moon rabbit” in ancient astrological and astronomical charts, the rabbit grinding medicinal herbs beside the Queen Mother of the West, and the hare accompanying Chang’e, the mythical goddess of the moon.
The National Palace Museum has set up a special “Bringing in the Year of the Rabbit” exhibition area to celebrate the lunar new year. Five works present the rabbit’s various aspects in ancient art: “Hound Chasing a Rabbit,” a stone-rubbing from the Han dynasty, and the paintings “Children at Play in Autumn” from the Yuan dynasty, “Chang’e Flies to the Moon” from the Ming dynasty, and “Rabbit Reclining Beside a Tall Pine” and “Heavenly Questions” from the Qing dynasty.
Exhibition Information
  • Event Date Permanent Exhibition
  • Location 2F S203
Yang Dazhang, Qing Dynasty
Rabbit Reclining Beside a Tall Pine
Yang Dazhang, a court painter in the Qing dynasty Qianlong period (1736-1795), was an accomplished painter of flowers, birds, animals, and figures.
This work was completed in the thirty-sixth year of the Qianlong era (1771). Winter snow covers the ground, and a rabbit is curled up behind a boulder to avoid the cold. The scene has distinct layers. The rabbit reclines in the foreground, with an evergreen tree on the right. Red leaves on the sloping rock add color to the picture, bringing a touch vitality to the frigid day. Diao Guangyin (ca. 852-935), a Tang dynasty flower-and-bird painter, inspired the painting. In contrast to the original, the perspective has been pulled back slightly, the turbulent stream behind the boulder has disappeared, and the brushwork shows greater refinement and precision.
Zhou Kun, Zhang Weibang, Ding Guanpeng, Yao Wenhan, Qing dynasty
Spring Dawn in the Han Palace
“Spring Dawn in the Han Palace” has been a popular painting subject since the Ming dynasty. The paintings depict court ladies engaged in various activities, presenting scenes of opulent palaces and lush gardens. There are four “Spring Dawn in the Han Palace” scrolls from the Qianlong period of the Qing dynasty in the National Palace Museum’s collection. This scroll, the longest and most magnificent of the four, was painted in the thirteenth year of the Qianlong Emperor’s reign (1748).
The richly ornamented buildings and human figures are meticulously detailed. Aside from depictions of people engaged in activities associated with the literati─strumming the zither, playing chess, painting, appreciating flowers, and enjoying fine tea─the work also features a ceremonial honor guard of horses and carriages, a first in this genre. An equestrian training scene also appears at the end of the scroll. The new style emerged after the Qianlong Emperor (reigned 1736-1795) directed court painters to refer to famous ancient paintings while incorporating new ideas.
Ni Zan, Yuan Dynasty
A Pavilion among Pines
Ni Zan (1301-1374), courtesy name Yuanzhen, sobriquets Yunlin and Yuweng, is regarded as of the Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty, a group of painters active during that period. Ink landscapes were his forte. Completed in 1354, the work is his earliest in the National Palace Museum’s collection. Most of Ni Zan’s paintings that have come down to us are on paper, but this was done on silk and thus is even more precious.
In this painting, the ink is soft and elegant, and the composition is relatively simple. The river banks are rendered with ink washes; a few evergreens and a deserted pavilion occupy in the foreground. Compositionally, the painter left much empty space; overall, the scenery is sparse, almost desolate. Ming-dynasty painter Dong Qichang (1555-1636) attributed the work to Dong Yuan (active in roughly the early 10th century). However, the strokes forming the stone in the right foreground are squared and slightly angular, different from the rounded brushwork characteristic of Dong Yuan’s work. Ni Zan introduced innovations of his own in this picture, creating an new style of ink painting distinct from those of his predecessors.
Mi Fu, Song Dynasty
Ganlu Letter
Mi Fu (1052-1108), style name Yuanzhang, was a master calligrapher and enjoyed collecting unusual rocks. Along with Su Shi (1037-1101), Huang Tingjian (1045-1105), and Cai Xiang (1012-1067), he is hailed as one of the “Four Great Calligraphers of the Northern Song dynasty.”
The letter was written in the first year of Chongning (1102), while Mi Fu was living in Runzhou in Dantu (today’s Zhenjiang, Jiangsu province) during his later years. The text describes the environs around the calligrapher’s home, collecting stones at Baojinzhai and in the mountains and forests, and the auspicious phenomenon of sweet dew falling from the sky. The work is a masterpiece from Mi Fu’s late period: The ink is pitch black, and the brushwork is free and uninhibited. The character forms are slanted, highly varied, and bursting with vitality.
Mo Shilong, Ming dynasty
Cursive Script
Mo Shilong (1537-1587) had the courtesy names Yuqing and Tinghan and the sobriquet Qiushui. He was an accomplished Ming dynasty poet, essayist, painter, and calligrapher and the author of “Painting Talk,” a treatise on painting history, theories, and methods.
The scroll is written in cursive script. The lines are full and forceful; strokes linking individual characters complement the brush's smooth, looping turns, maintaining a constant flow of energy throughout the piece. The initial strokes of many characters are dark and heavy; conversely, final strokes and details are often fainter, the product of a “thirsty brush” technique, which produces lighter lines. The final strokes of the opening character (揮) and the fifth character in the second line (啼) are long and drawn out, directing the viewer’s gaze downward while contributing greater clarity and flow. Overall, the work is an expansive display of bright, variegated beauty.
Shen Can, Ming Dynasty
Ancient Poem in Cursive Script Calligraphy
Shen Can (1379-1453), courtesy name Minwang, sobriquet Jian’an, was an accomplished poet, prose writer, and calligrapher. Owing to their mastery of calligraphy, he and his elder brother Shen Du (1357-1434) enjoyed a reputation as the “elder and younger scholars” in the imperial court. Known as the “Two Shens,” they occupied lofty positions in early Ming dynasty calligraphy circles.
Rendered at great speed, the strokes are smooth and round, flowing with power and vigor, imbuing the work with a “flying” quality reminiscent of the untamed cursive style of Tang dynasty calligrapher Huai Su (active in the second half of the eighth century). The final stroke of the characters “斗” and “中” are elongated, opening spatial distance; ink shades range from dry to moist, creating a sense of rich layering