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Australian-first exhibition of Chinese calligraphy and ink painting

4 April 2019

An Australian-first exhibition from the prestigious National Museum of China will explore the grand historical sweep of Chinese art and calligraphy traditions and extend the cultural ties between the two nations, at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Featuring exquisite artworks that have never previously been seen in Australia, The Historical Expression of Chinese Art: Calligraphy and Painting from the National Museum of China features a sweeping 14-metre-wide animated digital experience, which brings historical figures to life in intricate moving detail.

The exhibition consists of more than 100 objects from China and showcases the breadth and traditions of these art forms through the works of three Chinese modern artists.

The Canberra exhibition follows the hugely successful 2018 show at the National Museum of China in Beijing of Old Masters: Australia’s Great Bark Artists, featuring one of the National Museum of Australia’s signature collections. It was the most significant collection of Aboriginal barks to tour China.

National Museum of Australia's director Dr Mathew Trinca said he is proud to partner with the National Museum of China to bring major works to Australia for the first time.

'This is an historic day which brings two great cultural institutions together and builds on the cultural ties between Australia and China,' said Dr Trinca.

'Australian audiences will be both enchanted by the sweeping animated experience at the heart of the show, which brings historical figures to life before their eyes, and be delighted by the vitality and beauty of ink painting today, with its connections to centuries old traditions of calligraphy,' said Dr Trinca.

Deputy Director of the National Museum of China, Mr Shan Wei, is pleased the partnership enables the National Museum of China to share artistic culture with Australia.

'Through this exhibition, we hope to share with the Australian audience the artistic interpretation of Chinese painting and calligraphy on history and life, the aesthetic concept contained in it, the spiritual pursuit embodied in it, and the philosophy of life of Taoism and nature,' said Mr Shan Wei.

The National Museum of Australia is the first venue for the exhibition, which also features a rare high-quality 20-metre-long replica of the first scroll in the beautifully painted series, Emperor Qianlong’s Southern Inspection Tour, considered one of the jewels in the National Museum of China’s collection. Emperor Qianlong was one of China’s most influential rulers.

The scroll is complemented by a mesmerising animation experience at the centre of the exhibition, in which the historical figures, including Emperor Qianlong and his entourage, come to life across a massive digital screen.

The exhibition will explore the traditions of Chinese calligraphy, and the ways Chinese artists continue to draw on ancient symbols and scripts, through the stunning and diverse paintings of artists Wang Naizhuang, Xie Yun and Xiao Lang.

Intricate Chinese symbols painted with majestic strokes, golden fish jumping from crystal clear ponds, sweeping mountainous landscapes, blooming cherry blossoms and grand historical narratives feature in the stunning artworks.

Known for bringing Western and Chinese painting techniques together in harmony, Wang Naizhuang pushes the boundaries of traditional ink painting.

Naizhuang juxtaposes Western themes of portraiture and landscapes with the traditional brushstrokes and colours familiar to traditional Chinese paintings.

Xie Yun is a renowned Chinese calligrapher known for his abstract depiction of Chinese symbols. His paintings explore traditional styles of Chinese calligraphy and poetry with an unconventional approach to the formation of the symbols.

A celebrated bird and flower painter and fine arts educator, Xiao Lang took a more traditional approach to his art. Heavily influenced by the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties, Lang incorporates traditional forms of calligraphy into paintings with a strong focus on nature.

The exhibition will also explore the strong Chinese–Australian connection through the National Museum of Australia’s own stunning Harvest of Endurance Scroll. The scroll is an artistic representation, in magnificent colour detail, of two centuries of Chinese contact with, and migration to, Australia.

A total of eight metres from the 50-metre Harvest of Endurance Scroll will be on display in the exhibition. This will be the first time this much of the scroll has been on display at once, and for an extended period of time.

The exhibition includes more than 70 treasures of calligraphy and painting from the National Museum of China, plus brushes, inks and other calligraphy tools on loan from the late artist Xiao Lang’s family.

The Historical Expression of Chinese Art: Calligraphy and Painting from the National Museum of China will be on display in Canberra from 5 April to 28 July 2019. Entry is free.

Background

The Exhibition

  • Includes more than 100 objects that have never been seen in Australia before
  • More than 70 objects of calligraphy and painting from the National Museum of China’s extensive collection, plus brushes, inks and other calligraphy tools on loan from the late artist Xiao Lang’s family
  • Exhibition explores the history of Chinese art and calligraphy traditions
  • Highlight of the exhibition is a rare high-quality replica of a 20-metre-long 1764 scroll depicting Emperor Qianlong’s historic inspection tour to the southern provinces
  • Exhibition centrepiece is an immersive digital experience which recreates a portion of Emperor Qianlong’s scroll in large-scale animation
  • Exhibition features three Chinese modern artists Xie Yun, Xiao Lang and Wang Naizhuang
  • National Museum of Australia’s rarely displayed Harvest of Endurance Scroll is on display — eight metres of the intricately detailed 50-metre scroll will be on show
  • Exhibition open at the National Museum of Australia from 5 April until 28 July 2019.

Key Objects

Emperor Qianlong’s Southern Inspection Tour scroll

  • Exhibition features a rare high-quality replica of one of the famous scrolls depicting Emperor Qianlong’s historic tour of southern China in 1751, titled Emperor Qianlong’s Southern Inspection Tour, Scroll 1
  • The first scroll depicts the Emperor and his grand procession departing Beijing
  • Emperor Qianlong (1711–1799) ruled for 60 years at the height of the Qing Dynasty’s power, he was Emperor Emeritus for four years and is considered one of China’s most successful rulers
  • Emperor Qianlong’s 1751 tour — which took 112 days and covered 2900 kilometres — was a way of managing his vast empire
  • The tour was documented in 12 scrolls — with a version painted on silk and, later, on paper
  • The silk scrolls are either lost or divided among collections, while the paper scrolls are prized objects in the National Museum of China’s collection
  • The scroll depicts the imperial procession as it passes through the busy streets of Beijing
  • Court artist Xu Yang started painting the series in 1764; it took six years to complete the silk version and an additional five years to complete the paper version
  • The ancient official Liang Guozhi inscribed poems by Emperor Qianlong onto the scrolls
  • The National Museum of China created a spectacular animation of the scroll; the introduction and the first scroll will be on display
  • More than 2500 models were made to create the animation.

Harvest of Endurance scroll

  • Eight metres from the 50-metre scroll will be on display
  • The scroll represents two centuries of Chinese contact with, and migration to, Australia
  • Painted in traditional gong bi, emphasising detailed brushwork and a balance of contrasts, by artist Mo Xiangyi, assisted by wife and fellow artist Wang Jingwen. The artist’s sister, Mo Yimei, carried out the historical research
  • The creation of the scroll was sponsored by the Australia China Friendship Society in celebration of the Australian Bicentenary in 1988 and took just over 12 months to complete
  • Purchased by the National Museum of Australia in 1992.

Artist Bios

Wang Naizhuang (1929–)

  • Born in Hangzhou, in South East China
  • Known for ink-wash paintings and combining Western and Chinese painting techniques
  • Unlike traditional Chinese painters, Naizhuang explores a variety of themes including portraiture and paintings of flora, fauna and landscapes
  • Naizhuang’s works are held in collections of museums and galleries internationally.

Xiao Lang (1917–2010)

  • Bird and flower painter known for depictions of chickens and insects
  • Was a professor at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts and published instructional books that have been influential among contemporary artists
  • Lang’s bird and flower paintings were mostly executed using small freehand brushwork and are known for their vivid forms, natural lines and elegant colours.

Xie Yun (1929–)

  • A contemporary calligraphist, editor, publisher and poet
  • Currently serves as Secretary-General of the China Calligraphers Association
  • Developed his signature style in the 1980s based on traditional calligraphy scripts, including seal script
  • His work embodies the ancient Chinese understanding that calligraphy and painting come from a common origin.

Chinese Calligraphy

  • Chinese calligraphy is an ancient practice of creating characters using a brush and ink
  • Calligraphy is both a written text and an art form, with a calligraphist able to produce infinite variations that may also express something of their own character and sensibilities
  • Different forms of calligraphy shown in the exhibition include seal, clerical and semi-cursive scripts
    • Seal script — oldest script style, originating as oracle bone writing in the Shang Dynasty (about 1600–1046 BCE)
    • Clerical script — evolved from seal script and uses elongated horizontal strokes and short vertical strokes to create characters that are wide and flat
    • Semi-cursive script — evolved during the Tang Dynasty about 1400 years ago and is a swift, fluid form of writing.

National Museum of China

  • New structure was completed in 2003. It is one of the largest and most visited museums in the world. Its predecessor was the preparatory office of the National Museum of History established in 1912
  • Resides on the eastern side of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China
  • The museum covers Chinese history from the Yuanmou Man of 1.7 million years ago to the end of the Qing Dynasty (the last imperial dynasty in Chinese History)
  • The National Museum of China has a permanent collection of more than 1.4 million items with many precious and rare artefacts.

Media contact: Diane Morris, 02 6208 5497 | 0436 030 741 or media@nma.gov.au

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