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Rare Surviving Artworks Showcased in "The Brilliance of Song Dynasty in Modern Times" Art Exhibition at China Academy of Art


HANGZHOU, China, March 27, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — On March 18, 2023, the art exhibition themed “The Brilliance of Song Dynasty in Modern Times” kicked off at the Art Museum of China Academy of Art, Hangzhou, China. The key exhibition, titled “Embrace the Landscape: Selected Painting and Calligraphy about Southern China Since the Song Dynasty”, was organized collaboratively by the Palace Museum, Shanghai Museum, Liaoning Provincial Museum, Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Tianjin Museum, Yunnan Provincial Museum, Huizhou History Museum of Anhui, and Art Museum of China Academy of Art. It showcased 37 pieces (sets) of calligraphy and painting works from the Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368–1644), and Qing (1636-1912) dynasties, including 13 Grade 1 cultural objects, fully presenting the millennium-long artistic inheritance of Song-style calligraphy and painting in the Jiangnan region, from the Song Dynasty to modern times.

Apart from the said part, “The Brilliance of Song Dynasty in Modern Times” Art Exhibition comprises segments titled “The Study of Song Dynasty Paintings by Huang Binhong (1865-1955) and its Heritage”, “The Inheritance and Variation of Pan Tianshou’s Art”, “Harmonizing the East and the West in CAA Oil Paintings”, and “Emulating the Tradition of Painting and Calligraphy of the Song Dynasties”.

The exhibition brings together the works of the four top artists of the Southern Song Dynasty, known as the “Four Great Masters”: Li Tang (1066-1150), Liu Songnian (1131-1218), Ma Yuan (1140-1225), and Xia Gui (≈1180-1230). They are considered to represent the highest level of Song painting and have exerted a global influence.

Ranked first among them, Li Tang is a key figure in the history of Chinese painting, who lived during both the Northern Song (960-1127) and Southern Song (1127-1279) dynasties. His masterpiece Autumn River Landscape, exhibited at the show, is an important testimony to his transition from a majestic and profound style to a vigorous and unrestrained one.

Liu Songnian lived in Qiantang Qingbo Gate, which is the site of the present-day Art Museum of China Academy of Art – the venue of the exhibition. His work Landscapes of the Four Seasons has “returned the home of its creator” via the exhibition. This set of national treasures, which has been long kept in the Palace Museum, vividly depicts the scenes of the West Lake in the four seasons: “Spring Dawn at Su Causeway,” “Breeze-ruffled Lotus at Quyuan Garden,” “Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake,” and “Lingering Snow on the Broken Bridge.” Each brushstroke reveals his deep love for his hometown landscape and his appreciation of the scenery of the West Lake.

Ma Yuan and Xia Gui, known as “Ma One-Corner ” and “Xia Half-Paper” respectively, had their artistic styles nourished by the scenery of West Lake. Ma Yuan’s Watching Plum Blossoms in Snow Wearing Wooden Clogs and Pine of Longevity, as well as Xia Gui’s Dwelling in the with Dense Foliage and Mist, are on display in the exhibition hall, allowing people to appreciate the timeless charm of Song-style paintings and the beauty of the Jiangnan region.

In addition to these four artists, the exhibition features Northern Song paintings. One of the less than ten surviving genuine works of Northern Song painter Guo Xi (≈1000-1090), Travelers Among Mountains and Streams, is exhibited. Other rare Song treasures showcased include Returning from Hunting on a Snowy Mountain by Zhai Yuanshen, and West Lake by Li Song (1166-1243) of the Southern Song Dynasty. Additionally, the exhibition features the renowned painting Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (The Remaining Mountain) by Huang Gongwang (1269-1354).

Why is Song-style painting so appreciated? The “Song style” is primarily exemplified by the awakening of humanistic consciousness, which is manifested in the incorporation of ordinary themes into the artists’ creative works. The surviving and well-known Chinese landscape paintings created before the Song Dynasty are mostly scenes depicting the outings of emperors and aristocrats. However, in the hands of Song artists, ordinary things such as flowers, birds, insects, fish, mountains, rivers, and streets could be portrayed in paintings, each imbued with unique charm. For example, the exhibited work Twin Bulls under Willow Trees depicts a common farming scene in the Jiangnan region: A farmer is working in a paddy field on one side while a mother cow and calf on the other, all vividly portrayed on paper.

The “Song style” is also signified by innovative painting techniques. Before the Southern Song Dynasty, the Central Plains region was the cultural, economic, and political center of China, and artists showed mostly grand northern mountains and rivers in their works. With the center of culture and economy moving southward, the scenery of the Jiangnan became the main subject matter of paintings. The changes in natural scenery also inspired artists to innovate in painting techniques.

The “Song style” is represented by a perfect combination of freehand brushwork and realistic depiction. During the Song Dynasty, realism painting reached its peak, paving the way for the tradition of freehand literati painting in later generations. For example, in Returning from Hunting on a Snowy Mountain by Zhai Yuanshen, the blank mountains and intertwining trees mark the background of a hunter carrying his loot and a lively hunting dog at the bottom left corner. Viewing the painting up close, one could see the hunter and the dog portrayed brilliantly through delicate brushwork. Taking a few steps back, the painting bears a vast artistic conception of expansive heavens and earth.

On top of all this, the “The Brilliance of Song Dynasty in Modern Times” Art Exhibition serves the function of a public aesthetic education lesson. During the exhibition, a series of exciting and vibrant aesthetic workshops will be launched. Among them are various academic forums for professionals, “Art Classes Around Us” for elementary and middle school students in Hangzhou, and the “Well-Known Painting Appreciation” series——a multi-media sharing platform led by renowned painters and scholars, providing the general public with the opportunity to discover the true beauty of mountains and rivers in authentic paintings.

The exhibition lasts until April 16, 2023.

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SOURCE China Academy of Art

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