A Brief Introduction of Qing Dynasty Painting2016-10-08 11:35:19Share:
The Qing (Ch’ing, 1644–1911) period covers nearly three hundred years of China’s history, a long period by any standard, and yet modern scholars have been slow to recognize its importance in Chinese painting history, tending instead to favor earlier periods or contemporary art.
The Qing was a conquest dynasty, by which is meant that an outside group, the Manchus, whose homeland was northeast of China proper, came to control the Chinese empire by force. After conquering the cities of the Yangzi (Yangtze) river area, China’s cultural heartland, the Manchu emperors adopted traditional Chinese culture with enthusiasm and embraced the long held practice of placing value on works by scholar-officials who followed the literati ideal of combining painting, poetry, and calligraphy. The Manchus also brought professional painters to court where they produced documentary works, portraits, copies of ancient masterpieces, and decorative programs for palace buildings.
Outside the court, literati traditions came again to flourish, especially during the prosperous 18th century. There were contacts with European art, but more important for independent Chinese scholar-painters was the growing interest in collecting ancient inscriptions. This study of antiquities inspired experiments in calligraphy and affected painting as well. Lines between literati and professional painters blurred as urban centers provided new networks and settings for painting. As for the study of Qing painting, in 1743 court officials began the evaluation and cataloguing of the vast palace collection of scrolls and albums, old and new.
Their work set the starting point for the study of painting of the Qing dynasty (1644–1911). Meanwhile, an eager audience in Europe and North America, already keen on chinoiserie, developed interest in “export pictures,” which combined elements of the traditions of China and the West. Although modern art historians were slow to take up the study of Qing painting, the formation of the Palace Museum and the first publications of its collections in the 1930s spurred a general interest that has resurfaced in the last twenty-five years. The challenge remains to sort out the relationship of court painting to private commissions and of scholar-amateur work to that associated with a modern, commercial art market.
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