Wang Hui (Chinese, 1632–1717) - The Kangxi Emperor's Southern Tour, Scroll Three: Ji'nan to Mount Tai, Qing dynasty (1644–1911), datable to 1691–98
Wang Hui (Chinese, 1632–1717), and assistants
Handscroll; ink and color on silk; 26 11/16 x 548 1/2 in. (67.8 x 1393.8 cm)
Wang Hui (Chinese, 1632–1717) and Wang Shimin (Chinese, 1592–1680)
Album of twelve paintings; ink and color on paper; Ten paintings by Wang Hui: 8 5/8 x 13 1/4 in. (22 x 33.8 cm); Two paintings by Wang Shimin: 10 x 12 15/16 in. (25.4 x 37 cm)
Inscribed by the artists
Purchase, The Dillon Fund Gift, 1989 (1989.141.4)
Exhibition dates: September 9, 2008 - January 4, 2009
The paintings of Wang Hui, the most celebrated artist of late 17th-century China, is featured in an exhibition opening on September 9 at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Landscapes Clear and Radiant: The Art of Wang Hui (1632-1717) will trace Wang's artistic development – from his early years as a brilliant reinterpreter of classic landscape styles to the pinnacle of his career, when he was chosen to illustrate the Kangxi Emperor's epic 1689 inspection tour of China's cultural heartland – through 27 paintings drawn from the Taipei and Beijing Palace Museums, Shanghai Museum, and several North American collections. The presentation of Wang Hui's career will incorporate 11 works that have never before been exhibited in the West, including two enormous panoramic landscape handscrolls. Wang's paintings will be complemented by a selection of earlier landscapes, drawn largely from the Metropolitan Museum's holdings, that will highlight the sources of Wang Hui's inspiration.
"The most revered painter of his day, Wang Hui played a key role in reinvigorating past traditions of landscape painting and in establishing the stylistic foundations for the imperially sponsored art of the Manchu Qing court," said Maxwell K. Hearn, Douglas Dillon Curator in the Museum's Department of Asian Art. "He developed an all-embracing synthesis of historical landscape styles that constituted one of the greatest innovations in the arts of late imperial China. Thanks to our cordial relationship with the three major repositories of Wang's art—in Beijing, Shanghai, and Taipei—and to the Metropolitan's own exceptional holdings of his art, we have been able to undertake this major, one-man show."
Part 1: Emulating the Ancients: The Formative Years, 1660-1670
This section will trace the artist's tutelage under the prominent painters Wang Jian (1598-1677) and Wang Shimin (1592-1680). They introduced him to the styles of the ancient masters and helped him gain access to many of the finest private collections in the region. Wang Hui's mastery of the idioms of 14th-century scholar painters such as Wang Meng (1308-1385) is demonstrated by his Reading Next to the Window in the Mountains (dated 1666, The Palace Museum, Beijing). Here, Wang Hui has animated his composition through a combination of dense, energized brushwork and dynamically pulsating landscape elements.
Part 2: Copying the Old Masters
Wang's facility in emulating earlier styles will be featured in this section. Commissioned by collectors, he produced a number of exact copies of ancient masterpieces. In them, the artist's authorship is revealed – even in the most faithful ones – by his expressive brushwork and kinesthetically charged compositions. Some of the copies, however, were mistakenly catalogued as originals when they entered the imperial collection.
Part 3: The Great Synthesis, 1670-1680
How the artist systematically expanded his repertoire of ancient styles in order to achieve a "great synthesis" is the main topic of this section. This is the period when Wang began to explore the potential of the infinitely expandable handscroll format. The Colors of Mount Taihang of 1669 is one of his earliest essays at reviving the monumental style of the 10th and 11th centuries. In it, Wang successfully reconfigures the towering vertical mountains of the 10th-century master Guan Tong into the horizontal format through the use of thrusting mountain forms and vigorous brushwork that powerfully convey the tectonic forces of nature.
Part 4: "Streams and Mountains Without End, 1680-1700"
The final section of the exhibition will document Wang's emergence as the preeminent landscapist of his day. One of the defining features of his national reputation was his singular skill at creating vast panoramic landscape compositions in the handscroll format. When the Kangxi Emperor (r. 1662-1722) began to make plans for a tour of the economic and cultural centers of the Yangzi Delta region of "Southern" China in 1684, Wang was already campaigning actively for a chance to create a pictorial record of the journey. Shortly before the emperor embarked on his tour, Wang painted Layered Rivers and Tiered Peaks (dated 1684, Shanghai Museum) for an influential court official; he clearly intended the 61-foot-long handscroll to be an example of his ability to document a monumental journey. In 1691 Wang's persistence was rewarded, and he was summoned to Beijing to create a pictorial document of Kangxi's second inspection tour of 1689 – the grandest artistic commission of the age. After working on the piece for seven years, Wang, with his assistants, finally completed a mammoth 12-scroll work (measuring over 740 feet in length) entitled the Kangxi Emperor's Southern Inspection Tour in 1698. Of the 12 scrolls, the exhibition will present Scroll Three (Metropolitan Museum), depicting the emperor's journey through the mountainous terrain of Shandong Province to Mount Tai, and Scroll Seven (University of Alberta, Canada), which follows the Grand Canal through China's"land of fish and rice," from the city of Wuxi to the great commercial and cultural metropolis of Suzhou.