– Sixty paintings, including album leaves, handscrolls and hanging scrolls, most never before seen in the United States, will be on view at China Institute Gallery in a major exhibition entitled “Passion for the Mountains: Seventeenth Century Landscape Paintings from the Nanjing Museum” from September 18 through December 20. A full-color bilingual scholarly catalog will be available.
The exhibition focuses on the work of the famed “Eight Masters of Jinling” who are being shown as a group together with other key landscape painters for the first time. Passionate about the beauty of Jinling, the southern capital city during the Ming dynasty, these painters were to become the most important landscape school in Seventeenth Century China.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has timed a companion exhibition to coincide with China Institute’s landmark exhibition. “Dreams of Yellow Mountain: Landscapes of Survival in Seventeenth Century China,” on view September 13 through January 25, will showcase 50 late Ming to early Qing dynasty works from Nanjing drawn from the museum’s permanent holdings and private collections.
Artists were drawn to Jinling’s magnificent vistas, and by the Seventeenth Century the city was famous as an important cultural center for art, calligraphy, literature and theater. Jinling (today known as Nanjing) was the largest city in the world when it was established in the Fourteenth Century, surpassing even Paris. Located on the east coast of China (about three hours today by train from Shanghai), Jinling is surrounded by two major rivers and stunning mountains.
Eight Masters of Jinling
While there is some discrepancy as to which artists comprised the “Eight Masters of Jinling,” most accounts included Gong Xian, Gao Cen, Zou She, Fan Qi, Wu Hong, Xie Sun, Ye Xin and Hu Cao. Paintings by these artists, as well as others who may have been contenders for the famed group, are featured in the show. One of the highlights of the exhibition is a rare 32-foot handscroll of the Jinling landscape by Gong Xian (1618-1689) from the late Ming to early Qing dynasty. “A Thousand Cliffs and Myriad Valleys,” 1673, was painted during the last years of the artist’s life and is considered one of his masterpieces.
“Portrait of Kou Mei,” a hanging scroll by Fan Qi and Wu Hong from the late Ming to early Qing dynasty, depicts one of the “Eight Beauties of Qinhuai (River).” The story of courtesan Kou Mei, one of the area’s most famous residents, is now legendary:
One day near the house along the river where she lived with other courtesans, a prince admired her beauty. Within days, he paid for her freedom and asked her to be one of his brides. Their ceremony was one of the largest ever: 5,000 soldiers held up red lanterns from her house to his, where the wedding was performed. A couple of years later, the prince was captured by the Manchu Army and became a prisoner of war. Kou Mei became famous for her ride back to Nanjing on horseback to raise money that enabled her to free the prince. When he asked her to come back home, she replied that he had bought her freedom and now that she had bought his, she would remain free.
An album of 12 leaves by Zou Zhe from the late Ming and early Qing dynasty depicts a number of landmarks from Jinling. One of the leaves shows the mountain where the tomb of the first emperor of the Ming dynasty is located; he insisted that his burial spot in the mountains be planted with 10,000 pine trees, a symbol for strong will. Another illustrates the city wall from the Fourteenth Century, known as the longest and strongest city wall in China.
Fans painted with landscapes were a very popular fashion accessory in Jingling, reflecting the good taste of the user. As a result, the Jinling fan became an important “brand.” Wu Hufaun, an early Twentieth Century collector, set out to collect eight fans by the Eight Jinling masters. The search took 20 years and the results are included in the exhibition.
Educational highlights are two lectures at China Institute by Willow Weilan Hai Chang, director, China Institute Gallery and curator of the exhibition. His talk, “Passion for the Mountains: Seventeenth Century Nanjing and Landscape Painting” will take place September 25, 6:30 to 8 pm. “Today’s Artist from Nanjing,” an illustrated introduction to contemporary Chinese artists from Nanjing, will be held on November 18, 6 to 7:30 pm.
“Chinese Painting for Connoisseurs: Painting from the Seventeenth Century” with lecturer James Cahill, professor emeritus, history of art, University of California, Berkeley, will focus on issues in early Qing landscape painting. The course will be held December 2-4, from 6:30 to 8:30 pm, at China Institute.
A full-day symposium entitled “From Ming to Qing: A Cultural Landscape in Transition” will explore the dynastic transitions and political resistance that led to a flourishing of the arts when the Ming dynasty fell to the Manchus, and Nanjing, the Southern Ming capital, remained a vibrant cultural center. The symposium will be held Saturday, December 6, 9:30 am to 5 pm, at the Graduate Center Proshansky Auditorium, 365 Fifth Avenue at 34th Street.
China Institute Gallery is at 125 East 65th Street (between Park and Lexington). Admission is $5 ($3 for students and seniors). Gallery hours are Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 am to 5 pm; Tuesday and Thursday to 8 pm, and Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm. Admission is free on Tuesday and Thursday from 6 to 8 pm. For information, call 212-744-8181 or visit www.chinainstitute.org.