Selected Works of Yangzhou Painting School
Shanghai Painting School Collected by Suzhou Museum
Yangzhou was regarded as one of the best place in ancient Chinese poetry.
During the mid-Qing dynasty, salt dealers with enormous riches emerged in Yangzhou, thanks to the development of salt trade and canal transportation. They had a great interest in and provided sponsorship for art, which cultivated a group of painters with similar identity and artistic style, i.e. “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou” or Yangzhou Painting School. Some of them were resigned officials, such as Zheng Xie, Li Shan, Li Fangying and Gao Fenghan. Some were impoverished literati who always failed in imperial examination, such as Jin Nong. Some were poverty-stricken professional painters, such as Luo Pin, Huang Shen, Bian Shoumin and Hua Yan. They insisted on individuality of art, and strived to form their own style. Apart from expressing aloofness and detachment from secularity by means of plum blossom, orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum, pine tree and rock, they were also versed in portraying real life by symbolism and metaphor, as well as their social concerns by writings. In terms of painting technique, they mainly learned from Xu Wei, Chen Chun, Zhu Da and Shi Tao, who advocated spirit over form.
Following the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou” was Shanghai Painting School, which also took an important position in painting history. One of the direct causes for its emergence was the market. Since Shanghai opened to the outside world after the Opium War in 1840, it gradually turned from poverty to prosperity. In late Qing dynasty, Zhang Mingke said, “Since the ban on maritime trade was removed, trading in Shanghai was flourishing. Many scholars also gathered here to sell their paintings.” Among them, Ren Xiong, Ren Xun, Ren Yu and Ren Yi of Shanghai Painting School as well as Zhao Zhiqian and Wu Changshuo of Epigraphic Painting School proved to be the best-known. Xu Gu, Pu Hua, Ni Tian, Zhang Xiong, Zhu Xiong and Hu Gongshou were also great masters. Their paintings focused on flowers and figures. Some of them learned from Chen Hongshou of late Ming dynasty; some from the “Four Monks” and the “Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou”. Some emphasized a detailed description, while some spirit. But all of them made great efforts to learn from tradition and to innovate, making their paintings appeal to both the knowledgeable and the public. The Epigraphic Painting School was able to get out of the framework set by Wang Shimin, Wang Jian, Wang Hui and Wang Yuanqi, and combined epigraphic technique with painting, by means of conducting research and their talents in poetry, calligraphy, painting and seal, thus bringing a fresh change to traditional Chinese painting.
Yangzhou Painting School and Shanghai Painting School emerged against similar social background. Shanghai Painting School also inherited from Yangzhou Painting School. That is why we have specially selected the works of the two painting schools collected by Suzhou Museum and put them together for exhibition. By making a comparison, the audiences will detect the gradual diversification of painting schools since early Qing dynasty.