• Picking Lotuses

    Tang Yin (1470-1523), a native of Wu County in Jiangsu province, went by the style name Bohu and the sobriquet Liuru Jushi. Tang was exceedingly talented in the realms of calligraphy, painting, poetry, and prose. He was a renowned scholar in the Jiangsu region during the middle years of the Ming dynasty who also worked in a professional capacity as a painter.

    This painting depicts early morning on a summer's day, where boating maidens shuttle across a lotus-covered lake just emerging from dawn mists that have yet to burn away. The entire work features light, sparing ink washes, while the scenery and objects within were painted with a minimalist touch. Masterful brushwork can be seen in many of this painting's features, including its lotus leaves that range from lush and flourishing to old and decaying, as well as its soft, almost weightlessly elegant willow branches. The date inscribed on this painting indicates Tang Yin completed it in his fifty-first year. It is stylistically distinct from works he painted in his prime.

  • Manual of Ink Bamboo

    Wu Zhen, a native of Jiaxing with the style name Zhonggui and the sobriquet Meihua ("Plum Blossom") daoren, was one of the Four Great Masters of the Yuan. This album was done in 1350 by Wu at the age of 71 by Chinese reckoning for his son, Fonu. It depicts all manners of bamboo, including new shoots, old stalks, and leaves in wind, rain, and even snow. The bamboo is depicted both archaic and elegant as well as powerful, done in a spirited and dashing manner. Every leaf of depiction reveals how calligraphy was incorporated seamlessly into the painting, the brush moving across the surface with considerable breadth and dynamism in all directions, forming an ideal balance with the force of the brushwork in the often lengthy inscriptions as well. As such, this album is an ideal combination of literati painting and calligraphy. The frontispiece in three characters was rendered in clerical script by Wang Yipeng (?-after 1501) of the Ming dynasty during the Hongzhi reign (1487-1505).

  • Strange Peaks and Myriad Trees

    This painting depicts the scenery of high mountains with distant peaks that appear above clouds and a rising foreground enveloped in the mist. The three groups of mountain forms skillfully echo each other, and the blank areas of clouds and mist highlight them further. Despite the small size of the painting, it nonetheless gives the effect of a broad and vast vista. The faceting of the rocks in particular was created using many texture strokes and added washes that form the surface texture, the brushwork here similar to that of Li Tang (ca. 1070-after 1150). It would thus stylistically make this work a transitional piece between Li Tang’s “Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys” and “Intimate Scenery of River and Mountains,” which are also in the National Palace Museum collection. This album leaf bears neither seal nor signature of the artist, the traditional label giving the present title and attribution to Yan Wengui. However, stylistic comparison shows it to be unrelated to Yan, a court painter active in the Northern Song period. Rather, it is judged to probably be a fine work of the early Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279) influenced by Li Tang.

  • Cats and Butterflies of Longevity

    Shen Zhenlin (style name Fengchi), a native of Wuxian (modern Suzhou, Jiangsu) served the Qing court painting academy in the Xianfeng and Tongzhi reigns (1851-1874). He specialized in figures and portraits but was also good at sketching birds and flowers from life as well as landscapes. Famous for his painting, Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908) awarded him a plaque that she personally inscribed: "To a miraculous hand that transmits the spirit." In ancient times, people used the homonym of "cat" and "butterfly" for "octogenarian"and "septuagenarian" to express birthday wishes for a venerated elder. This work is composed of two albums rendered with gold and other mineral-based pigments on black paper to depict cats and butterflies playing and roaming among flowers of the seasons.

  • Herd of Deer in an Autumnal Grove

    This painting depicts a herd of deer frolicking and at rest among a dense grove of maple trees in autumn with white birch scattered here and there as well. The painting conveys the flourishing scene of an autumn day somewhere to the north. The deer were completely rendered in light ink and delicate washes, while the trunks and branches of the trees were first delineated with ink and then piled with dense clusters of leaves in outlines. The leaves were then filled with light and dark shades of red, white, yellow, ink, and light blue depending on the type of tree, creating for a dazzling and varied appearance.

    The style and dimensions of this painting are quite similar to those of another work in the National Palace Museum ("Herd of Deer in a Maple Grove," verified and declared a National Treasure in 2012). Neither has the seal or signature of the artist, and it is now assumed that both came from the same original set of paintings. Their archaic and overflowing manner has an extremely decorative touch, and the techniques of painting and coloring differ from those used in the Chinese tradition, leading scholars to propose them as representative works of the Liao dynasty from the latter half of the tenth century.

  • Meeting Friends in a Pavilion among Pines

    Wang Yuan (style name Ruoshui, sobriquet Danxuan), a native of Qiantang in Zhejiang, started painting as a child and once received instruction from the master Zhao Mengfu. In bird-and-flower painting, Wang followed the tenth-century tradition of Huang Quan, and in landscapes that of Guo Xi in the eleventh century. In figure painting, he followed the Tang dynasty style, in all the above achieving marvelous results.

    This painting features a level-distance composition with two tall pines in the middle reaching far upwards. In the foreground is a thatched pavilion by the water with two scholars inside. Behind the treetops are seen sailboats in the distance following the wind. The painting as a whole has a pure and remote tranquility, the brushwork mature and reserved but with a fitting touch of liveliness. Each stroke is solidly placed without a hint of reservation, making it equal to that of Song dynasty artists. The surviving works by Wang Yuan are mostly bird-and-flower subjects in monochrome ink, this being a rare and excellent example of his landscape painting. He completed it in the Zhizheng seventh year (1347).

  • Cloud-girdled Peaks

    The ancestors of Gao Kegong (style name Yanjing, sobriquet Fangshan) came from Western Asia, and Gao rose to Minister of Justice in the Yuan dynasty under the Mongols. He also served in office in the Jiangnan area and resided in Hangzhou, having the opportunity to appreciate scenic wonders of the south and to maintain close relations with scholars there. This painting depicts a massive mountain rising in the center, much in the monumental style of Northern Song landscape painting. A winding stream, floating clouds, and rounded peaks with extending banks below give the effect of gentle scenery in the south portrayed more than two centuries earlier by Mi Fu and his son Mi Youren. The painting therefore has characteristics of both northern and southern traditions of landscape painting. Furthermore, the classical archaic blue-and-green coloring adds a vibrant touch of life to the brush and ink. The scroll as a whole reflects the archaistic movement in early Yuan dynasty art, the style a synthesis of various important traditions in Chinese painting history to make this a classical landscape paradigm of Gao Kegong.

  • River Boats and Mountain Town

    This painting depicts two peaks rising to encircle a town with a mountainside temple and countryside shops here and there. The temple buildings are on a level outcropping and constructed up the slope. The valley below is filled with clouds and mists as birds fly about, conveying the sense of a scene at dusk. The brushwork used in depicting the motifs here, including the boats, figures, buildings, trees, and water ripples, is refined and delicate. In particular, the structure and facilities of the boats and architecture of the temple buildings and village shops are meticulously rendered, the figures lifelike in both form and spirit. The scenery, concentrated mostly in the left half of the composition, is quite naturalistically portrayed, and the coloring is also pure and simple yet classical as well. Despite the small size of the painting, the artist's use of washes and dots make the scenery come to and overflow with life. The work bears no seal or signature of the artist, but the style of brush and ink suggest a masterful rendition close to the time of the Northern Song artist Yan Wengui (967-1044).

  • The Buddha Preaching the Law

    The Buddha, seated with legs crossed on a lotus pedestal, on either side a heavenly king as protectors of the Buddhist law, the great disciples Ananda and Mahakashyapa, and a bodhisattva making offerings. The Buddha has long eyebrows and delicate eyes for a refined yet majestic appearance, while the two heavenly kings wear armor and brandish a sword and lance to convey their fierce martial spirit. The figures in the painting all vary in terms of expression, each of them true to life.

    In the four corners of this painting are half impressions for the double dragon, "Zhenghe" (connected bead), "Zhenghe," and "Xuanhe" seals. They accord with seals used for the "Xuanhe mounting" style of Emperor Huizong (reigned 1101-1125) and therefore indicate it was once in his collection. The swelling forms of the bodhisattva figures and the ink shading to the drapery lines are vestiges of the late Tang dynasty (618-907) style. The indistinct "ushnisha" (head protuberance) of the Buddha and the small mark on the forehead are features of Song Buddha figures, suggesting this scroll was painted in the early part of the dynasty.

  • Preparing Clothes

    Mou Yi, a native of Sichuan, was active under Emperors Lizong and Duzong in the thirteenth century. He excelled at painting figures and excelled at archaic writing and seal script.

    This work, done in 1240, is based on "Poetry on Preparing Clothes" by Xie Huilian (397-433) of the Southern Dynasties period. Painted solely in "baimiao" lines of light ink, it depicts 32 women preparing for winter by making clothes for their husbands at the battlefront. Proceeding in sequence, they pound the silk, cut it into pieces, sew them together, and then pack to send the clothes. The ladies' faces are round and full, their robes large and flowing, suggesting archaic vestiges of the Tang dynasty aesthetic. Their deportment is elegant and gracefully refined, but they also have a touch of worry on their faces expressing concern for husbands yet to return from the war. Suffice it to say, among Southern Song (1127-1279) paintings, it captures spousal longing in a most subtle and successful way.

  • The Ladies' Book of Filial Piety (Scroll 1)

    The Ladies' Book of Filial Piety was written by Madame Zheng, the wife of Houmo-Chen Miao, during the Tang dynasty (618-907). It deals with propriety and piety as well as rules of behavior on the part of women. Originally composed of eighteen sections, this handscroll only has half of them remaining. Mounted in an arrangement of alternating texts and images, the traditional label gives the Southern Song emperor Gaozong as the calligrapher and Ma Hezhi as the painter. Ma, a native of Qiantang, was a Presented Scholar during Gaozong's Shaoxing reign (1131-1162) and a favored painter of him and his successor, Xiaozong. Ma's brush method is noted for its untrammeled manner in a style of his own.

    The outlines of the figures here are delicate and the facial features pure and beautifully refined. Though the brush and ink are exceptional, they do not correspond to those of Ma Hezhi but instead to the style of another thirteenth-century painter, Ma Lin. Furthermore, the inscription at the beginning attributed to Gaozong is closer to that of a later Southern Song ruler, Lizong (r. 1225-1264), suggesting this is a late Song court production of The Ladies' Book of Filial Piety.

  • Literary Gathering

    This painting depicts a group of scholars in a garden by a pond enjoying a banquet. A large lacquered table has been placed under a tree with all kinds of tableware and food on it. In the foreground is a group of young attendants around a small table preparing tea. The figures are all spirited and elegant with clear expressions, while the objects and garden motifs are painstakingly rendered, indicating most likely a fine work of Huizong's Painting Academy. Judging from the inscriptions by Huizong and his minister Cai Jing at the top of the painting, it may be surmised that the contents are related to the historical event of the Eighteen Scholars depicted in "Ascending to the Isles of Immortality" in the Tang dynasty (618-907). Although the painting is beautiful and exacting, it still has a scholarly air that fully represents the requirements of and results sought by Huizong for his Painting Academy. Both in terms of quality and research value, it is a rare and important work.

  • Activities of the Twelve Lunar Months: The Twelfth Month

    This is one of a set of twelve paintings that is undated, but evidence shows it to be a product of the Painting Academy in the early Qianlong reign (1736-1795). This scroll for the twelfth lunar month shows a landscape with snow and waters frozen in the depths of winter. Buildings recede realistically from the foreground into the distance, and various activities have been arranged in clusters, the details of which are rendered with precision. Some people stand at leisure, others warm themselves, and some skate on the ice. Children in courtyards play ball or with a shuttlecock and make a snow lion, fully engrossed in game.
    The painting is beautifully rendered in ink and colors, the architectural elements painstakingly portrayed with artistry that is exceptionally refined and delicate. A key work for studying the style of the Painting Academy in the early Qianlong reign, it is a masterpiece of Qing court painting.

  • The Five Purities

    Yun Shouping (sobriquet Nantian), a native of Wujin in Jiangsu, was gifted at poetry and prose, painting, and calligraphy. Especially noted for painting, he became known along with the Four Wangs and Wu Li as one of the Six Early Qing Masters. He originally excelled at landscape painting but later felt he could not compete with Wang Hui, one of the Four Wangs specializing in landscapes. He thereafter turned to the bird-and-flower theme, becoming one of the most renowned masters of flower painting in the Qing dynasty.
    This painting is a combination of plum blossoms, pine, bamboo, water, and the moon, representing the "Five Purities" symbolizing the pure and uncommon sentiments of a gentleman-scholar. The composition is divided into three levels; in the upper one is an old pine that crosses into view with a full moon behind it. In the central area are plum branches and bamboo luxuriantly mingling together, and finally below are rushing waters. The brushwork throughout the painting is mellow and peaceful, the ink tones tranquil as well. Together, they convey an incomparably harmonious atmosphere, making this a masterpiece by Yun Shouping in ink flower painting.

  • Summer Mountains and Misty Rain

    Wang Hui, a native of Changshu in Jiangsu, was one of the "Four Wangs" of the early Qing dynasty. Excelling in painting since childhood, he received instruction from two of the other Four Wangs, Wang Jian (1598-1677) and Wang Shimin (1592-1680), also having the opportunity to view ancient works in the possession of collectors in various areas. Copying and imitating these works, he was able to integrate past and present as well as northern and southern styles to develop his own style and become one of the premier painters of the Qing dynasty.
    This handscroll depicts distant mountains in light ink with a pathway winding among them, the forests extending from the distance to the foreground. Interspersed are waterside pavilion, village, and tower motifs as well as bridge and waterfall elements. The juxtaposition of solid and void in the scenery adds variety to the compositional complexity, and the complementary use of light and wet ink creates a pleasing balance of washes. The brushwork throughout the scroll is refined and animated, the concept elegantly refined and marvelously lofty. It is exactly how Yun Shouping (1633-1690), a contemporary of Wang Hui, wrote in his inscription of praise at the end of this scroll: "Steady and boundless, the spirit soars." Done at the age of 52, this is a masterpiece representative of Wang Hui's mature period of painting.

  • Waiting for the Ferry on an Autumn River

    Qiu Ying (style name Shifu, sobriquet Shizhou) resided in Suzhou. He studied painting under Zhou Chen (1460-1535) and came to excel at landscape and figural subjects, becoming known along with Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, and Tang Yin as one of the Four Ming Masters.
    This painting is done on two bolts of silk joined to make an oversized hanging scroll. It depicts a figure sitting on a rock as two people have boarded a boat on the other bank. Another person arrives carrying a shoulder load, the boatman raising his hand to beckon him make haste. The figures are all delicately rendered and spirited, the coloring beautiful but not too strong or dense. The brushwork for the mountains is done in outlines with chopping strokes similar to "axe-cut" texturing, and the composition of space forms a zigzag that extends into the distance to express the expansiveness of a water-filled realm. This harks back to the tradition of Zhou Chen, who studied the painting style of the Song dynasty, taking the dense landscape and transforming it into openness. Although this painting is undated, the artistic achievement is exceptional, suggesting a masterpiece from Qiu Ying's late years.

  • Four Immortals Paying Homage to Longevity

    Shang Xi was a Ming dynasty court painter who served during the Xuande reign (1426-1435). Awarded the honorary rank of Commander of the Imperial Bodyguard, he excelled at painting figural and narrative subjects.
    This hanging scroll is a type of auspicious subject to bless for long life, a traditional theme for birthdays. It depicts four immortals of Buddhist and Daoist origin (Li Tieguai, Liu Haichan, Hanshan, and Shide) together in the same work standing on waves. The four look up at the "Old Immortal of the South Pole," the God of Longevity, approaching on the back of a crane in the upper center. The use of brush and ink throughout the scroll is precise and delicate, the expressions of the figures harmonious and animated as if in conversation. The robe ends flutter in the wind, the brush lines angular and forcefully rendered. The waves, on the other hand, are outlined with trembling strokes that increase the magnitude of the subject. Having much of the decorative manner of Ming academic painting, the scroll also reveals a trend towards more popular themes in court art at the time.

  • Crossing a Bridge over a Stream

    Dai Jin, a native of Qiantang in Zhejiang, was the founder of the "Zhe School" of landscape painting in the Ming dynasty. Upheld by later generations as its standard bearer, his style became a model and he venerated as the Zhe School patriarch.
    The foreground of this painting depicts a roaring torrent with rocks dispersed therein and a cliff in the background. A mountain rises behind as the area to the right opens to reveal a wide expanse of water with sails in the far distance. Fishermen go about their livelihood in an ideal scene of peace and leisure. The diagonal composition derives from the landscape arrangement developed in the Southern Song Painting Academy. The lines and "moss dots" of the trees, however, are done with hoary and solid brushwork that reflects the literati manner associated with such Yuan dynasty artists as Wu Zhen (1280-1354) and Sheng Mao. The outlines of the trees and rocks feature great speed and bravura. The painting as a whole combines classical spiritedness with quick untrammeledness, being a typical example of Dai Jin's style integrating the virtues of various artists to which he added his own.

  • The Three Friends and a Hundred Birds

    Bian Wenjin was an important bird-and-flower academic painter during the early Ming dynasty active at the Yongle (1402-1424) and Xuande (1426-1435) courts. His style followed the tradition of fine brushwork and strong colors tracing back to the Northern Song school of Huang Quan but also integrating the Southern Song Painting Academy manner.

    The artist's inscription on this painting reads, "In the seventh month, autumn, of 'guisi' in the Yongle reign (1413), Bian Jingzhao (Wenjin) of Longxi painted 'Three Friends' and a Hundred Birds at the official's residence in Chang'an." In ancient times, people referred to the capital as "Chang'an," meaning that this painting was done in Nanjing, the capital at the time, and perhaps on imperial order. The pine, bamboo, and plum tree form the main framework of the composition along with the slope. Interspersed among them are nearly a hundred birds, creating a strongly decorative effect. The outlines of the slope and plum tree as well as the brushwork for the texturing are slightly relaxed, but the painting as a whole generally still falls within the tradition of outlines filled with ink and colors. The style, opulent yet refined, represents a classic example of court taste.

  • Scroll of Buddhist Images

    This is the only surviving painting from the Dali kingdom, in what is now Yunnan and roughly concurrent with the Song dynasty, and considered a "Treasure of Nantian (the South)."
    The colophon at the end of the scroll indicates it was completed during the Lizhen reign between 1172 and 1175, Zhang Shengwen being the principal artist. The painting is divided into four sections. The first one features Duan Zhixing, emperor during the Lizhen reign, making offerings to the Buddha, followed by one with hundreds of Buddhist figures, then one of canopied pillars for Sanskrit texts on protecting the kingdom and the Heart Sutra, and the last one of kings of sixteen kingdoms. The contents cover the range of exoteric, esoteric, and Dali Buddhism. The scroll is also painted with great refinement, the details of the clothes and headwear corresponding to documentary evidence. In terms of style, it is closely related to religious art of the Tang and Song dynasties in China, Tibetan Buddhist painting, and Southeast Asian Buddhist sculpture. The painting is thus of primary importance to the study of Dali history, religion, culture, and art as well as the regional exchange that took place at this time.