NEW YORK – About a thousand years ago, the legendary Chinese landscape painter Guo Xi posed the question, “In what does a gentleman’s love of landscape consist?” This question is at the heart of The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Streams and Mountains without End: Landscape Traditions of China, opening August 26.
Showcasing more than 120 Chinese landscape paintings in three rotations, Streams and Mountains without End explores the many uses of landscape in the Chinese visual arts. The focus is on paintings, but textiles, ceramics, bamboo carvings, and objects in other materials are also included. Arranged in thematic groupings, the works in the exhibition have been selected to provide gateways into the tradition, drawing out distinctions between types of landscape that may not be obvious at first glance. What appears to be a simple mountain dwelling is revealed to be the villa of the painter’s friend, which encodes a wish for his happy retirement; what seems to be a simple study in dry brushwork turns out to be an homage to an old master, a sign of reverence for what had come before.
The exhibition brings the tradition to life by showing the layers of meaning that lie behind these ubiquitous images of tree, stream, and mountain. A quotation from classical Chinese painting theory introduces each grouping, giving the tradition itself a voice in the exhibition. The works in the exhibition are drawn primarily from The Met collection, supplemented by a dozen works from private lenders. The exhibition is made possible by the Joseph Hotung Fund.
Among the show’s highlights are a Song dynasty (960–1279) handscroll, Two Landscapes Inspired by the Poetry of Du Fu, a rare example of early literati painting, attributed to Sima Huai (Chinese, active ca. 1131–62); a 15th-century handscroll, The Four Seasons, which takes the viewer through an extended journey; the 1571 handscroll Fantastic Scenery in the Human Realm, a dynamic landscape of bizarre and contorted forms, by Wen Boren;and two majestic landscapes from the Qing dynasty court: Ten Thousand Miles along the Yellow River, dated to 1690–1722, and The Qianlong Emperor’s Southern Inspection Tour, scroll four, dated 1770, by Xu Yang (active ca. 1750–after 1776).
In conjunction with the exhibition, The Met’s Education Department is offering exhibition tours led by Joseph Scheier-Dolberg, Assistant Curator in the Museum’s Department of Asian Art, on September 27 and November 8; the one-hour tours start at 10:30 a.m.
The exhibition is organized by Joseph Scheier-Dolberg.
Visit The Met online at www.metmuseum.org.
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