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Paintings depict prosperous cities of Ming and Qing dynasties (with photos)

     Fifteen paintings on the theme of prosperous cities of the Ming and Qing dynasties and selected from the Liaoning Provincial Museum, will be on display at the Hong Kong Museum of Art from tomorrow (September 25) to November 22 to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

     Jointly presented by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department and the Liaoning Provincial Museum, the exhibition, "The Prosperous Cities: A Selection of Paintings from the Liaoning Provincial Museum", features significant paintings such as "Along the River during the Qingming Festival" by Qiu Ying (ca.1494-ca.1552) of the Ming dynasty, "Ten Views of West Lake" by Wang Yuanqi (1642-1715) and "Prosperous Suzhou" by Xu Yang (1712-after 1777) of the Qing dynasty, offering an insight into China¡¦s urban wealth during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) periods.

     The exhibition was officially opened today (September 24) by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Tsang Tak-sing, the Director of Leisure and Cultural Services, Mrs Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee, Director of the Liaoning Provincial Museum, Mr Ma Baojie, and the Chief Curator of the Museum of Art, Mr Tang Hoi-chiu.

     The landscapes of the prosperous cities, and metropolitan life south of the Yangtze River (also known as the Jiangnan area) in particular, are the focus of this exhibition. Boasting a booming economy and an enviably vibrant culture, Suzhou was one of the leading metropolises in the Ming and Qing dynasties. In this affluent hub that traded in food and silk, the rich, the cultured and the powerful rubbed shoulders with one another and with the great artists who rose to prominence at that time. The most acclaimed of these painters came from the Wu School of the mid-Ming. Masterpieces by exponents of that school, particularly Shen Zhou (1427 - 1509), Tang Yin (1470 - 1523), Wen Zhengming (1470 - 1559) and Qiu Ying, who have come to be known collectively as the Four Masters of the Ming, are featured in the exhibition. Reflecting the privileged life they led, their works invite viewers to partake in their literary gatherings, tea parties, chess games and other elegant pastimes in the embrace of alluring landscapes.

     Many of the paintings on display were once part of the Qing imperial collection, with some even commissioned by the emperors Kangxi and Qianlong. The "Prosperous Suzhou", for example, is a record of the affluence of Suzhou city during the High Qing era by the court painter Xu Yang. Wang Yuanqi's "Ten Views of West Lake" immortalises the picturesque Hangzhou that Emperor Kangxi visited on his southern tours, while "Imperial Banquet of the Qianlong Emperor at Yingtai" by Zhang Gao's (act. ca. 1736 - 1795) celebrates a sumptuous banquet that Emperor Qianlong hosted for his court. The metropolitan beauty of ancient China portrayed in these beautiful scrolls will tempt visitors to wonder about the imperial minds that inspired the creation of both the cities and the masterpieces that depict them.

     The centrepiece of the exhibition is the 12-metre-long handscroll "Prosperous Suzhou". Originally entitled "Burgeoning Life in a Resplendent Age", the painting was commissioned by Emperor Qianlong (1711 - 1799; r. 1736 - 1795) after he returned from his first southern inspection tour (1751). It took several years to complete. Unrolling to reveal Lingyan Mountain, the scroll guides viewers past major landmarks on the way to Huqiu (Tiger Hill) in Suzhou. Judiciously and ingeniously composed, the painting is packed with detail and includes more than 4,800 human figures and 2,000 architectural structures. It vividly illustrates the landscapes, waterscapes, townscapes and everyday life in an area spanning several dozen miles. In the bustling urban centre in the middle of the scroll, viewers can see countless traders, merchants, passenger boats and barges, as well as dense rows of shops and vendors, all of which amply demonstrate the prosperity of Suzhou during Qianlong¡¦s reign. As a realistic reflection of mid-18th century topography and customs, the painting is invaluable from both the historical and the artistic perspective, allowing viewers of today to travel the metropolis of 250 years ago.

     The panoramic painting "Ten Views of West Lake" was at imperial request to record Emperor Kangxi's (1654 - 1722; r. 1662 - 1722) visit to the West Lake after his second Southern Inspection Tour. According to the area¡¦s topography, Wang has painted 125 scenic spots which are labelled with gold paint. The sites featured in the scroll include the famous Ten Views of West Lake: Su Dyke at Daybreak in Spring, the Breezy Lotus Pond at the Zigzag Courtyard in Summer, the Lacid Lake in Moonlight in Autumn, the Bridge Half-buried in Snow in Winter, Orioles' Chirps on the Willowy Banks, Fish-watching at the Flower Cove, Sunset on the Thunder Peak Pagoda, Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds, Evening Bells from the Southern Screen Hill and The Moon Mirrored in the Three Ponds, and others.

     The scroll begins at the Qiantang Gate and ends at the nearby Qingbo Gate, in effect making a full 360-degree circle around West Lake and its environs in a representation seldom seen in hand scrolls. The billowing peaks and lush vegetation in the painting are punctuated by city walls, towers and pavilions. Around the lake, peach trees and willows on the banks of the Su Dyke create a symphony of red and green, which is in turn echoed by the red walls and green tiles of the architectures and monasteries that are depicted. Small skiffs are floating on the spacious surface of West Lake, which reflects all its beautiful spring scenery to the boaters.

     The original version of "Along the River during the Qingming Festival" by Zhang Zedun (act. ca. 12th century) of the Song dynasty was highly sought after by painters and collectors alike in the Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming dynasties and gave rise to a profusion of copies and imitations, of which Qiu Ying's were the most famous. Following the display of Zhang Zedun's original version in the "The Pride of China: Masterpieces of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy of the Jin, Tang, Song and Yuan Dynasties from the Palace Museum" exhibition held in 2007, the Museum of Art brings along the one by Qiu Ying this time.

     In the scroll on display, Qiu's virtuous brushwork and busy yet detailed composition brought the ancient Suzhou to impressive life. Beginning in verdant suburbs where children are flying kites and adults are enjoying a ritual performance, the scroll then moves on to the approaches to the city, with the traffic both on the road and on the canal becoming heavier and a number of shops coming into view. Inside the city, a steady stream of people makes its way along the main street, which is lined with shops offering goods to satisfy every need and desire. Finally, the scroll reaches a splendid pavilion and tower that form a strong contrast with the hustle and bustle of the city's everyday life that has preceded them.

     To tie in with the exhibition, a series of lectures will be organised during the exhibition period. The topics are "An Overview of the Liaoning Provincial Museum's Collection of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy", "From the Scenic Spots of West Lake to Wang Yuanqi's 'Ten Views of West Lake'", "Experience Suzhou - from field study to cultural cognition", "Two Sides of the Same Coin: Qianlong Emperor and Suzhou Society Reconciled in 'Burgeoning Life in a Resplendent Age'", "A Resplendent Age Rediscovered through 'Prosperous Suzhou'". Conducted in Putonghua or Cantonese, the lectures are free and 150 seats are available on a first-come-first-served basis. In addition, a fully illustrated catalogue will be published and available at the Gift Shop of the Museum of Art.

     The Museum of Art is located at 10 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. It opens from 10am to 6pm from Sunday to Wednesday and Fridays, and from 10am to 8pm on Saturdays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $10 and a half-price concession is available to full-time students, senior citizens and people with disabilities. Admission is free on Wednesdays.

     For enquiries, call 2721 0116 or visit the Museum of Art's website

Ends/Thursday, September 24, 2009
Issued at HKT 18:20


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