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Exhibition Themes

The Legacy of the Four Wangs on Qing Dynasty Painting (1644-1911)

Wang Hui (1632–1717), the most celebrated painter of late seventeenth-century China, played a key role in reinvigorating past traditions of landscape painting. He developed an all-embracing synthesis of historical landscape styles that constituted one of the greatest artistic innovations of late imperial China.

Wang Hui first studied the Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) then turned his attention to Song dynasty (960–1279) painting. Even though he was influenced by his teachers Wang Shimin (1592–1680) and Wang Jian (c. 1598–1677), he rejected their narrow range of past masters and became interested in a variety of Song artists. Along with Wang Yuanqi (1642–1715), the grandson of Wang Shimin, these painters became known as the “Four Wangs” in later history. The Four Wangs’ approaches to painting wielded enormous influence on later artists of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The artists represented in this section were followers of Wang Hui and Wang Yuanqi. For example, Yang Jin (1644–1728) worked as an assistant on Wang Hui’s paintings and Wang Xuehao (1754–1832) studied painting with one of Yuanqi’s grandsons.

Yang Jin 500px

Yang Jin (1644–1728)
Copying Liu Songnian’s Picture of “Successfully Crossing the Great River” (detail)
Qing Dynasty, 1726
Hanging scroll, ink and light color on paper
49 5/8 x 17 5/8 in, 126.05 x 44.77 cm
University of Virginia Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 1980.81

Wang Xeuehao 500px

Wang Xuehao (1754–1832)
Mountain Landscape (detail)
Qing Dynasty, 1818
Hanging scroll, ink and color on paper
48 3/4 x 16 3/16 in, 123.83 x 41.12 cm
Artist’s signature and date, two seals of the artist
University of Virginia Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 1980.31

Evoking Ancient Masters

Chinese painters engaged the art of earlier masters in a variety of ways that ranged from direct copying and creative imitation to more subtle forms of pictorial allusion. For example, the Qing dynasty painter Wang Hui identified the early eleventh-century artist Fan Kuan as his inspiration. In Autumn Landscape, the twentieth-century painter Wu Hufan (1894–1968) refers ultimately to two past masters from vastly different periods. For Wu, Wang Hui was the ultimate example of a painter who could engage the work of past masters both as a copyist and in influential original compositions. Wu Hufan’s inscription to Autumn Landscape indicates that the painting is Wu’s visual record of his memory of a Wang Hui copy of a painting by the fourteenth century literati master Huang Gongwang (1269–1354). Wu thus transmitted his own interpretation of the essence of both Wang’s and Huang’s styles.

Wang Hui (detail)

Wang Hui (1632-1717)
Looking at the Waterfall from a Riverside Pavilion
, 1695 (detail)
University of Virginia Art Museum, purchased with funds from an Anonymous Donor and Museum Members, 1976.12

Wu Hufan (detail)

Wu Hufan (1894-1968)
Autumn Landscape, n.d. (detail)
Courtesy of the Lijin Collection, #141

The Association of Past Masters with Famous Places

Mount Huang in Anhui province has some of the most iconic landscape scenery in all of China. Noted for its towering rocky cliffs with cragged pines emerging from the crevices, the region gained cultural prominence during the Ming-Qing dynastic transition as an image of refuge from political chaos.

Several seventeenth-century painters became associated with Mount Huang because of their many depictions of its scenery. Mount Huang not only remains a popular scenic site today, but retains its associations with various artists from the last four hundred years of China’s history.

Zha Shibiao (detail)

Zha Shibiao (1615-1698)
Mountain with a Waterfall (Mt. Huang), 1658
University of Virginia Art Museum, Museum Purchase, 1976.11

Wan Qinli (detail)

Wan Qinli (b. 1945)
Mount Huang, 1984
Courtesy of the Lijin Collection, #107

Tradition and Modernity in Flower and Bird Painting

Flower and bird painting has a long history in China and, along with figure painting and landscapes, is one of the three major genres in traditional painting. The term encompasses a wide variety of flora and fauna that is combined to form groupings that have seasonal or symbolic associations. These visual puns or rebuses ranged from sentiments and qualities associated with the elite scholar-official, or literati, class, to more popular expressions of wishes for wealth, happiness, and good health.

Although landscape painting dominated as a genre beginning in the tenth century, many landscape painters also produced flower and bird genre works. This group of paintings highlights renowned flower and bird painters. In some cases earlier artists are acknowledged fairly directly though inscription or style, while in others any connection with past masters is more diffuse.

Ren Yi (detail)

Ren Yi (1840-1896)
Flowers and Birds, 1871
One of a set of four hanging scrolls
Courtesy of the Lijin Collection, #130

Zhang Shuqi (detail)

Zhang Shuqi (1900-1957)
Cockatoo and Loquats, 1948
Courtesy of the Lijin Collection, #116

Champions of Tradition in Twentieth-Century Ink Painting

Modernization in Cbina was driven by questions of how to reform society and institutions and inflected by critical assessments of tradition’s role. At one end of the spectrum, artists were faced with what seemed like an exhausted artistic legacy of ink painting at the turn of the twentieth century. However, these artists believed not only in the possibility of traditional Chinese ink painting in the modern age but also continued advocating the study of ancient masters.

Huang Binhong (detail)

Huang Binhong (1865-1955)
Landscape, 1952 (detail)
Courtesy of the Lijin Collection, #148

Pu Ru (detail)

Pu Ru (1896-1963)
Summer Landscape, n.d. (detail)
Courtesy of the Lijin Collection, #137

Modern Interventions in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Ink Painting

During the twentieth century, art was central to debates surrounding modernization in China. While some perceived an engagement with the past as stifling and moribund, many other artists believed that every generation brought new ideas and even new techniques to the traditions transmitted from earlier paintings. In contrast, some twentieth-century artists promoted a total rejection of traditional styles and media in the visual arts, while others hoped for the revitalization of painting through a combination of traditional styles and Western techniques to create an art that would be more accessible to the citizens of China’s new republic than the literati painting of the past.

Zhao Shao’ang (detail)

Zhao Shao’ang (1905–1998)
n.d. (detail)
Ink and color on paper
12 x 33 in, 30.48 x 83.82 cm
Artist’s signature, two seals of the artist

Courtesy of The Lijin Collection, #147

Zhu Qizhan

Zhu Qizhan (1892-1996)
Rivers, 1986
Courtesy of the Lijin Collection, #117