Echoes of the Past: Qing Dynasty Chinese Painting Exhibition Opens
During the last half of the seventeenth century, a group of artists known as the Four Wangs came to dominate the Chinese painting scene. These artists looked back to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, drawing inspiration from ink masterpieces of the Song and Yuan dynasties, yet transforming and reinterpreting the past. Over the past two years, BAM/PFA’s collection of works by Ming and Qing dynasty artists working in traditional formats, including the Four Wangs, has been enriched through purchase and gifts of key works. Echoes of the Past: Qing Dynasty Chinese Painting (on view beginning January 5) presents a selection of these new acquisitions, which exemplify the great tradition of Chinese ink painting.
We can see the best of Wang Hui’s early years as a painter in Landscape in the Manner of Jiang Shen, in which he borrows elements from the past while inventing his own style. Among the most celebrated artists of the seventeenth century, Wang Hui (1632–1717) is credited with establishing the stylistic foundations of Qing dynasty painting, which was firmly rooted in ancient traditions stretching back to the eleventh-century Northern Song period. In the newly acquired luminous landscape painting, which Wang inscribed and dated 1667, he makes direct reference to the Northern Song style of layered mountains reaching up into the heavens and tilted outward towards the viewer. The delicacy of his brushwork, the lightly feathered strokes that create the volume of the mountain, contrasts brilliantly with the strong verticality of the trees in the lower portion of the composition, perhaps in a nod to the Yuan masters.
The youngest member of the group, Wang Yuanqi (1642–1715), fulfilled his duties as a public servant in the traditional manner of China’s civil service but also painted at such a high level as to be commissioned by the Emperor. Following in the footsteps of his famous grandfather, Wang Shimin (1592–1680), he emphasized his debt to the Yuan period in BAM/PFA’s newly acquired 1702 landscape painting by referencing in his inscription and his brushwork the fourteenth-century painter Huang Gongwang (1269–1334). Working entirely in ink and wash on paper, the artist has managed the tonal variations and layered brushstrokes in a way that imparts a depth and range of light and dark space that reads as colors in a landscape.
Works by Wang Hui and Wang Yuanqi are joined by those of Wang Shimin and Wang Jian, making up a full complement of the Four Wangs.
Julia M. White
Senior Curator for Asian Art
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