The Art of a Gentle Breeze: A Special Exhibition of Painting and Calligraphy on Folding Fans, Period 2016/7/1 to 2016/9/25, Galleries 208、212


Folding fans became quite fashionable in the Ming and Qing dynasties, representing a development on round silk fans previously popular in the Song and Yuan dynasties. The folding fan actually originated in Japan, and though a few were imported into China during the Song and Yuan period, this format did not become very common at the time. However, in the early Ming dynasty, during the Hongwu reign, envoys from Japan brought folding fans as tribute, which Emperor Taizu (Zhu Yuanzhang, 1328-1398) presented to high officials. Zhu Di (1360-1424), the third Ming emperor who ruled under the reign name Yongle, also became fond of folding fans for their convenience and ordered craftsmen to imitate them. During the Duanwu (Dragon Boat) Festival, court officials would receive fans written with maxims by renowned Hanlin Academicians, their use as if bestowing cultural airs. Then, under Emperor Xuanzong (Zhu Zhanji, 1399-1435), not only did the palace tradition of presenting folding fans continue, they were also adorned with painting and calligraphy personally done by the emperor. In the Ming dynasty, the custom of officials using and writing on folding fans thus became increasingly common after the palace held activities for giving them to members at court.

The folding fan, with its elegantly arched surface wider at the top than at the bottom, is a unique format that gradually caught the attention of Ming dynasty painters and calligraphers, who used it as a vehicle for artistic expression. Folding fans with painting and calligraphy presented as gifts also became a trend among such Wu School and other famous literati in the art world as Shen Zhou (1427-1509), Zhu Yunming (1461-1527), Wen Zhengming (1470-1559), and Tang Yin (1470-1524), whose masterpieces in this format still survive. Many professional artists also adapted their skills to folding fans to create marvelous works. Starting with the Qing dynasty Kangxi emperor (Aisin Gioro Xuanye, 1654-1722) and his fondness for calligraphy, folding fans with imperial writing became an elegant gift for court officials. During the reign of Gaozong, the Qianlong emperor (Aisin Gioro Hongli, 1711-1799), the emperor and his officials did painting and calligraphy on folding fans and also made an effort to organize the court collection of folding fans, which were sent to workshops in Suzhou for repairs and even to be remounted. During the Qing dynasty, the folding fan was a cultural art form appreciated by the elite and commoners alike. The depiction of auspicious subjects also was enjoyed in this format, and with the rise of the Stele School of calligraphy, phrases from stele inscriptions written on folding fans breathed new life into this art form.

This exhibition presents a selection from the National Palace Museum collection of some of its finest art on folding fans, which are considerable in both quantity and quality. The display is divided into five sections: "Folding Fans at the Imperial Court, " "Exchanging Elegant Gifts of the Brush, " "Treasures of the Sleeve Pleasing to the Eye," "Folding Fans by Rulers and Officials," and "Enjoyed by Elite and Commoner Alike. A total of 38 folding fans in their original format and mounted as album leaves have been chosen for this special exhibit, reflecting the development of this art form in China.